|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICES OF THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
AND THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly, Ashraf Kamal.
Briefing by the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Good afternoon. We have a group of students from the College of Journalism at the University of Maryland attending the briefing today. We would like to welcome them.
This afternoon at 3:45, there will be a background briefing in this room by a senior UN official on the tribunal of an international character for Lebanon.
In response to questions, I will confirm that the Secretariat has received the memorandum addressed to the Secretary-General by 70 Lebanese parliamentarians and is studying it. The Secretary-General continues to be concerned by the political impasse in Lebanon and hopes that the relevant Lebanese institutions will take the steps necessary under their Constitution to conclude the Agreement.
During his visit to Beirut, all of his interlocutors expressed to him their support for a process that would bring to justice those responsible for the attack that killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and others. The Secretary-General remains convinced that the preferred path toward justice is through the fulfilment of the Lebanese constitutional process, but he notes the difficulties described by the parliamentarians relating to the convening of the Parliament to consider the matter.
The Security Council today heard a briefing in an open meeting on the humanitarian situation in Africa from Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes, who has returned from his first mission to Sudan, Chad and the Central African Republic.
He said that there is a clear regional aspect to the conflicts in those countries, which drives the deep humanitarian problems there. The spillover effect from Darfur is clear, not least in eastern Chad, he said.
Yet, Holmes added that there is a clearly internal aspect to each conflict too, and there have to be national solutions in addition to the regional approach. The fundamental need, he said, is for political solutions brought about through dialogue and mediation.
Holmes will speak to you at the stakeout after he finishes. He’s presently speaking to the Council.
This afternoon, the Security Council intends to hold consultations on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with a briefing by the head of the UN Mission, William Swing.
And the Council President, UK Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry, will brief you in this room at 12:30 -– in a few minutes -- on the programme of work for the month of April.
**Security Council –- Kosovo
Yesterday afternoon, the Security Council heard a briefing by the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Future Status Process in Kosovo, Martti Ahtisaari, in a private meeting, which was followed by closed consultations.
Ahtisaari later spoke to reporters, telling them that this was the start of a process and that he was pleased by the discussions with the members of the Security Council. He said that the process, if not a marathon, was “at least a 10,000-metre run”. He said it is important that the Security Council should recognize that, the sooner a decision is made on Kosovo, the better.
On Somalia, yesterday in Cairo, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Somalia, François Lonseny Fall, took part in a meeting of the International Contact Group for Somalia, along with officials from the League of Arab States, Egypt and other key members of the international community.
In his remarks to the gathering, Fall said that the surge in violence in Somalia brings into sharp focus the differences between the proponents of forced disarmament to secure Mogadishu and those staking out the position that reconciliation must precede any disarmament. He also noted the establishment last month of a national governance and reconciliation committee and the expected holding of a reconciliation congress now scheduled for mid-May.
Citing the ongoing violence, Fall questioned the choice of Mogadishu as the venue for that congress.
On the peacekeeping front, he said that African Union member States should be encouraged to commit and deploy more troops. Meanwhile, he noted, donors have pledged only $120 million out of the required $377 million for the AU force and he appealed for further financial support.
On Sudan, the tripartite mechanism, composed of representatives from the United Nations, the African Union and the Government of Sudan, which oversees the implementation of UN support to the African Union Mission in Sudan, met today in Khartoum.
The United Nations informed the meeting that 21 additional military staff officers and 10 civilian staff members have been recruited as part of the light support package staff, to be deployed in support of the African Union Mission.
We have more details in today’s briefing notes from Khartoum.
The UN Mission in Sudan also reports that more than 1,000 internally displaced persons arrived at the Hamadiya camp in West Darfur during the last week. They are mainly women and children who claim that they are fleeing violence perpetrated by Abala tribesmen, and that many of their men were killed.
Over in Timor-Leste, the United Nations continues efforts in giving support to candidates during the campaigning period of the 2007 presidential and parliamentary electoral process, including technical and logistical support, electoral policy advice and verification or other means.
The assistance of the United Nations Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) for the presidential election also includes a candidate resource centre to support all eight presidential campaigns. The Centre, established in Dili on 28 February, provides candidates with the use of computer and office facilities.
Meanwhile, United Nations police responded to campaigning in Dili today by increasing its number of patrols. One hundred patrols were conducted between approximately 6 a.m. and 3 p.m.
Under phase two of electoral security operations, UN and Timorese police are providing close protection to all candidates, as well as conducting risk assessments across the country’s 13 districts for political events.
**OCHA –- Solomon Islands
UN emergency responders are on the ground in the Solomon Islands, helping in the recovery from the recent earthquake and tsunami. The death toll is currently at 34, with dozens still missing and more than 5,000 displaced, according to Government statistics.
A temporary hospital has been established in Gizo to replace one that is reportedly damaged beyond use. Eight emergency field hospitals are also being set up. UNICEF will support four of them, while the World Health Organization (WHO) and its partners will support the others. Those agencies are also sending eight additional emergency medical kits.
Meanwhile, UNESCO is also offering support in tsunami recovery efforts. The agency's director, Koichiro Matsuura, expressed sorrow over the loss of life and extensive damage.
**UNICEF -– Central African Republic
UNICEF is calling for urgent action to tackle what it calls a “humanitarian disaster” in the Central African Republic.
UNICEF’s country representative, Mahimbo Mdoe, told journalists in Geneva today that escalating conflict between the Government and rebel groups has forced more than 200,000 people to flee their homes in recent years and left 40 per cent of children malnourished.
UNICEF launched an appeal for nearly $12 million in January but has received less than a quarter of that amount so far.
**OCHA –- Southern Africa
An unusually long and intense rainy season in southern Africa has once again highlighted the region’s vulnerability to natural disasters and food insecurity, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)
An unprecedented series of cyclones and storms has stretched local authorities and humanitarian partners to the limit, threatening the lives of more than a million people.
A flash appeal for almost $9 million for Zambia remains less than five per cent funded, OCHA says, while a similar appeal for Madagascar has yet to receive half the funds sought. Angola, Mozambique, Namibia and Zambia are also struggling to recover from the months of relentless rains.
We have more in a press release upstairs.
Representatives of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and UNICEF in Nepal jointly spoke out to prevent the use and abuse of children by political actors in that country.
Urging political leaders to protect children’s rights, UNICEF and OHCHR released a 10-point statement which guides the Nepalese Government in protecting their children from being used in political activities.
The statement is available upstairs.
This is all I have for you. We’re going to have very short questions because Ashraf has to speak to you. Then the President of the Council is coming.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Does the Secretary-General have any reaction to the release of the British soldiers by the Iranians? And, will he now ask for the release of the Iranian diplomats reportedly held by Coalition forces in Iraq?
Spokesperson: The Secretary-General welcomes the announcement that was made today and he reiterated his hope that the issue can be resolved as soon as possible. We don’t have yet -– I cannot answer the second part of your question, because I don’t know whether the Secretary-General will intervene directly –- I don’t have that information.
Question: On Monday, The New York Times carried a report that Senator McCain, who visited Baghdad recently, declared that Iraq is safe. Now, in the Secretary-General’s perspective, because he was there recently… and the UN position that Iraq is still the most dangerous place. What is the United Nations position?
Spokesperson: Well, I don’t think he’s going to react to the statement made by Senator McCain. I think what he has said is that the situation was dangerous. There were security risks, but that he was willing and he wanted to be engaged. He wanted the UN to study the ways in which the UN could be more engaged there. So, he’s not saying that there are no security risks. What he is saying is that he’s studying ways for the UN to become more involved.
Question: Was the Secretary-General involved in any way in diplomacy that led to today’s announcement?
Spokesperson: I will not comment on that.
Question: Serbian Prime Minister Kostunica yesterday alleged that Kosovo’s independence was against the UN Charter. Can you please clarify which Charter Kosovo’s independence is against? And also today, US Special Envoy for Kosovo, Ambassador Frank Wisner, said that independence was the only way to go forward. Can you comment on that?
Spokesperson: No, I don’t have any specific comments on this. The comments on Kosovo -– I gave them to you yesterday. What you can do, you got a chance yesterday to speak to Mr. Ahtisaari. And I think you can have a chance to discuss the legal issues with the senior UN official who will speak to you this afternoon.
Question: I will continue on this issue. Madame, the Security Council has been divided over the Kosovo issue. Is the Secretary-General going to be more involved in this question? And, do you foresee any difficulties on resolving the Kosovo issue?
Spokesperson: Well, the Secretary-General has expressed his support for the report that Mr. Ahtisaari submitted to the Council, but he’s not going to get involved in Council matters. It is up to the Council to discuss the issue, and the Secretary-General is not going to get involved at this time.
Question: Follow-up to Benny’s question. You said you’re not going to comment on whether Ban Ki-moon had any part in the release of the (inaudible) –- why is that?
Spokesperson: Simply because I think we are not discussing it now. The important thing is that they be released.
Question: But do you foresee talking about this at some point? Is it just that you’ve been told to keep quiet for the next couple of days?
Spokesperson: Well, we’re not talking about it now.
Question: Alright. And just to follow up on the UNDP issue with North Korea. We asked, I think a couple of weeks ago, I don’t know if it was me or Benny, to get some feedback from the Board of Auditors on how the process is going along in the investigation in North Korea. Have you heard back from them at all?
Spokesperson: Yesterday I mentioned that the process –- they’ve finished the first part of the process, which is the study of the information available here. And they are going to proceed shortly with the DPRK part of the investigation.
Question: And with counterfeit money, because North Korea is not the only place where the UN operates, if, for instance, you are overseas, [and you] or any of your colleagues run into counterfeit money as part of the regular balance of payment, are you informed, do you have any regulations on how you should handle that money?
Spokesperson: Well, no. We don’t have a policy on counterfeit money, if that’s what your question is. What I can say is that all the clarification on the specific situation concerning UNDP, you can get that information from UNDP. And from what I gather, they have been willing to give you that information.
Question: Right, but for instance, when we’re operating in the field or travelling even as citizens, if we encounter bad money we turn it into the authorities or go to the bank. You’re saying that there’s no such regulation within the UN.
Spokesperson: No, there’s no specific regulation on counterfeit money. No. There isn’t.
Question: Excuse me, as currency, there’s an American law regarding American currency, which is, as far as I understand it, the property of the US Government, and according to that law, anyone who possesses counterfeit money is punishable by 15 years, or a fine, or both. So does that include UN workers or are UN workers exempt from that?
Spokesperson: I don’t think American law applies to a country other than this country.
Question: But that means if I possess fake US currency within the UN…
Spokesperson: If you’re referring to the question of the counterfeit money related to UNDP, I think first, they’ve been very open about giving you information on exactly how this happened. And I think we should wait also for the audit to be finished. Then you have everything, very clear explanations about what happened.
Question: I think you confirmed yesterday also that you’re cooperating with another investigation, which I understand is an American federal investigation. So that means that you are acceding that there is a need to cooperate with American authorities on that.
Spokesperson: There is always a need to cooperate with local authorities on any issue. Yes.
Question: Since you said yesterday, and I appreciated that, that the two-week preparation period is finished. The ACABQ is drafting it. How does this relate to the 90-day time period? Because some people said that’s going to run out April 19th.
Spokesperson: Well it depends how much time the ACABQ takes.
Question: Right, but the 90 days is not set –- I remember you said the clock is ticking.
Spokesperson: Yes, I cannot answer for the ACABQ.
Question: Right, but do we know when…
Spokesperson: I cannot answer that question.
Question: Yesterday or this morning, Nancy Pelosi of the US House of Representatives said that she was carrying a message from Prime Minister Olmert to the Syrian President and that Olmert is ready to open dialogue and peace with the Syrian authorities. And after seeing President Assad, she said that the Syrian President is ready to open a dialogue with Israel. Will the Secretary-General seize this opportunity and in concrete fashion achieve this dialogue?
Spokesperson: Well, as you know, the Secretary-General met with Mr. Assad when he was in Saudi Arabia, at the summit. And they discussed several issues. The Secretary-General has always said that regional actors in the region should be consulted.
Question: Negotiations have been going on over 15 years on the Kosovo issue, and the UN came up with a report. And now, everybody is saying that they will go on with more negotiations, especially when Russia is coming out against the plan. Is the UN going to be part of the negotiations or not?
Spokesperson: Well, Mr. Ahtisaari is the Special Envoy. He’s the one who…
Question: (Inaudible) the report or not?
Spokesperson: Well, I cannot say at this point. It’s a hypothetical question, and I think we will proceed first after the Security Council has come to some form of an understanding on the issue.
Question: Mr. Ban plans to go to Damascus himself?
Spokesperson: Yes, he does.
Question: Can you say when?
Spokesperson: No, I cannot say when, but I can confirm that he does.
Briefing by the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly
**Administration of Justice
Good afternoon. Moving on to less contentious issues. The General Assembly will meet in plenary this afternoon to take action on several draft resolutions recommended by the Fifth Committee on Friday, among which is one that would effect an overhaul of the system of administration of justice within the UN system. This is the first time in 60 years that this is happening.
Placing great emphasis on informal resolution of disputes before they escalate to unnecessary litigation, the draft resolution envisions strengthening of the Ombudsman’s Office through the establishment of a Mediation Division at Headquarters and identification of possible new posts for the Ombudsman’s Office in Geneva, Vienna and Nairobi.
The text also outlines a fundamentally different two-tier formal system of justice, consisting of first-instance and appellate tribunals, rendering binding decisions and ordering appropriate remedies. The Joint Appeals Boards and the Joint Disciplinary Committees would be replaced with a new, decentralized first-instance Dispute Tribunal. The second tier of justice would be represented by a United Nations Appeals Tribunal. The system would be coordinated by a newly established Office of the Administration of Justice.
The draft resolution requests the Secretary-General to report on a series of issues regarding the establishment of the new system, including in-depth analysis regarding the scope of the persons that might be covered by the new system, proposals on the nomination and selection process for the Ombudsmen and the judges, and revised terms of reference for the Ombudsmen.
The Assembly would decide to continue consideration of the item during its sixty-second session as a matter of priority and with the objective of implementing the new system of administration of justice no later than January 2009.
Assembly President Sheikha Haya Al Khalifa is expected to state at the adoption of the resolution that the Assembly’s approval of the first serious overhaul of the United Nations system of administration of justice in 60 years is a significant step forward in improving the effectiveness and efficiency of the Organization.
“Around the world, the Organization promotes justice and equality, and represents the rule of law to its members. The Organization, therefore, requires a system of justice that is independent, transparent, professional and adequately resourced.”
Embargoed copies of her statement are available upstairs.
Sheikha Haya made the reform of the justice system one of her highest priorities since she was elected. She met with Secretariat officials and representatives of the staff many times and remained engaged in the negotiations, even while she was away on her last trip. She was even ready to extend the Fifth Committee’s session until the resolution had been adopted. Luckily, Member States were able to come to an agreement. As a lawyer, this is a matter that is very close to her heart and, finally, we now have the basis for a fairer, more transparent and more effective justice system for the UN.
**Questions and Answers
Question: About the administration of justice, people have noticed that the resolution changed from January 2008 to January 2009 and it doesn’t have any dollar figures in it. If the system is broken, how can it be that it…?
Spokesperson: The resolution requests the Secretary-General to submit a report on the resources required for its implementation.
Question: Do you know with the urgent audit of North Korea, now apparently the ball is in the ACABQ -– it’s up to them -– when will they…?
Spokesperson: I don’t know the exact day but I can find out for you.
Question: It was reported that when she (inaudible) attended this Arab League conference in Riyadh, she was not accorded the treatment that the President of the United Nations General Assembly should be given. She was seated way in the back. She is, in fact, at the level of head of Government and she was way in back and not given any notice. Do you have any comment?
Spokesperson: It’s absolutely not true.
Spokesperson: She was treated with complete deference.
Question: This is an old subject. Several journalists have been asking for months if the President of the Security Council could come and give a press briefing. Can you give a final answer?
Spokesperson: The Security Council?
Correspondent: I meant the General Assembly. I beg your pardon. The President of the General Assembly.
Spokesperson: Press conference, I mean, just a press conference in general or any specific subject?
Spokesperson: I’ll ask her.
Correspondent: We have been asking for months literally.
Spokesperson: Actually, not for months. You asked me while she was away on her last trip, and I said that I would check with her when she comes back. So I will claim the guilt for that. I will check with her.
Question: On this new proposed system of justice, you mentioned that it’s supposed to be independent. And I’m wondering at the point at which a person, let’s say who’s caught up in the system with some sort of grievance -- is there any option for that person if they go through the justice system and decide that they need to pursue their case further pressing for immunity of an individual to be lifted or some recourse instead of running into a catch-22 situation in which, because immunity of the UN itself -– the whole UN itself is immune to prosecution or any sort of lawsuit and individuals at all -– what recourse does an individual caught within that catch-22 have with this new justice system?
Spokesperson: OK. If your question is, “Does the new system open the UN up to being sued?” the answer is, “absolutely not”, because Member States would never allow that to happen. If your question is, would anybody need recourse after the second instance? No, that’s the final -– the appellate court. And this is exactly what mirrors most legal systems in the world. What we tried to fix was a system that was not working at all, because, basically, the Joint Appeals Board would make a recommendation, which the Secretary-General could take or reject. And, in this case, the staff member would only have one recourse, which is to go to the Administrative Tribunal. And the Administrative Tribunal would say yes, you are right or no, you are wrong, and that’s where it ends.
Now, it’s not going to be a recommendation. It’s not going to be the Joint Appeals Board that just makes a recommendation to the Secretary-General to accept or reject; it would be rendering a binding decision. And it’s up to the Administration or the person concerned to go to the second appellate court.
Question: So it’s all within the UN system. Then there is really no true independence.
Spokesperson: It’s going to be very independent. But, again, you see the problem is, if you want it to be outside the ambit of the UN, then the UN itself would be subject to being sued. And that cannot happen.
Correspondent: Well, you can say that, but a person who has a particular grievance, you know…
Spokesperson: I’m discussing this, not from an ideological or an idealistic point of view; I’m discussing this from a very practical point of view. The system that you have and how to fix it within the limits of what, again, Member States would find acceptable.
Question: Have you heard from the Staff Union on this?
Spokesperson: The Staff Union actually thanked the President earlier today, this morning.
Question: Could you just make sure that you confirm with the President of the GA about this incident that I’m talking about. Could you talk to her?
Spokesperson: Is that a particular incident or are you talking about a reported…?
Correspondent: (inaudible) not given the treatment that she was due.
Spokesperson: I actually watched the opening session and I saw exactly where she was seated. She took the floor right after the Secretary-General according to protocol and etiquette rules. And she was provided with two chauffeurs, just in case Benny wanted to ask a question.
Question: Russia said the US violated its host country responsibilities by blocking the Foreign Minister of Abkhazia from coming to the UN. Here’s the question. Since it’s a GA committee -- the Host Country Committee -- does the US have to allow in people to come and testify or participate in an Arria style hearing. Because the US says that they don’t, and that’s why they didn’t let them in. Since we had one yesterday, I’m wondering, maybe you know this or maybe you can find out.
Spokesperson: I don’t think that’s a question that I would ask. I think Legal Affairs would tell you if the US has jurisdiction over this. I remember years ago, the General Assembly moved from here to Geneva when it thought that one action by the host country was not very appropriate. So they moved the General Assembly to Geneva to listen to a leader who was not given a visa.
Question: Is the President of the General Assembly involved in the current search for peace in the Middle East?
Spokesperson: She was, that’s what she was doing in Riyadh.
Spokesperson: There was nothing concrete. She had several meetings with several leaders and she discussed quite a number of things with them. But, again, I will pick a page out of Michele’s book -– I like that page –- the best quiet diplomacy is to just leave the details until later.
* *** *For information media • not an official record