|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 Farhan Haq, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.
**The Secretary-General in Lebanon
The Secretary-General met today in Lebanon with many key leaders, including Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and Speaker of the Assembly Nabih Berri, and stressed to all the leaders the need to engage in dialogue for the purpose of promoting national reconciliation.
Following his meeting with Nabih Berri, the Secretary-General said they had discussed cooperation with the UN Force in Lebanon, UNIFIL, as well as the issue of the special tribunal of an international character. He emphasized his commitment to the establishment of that tribunal as soon as possible, saying that he welcomes Lebanese national consensus on the tribunal, but stresses the importance of moving forward on this issue.
Later, the Secretary-General held a meeting with Prime Minister Siniora, which began with a political meeting, after which he had the opportunity to confer with many ministers in the Cabinet and then held a meeting focused on security issues. He told reporters afterwards that he was disappointed that the political crisis that has now lasted some four months has not been resolved, and he added that the path of dialogue and compromise has to be the way forward out of this impasse. He also noted the continued Israeli overflights of Lebanon, saying, “These violations of Lebanese sovereignty must stop.”
The Secretary-General also met with other Lebanese political leaders, including Saad Hariri and Walid Jumblatt.
We have the Secretary-General’s comments following several of his meetings upstairs and on the web, as well as a press release from UNIFIL providing an update on the work being done by its nearly 13,000 peacekeepers.
The Security Council today extended the mandate of the UN Mission in Liberia by six months, until the end of September.
Yesterday, following the end of consultations, the Council President, Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo of South Africa, told the press that members of the Security Council expressed grave concern at the capture by the Revolutionary Guard, and the continuing detention by the Government of Iran, of 15 UK naval personnel, and appealed to the Government of Iran to allow consular access, in terms of the relevant international law.
He added that Council members support calls, including by the Secretary-General in his 29 March meeting with the Iranian Foreign Minister, for an early resolution of this problem, including the release of the 15 UK personnel.
The Council President also read out a press statement on Guinea-Bissau, saying that members of the Council expressed concern about the continuing political and social tensions there and called on the parties to resolve their differences through dialogue and strict respect for the constitutional framework.
Today is the last day of scheduled meetings under the Council Presidency of South Africa. The United Kingdom will assume the rotating Presidency of the Council for the month of April, and the Security Council is expected to hold its first consultations for that month on Tuesday, to discuss the programme of work. We expect that the Council President for April, UK Ambassador Emyr Jones-Parry, will talk to you in this room about the Council’s work during April next Tuesday, tentatively at 11 a.m.
**Rights of the Disabled
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol were formally opened for signature earlier today at an event in the General Assembly Hall in the presence of Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro. In her remarks to the gathering, the Deputy Secretary-General said that the Convention went from dream to reality in three short years. It is the first human rights treaty of the twenty-first century, and the fastest negotiated international human rights instrument in history, she said.
She also expressed confidence that the Convention would relatively easily garner the 20 signatures that are required for its entry into force and she urged Member States to sign it, noting that around the world today fewer than 50 countries have specific legislation that protects persons with disabilities.
And at 12:45 this afternoon, there will be a press conference on the opening for signature of that Convention. Here to brief you will be the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour; the Vice-President of Ecuador, Lenin Moreno; New Zealand’s Minister for Disabilities Issues, Ruth Dyson; Mexico’s Under-Secretary for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights, Juan Manuel Gómez Robledo and Yannis Vardakastanis from the International Disability Caucus. So in just about half an hour from now.
** Central African Republic
The UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, John Holmes, is in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, today, after spending the morning visiting some of the areas most affected by civil conflict in the northern part of that country.
Holmes said that the UN plans to establish coordination offices in these remote areas since one of the greatest challenges for humanitarian workers is reaching people in need. Tens of thousands of people are hiding in the bush, the road system is degraded, and there are few NGO partners on the ground, he added.
And we have a press release on that upstairs.
Meanwhile, in nearby Chad, the World Food Programme (WFP) is warning that thousands of displaced Chadians in the eastern border region with Sudan are running out of food. WFP had planned to feed some 50,000 displaced persons but, because of continuing conflict and instability in the region, that number has almost tripled. WFP says it needs more than $7 million to provide additional food for the next six months.
And we have more in a press release upstairs.
The UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) says that its Justice Section has so far helped to train a total of 334 judges and registrars working in 16 districts as part of an effort to strengthen the rule of law and the Haitian judiciary.
The programme, which was begun in August 2006, aims to deepen local judges’ and registrars’ understanding of the rules and regulations of the Peace Tribunals, with a view to improving and streamlining the administration of the tribunals and reducing the backlog in pending cases, among other goals. And that programme is run jointly with the International Organization of la Francophonie and the US National Center of States Court.
**Human Rights Council
From Geneva, the Human Rights Council today concluded its fourth session, adopting nine resolutions and decisions including, by consensus, one on Darfur, in which it expressed deep concern about the seriousness of the ongoing violations of human rights and international humanitarian law there.
In addition, the Council decided to convene a group, to be presided over by the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Sudan, to work with the Sudanese Government and African Union mechanisms to monitor the situation on the ground and follow up existing resolutions and recommendations.
Other human rights resolutions and decisions adopted today addressed unilateral coercive measures, international cooperation, globalization, intolerance and discrimination based on religion or belief, and the right to development.
**United Nations Population Fund
From the UN Population Fund, we have information that the Malawi Government today launched the first African Road Map to combat maternal and infant death. Every day, 16 Malawian women die due to complications during pregnancy or childbirth. The new Road Map provides strategies that will reduce these numbers and ensure that women go through pregnancy, childbirth and post-delivery safely, while also ensuring that their babies are alive and healthy.
And we have a press release from UNFPA upstairs with more details.
**UNESCO/Press Freedom Prize
For the first time, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is giving its annual press freedom award posthumously, to Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya. She was killed in front of her Moscow home last October.
The award jury for the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize cited Ms. Politkovskaya’s “incredible courage and stubbornness in chronicling events in Chechnya after the whole world had given up on that conflict”.
And we have more in a press release upstairs.
**The Week Ahead
We will have upstairs for you The Week Ahead. Among the events taking place next week: our guest at the noon on Monday will be Mr. Eloho Otobo from the UN Economic Commission for Africa, who will brief you on their “Economic Report on Africa 2007”, which is to be launched in Addis Ababa the following day .
We will also have a press conference on Monday at 11:00 am, sponsored by the Ugandan Mission to the United Nations on the International Summit of Grandparents and Kinship Caregivers. The guest speaker will be the recording artist Patti Page. The following NGOs will also participate: the National Committee of Grandparents for Children’s Rights, the AARP, the Child Welfare League of America, the Grand Magazine, and the Florida Kinship Center-University of South Florida.
That is it for me, are there any questions?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Does the Secretary-General have any updated statement on the unrest in Somalia, in Mogadishu, right now?
Associate Spokesperson: No. The statement that we put out yesterday is what stands. Obviously, in that statement, he had expressed his concern at what was a significant escalation of the fighting on the ground in Mogadishu. And his Special Representative, François Lonseny Fall, also expressed his concerns, as we noted yesterday. Mr. Fall is continuing to follow-up. But today, as yesterday, the fighting is a cause for concern by us.
Question: Just a follow-up. Is the Secretary-General making any phone calls with reference to this? Is he speaking to the Organization of the Islamic Conference or...?
Associate Spokesperson: I don’t want to get too ahead of ourselves, but I do expect that in the coming few days he will in fact be making phone calls on this. But I’ll be able to give you the details once those have actually happened. But yes, he does intend to take this matter up with a number of leaders.
Question: Regarding the implementation of [resolution] 1701, is Mr. Ban Ki-moon going to visit the border areas with Syria or with Israel in the south?
Associate Spokesperson: He will in fact be visiting southern Lebanon tomorrow. He’ll make a tour of the area and we’ll have some information about that at the time. But yes, he will also be visiting the UNIFIL zone and will tour certain areas by helicopter.
Question: Will he meet anyone from Hezbollah in Lebanon?
Associate Spokesperson: I’ll see what the further meetings for today are. I know that among the other meetings scheduled are with some different members of Cabinet. And he is meeting across a wide spectrum of parties.
Question: Does the United Nations have anything to report, any progress, on the Iran-Britain standoff? Any progress at all that the Secretary-General has?
Associate Spokesperson: We don’t have anything particularly further to say beyond what I just read of the press statement that was read out by the President of the Security Council. Obviously, we’re continuing to monitor the situation.
Question: Since then, nothing?
Associate Spokesperson: We’re continuing to monitor the situation. You, of course, can also tell from the statements by the respective Governments where they stand on this.
Question: Yesterday, the Secretariat’s briefer about Zimbabwe to the Security Council was asked if he thought the situation in Zimbabwe was a threat to international peace and security. And he said that he does not think that it is. I’m wondering if that is the Secretariat’s position?
Associate Spokesperson: The Secretariat has mentioned in the past certain possible problems, including problems that could go across the border. However, we haven’t given any evaluation to the Security Council in terms of whether or not this constitutes a threat to international peace and security. And it’s up to the Security Council, of course, to determine these things. So, in some ways, it would be better to ask the members of the Security Council whether they are discussing, or whether they have any view, on whether this does constitute such a threat.
Question: I will do that as well. And there’s also another thing that came out of the Council yesterday: it’s that, back to the Secretariat, on Kosovo, there’s a discussion of getting a report for the Council about the implementation of resolution 1244, the original Kosovo resolution. But they said it’s up to the Secretariat to actually produce that report. Are you aware of that? That seems to be a precondition for going forward.
Associate Spokesperson: If the Council formally requests a report, obviously we always comply with that. So we would await any request for such a report.
Question: You’re not aware of such a request?
Associate Spokesperson: At this stage, the next event, which may happen as early as next week depending on when Council Members agree to it, would be the report by Mr. [Martti] Ahtisaari, on the question of final status. And, like I told you yesterday, Mr. Ahtisaari has made it clear that, once he talks to the Council, he’ll be willing to talk to you about that topic as well.
Question: Is that report that Matthew mentioned going to be a report from the Secretariat, or a United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) report, or just a specific report on Security Council resolution 1244? Who is going to do it?
Associate Spokesperson: We would have to see what and whether the Security Council would request any such report. Depending on what the Council wants, obviously.
Question: Yes, but we really don’t have, now, a clear picture of what is this report. Is that an UNMIK report? Or it’s a special additional report that has to be produced?
Associate Spokesperson: UNMIK already produces regular reports. We give the Security Council regular reports on the work that’s being done by UNMIK. If there is any need for any other sort of report, having to do with resolution 1244 and its implementation and its follow-up, we would await any request from the Security Council for what kind of information they’re looking for.
Question: You had a readout on the Human Rights Council. I was just wondering, does the Secretary-General have any remarks, especially in regard to Darfur and that resolution?
Associate Spokesperson: Well, in terms of the resolution: as you know, the Secretary-General has called for the Human Rights Council to branch out and look at a range of human rights issues, rather than focus narrowly on just one or two countries. So, it’s clearly a good sign that they’re able to deal with issues like Darfur. Beyond that, Louise Arbour is actually in the building now. In fact, she’ll be talking to you on disability rights at 12:45.
Question: But the question is specifically about the Secretary-General. Because I’ve read the resolution and it’s very weak, on reading it. So the question is: does the Secretary-General, in terms of not accommodating what Jody Williams had mentioned in the Mission and what their findings were -- they were barred by Khartoum and things like that -- so, is the Secretary-General at least expressing some sort of judgment on what…?
Associate Spokesperson: I haven’t spoken to him directly about the contents of this particular resolution. But certainly the Member States of the Human Rights Council were able to come to an agreement. It was an agreement that was satisfactory to all the Members of the Council. That, at least, is a step forward in terms of trying to get them to deal with this issue, and we hope they will continue to deal with this issue.
Question: Regarding [resolution] 1701, again: Obviously, Mr. Ban Ki-moon has pointed out that Israel continues to defy the international community’s wish to stop overflights over Lebanon. What’s the next step? Israel has been criticized for this for many months, but no action has been taken. Is Mr. Ban Ki-moon going to recommend, for example, bringing it before the Security Council?
Associate Spokesperson: At this stage, we already inform the Council regularly of any violations of resolution 1701, including overflights across the Blue Line. So, they are informed of that. And, as you know, I just read out what the Secretary-General had to say about this, which is that these violations of Lebanese sovereignty must stop.
Question: So am I to interpret from what you just said that Mr. Ban Ki-moon is satisfied that the people of Darfur are getting justice and that their human rights are being protected?
Associate Spokesperson: As I said, I haven’t heard from him specifically about the text of this resolution. Of course, the main person in the United Nations system dealing with human rights will be talking to you in just about 20 minutes from now. You can always -- although most of the questions will be about disabilities, I’m sure -- but you can ask her about that.
Question: In trying to follow up on yesterday’s noon briefing -- your answer to Mr. Pincas Jawetz: in essence, are you saying that he has no right to a judicial forum? And if so, isn’t that in contradiction to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which says everybody has a right to a competent judicial forum, and Section 29 of the Convention on Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations, where the United Nations is required to provide a judicial forum for disputes, not only for contracts, not only for staff, but for everybody else?
Associate Spokesperson: Mr. Jawetz, like every other person who has applied for a press pass in this building, goes through a process, which includes a process of review by the Department of Public Information. They actually gave him an opportunity, after November, to have a period of several more months in which his pass was extended, so that he could show that he could submit any actual, original copy. After that period passed, and they did not receive any original copy, he didn’t get any further extension. It’s quite possible that he can continue to try in the coming months or the coming years to apply and to provide any evidence of any journalistic copy. But this discussion is really, essentially, about the question of “Are there any criteria at all by which we give out press passes”?
Question: Without getting into the substance of...
Associate Spokesperson: But he has availed himself of a process, and I assure you that his rights have been respected, and he has been treated with respect.
Question: But the Department of Public Information is not a judicial body. I’m saying the right to a competent judicial forum.
Associate Spokesperson: I think you’re going off on a bit of a tangent. His rights have been respected under the same sort of process that other journalists in this building face or would face.
Question: One thing on that, and something else on a follow-up on Jonathan’s question. I think yesterday you’d said that it was a joint decision by the Department of Public Information and the United Nations Correspondents Association. And I asked Mr. [Ahmad] Fawzi, and there was an on-the-record quote from him that it was the Department of Public Information’s decision. And in this meeting with the United Nations Correspondents Association, he said, “We are informing you, as a matter of courtesy.” So I wanted to ask you, is that your understanding as well?
Associate Spokesperson: And what Mr. Fawzi told me was that the United Nations Correspondents Association was informed and they raised no objection. I checked with Tuyet, who said that that was an accurate description. So in other words, the United Nations Correspondents Association was...
Question: Just to be clear: at the meeting, Mr. Fawzi said to the United Nations Correspondents Association people present, “As a courtesy, we are informing you of a decision we are about to take.” That was a direct quote that was sent to Mr. Fawzi for his commenting. It’s on tape.
[Another speaker] Actually, the former President of the United Nations Correspondents Association and the current President, they raised an objection. They said that it’s not our -- UNCA’s -- decision but it’s a decision of the Department of Public Information. Mr. Halder is here, and Tuyet is there. They raised an objection.
Associate Spokesperson: I was told that there hadn’t been any actual objection raised.
Question: Can I ask something about the Human Rights Council? There’s some controversy about an incident that took place. The U.N. Watch, a non-governmental organization accredited to the Human Rights Council, read a statement about human rights and was told by the Chair of the Human Rights Council that he wouldn’t be thanked for his statement and such statements would be stricken in the future. This is circulating quite widely, actually. So I’m wondering if the Secretariat has any position on whether -- it’s because he criticized, I guess, some things about the Council -- whether statements can be stricken from the record. Given the importance of the Human Rights Council to the United Nations system as a whole, you’re not aware of that?
Associate Spokesperson: I’m not aware of it. I’d need some more information. So I’ll get in touch with my colleagues in Geneva.
[He later told correspondents that the statement had not been stricken from the record.]
If that’s it, I wish you all a happy weekend and to remember that, at 12:45, we’ll have the briefing on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in this room.
* *** *For information media • not an official record