|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 Ashraf Kamal, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.
Briefing by the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Good afternoon, all.
On Sudan, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Darfur, Jan Eliasson, is coming to UN Headquarters today, having wrapped up his third joint visit to Sudan with his African Union counterpart, Salim Ahmed Salim, as part of their effort to revitalize the Darfur peace process. He will be here today and tomorrow to discuss how to move the political process forward. Mr. Eliasson has agreed to come to talk to you as my guest tomorrow at the noon briefing. We have also invited a senior official from DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] to update you on the UN peacekeeping efforts in Darfur.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that, following the Palestinian ceasefire that took effect at 8 p.m. yesterday, internal violence has calmed in Gaza. However, there has been an escalation in Palestinian-Israeli violence in the Gaza Strip. There are some signs of improvement regarding civilian movement and the delivery of services throughout the Gaza Strip as the extent and intensity of violence has abated somewhat.
The situation in Gaza City, however, remains more volatile, OCHA says. Two schools run by the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), hosting about 3,000 pupils in Rafah, came under fire earlier this afternoon as a result of ongoing armed clashes between Hamas and Fatah gunmen in the area. The children were forced to congregate on the first floor of the school for their own safety pending evacuation.
On Pakistan, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has expressed concern over the unrest yesterday at a camp in south-western Pakistan and appealed for a calm and orderly resolution ahead of the Government’s closure of the camp next month. UNHCR says it cannot confirm any casualties in yesterday’s unrest, in which residents at an Afghan refugee camp in Baluchistan threw stones to protest the bulldozing of some walls of an uninhabited compound in the camp. A UNHCR representative said that the agency recognizes the Pakistani Government’s right to close camps on its soil for security purposes, but urges the authorities and Afghans to do so in a peaceful way. We have more details in a press release upstairs.
A UN disaster assessment team is on the ground in Uruguay, where the worst flooding in nearly 50 years has caused widespread damage and displaced thousands of people. Teams from UNICEF, the UN Population Fund, and the Food and Agriculture Organization are visiting the hardest hit locations. A comprehensive assessment of damage to housing and infrastructure is still being impeded by the continuing flooding.
On counter-terrorism, a major symposium opened today in Vienna to discuss the implementation of the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy. This is the first major forum for Member States and UN actors to discuss the Strategy since its adoption by the General Assembly last September. It is being convened jointly by the Executive Office of the Secretary-General, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and the Government of Austria. In remarks to the symposium today, Bob Orr, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Strategic Planning and Chair of the Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force, said the main responsibility for implementing the Strategy falls squarely on Member States themselves. He also said that, since the Strategy is a holistic, comprehensive document, implementation must not be a pick-and-choose exercise by Member States.
**Democratic Republic of Congo
Available today is the monthly human rights report by the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, covering the month of April 2007. In it, the Mission says that, despite tepid cooperation from the DRC authorities, its multidisciplinary special investigations team has managed to interview some 200 victims and witnesses of the post-election clashes of late March in Kinshasa. The team uncovered numerous examples of Government agents intimidating victims, witnesses and medical staff to prevent them from speaking to the UN investigators. The Mission also found that police officers were involved in a large number of serious human rights violations, especially in the eastern Kasaï Province. Government troops were also found to have summarily executed civilians and to have engaged in other egregious human rights abuses.
** Greece and The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
Ambassador Matthew Nimetz, the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for the talks between Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, met representatives of those two countries yesterday. The parties continued to exchange views on the name issue and decided to meet again on a date to be agreed. We have the full readout upstairs.
**World Telecommunication and Information Society Day
Today is World Telecommunication and Information Society Day. This year’s theme is “connecting the young”. In a message to mark the occasion, the Secretary-General called for young people everywhere to be given equal opportunities to rise out of poverty and illiteracy, and to realize their full potential. He also stressed the connection between information and communication technologies and development.
Meanwhile, the International Telecommunication Union has announced several initiatives, including a two-year plan to combat cybercrime by improving international cooperation in cybersecurity and a campaign to improve internet connectivity in Africa. Also today, 16 UN Information Centres in sub-Saharan Africa launched new websites. We have copies of several press releases upstairs.
Just to flag to you an event here at Headquarters -- from 3 to 6 p.m. in the ECOSOC Chamber, leaders from the private sector, Government and civil society are meeting to discuss technological and financing solutions to promote connectivity and access in emerging economies.
This Sunday, the 20th of May, the Deputy Secretary-General will be walking with the UN Cares Team and about 50,000 New Yorkers in the annual AIDS Walk New York. The UN Cares Team has participated for many years, raising more than $35,000 in 2006. The Deputy Secretary-General, in announcing her intention to participate in the event, says AIDS remains one of the most serious challenges of our time. Our collective efforts are needed if we are to stop the spread of the disease and ensure that everyone has access to the prevention, treatment, care and support services they need, she said in her message to staff. She encouraged staff members to join her and demonstrate their commitment to the fight against AIDS.
In response to questions on allegations of diamond smuggling believed to involve UNDP [United Nations Development Programme] vehicles in Zimbabwe, we can now confirm that the vehicles alleged to have been used in the suspected diamond smuggling ring do not -- I repeat, do not -- belong to UNDP. An external investigation is now ongoing and UNDP is eagerly awaiting its conclusions. For reporters interested in the details of this story, UNDP has prepared a background document, copies of which are available upstairs in my office.
**Media Access Guidelines
Also, we have been hearing reports of journalists going above the fourth floor without escorts or invitations. Please don’t forget that that is not allowed. As a gentle reminder, we have copies of the media access guidelines available in my office if you don’t have them.
At 3:30 today, Ms. Tarja Halonen, President of Finland, will brief you following her meeting with the Secretary-General.
At 11 a.m. tomorrow, there will be a press conference by Save Africa Concerts Foundation, an NGO that promotes HIV and AIDS awareness through entertainment and education. This press conference is sponsored by the Nigerian Mission to the UN.
This is all I have for you and I’m sure you’re waiting to hear from Ashraf about the elections, so shall we go straight to Ashraf?
**Questions and Answers
Question: You want us to ask questions afterwards, then?
Spokesperson: Well, go ahead then, go ahead.
Question: There are these reports that UNHCR in Thailand was closed down at the request of the Government. Do you have anything on that?
Spokesperson: No, I do not.
Question: And also, at yesterday’s briefing, Ms. Bárcena had said there was going to be a chart of the DPKO posts, new and not new. You remember? In the briefing she said that tomorrow you’ll have it, so I’m wondering if you have it.
Spokesperson: Well, I don’t have it personally. I can ask again for you upstairs.
Question: And, I’m sorry to say, I wanted to, in light of something you said yesterday, I want to say that, in response, an article that repeated a question about a staff member that wasn’t answered on Tuesday has been retracted. So I wanted to say that. But I also wanted to ask you one question, which is that, as a sample question, there was an April 9 LA Times article which says, it was one of those Ban, hundred days of Ban articles. They reported two things. They reported an incident where Mr. Ban spoke with the head of disarmament and said to him, “If you’re not on the team, get off the team.” And it also said -- this is the LA Times, April 9 -- it also reported somebody saying that Mr. [Won-soo] Kim [Deputy Chef de Cabinet] is the real Secretary-General. So my question was, did your office ever ask for a retraction or write anything in response to that article and if so, are those things true?
Spokesperson: What is true? What are you talking about? Which --?
Question: The LA Times article that came out, the 100 days --
Spokesperson: Yes? It said that the Secretary-General had said to the LA Times…?
Question: No, no, it said two things, more than two but the two I’m asking about, it said that Secretary Ban had told the previous head of disarmament that, if you’re not on the team, get off the team, and it also had, so that’s either something that’s true or false.
Spokesperson: I could check that but I would doubt it. Frankly, I would doubt it. I can check for you. And if it was an article dated April 9 --
Question: I guess your statement yesterday made me wonder what your Office’s policy is on reading the press in order to … to read out from the podium…?
Spokesperson: We recently had an op-ed, a letter that was sent to the Wall Street Journal. So we do it all the time.
Correspondent: Right. Okay…
Spokesperson: Rectify things that aren’t true.
Question: My question, I guess, was about yesterday. I was happy to change it but why didn’t you just send me an e-mail? I was surprised by it, so I guess --
Spokesperson: These personal matters I think we need to discuss in my office; this is not the place for it.
Question: I understand. But that’s why I believe yesterday, whatever. I have one factual question.
Question: There’s a United Nations document or publication called “List of Staff of the United Nations Secretariat” that’s sorted by nationality. I’ve heard this document, publication exists. Today I went to the library and asked to see it and was told it was a restricted document. My question, I guess, is why is the information collected by nationality, and if it’s restricted, why is it restricted from the press and public? Who can see it? What’s the purpose of the document?
Spokesperson: Well, it’s for people in this building. Not everything in this building is available to the press. You are aware that this is an organization made of Member States. There are 192 Member States, and the 192 Member States are first given information which they need for their own work, which are not necessarily given to the press, which means it is restricted. This is what it means.
Question: Yesterday, Ms. Bárcena said something about transparency. That’s why I guess I’m just wondering whether the nationality of individuals is something that’s considered private.
Spokesperson: Absolutely not. It is not considered private. However, a table like this is reserved for Member States and there are a number of documents in the house that are restricted, like in any institution in the world.
Question: I’m just asking what the basis of the restriction is and if the purpose of providing it to Member States is to somehow gauge contributions to posts? What’s the goal?
Spokesperson: Well, the goal essentially is that we have to… As you know, there are quotas per nationality. Okay? In this institution. Okay? This has always existed and so you have to know how many people are over quota, under quota. This is a working document.
Question: Why is it restricted?
Spokesperson: Well, there are things that go to the Member States. You are not a Member State that I know of. Okay? There are certain documents -- like at any regional organization, any international organization, any Government -- that are part of the working process, documents which are part of the working process of an institution, which are not necessarily open to the press.
Question: Is that document restricted because of the listing of nationality or is there some other category of information that makes it so? I thought the presumption was that a document should be made available unless there is some reason it should be withheld. So, all I’m asking for is the reason for the restriction. I don’t disagree that there should be some documents that are withheld.
Spokesperson: Well, I’ll ask for you what the reason is but there are thousands of documents like this.
Spokesperson: Which, in any institution.
Spokesperson: Which are just for working purposes for the staff.
Correspondent: It’s in the library, it’s just restricted.
Spokesperson: Well, yes.
Correspondent: Fine, okay, I don’t want to go on.
Spokesperson: …which means it can be consulted by a Member State but not by you.
Question: And if you could just…
Spokesperson: I can find out for you, sure. Yes, Erol.
Question: Thank you, Michèle, going back to that famous place, original place of interest of mine, I would like to see whether anybody of the officials of the United Nations picked up on yesterday’s proposal by the High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina in the Security Council. He said that, because of everything that has happened in Srebrenica since 1995, genocide, the United Nations should pick a United Nations day to commemorate the victims and their families in Srebrenica.
Spokesperson: Well, this has to be picked up by Member States essentially, who have to discuss. As you know, United Nations Days are declared by the General Assembly and the General Assembly would be declaring such a Day if they respond positively to that request.
Question: And that has to go in the procedure that a Member State like Bosnia, or any regional Member State, has to propose the Day?
Spokesperson: Yes. That’s where we start. Ashraf? Oh yes, I’m sorry, George.
Question: Thank you. Forgive me, just running in late and asking this. With reference to the appointment of Mr. Williams as Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and Personal Representative of the Secretary-General to the PLO and the Palestinian Authority, if he is supposed to be the coordinator of the peace process and he’s also a representative to one of the two parties in the peace process, wouldn’t that tend to, if not prejudice him, at least affiliate him with one of the two parties?
Spokesperson: Well, I don’t see how. I think essentially what he’s doing is talking to everyone. I don’t think it, in any way, hampers his work.
Question: He’s the representative to the PLO and the PA and not an equal representative to the Government of Israel. I mean, why does he need to be, Mr. de Soto did not hold the title exactly the same way. Why was the title, and I guess the job description, redone in such a way that he has these two portfolios, as it were?
Spokesperson: Well, I think it was because it was felt it was most effective for him to have those titles. That’s really all I can tell you. I can ask if there’s anything more in terms of his mandate.
Question: Thank you, I would appreciate that.
Spokesperson: Sure, George.
[It was later announced that both Mr. Williams and Mr. de Soto held the titles of both Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and Personal Representative of the Secretary-General to the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority. There was no change to the title, as the journalist had suggested.]
Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President
Where’s Benny? He asked a question yesterday if anybody sent a letter on the Security Council membership and he said that his sources in the Office of the Secretary-General told him that at least one Member State did that. I checked and we haven’t received anything in the Office of the President. So please tell Benny that.
Elections for Human Rights Council Members
The Assembly is holding elections right now for 14 members of the Human Rights Council. We will announce the results of the first round of balloting as soon as we have them.
Rutgers University Event
Yesterday, the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies at Rutgers University held an event in the evening honouring the President and Iranian human rights lawyer and Nobel laureate, Shirin Ebadi, for their dedication to women and human rights in the Middle East.
Addressing a panel discussion on the topic, “Women and human rights in the Middle East”, the President stated that, “In the Middle East, women face multilayered and multidimensional discrimination that is embedded in our culture, government policies, educational systems and the legal framework. This discrimination often goes unaddressed not only by men or States but also by women themselves who, more often than not, view their predicament as natural.”
“The underlying reason behind this”, I quote again, “is the lack of rational interpretations of the text that integrate the current social circumstances. It is thus imperative to allow new interpretations of Islamic text in light of contemporary circumstances and needs. And recognize the distinction between worship and social conduct as the two parts of the religion, where worship defines the relationship between humans and God, which does not change with time, whereas social conduct defines the relationship amongst humans and is subject to change depending on prevailing circumstances.”
We have the full text of her statement upstairs. That’s all I have. Erol.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Ashraf. Just to put a light on the election of the Human Rights Council, what is the procedure or the deadline that was given to Member States to submit their candidates?
Spokesperson: There is no deadline. Any Member State can propose its candidature up to the beginning of the vote.
Question: Up until today.
Spokesperson: Up until today. And they can publish their pledge on the website. After the first round of balloting, we alternate between three rounds ofrestricted balloting and three rounds of unrestricted balloting.
Question: What does that mean?
Spokesperson: Restricted balloting would be restricted to the States with the highest votes. You’re trying to get to an outcome. So, per remaining vacant seat you take two candidates that received the highest number of votes, and you vote to decide among them. But after three rounds, if you fail to get any of these States getting the 97 or more votes, then you go back to unrestricted, and this means that any State from that region can run for the seat.
Question: Again? Completely new candidacy procedure?
Spokesperson: Yeah, yeah, yeah. You can propose yourself as a candidate and people can vote for you.
Question: So, everything went smoothly from the point of view of --
Spokesperson: So far, they’re counting the ballots and because you have 14 candidates in five different regions, it takes a very long time. You want to verify and verify again and tabulate it and then get the final results. It should be out, I hope, any time now.
Question: Just one more to clear this about the candidacy. When somebody is declaring its pledge, as you said, on its website or whatever, when the procedure of candidacy goes on, does that Member State have to have a sponsor, or no sponsor or anything, just directly like that?
Spokesperson: If you’re in the same region, you’re up.
Question: We had a briefing yesterday by Under-Secretary-General Bárcena and she described the DPKO split and what I guess the Secretariat hopes will happen in the GA. And she said this voting on the $65 million extra for the supplemental account, they anticipated it taking place in the session before early June. I just wanted to understand the process. What are the steps needed to release that money?
Spokesperson: I’ll tell you the steps but I’m not going to comment on any likelihood in the process.
Spokesperson: This thing was supposed to be dealt with by the ACABQ today. I think the Secretariat gave an informal briefing yesterday to the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary), where they had comments from the EU, the US and several other groupings. But the G-77, as far as I know, did not speak until the end of the briefing. So, what happens is, when there’s a major thing like this at the United Nations, the Secretariat would present the Secretary-General’s report. The Secretary-General’s report, which is now before the ACABQ, has to be discussed by the ACABQ and the ACABQ makes recommendations in another report and that report will be by the ACABQ. The two reports then go to the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary), which decides to look at the report of the SG, along with the recommendations of the ACABQ. Once they have looked at both, interviewed Secretariat officials and asked questions, then they go to the stage of drafting a draft resolution. If you need $65 million, this is not peanuts. You need a draft resolution, you need to know the financial implications and you need to know where the posts are going to be moved from where to where, etc. It’s a very long process.
Then, once you’ve heard everything from the Secretariat and you’re happy and you don’t want to ask any more questions, then Member States get together into consultations and they draft the draft resolution. And it has to be accepted by all Member States. All resolutions of the Fifth Committee, because they have financial implications, have to be adopted by consensus. You don’t want to run into a situation where a country would say, “No, no, I’m going to withhold that part of my contribution.” This is why it’s a rather lengthy process.
Question: Normally, how long does it take between the kind of briefing given yesterday to the ACABQ and ultimately a Fifth Committee vote by consensus on something?
Question: Would it be fair to say that their request is for an expedited process to get this done?
Spokesperson: Well, you know, expedited or not expedited, that’s beside the point. The point is that it has to go through the process and the process takes time. So let’s see if the ACABQ can deliver by the 25th and then see between the 25th and the first of June. I wish them all the success.
Question: Just one more question. Are there any written or common rules on lobbying before election of members to the Human Rights Council and if not, is it pure politics or some stricter rule ought to be applied by the United Nations?
Spokesperson: If the States decide to have stricter rules for lobbying, by all means, but I don’t think we have anything like that.
Question: So they can apply…?
Spokesperson: You make your case. And if I believe you and if you persuade me, I vote for you. That’s the way it goes.
Question: What do you think about the candidacy of Bosnia and Herzegovina?
Spokesperson: What do you mean what do I think? They’re a Member State, a sovereign Member State, and they’re a candidate.
Question: Do you know the date they came up?
Spokesperson: I think it was last week, about a week ago. I’m not sure of the exact date.
Question: Okay, fine.
Spokesperson: Thank you.
* *** *For information media • not an official record