|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Michele Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon all.
** Somalia Statement
We first have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Somalia.
“The Secretary-General has been closely following recent developments in Somalia. He believes a new opportunity may exist for the Transitional Federal Government to establish its full authority in the country. He urges the transitional authorities to reach out to other groups in the country, with the aim of fostering dialogue and engaging in an all-inclusive political process that can lead to stability, peace and reconciliation, as envisaged in the Transitional Federal Charter.
“The Secretary-General welcomes the stated intention of Ethiopia to withdraw its forces expeditiously and calls on all States in the region to respect Somalia’s sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity.
“The Secretary-General also welcomes the announcements by some African countries of their readiness to deploy peacekeepers to the protection and training mission decided upon by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and the African Union, and hopes that this mission can be put into place as quickly as possible.
“The Secretary-General calls on all Somali parties and the international community to seize the current moment and do their utmost to end the heavy loss of life, displacement and suffering that have plagued the country. The United Nations will continue to do its part to support these efforts and to help Somalis build a country based on human rights and respect for the rule of law.”
We also have on the racks a letter by the Secretary-General to the Security Council President from the end of last month that details the discussions the United Nations has had on the implementation of the mandate of the Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD) forces for Somalia. It says that Uganda and the Sudan had initially indicated their willingness to provide two battalions for that force, but that problems had since arisen with arrangements for those countries’ deployment, while no other country has been identified to join the force.
The Secretary-General is today chairing the first meeting of the Darfur Task Force. The Task Force comprises the heads of the Departments of Peacekeeping, Political Affairs, Safety and Security and Public Information. Also included are the heads of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the Office of Legal Affairs, the Special Adviser on Africa and the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide. Jan Eliasson and Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah are also taking part in that meeting
Earlier today, the Secretary-General met with his Special Representative for West Africa, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, who recently completed a key visit to Khartoum. And yesterday, the Secretary-General met with Jan Eliasson and thanked him for accepting the assignment as Special Envoy for the Darfur crisis. Both of them are at the same meeting that is still taking place upstairs. I just got a note right now.
He told Eliasson that he had been in touch with a number of actors including African Union Commission Chairman Alpha Oumar Konare and African Union Envoy Salim Ahmed Salim. The Secretary-General suggested a meeting, bringing together Salim Ahmed Salim, Eliasson and himself. That meeting is now scheduled for noon tomorrow.
Meanwhile, the UN Mission in the Sudan (UNMIS) says that two African Union personnel, who were kidnapped during a carjacking in early December, are still missing. The Mission also notes that the number of carjackings has soared in the course of 2006, with some 118 vehicles forcibly seized in Darfur, including 5 UN-marked, 17 African Union and 84 international NGO vehicles. And, we have copies of the Mission’s news bulletin upstairs.
And, since we are talking about the Sudan, in response to a question I was asked yesterday, I can confirm that, as a result of previous investigations, UNMIS has already repatriated four peacekeepers from Bangladesh and their case will be pursued in front of a national jurisdiction.
As of today, there are 13 ongoing investigations regarding allegations of serious misconduct, including sexual exploitation and abuse.
**World Health Organization
Dr. Margaret Chan of China today took office as Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO). She said she wanted her leadership to be judged by WHO’s impact on the health of two population groups: women and the people of Africa. Dr. Chan has set out six priority areas on which she intends to focus WHO’s work: development for health; health security; building the capacity of health systems; developing better information and knowledge; enhancing partnerships; and improving WHO’s performance.
We have a press release on that upstairs.
I know that you asked yesterday about meeting with the new Under-Secretary-General for Management, Alicia Bárcena. She has said she is willing to talk to you, so we’ll be working out a convenient time for her to do so in the coming days. Ms. Bárcena has begun her duties as Under-Secretary-General for Management and she met yesterday with the Staff Council. She feels that staff participation is fundamental to succeed in any management reform.
This is all I have for you. Any questions? Yes?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Just first, is Mr. Holmes here at the UN now and, if so, can he appear before us?
Spokesperson: We have asked. We have made a request and he is willing to meet you. I don’t know whether he is in the building today.
Question: Now just a question. With regard to the force for Somalia, does the Secretary-General believe it makes sense to send a regional African force? Is the African Union capable of creating a force that can police Somalia in this potentially extremely dangerous environment? And, is the UN planning to give any kind of aid, logistical support? Is there any talk of raising UN finances for this force? I mean, what are we talking about here?
Spokesperson: Well, this would depend essentially on the Security Council. As you know, the Security Council is seized of the question, so we expect the Security Council to be acting on it. As for the IGAD forces, those are the forces being deployed right now, they are discussing their deployment right now, so the UN has no part at this point in the process.
Question: I understood the UN did create a report. You just said the UN wrote a report on the process, right. So, is there any kind of, but you’re saying there’s no advice or anything, they’re just writing a report?
Spokesperson: Well, at this point there are consultations; consultations have been taking place on the issue.
Question: Is UN peacekeeping talking to IGAD at the moment then?
Spokesperson: I cannot confirm that.
Question: Is the Secretary-General on the phone with Somali leaders to talk about this force?
Spokesperson: No, no, not yet.
Question: Do you have any idea about casualties in Somalia as a result of the Ethiopian attacks?
Spokesperson: I don’t have that number, no.
Question: But I mean this is an aggression. Is there any stand by the Secretary-General about a country attacking another country, trying to erase the border, and is there a stand from the Secretary-General regarding Ethiopia?
Spokesperson: Well, I think the Secretary-General, on this specific issue, is looking to the Security Council to take a decision and to have a pronouncement on it. As you know, there are diverging views in the Security Council on this issue.
Question: Another thing -– yesterday, I asked you about Israeli and UN cooperation on nuclear issues regarding Iran. Have you got an answer for that?
Spokesperson: No, not yet. Not yet.
Question: Just to go back to the story on the Sudan and the peacekeepers forces. I was wondering --why wasn’t this repatriation and cases announced before when they took place rather than waiting until it’s published in the newspapers and making it sound like…?
Spokesperson: Because it’s part of an ongoing process, you know. Cases are, alleged cases are investigated. We have a person in the area who has been investigating the different cases. So we do, it is a constant process, and I think, it’s not because it appears or does not appear in the press that it exists or does not exist. In this specific case, you know, they were repatriated and we are trying to follow for you, and the Department for Peacekeeping Operations is trying to follow up, with the Bangladeshi authorities what has happened since. They have been repatriated, as you know. Any form of a decision will have to be taken by the national jurisdiction.
Question: Can you, I think Mark asked a question on this Tuesday and you had said you would get a response, but there was a question as to whether the new Secretary-General… There was a series of policies concerning increased transparency in the hiring for senior posts, publication of a shortlist -– like in the case of the WFP, they advertised jobs in The Economist. The idea was to try and broaden the field for the most talented possible candidates. And, it’s looking a little bit like they’re primarily going to Government candidates. So, I’m just curious to see what the policy on that is, and has he scrapped some of these procedures that had been, that had evolved out of the reform process?
Spokesperson: No. I think those procedures are still there and there is a very wide-ranging attempt on the part of the Secretary-General, and he underlined this, to reach the most, you know, the people that are the most competent for any given job. And, I think this is why it is taking a little time for the senior posts to be announced.
Question: We haven’t seen a single shortlist yet and there’ve been a number of appointments. And, also, I’m not aware -– maybe I’m wrong –- that any of these key posts have been published in any international publication. I mean, am I wrong, or is…?
Spokesperson: In that case of what you’re talking about, the WFP publicizing posts, this is done at all levels, but I don’t know whether this is done at the senior- or very senior-level posts.
Question: Right, but I’m asking… There was a clear set of procedures put in place that made it possible for us to sort of have some clarity as to the process, and I’m not seeing any of those now. If I’m missing them… [talkover].
Spokesperson: Okay, we’ll try to get more transparency and clarity for you.
Question: Okay, because it sounds like there hasn’t been a shortlist, so we’ll probably be writing stories saying that you scrapped this policy… [talkover].
Spokesperson: No, no. The policy has not been scrapped and there are lists. Yes, I can confirm that.
Question: The whole point is that there were public shortlists and nothing has been made public.
Spokesperson: Okay, so we’ll inquire about the process.
[The Spokesperson later clarified that the policy remained that shortlists were made public in cases of agency heads. Internal Secretariat appointments remained the Secretary-General’s choice and those lists were not made public.]
Question: A quick clarification. You mentioned four Bangladeshi peacekeepers repatriated from the Sudan. Are those the same four as were in your statement yesterday, or is this an additional four?
Spokesperson: Yes, the same four, but now we have identified that they are from Bangladesh.
Correspondent: Okay, I just wanted to make sure that this was not an additional four.
Question: When were they…?
Spokesperson: Well, they were repatriated, from what I gather, a few months back, but I can check on the exact time for you.
Question: And, to follow up on that, are we to understand that these four Bangladeshis were repatriated in direct connection with the alleged sexual abuses that were cited in the newspaper article?
Spokesperson: Well, we have different allegations against them and not all of them are sexual allegations.
Question: I have a little confusion. The UNICEF report, and then what the Telegraph was saying -– are they two separate…
Spokesperson: Well, the UNICEF report, as I said yesterday, was not really talking about UN soldiers or UN personnel. It was talking mostly about the Sudanese army.
Question: So has UNICEF also done a report looking at sexual abuse of [talkover] associated with UN personnel?
Spokesperson: No it has not, not that I know of.
Question: So, the Telegraph source of information is coming from OIOS efforts on the ground, or where are they getting their information?
Spokesperson: I don’t know.
Question: So, what is OIOS looking into? Where are they…?
Spokesperson: Well, they are looking into different allegations and I have to say that this process, as I said, there are 13 cases being investigated. So, it was just not those four cases. There are 13 others being investigated and, it might be, they might retain the charges or reject them. And there is someone in there to make sure that all victims can actually go somewhere and complain, and those cases are seen one by one.
Question: I understand that, but is there a report or initial reports that OIOS (Office of Internal Oversight Services) was operating on, or is this something, because yesterday I think there was a question asked by one of the journalists as to when did OIOS get in there and start rolling up their sleeves and looking into this… [talkover]…?
Spokesperson: I gather they’ve been there ever since 2005, they’ve been investigating cases [talkover].
Question: And they’re working on the basis of some sort of reports that are out there, correct?
Spokesperson: No, I correct this. UNMIS (United Nations Mission in the Sudan)has had a conduct and disciplinary unit in the Sudan since February 2006.
Question: When the Secretary-General spoke to the Staff Union a few days ago, and speaking about human resources, he used the word meritocracy. Now, the Charter talks about the high standard of competence, efficiency and integrity. Is this change in vocabulary a change in part of the culture?
Spokesperson: I think he does mean the same thing. It means essentially that the most competent occupy the post they are competent for.
Question: On WFP, it was said that James Morris would be stepping down at the end of the year and Josette Sheeran would start. They put out a press release today still citing James Morris as the Director. So, I emailed them and they say he’s going to stay on until April. So, I’m wondering, the basis of her being confirmed at the time was that it needed to be done at the end of the year. Is in fact she not going to begin until April? Is that the case?
Spokesperson: I can confirm this for you.
[The Spokesperson later added that James Morris’ term would end in April. That was nothing new, since his five-year term had started in April 2002.]
Question: And also on Kosovo -– the Prime Minister of Serbia says that he wrote to Ban Ki-moon citing the territorial integrity and asking him to get involved. Has the letter been received and what is Mr. Ban Ki-moon’s position on territorial integrity of Member States?
Spokesperson: I can check for you whether the letter has been received. I do know that the policy on Kosovo has not changed. And, as far as I know, this is what stands.
[The Spokesperson later confirmed that the letter had been received.]
Question: I have one more question. In the Vienna Café of this building, there are holes in the ceiling that were put in over the Christmas vacation. I’ve been told that this was for… to provide ventilation for smoking in the area.
Spokesperson: It is just to provide ventilation. It did not state for people to smoke in the area.
Question: I’ve also been told by the Capital Master Plan that in fact the work will be ripped out when the building is done. So I’m wondering whether Ban Ki-moon thinks, number one, it’s a good use of UN resources to put in a ventilation system that’s going to be ripped out in two years, and number two, what his position is on smoking in the building, given this installation of a ventilation system clearly over a café where smoking takes place?
Spokesperson: I can tell you he doesn’t smoke. Whether he has a…
Question: I guess I’m asking as a sort of test case… there are people in the process that feel that, once they found that it’s going to be ripped out that it should not have gone forward, that there may be some irregularities in it having gone forward.
Spokesperson: I can check on that with the people in charge. As you know, the Capital Master Plan has several steps that are to take place within the next few years and I think those steps are underlined in that document that you got. I can check for you about whether -– but you are talking about two years, I mean people need to breathe within the next two years.
Question: Right, but there’s obviously not to be smoking there, too.
Correspondent: But, the previous Secretary-General banned smoking in the building and it’s widely ignored. It was banned in the building.
Spokesperson: Okay. I take this into account.
Question: The Israeli forces invaded Ramallah today. What’s the Secretary-General’s reaction to the invasion of Ramallah and Gaza today?
Spokesperson: I don’t have a reaction yet, but I’ll try to inquire for you.
Question: Yes, regarding the peacekeeping in the Sudan. Four Bangladeshi… normally, there are no other national peacekeeping in the Sudan, only the African Union peacekeepers…
Spokesperson: You have UN peacekeepers.
Question: Two questions. First, the 13 peacekeepers who are under investigation, are some of them or all of them under investigation for sexual abuses? And, secondly, are we going to get to talk to Jan Eliasson and Salim Salim, because I would like to put in a request for him, as well, since he’s going to be here…?
Spokesperson: Yes. Since they are supposed to talk tomorrow, we can inquire about, you know, their meeting with the press. We can ask that.
[The Spokesperson later added that Jan Eliasson intended to speak to the press tomorrow at approximately 12:45 p.m. in the Secretariat Lobby.]
Question: But the 13 peacekeepers?
Spokesperson: They are all alleged misconduct.
Question: But does that misconduct include sexual abuse?
Spokesperson: Yes, it does, in some cases. However, we cannot comment on those cases since they are cases that are going on and they are being investigated at this point.
Question: That’s different from the four or including the four, sorry?
Spokesperson: Different from the four.
Question: So, a total of 17 actually?
Question: And what’s being done to ensure that these people who are under investigation are not roving on the streets and perhaps perpetrating additional crimes?
Spokesperson: Well, in most cases when they are accused, they are stopped from actually performing regular duties as peacekeepers.
Question: Are they held on location or under some sort of…
Spokesperson: I will ask what the procedure is in those specific cases.
Question: It would also be useful to know what sort of mechanism has been put in place, if one has at all, to ensure that other horrible crimes don’t take place?
Spokesperson: Well, there are a number of measures which were already underlined to you right here in this room by the people responsible for DPKO (Department of Peacekeeping Operations) about what is being done and all the processes they have put in place to make sure that they prevent this type of situation and that they can correct this type of situation. It’s a whole culture to be changed. You have to realize that you have thousands and thousands of peacekeepers, and they are deployed all throughout the world in broken societies. So, the problems are there and there is a definite effort on the part of DPKO of trying to prevent that situation that we’re talking about and, once there have been allegations, to listen to the victims and thoroughly investigate each case.
Question: Just a couple of questions, more in house I guess, about Ban Ki-moon’s working style. You made a big song and dance about him meeting in the cafeteria on the first day. I was wondering if that was going to be a regular event. Is he going to go there every couple of weeks, for example, and make himself available and accessible to staff? I’m just looking to see whether it was a media stunt or whether it’s something he’s going to do on a regular basis. And then more generally, how often will we expect to see him regularly available to the press, to talk to the press, or as some people suggest, is his tenure as Secretary-General going to be marked by greater caution in commenting on political events around the world and accessibility to the press. How is this going to [talkover] strategy?
Spokesperson: Yes. He is willing to be very accessible to the press and I already announced that he will, in the next few days, have a press conference with you. He is more than willing to talk to the press. That I have absolutely no doubt about.
Question: There isn’t going to be any shift, for example, in the number of statements put out on political events around the world and that kind of thing?
Spokesperson: We’re going to see how it’s going to develop, but I can tell you on your first question about the staff that he is continuing his visit to staff on different floors and it will continue in the next few days.
Question: Concerning the 13 ongoing investigations in the Sudan, has it been determined whether those charges brought up in the Telegraph article refer to those or whether there are new ones beyond that –-there’s a question whether these are old or new investigations?
Spokesperson: I think we’re talking about the same cases here.
Question: Alright. And also, since there were 13 ongoing investigations going on in the Sudan that we previously didn’t know about, how many ongoing investigations are there in any other peacekeeping missions and that you could tell us about?
Spokesperson: I’ll check about this, on numbers, and we can have someone from DPKO come and discuss this more at length with you eventually, in the next few weeks.
[The Spokesperson later added that investigations of alleged sexual abuse and exploitation cases were conducted in Burundi, Cyprus, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia/Eritrea, Georgia, Haiti, Liberia, Western Sahara, Sierra Leone, Sudan and Timor-Leste.]
Question: When you said we have like thousands of peacekeepers deployed all around the world, do you mean that it’s normal to have some sort of rape or sexual abuses?
Spokesperson: No. I repeat, zero impunity, zero tolerance. What I’m saying is that there has been an effort by DPKO to systematically train the people who go there, and sometimes there have been whole groups of soldiers repatriated, whole platoons repatriated because of alleged misconduct. So, I think there are some very proactive actions being taken by DPKO on those counts. I don’t think even one case is acceptable; not even one.
Question: I do a fun weekly segment and this may seem like a really silly light hearted question and it may be out there, but what did the SG order in the cafeteria?
Spokesperson: Beef with broccoli. The $4.95 dish.
Question: Did he get any side dishes?
Spokesperson: Well, it comes as one plate. I don’t have the details beyond that.
Question: I asked you a question yesterday about the fact-finding mission, which the General Assembly asked the Secretary-General to form on the events in Beit Hanoun, and I was wondering whether the Secretary-General has any plans to take action on that request by the General Assembly?
Spokesperson: We don’t have an answer on that yet.
Question: I just want to clarify -– you seemed to indicate just a couple of questions ago that the 13 cases that were under investigation overlapped with the cases mentioned in the report. Has that been determined? I understood that DPKO was actually looking to see whether there was any connection between what they were investigating and the allegations made by the Daily Telegraph. Could you clarify that?
Spokesperson: Yes, the 13 cases are different from the 4 that we talked about. So, the 13 cases are investigations under way right now at this point.
Question: But that’s not what I asked. What I asked was about the overlap -– were any of the 13 cases or the 4 cases that were raised in the Daily Telegraph?
Spokesperson: Well, they are investigating that to find out whether they are all the same cases or whether they are some additional cases which the Daily Telegraph mentioned. As you know, the dates go back to 2005. So, I think we have to go into more details to find out what cases the Daily Telegraph was talking about. In particular, there was, for instance, one nightclub which was mentioned in the article, and that club was declared a no-go zone for all the UNMIS forces and it was declared so quite a few months ago. So we don’t know whether the notes from the Daily Telegraph date back from before or after, for instance, that nightclub was declared a no-go zone.
Question: You originally said 13 ongoing investigations. Does that correspond to 13 separate individuals or..
Spokesperson: 13 separate individuals, yes.
Question: And who exactly is investigating this? Is it OIOS? Is it UNMIS?
Spokesperson: Actually there is a team that went down there and that has been working there, as I said, since February 2006, that’s the team working on it.
Question: With the case of the Bangladeshis, what sort of pressure, if the Bangladeshi Government isn’t forthcoming about giving information about their fate, what sort of pressure can the United Nations bring to bear to ensure that some sort of justice is brought?
Spokesperson: As you know, for peacekeeping, the United Nations depends on Member States, and they can only keep on asking to find out whether cases are pursued further, and I think that’s what they are trying to do. It’s not a formal thing. It’s part of their collaboration with those countries.
Question: Are recommendations given from the UN as to how they would like to see the incidents dealt with in the courts?
Spokesperson: Well, I don’t know whether they would be involved in national jurisdictions. I don’t think so.
Question: And also, you mentioned and it would be very helpful, that someone from peacekeeping might be able to come to us in the coming weeks or something like that. Could we get someone a lot sooner than that because this story is rather pressing and people have a lot of questions?
Spokesperson: We did ask and yesterday they spoke to a number of journalists, and I think they would be willing to, Ms. Lute, to come again and talk to you. Probably not immediately because so much is happening right now at this point and, while this is being pursued, I think she would like to come and give you some definite answers.
Question: On OIOS, you said they’d give us a briefing about the various audits and investigations done here in the building? Also, in recent days Pakistan has said it’s going to fence parts of its borders with Afghanistan and also lay landmines. So, I’m wondering if the new Secretary-General has any response to that, particularly the landmine component?
Spokesperson: I will inquire about this.
[The Spokesperson later added that, late last year, the main demining body of the United Nations Mission in Afghanistan had voiced its concerns about any new mines being laid down, given the huge number of mines already on the ground in Afghanistan.]
Question: Will you be announcing the Deputy Secretary-General tomorrow?
Spokesperson: I don’t think so. I think I probably will be announcing it early next week.
Question: You indicated in answer to my earlier question about meritocracy -– does that imply also that there will be the highest standard of integrity? The second is that scientists in England are saying to me that this year, 2007, will be the warmest in history. Does the Secretary-General have a position on global warming?
Spokesperson: I don’t know at this point whether he has a position on it, but the UN has a position on it. As you know, we have a -– in Nairobi, we have a whole agency taking care of environmental problems and global warming.
Question: Back to peacekeepers in the Sudan, what is the procedure normally when you go and find out by the cases? Do you immediately inform the host country, because when you hear the reaction of the Sudanese Government yesterday, they were surprised and shocked by the information?
Spokesperson: The host country is of course informed immediately, and there is a constant exchange between the host country and DPKO and troop contributing countries.
Question: And do you think the scandal that is now in the press, the media frenzy about it, will have an impact on the cooperation of the Khartoum Government on the deployment of further peacekeepers in Darfur?
Spokesperson: We’ll see, but as you know, the Darfur question is being discussed right now, and these cases are not new cases, they are not new accusations.
Question: The question about global warming -– I happen to follow this subject very closely. I was in Nairobi at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change months ago. Many things were being said there, but the previous administration at the UN didn’t translate those things to what goes on in this building. Will the new Secretary-General look onto what happens in Nairobi and bring it to New York? That’s the real question. So, the answer that these things are done in Nairobi is a wash because in Nairobi things are being said, but in New York they are not being said.
Spokesperson: As you know, the General Assembly is first to take up all those different issues. It is on their watch to be getting what happened in Nairobi into their own work.
Question: The Second Committee takes 15 subjects in the span of two hours. That is a warehouse of subjects.
Spokesperson: So what is your question?
Question: My question is very simple. If the new Secretary-General is indeed going to look at what is said in Nairobi and bring this officially for serious investigation in this building.
Spokesperson: Definitely, he will follow with what the decisions of the Member States are. Definitely.
Spokesperson: …that he will travel? I will let you know.
* *** *For information media • not an official record