Spokesperson's Noon Briefing

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.


**Press Conference


Following the noon briefing today, there will be a press conference by 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”.  He’ll also answer questions on other matters.


**Deputy Secretary-General


The Deputy Secretary-General’s financial disclosure statement for the period 1 February 2006 - 31 January 2007 –- from 2006 to 2007 -- was submitted to PricewaterhouseCoopers, the external financial firm hired by the United Nations to confidentially review the financial disclosure statements submitted by UN staff.  The Financial Disclosure Programme is administered by the UN Ethics Office.


PricewaterhouseCoopers, in reviewing the Deputy Secretary-General’s financial disclosure form, has determined that no further action is required of her with respect to her compliance with the requirements of the Financial Disclosure Programme. 


Now that the review is complete, the Deputy Secretary-General is following the Secretary-General’s lead by making the financial disclosure statement public. Public disclosure is not a requirement of the UN Financial Disclosure Programme and is done on a voluntary basis.


The financial disclosure statement is expected to be soon available on the Secretary-General’s web page under the section “Ethical Standards”.  Certain personal details have been removed from the Deputy Secretary-General’s financial disclosure statement for security reasons. 


We’re talking about the financial disclosure for the period 1 February 2006 to 31 January 2007.


**Statement on Timor-Leste


The Secretary-General is greatly encouraged by the peaceful conduct of the final round of presidential elections in Timor-Leste on 9 May.


Reports from the United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) indicate that the people cast their votes in a calm and orderly manner, reflecting once again their commitment to democracy.  The final round caps a similarly peaceful electoral campaign.


The Secretary-General congratulates the people and authorities of Timor-Leste and trusts that the same peaceful and democratic spirit will prevail during the vote counting and tabulation process over the next few days.  This is a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


**Security Council


The Security Council held an open meeting this morning on Kosovo.  Belgian Ambassador Johan Verbeke briefed on the Council’s recent mission to the region. The mission’s report, which is out on the racks today, says the overall security situation in Kosovo remains calm but tense.  It adds that, while the Kosovo Albanian community is confident about the future, the Kosovo Serb community is more apprehensive.


The report notes that Kosovo Albanian and Kosovo Serb communities remain divided and live to a large extent separately from each other.  In that regard, the process of full reconciliation and effective integration will require a long-term commitment by all stakeholders.  Nevertheless, the commitment and readiness to build a Kosovo for all its communities, conveyed by Kosovo’s political leaders, were encouraging, the report concludes.


**Secretary-General-General Assembly


The Secretary-General spoke this morning at the beginning of the General Assembly’s two-day informal thematic debate on civilizations and the challenge for peace, saying that the meeting comes at a time of rising intolerance and growing cross-cultural tensions.


He said that events of recent years -– from terrorism and the means used to fight it, to offending words or publications –- have only accelerated these trends.  Today, the Secretary-General warned, there is an urgent need to rebuild bridges and to enter into a sustained and constructive intercultural dialogue, one that stresses common values and shared aspirations.


He said that we need to reassert the truth that diversity is a virtue, not a threat, and noted the role that the media and religion can play in promoting such diversity.  We have his speech upstairs as well as additional information about the Assembly’s informal debate.


**Statement on the Register of Damage


A statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


The Secretary-General, in compliance with the relevant General Assembly Resolution of December 2006, has decided to appoint in their personal capacity three prominent international experts as members of the Board of the United Nations Register of Damage caused by the Construction of the Wall in the occupied Palestinian territory.  They are Ms. Harumi Hori from Japan, Mr. Matti Paavo Pellonpää from Finland and Mr. Michael F. Raboin from the United States.  The Board is expected to commence its mandated work on 14 May in a meeting at the United Nations Office at Vienna.


The Board of the Register of Damage has the overall responsibility, as you know, for establishing and maintaining that Register, which was requested by the General Assembly.  The Board, among other responsibilities, is to determine eligibility criteria, categories of damage and the procedure of registration of claims, and it has the ultimate authority in determining the inclusion of damage claims in the Register of Damage.


** Chad


UNICEF reports that it has signed an agreement with the Government of Chad to begin the demobilization of child soldiers in the country.  UNICEF and Chad have already identified over 300 child soldiers from former rebel groups, and efforts are underway to identify more.  After demobilization, the next step is the children’s reintegration into society. 


According to UNICEF, the recruitment of child soldiers is a widespread phenomenon in Chad.  We have a press release in French on this, and we expect one in English later this afternoon.


** Sudan


The UN Special Envoy for Darfur, Jan Eliasson, is wrapping up his third joint visit to Sudan with his African Union (AU) counterpart, Salim Ahmed Salim.


Eliasson, in a joint press conference held earlier today in Khartoum, said the political process was in high gear as they moved toward preparations for negotiations but he noted serious obstacles on the ground.  He listed as “troubling” realties on the ground: the dire humanitarian situation, continuation of tribal clashes, unrest in the camps housing displaced persons and understandable impatience.


He said that he and his AU counterpart had been tasked by the Secretary-General, who gives his absolute highest priority to finding a solution to the Darfur crisis, and by the AU Commission Chairperson Konare, to present to them a roadmap for the way forward.  Eliasson is expected to brief the Secretary-General in New York next week.  We have available upstairs, the opening remarks of the press conference and today’s bulletin prepared by the UN Mission in Sudan.


** Sierra Leone


Available today is the Secretary-General’s latest report on Sierra Leone.  In it, the Secretary-General says that with the assistance of UN Integrated Office in Sierra Leone (UNIOSIL) and the UNDP, the National Electoral Commission has made steady progress ahead of the July elections.  This progress is marked by the recruitment and training of election workers, the drafting of election petition rules and the installation of technical advisers, among other benchmarks.


The deployment of state authority across the country, however, continues to lag behind and efforts to combat corruption and promote accountability have been painfully slow to yield results.


** Uruguay


The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is providing an emergency cash grant of $30,000 to Uruguay, to support relief activities in the wake of its worst flooding in 50 years.  OCHA says the flooding has driven some 12,000 people from their homes.  Much of the public infrastructure in the affected areas, including the water supply, sewer and drainage systems, has been damaged.  We have more information on that upstairs.


**Counter-Terrorism


The Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED) has launched a new comprehensive matrix containing information about technical assistance both requested by and provided to States, to help them in the global fight against terrorism.  The matrix is accessible through the website of the Security Council's Counter-Terrorism Committee -- www.un.org/sc/ctc.


**International Labour Organization


The International Labour Organization (ILO) today released its most comprehensive report on workplace discrimination to date.  While noting major advances, the report expressed concern about the persistence of gender gaps and occupational segregation by sex.


While the female labour force participation rate has risen to more than 55 per cent, women still only hold roughly one quarter of “good quality” legislative, senior official or managerial jobs, the report found.  We have copies of the full report from ILO in my office.


**World Food Programme


The World Food Programme (WFP) has named American actress Drew Barrymore as one of its Ambassadors against Hunger.  Barrymore just recently returned from a second trip to Kenya to visit WFP-supported school feeding projects.


This week, she will join fellow Ambassador and Kenyan marathon runner Paul Tergat, as well as WFP chief Josette Sheeran, in Washington.  There they will lobby for United States legislation that would expand and regularize funding for US-supported school feeding programs.  We have more on that upstairs in my office.


**Speechwriting Appointment


The Secretary-General has appointed Mr. Michael Meyer as his new Director of Communications and Speechwriting.


Mr. Meyer, a United States citizen, has had a long and distinguished career as a journalist with Newsweek Magazine.  Most recently, he was the Europe-Middle East editor for Newsweek International.  He has also served as the magazine’s Bureau Chief in Central Europe and in Los Angeles.  Mr. Meyer also brings field experience with the United Nations.  From 1999 to 2001, he was assigned by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to work with the UN Mission in Kosovo on media development projects.


Mr. Meyer will be responsible for overseeing the Secretary-General’s strategic communications and speechwriting.


The process of staffing the Secretary-General’s Executive Office is continuing.


This is all I have for you.  Any questions?  We have to give the room in a few minutes for Mr. Moussa.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Michèle, I wanted to ask you, what are the next steps for the Hariri tribunal?  Bashar al-Assad said today in a speech to Parliament that he wouldn’t recognize a US-mandated international tribunal.  Is the Secretary-General making any phone calls?  Has he spoken to him since he made this statement?


Spokesperson:  Well, actually, you know, what President Assad was reported to have said is a confirmation of a previously expressed position.  It is nothing new.  We don’t have any specific comment on that today.  And at this stage, as you know, the tribunal is yet to be set-up and the process is continuing in Lebanon because, as it has been stressed over and over again, it has to be a Lebanese question essentially.


Question:  These experts who have been appointed to assess the wall damage, did the Secretary-General do it after consultations with the parties or he did it on his own?


Spokesperson:  Well it was a request from the General Assembly, as you know, so of course there were consultations with different people about who was going to be named on that issue.


Question:  Follow-up on the Lebanon issue.  Is there any plan by the Secretary-General to go to the region?


Spokesperson:  As far as I know at this point, no.


Question:  Michèle, was there any reaction of the Secretary-General to the results of the world public opinion polls that have shown very strong support for the United Nations and especially for standing peacekeeping forces?


Spokesperson:  Yes, I can say that he has noted that with great interest.


Question:  Michèle, the Prime Minister of United Kingdom, Tony Blair, announced that he’s resigning on 27 June.  I wonder whether the Secretary-General has any comment on that and whether he reacted on some press reports, although you don’t report on press reports, that Prime Minister Blair is considered for some function or position at the United Nations?


Spokesperson:  No, the Secretary-General has no comment on this at this point.  Yes?


Question:  Michèle, I have another question, it was announced that the UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights is going to come to the US over the next ten days to visit detention centres.  Do you know if he’s going to be specifically going into any criminal trials?  There’s one Qatari-Saudi citizen who’s being held as a non-combatant, and I just wanted to know if he’s going to be attending that trial.  It’s in Virginia.


Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, they work independently, those international experts and those international rapporteurs.  And at this point I don’t know what the schedule will be.  But I do know, I can confirm that he will come to the US.


Question:  [inaudible] work at all or is that going to be abolished by the Human Rights Council.


Spokesperson:  What was that?  Was that a question?


Correspondent:  What?


Spokesperson:  Was that a question? 


Correspondent:  I’m asking whether the Human Rights Council is considering abolishing the institution of independent rapporteurs.


Spokesperson:  Well, at this point, we don’t have any confirmation of that either.


[She later clarified that there were a number of proposals before the Human Rights Council regarding the Special Rapporteurs.  However, no consensus had yet been reached.]


Question:  Pakistan said it’s now building a fence between Pakistan and Afghanistan, something that Afghanistan had previously written to Mr. Ban about, saying that -- protesting.  Does he have any comment?  Has he responded to the Afghan letter?  What’s his view of this fence?


Spokesperson:  He has not responded –- well I have to confirm first that he received such a letter, which I cannot confirm at this point.  As soon as I found out I will let you know.


[She later added that no such letter from the Afghan Government regarding the wall with Pakistan had been received.]


Question:  And also, and this may be slightly, there’s been this report of a ship of people leaving Haiti that was rammed by Turks and Caicos –- that’s the report -- and many people drowned.  There’s a discussion that something may be filed with the UN or not.  Does the Secretary-General, the Secretariat or you have any comment on this event in international waters?


Spokesperson:  I think it is a tragedy, and we have no specific comment on -– this is essentially an issue right now between Turks and Caicos Islands and Haiti.


Question:  This is a request to get the Head of the Board of Auditors, Mr. Brodeur.  Spent a lot of time yesterday trying to find him down in the basement, he was in different rooms.  But is there some way to get, not only on the North Korea-UNDP audit, but on a variety of things on which he audits the UN, to get somebody from the Board of Auditors…


Spokesman:  Yes, you asked that question before, Matthew Lee, and I said yes, it is possible, and they are open to coming and answering questions.  The problem is that they have to get the agreement of the other members of the Board to do so.  And as soon as I get something I will let you know about when they will coming and if they will be coming.  But they have expressed their willingness to talk about different issues that you’ve been asking about concerning the Board of Auditors.


Correspondent:  OK.  But given that he’s the head…


Spokesperson:  But you know, chasing him in the basement is not probably the solution, the way to do it.


Question:  In the past few days, a large number of civilians, over 40 or 50, were killed in Afghanistan due to US air strikes.  I was wondering if there is any comment made by the Secretary-General on that.


Spokesperson:  No, we don’t have any specific comments on that at this point. 


Question:  I asked yesterday, do you have any comments on the fact that the UN had to withdraw from Pakistani-controlled Kashmir because their offices were burnt down because of the employment of women?


Spokesperson:  Well, after you put that question forward we –- I think Farhan gave you the information, didn’t he?


Correspondent:  I don’t remember, but maybe I missed that.  What is it anyway?


Spokesperson:  They did withdraw -– there was some violence against some aid workers, and apparently two aid workers had their houses burnt and that’s the information that we have.  And the decision was taken for the protection of the aid workers to withdraw from the area.


Question:  What happens now?


Spokesperson:  What happens now is that it’s a suspension for two weeks, and in two weeks they’re going to reconsider the situation.


Question:  And will you reconsider your policy of employing women?


Spokesperson:  We will not reconsider our policy of employing women.  It is part of the United Nations equality platform.


Question:  Will you go back then to that area with women continued to be employed there?


Spokesperson:  Well, I can ask what specific things will be done on the ground on this specific issue.  But the UN will certainly not withdraw from employing women. 


Question:  And one other.  I heard there has been an incident in the Ivory Coast where the UN had basically had to withdraw to bases because they had been attacked.  I don’t remember any announcement here about this.  What’s been going on in Ivory Coast with regards to the United Nations maybe having to go to its bases and stop patrolling?


Spokesperson:  That I’m not aware of.  As you know, they have their own peace process that is being pursued between the two leaders –- they got together, they signed a peace agreement and this –


Question:  [Inaudible] found out if the UN did have to withdraw to bases.


Spokesperson:  No, I can find out for you, yes, if they did or not.


Question:  The Secretary-General was supposed to have met Mr. Alvaro de Soto.  Was this a farewell call or something else?


Spokesperson:  It was to be a farewell call.  Mr. de Soto is leaving, as you know.


Question:  Any replacement?


Spokesperson:  As I told you yesterday, no, not at this point.  You don’t have the question every day the same, because I will answer the same way, Benny, for your information.


Question:  On the same theme though, in DPKO there’s been certain people who were announced that they were no longer going to work in DPKO.  Two or three months later they’re still working there.  I’m a bit confused what that meant, when you made those announcements that officials would be leaving.


Spokesperson:  Well, each one had a different date for the end of their contracts.  As soon as their contract is over they leave.


Yes, any other questions?  OK.  Thank you very much, and Mr. Amre Moussa will be here in a few minutes.


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For information media • not an official record