|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 Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon all. I’d like first to introduce a group of journalism students from the University of Rome. They are with us today.
**Guest at Noon
The guest at the noon briefing today is Dr. Anna Tibaijuka, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN-HABITAT, who will be briefing you on the effect of climate change on the world’s cities. Dr. Tibaijuka formerly served on British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Commission for Africa.
** Darfur Statement
This is a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General:
The Secretary-General is deeply concerned by reports of aerial bombardments in North Darfur, which have taken place over the last three weeks. These attacks have brought more destruction and loss of life, including new displacement of civilians. In one instance, the school in the village of Um Rai was struck by rockets fired from a Government helicopter.
The Secretary-General strongly urges the Government of Sudan to cease all attacks and to comply fully with the Darfur Peace Agreement, Security Council resolutions and international humanitarian law. He reiterates that only a political solution can bring peace and stability to Darfur and calls on the parties to renounce military action. He further calls on both the Government and all movements to immediately stop military hostilities and cooperate fully with the African Union and United Nations team, which is leading efforts to mediate an end to this devastating conflict.
Special Envoys for Darfur -- Jan Eliasson of the United Nations and Salim Ahmed Salim of the African Union -- are today in Juba, where they are scheduled to meet with First Vice-President and President of the Government of Southern Sudan Salva Kiir. The focus of the discussion will be on the SPLM (Sudan People’s Liberation Movement) initiative to assist in re-energizing the peace process and on the way forward in expediting the political process.
The UN Mission in Sudan also reports continued population displacements throughout Darfur, as a result of inter-tribal fighting and militia attacks. Continuous new arrivals in Nyala have now brought all the camps to exceed their maximum capacity. Available upstairs is a transcript of the Mission’s press briefing in Khartoum.
**Commission on Sustainable Development
The Secretary-General this morning addressed the high-level segment of the fifteenth session of the Commission on Sustainable Development, offering them his support as they deal with the critical issues of energy, climate change, industrial development and air pollution. Addressing those in unison, he said, creates many win-win opportunities and is crucial for sustainable development.
The Secretary-General noted that about 1.6 billion people lack access to electricity, and 2.4 billion do not have modern energy services for cooking and heating. He said: “We must do more to use and develop renewable energy sources.”
The Secretary-General added that the world urgently needs to step up action to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, with industrialized countries needing to make deeper emission reductions, as well as the need for further engagement with developing countries. We have his remarks upstairs.
The United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) reports that Wednesday’s presidential run-off between Jose Ramos-Horta and Francisco Guterres went smoothly and peacefully. According to UNMIT, no security incidents were reported. Ballot counting has begun and provisional results are expected to be released on Friday or Monday.
The Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People is convening a two-day meeting today and tomorrow in Pretoria on the Question of Palestine, and the Secretary-General has issued a message marking the occasion.
In it, the Secretary-General says that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas have begun to meet regularly to discuss a range of issues, and he hopes that the internal challenges each faces will not deter them from moving forward with discussions on the political horizon. He encourages both parties to demonstrate a true commitment to peace through a negotiated two-State solution. We have that message upstairs.
**United Nations University
The Secretary-General today announced the appointment of Professor Konrad Osterwalder of Switzerland as the next Rector of the United Nations University.
Professor Osterwalder, a physicist and current Rector, and President ad interim of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zürich, will succeed on 1 September, Professor Hans van Ginkel of the Netherlands, who has served since 1997. We have more information about Professor Osterwalder and the Tokyo-based University in my office.
**International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia
The Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia has confirmed the convictions of former Bosnian Serb Army officers Vidoje Blagojević and Dragan Jokić for crimes against humanity and violations of laws and customs of war. The convictions relate to the participation of the two individuals in crimes against Bosnian Muslims committed in the area of Srebrenica in July 1995.
In the same ruling, the Appeals Chamber reversed Blagojević’s conviction for complicity in genocide and reduced his sentence to 15 years imprisonment, while Dragan Jokić’s sentence of 9 years imprisonment was confirmed.
As of today, the Tribunal has rendered final judgments against six persons for genocide and other crimes committed in Srebrenica. We have a press release from the Tribunal upstairs.
** Sierra Leone
The UN Integrated Office in Sierra Leone is continuing on its drive to disseminate the findings and recommendations of the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission with the release this week of a music CD containing messages for greater citizen engagement toward peace consolidation.
UNIOSIL, as the Office is also known, had earlier produced and distributed a child-friendly version of the Commission’s findings, and it says that the 15 songs on the CD will bring the findings to both young and old in a country where illiteracy rates remain high and where music plays an important role in social and cultural life.
A day after UN-Energy launched its report on biofuels, the Global Bioenergy Partnership today unveiled its new website. The site is designed to provide information on the Partnership, which was created last year to promote the use of bioenergy and other “green” fuels, particularly in developing countries. We have more information on that upstairs.
**UNHCR/North Pole Race
We have an update on the two young British men, including a former UN refugee agency staff member, taking part in a race to the North Pole. Jake Morland and James Turner reached the Pole last Wednesday, edging out five other teams to win the 2007 Polar Race. Morland served with UNHCR in East Timor, Iraq, Sri Lanka and Sudan; Turner is a teacher.
The two have raised more than $100,000 from sponsors, but hope to raise five times that amount by the end of the year. They plan to use the money to establish a special trust fund for urgent medical evacuations of refugee children, and a quick access fund to enable field officers to bypass time-consuming paperwork. We have more information on that upstairs.
**Press Conferences Tomorrow
Following the noon briefing tomorrow, at 12:30 p.m., there will be a press conference by Mr. Amre Moussa, Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, on the General Assembly’s third informal thematic debate, which focuses on “Civilizations and the Challenge for Peace: Obstacles and Opportunities.”
At 3 p.m. tomorrow, there will be a press conference by Mr. Stavros Dimas, Environment Commissioner for the European Union; Mr. Sigmar Gabriel, Environment Minister of Germany; and Karl-Heinz Florenz, Member of the European Parliament, on the EU’s policies on global climate challenges, particularly climate change.
Finally, I have an announcement for United Nations Correspondents Association (UNCA) members. The planned briefing on Kosovo by Ambassador Johan Verbeke of Beligium in the UNCA Club at 11 a.m. this morning has been postponed until tomorrow, Thursday, at 11 a.m. This is all I have for you.
Thank you. Yes, Masood?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Michèle, I just wanted to (inaudible) that ever since the British Ambassador in his last presidency made climate change a big issue. What has happened that the Secretary-General and the United Nations has found this as a cause; that there is nothing else going on but climate change at this time? How much money has been given? I mean, you’ve come out guns blazing for this.
Spokesperson: I have to say one thing, Masood. The Secretary-General did not start to talk about climate change after the Security Council meeting. This is totally wrong. The Secretary-General started…
Question: No, I’m not saying that. I am saying, what has happened after that meeting that you have come out guns blazing on this issue, as if there is no other issue at this point in time at the United Nations? It’s climate change, climate change, climate change.
Spokesperson: Well, there happens to be a meeting of the Commission on Sustainable Development at the same time.
Question: Because, about four or five years ago, one couldn’t talk about climate change over here. Kyoto Protocol was dead. Has there been a fundamental change?
Spokesperson: You have had the reports by the United Nations on these issues. You have had a number of findings that have come out. You have had also the fact that from the start, the Secretary-General talked of climate change as a priority of his action here, as Secretary-General. So, I think to us, to the United Nations, to the Secretary-General, it was always on the front burner. It happens that we have now a number of events related to climate change issues because you have a meeting right now of the Commission on Sustainable Development, which really intensifies the attention around the issue. Yes, Mark?
Question: Two questions; one just a brief question. Can you confirm that the United Nations has had to pull out of some areas of Kashmir, where it was helping ’quake victims because somebody burned down United Nations offices? I was reading something about this on the Internet. Then, I just wondered if it was possible for you or somebody else to give more detail on what these bombings are in Darfur. How many people have been killed; more details about the date and the circumstances of the rockets fired in the village of Um Rai and so forth? Because this statement doesn’t really say much about specific details, so it would be helpful to have more.
Spokesperson: We will get more information for you on the number of them. No, I don’t have any at this point.
Question: And the withdrawal from the Kashmir area where they were helping quake victims?
Spokesperson: I don’t have the information on that either, but I will get it for you.
[The Spokesperson’s Office later said that, in view of the current security situation and the prevailing tensions, the United Nations had decided to temporarily suspend its operations and close United Nations offices in Tehsil Bagh, Pakistan.]
Question: Michèle, a couple of UNDP related questions. We’re hearing that the audit on North Korea is now completed. Can you confirm that? Is it indeed completed and will we be given access to that audit? As a follow-up, or maybe you have the answer as to what the terms of reference have been for that audit, and who was given the authorization of setting the terms of reference, and whether the Secretary-General is aware of - and has been involved in - the terms of reference of the audit itself.
Spokesperson: No, he hasn’t been involved directly. As you know, he ordered the audit to take place and after this, it was taken over by, as you know, by the independent body that is the investigative body. So they are reporting to the General Assembly, not to the Secretary-General. As soon as they have reported to the General Assembly you are going to have access; you are going to be able to know more about it.
Question: Does this mean that the Secretary-General did not have much, if any, say at all in the terms of reference of the audit, then?
Spokesperson: They are determined by the auditors.
Question: And is the audit in fact finished?
Spokesperson: Yes. As far as I know, yes it is finished.
Question: And will we get access to the audit?
Spokesperson: I said after the ACABQ and the General Assembly have had access to it.
Question: Which means how long, do you reckon?
Spokesperson: Not very long.
Question: So, we definitely will be…
Spokesperson: I think the 90 days that we had mentioned earlier.
Question: So we will indeed be able to read the audit?
Question: To follow up on that, we were told by people who have seen the document that it says things like “national staff in positions of authority noted, but outside of our terms of reference; counterfeiting allegations, noted, but outside the terms of our reference”. I think the concern is that…can you explain, what were they looking for? If things…since he’d said that seconded staff and the use of them was one of the things he was looking into, how could an issue like that be outside the terms of reference of the audit?
Spokesperson: I haven’t seen the audit. You have seen it, apparently. I have not seen it and I will not comment on it as long as it is not submitted to the General Assembly.
Question: And in your letter to the Wall Street Journal today, where you say…congratulations, it’s a well-written letter. It says, you know, that the clock started ticking on March 19, but I thought like earlier…it had been asked and you, I mean, I wasn’t, in terms of the 90 day thing, is that then when it began?
Question: So, any statements that it started earlier than that…
Spokesperson: No, actually, what happened is that the Secretary-General initiated the process before, but the 90-day start was the time when the independent auditors started actually working on it.
Question: I spoke with the Chairman of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), and he said they have absolutely nothing. They have no paper about the audit and that no funding was asked for for them for the audit. So, what’s…we kept hearing that it’s on the way to the ACABQ, or the ACABQ…has the ACABQ provided any funding for the audit, and where is the audit now, if you say it’s finished?
Spokesperson: Well, I told you, it is going to be shortly given to the ACABQ and the General Assembly. If they don’t have it yet, it’s because it’s not there yet.
Correspondent: Okay, thank you.
Spokesperson: Yes, Benny?
Question: Originally when this audit was ordered as a result of an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, the first inclination was to have an outside audit of everything, of all the agencies. That was the first announcement. Then, it turned out to be not an outside audit, but an internal audit. I mean auditors of the UNDP on the Korea issue. The question is a) is there any plan to bring in outside auditors later? And b) if you’re saying it’s completed, are we moving on to auditing other agencies, and when will that start, and what’s the schedule as far as that’s concerned?
Spokesperson: Okay, we will try to have answers to all those questions that concern the audit. As far as the outside body, the independent international auditors body is outside, I mean, it’s not…it’s an independent body that has nothing to do with the Secretary-General or with the General Assembly. Even though they report their findings to the General Assembly, they are a totally independent body.
Question: In a similar situation, when there was an audit, similarly independent, body of procurement department, they cleared a man whose court trial starts today for bribery. They cleared him of any allegations at first. Then an outside body was brought in, Cooper House was brought in, and they are the ones that found it wasn’t as kosher as the first report suggested. So my question is, since this was the first inclination of the Secretary-General, is there any chance that later on there will be an outside body?
Spokesperson: To me, I don’t see the difference that you make. I mean, the independent auditors are independent. They don’t obey the Secretary-General or any other body within the United Nations, so what we will try to do, since I see that you have quite a few questions about the audit, as I said, once the report is submitted, I am going to have someone here to respond to your questions.
Question: Maybe the auditors?
Spokesperson: If they accept, yes. They are independent.
Question: To move to Lebanon, there were reports in the Arab press that Terje Roed-Larsen was not allowed to attend the meeting between Mr. Ban Ki-moon and the Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad, and that the Syrians have reservations over his performance. Did the Secretary-General intend to find means to re-assign Mr. Larsen due to the Syrian reservations?
Spokesperson: Well, Mr. Larsen was with the Secretary-General.
Question: But he did not attend the meeting with President Bashar al-Assad.
Spokesperson: Yes, he did.
Question: The reports in the Arab press that he was not…
Spokesperson: Well, I can check that again, but as far as I know, he did.
[The Spokesperson later clarified that the meeting between the Secretary-General and Assad had been a tête-à-tête. Therefore, it was correct that Larsen had not been in attendance.]
Question: Yes, this question has been asked before but there was no reply. Now that the World Bank board has formally determined that Paul Wolfowitz broke all rules, that he indulged in every (inaudible) and nepotism, will the Secretary-General, as the head of the United Nations body and advocate of good governance, encourage Mr. Wolfowitz to resign from the post?
Spokesperson: Well, the Secretary-General will not intervene. As you know, the World Bank has its own rules and those rules are being followed. There is an executive board taking care of what is happening at the World Bank, and the Secretary-General will not intervene in the process, nor will he comment on the process.
Question: But will he encourage him to leave?
Spokesperson: No, he will not intervene in the process.
Question: In other words, does he want him to stay in the job?
Spokesperson: He has no comments at all on this. Yes?
Question: According to the Syrians, neither Mr. Geir Pedersen nor Mr. Larsen attended Mr. Assad’s meeting with Mr. Ban Ki-moon.
Spokesperson: Well, I’ll check for you exactly who was there.
Question: Another thing, on global warming: are we going to get anything out of this debate at the United Nations, and all these reports, that we get something mandatory on the countries that are high-pollutant. Are we more interested to restrict the pollution?
Spokesperson: You know that this is a process that is going on. There is going to be in December a meeting in Bali and this is moving. The process, as Masood noted, really has reached a new momentum. Yes, Mark?
Question: Just wondering what the latest is on filling the 38th floor?
Spokesperson: There are a number of appointments that, the posts are being filled, as we go along. You will get some names…
Question: How many posts have been filled so far?
Spokesperson: I’ll check on the exact number of posts filled for you.
Question: And what is the process, just to follow up on the review of the Special Representatives of the Secretary-General and all of that, where are we on that?
Spokesperson: The review of the existing, the ones who are serving right now…
Question: There was going to be sort of a look at all of them and whether they were going to stay or whether they were going to go, where are we on that?
Spokesperson: I will check the process for you.
Question: And where are we on the appointment of a Middle East Envoy?
Spokesperson: We have not moved on that yet.
Question: Where are we on the appointment of a Sudan Envoy?
Spokesperson: We don’t have a choice yet. There are a number of people being considered.
Question: Why is it that so many months in, there are so many posts vacant? I mean, there is an increasing curiosity about this.
Spokesperson: I think it is the desire on the part of the Secretary-General to choose wisely.
Question: Has a speechwriter been appointed yet?
Spokesperson: Yes, there is a speechwriter.
Question: Oh, that’s official now, is it? Mr. Mike Myers is official now?
Spokesperson: No, this will be announced soon on who gets what. There is a…
Question: Has the Genocide Adviser been appointed yet?
Spokesperson: Mark, will you go down the whole list?
Spokesperson: As soon as I have an appointment, I will let you know about it, alright?
Correspondent: Thank you.
Spokesperson: That will save you a few words.
Question: To follow up on the appointments, the Office of the Special Adviser on Africa, the Under Secretary-General, has just left in April. Is the Secretary-General going to appoint a USG or a less status for that position? I’d like to ask that specifically. And secondly, I wanted to know, what is the update on the AU-UN hybrid force for Sudan? Has the US started to compose the force? I would like to know the update.
Spokesperson: You mean the United Nations…has the United Nations started to…
Question: The AU-UN force in Darfur.
Spokesperson: DPKO is working on it. We have asked for an update and you should get it very shortly. As you know, there were offers by some countries for some part of the heavy support package. The hybrid force is another story. Right now, we’re working on the heavy support package. And the hybrid force, we should know a little more about the commitments of different countries. But right now, we are dealing with the heavy support package.
Question: And what about the Office of the Special Adviser on Africa? When is a USG going to be appointed?
Spokesperson: Well, I have the same answer I gave Mark. I will give it to you. As soon as I have it, I’ll let you know. Yes, Benny. I don’t want to have Mrs. Tibaijuka wait too long. Can you make it short, Benny?
Question: Okay, this may be the last one. Since the American Ambassador and Ban Ki-moon have said they want more involvement in Iraq. Can you tell us whether the position in Iraq, whether Qazi will continue in Iraq after his contract runs out, in August, I think?
Spokesperson: I will find that out for you too, but as you know, the Secretary-General is very actively engaged in Iraq. After all, he went to Sharm el-Sheikh just to attend and launch that Compact initiative. So, he is very engaged in what is happening in Iraq. If there is anything more, in terms of the United Nations playing a more active role, I will certainly inform you.
Question: You remember the report last month that they have not been able to determine how many people, how many Iraqis, have been killed, whether the United Nations had complained they are not getting the right figures from the Government. Has that been done as yet, or is that still in the process?
Spokesperson: I don’t know where this process is. I know that the United Nations did ask for more data, which they did not get at the time when the report came out. Yes, Ms. Tibaijuka.
* *** *For information media • not an official record