|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 Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.
**Statement on 1967 Arab-Israeli War
I have a statement attributable to the spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the fortieth anniversary of the 1967 Arab-Israeli War:
On this day, the Secretary-General remembers the men, women and children who have been killed or had their lives shattered by the tragedies of conflict in the Middle East, particularly the Palestinians who continue to live under an occupation that has lasted 40 years. The United Nations remains committed to bringing assistance to those who suffer, and to working tirelessly for a just, lasting and comprehensive peace in the region in accordance with international law and the resolutions of the Security Council.
As the fortieth anniversary of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war reminds us, statehood for Palestinians, security for Israelis and peace in the region cannot be achieved by force. An end to the occupation and a political solution to the conflict is the only way forward –- for Israelis, Palestinians, Syrians, Lebanese and the wider region. This will only be achieved through negotiations to bring about an end to the occupation, on the basis of the principle of land for peace, as envisaged in Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973).
The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, also has a statement to mark the fortieth anniversary of the war, saying that, in the long-standing search for a solution, human rights have for too long taken a back seat. “It need not and must not be so,” she says.
We have that statement, as well as others marking the occasion, upstairs in the Spokesperson’s office.
**Under-Secretary-General to Africa
For those of you who might have missed this announcement quite late in the day yesterday:
The Secretary-General is dispatching his Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, B. Lynn Pascoe, to the Horn of Africa for consultations in and around the region focused largely on peace and stabilization in Somalia. Under-Secretary-General Pascoe is planning to visit several countries on the trip, beginning with Kenya. The final itinerary is still being determined.
En route to the region, on Wednesday, that is, tomorrow, he will take part in a meeting in London of the International Contact Group on Somalia, to be attended by leaders of Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government, senior officials from the contact group’s member States, and the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, François Lonseny Fall. Mr. Pascoe is scheduled to brief the Security Council upon his return, as the Security Council President mentioned to you yesterday. Mr. Pascoe will be leaving New York later today.
At United Nations headquarters today, there are no consultations or meetings of the Security Council scheduled.
**World Environment Day
Today is World Environment Day. In a message to mark the occasion, the Secretary-General expresses concern about greenhouse gas emissions and the dramatic climate changes they’re causing in the polar regions. But he also notes that the entire planet is threatened by rising sea levels, shrinking water supplies and desertification and food insecurity from changing weather patterns.
The head of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Achim Steiner, stressed that climate change is aggravating tensions over increasingly scarce natural resources. Today, the heads of more than 20 leading financial service companies –- all members of UNEP’s Finance Initiative –- called on the G-8 to back deep emission reduction targets when they meet in Germany later this week.
Meanwhile, several events are taking place here at headquarters to mark World Environment Day. As we speak, a thousand pairs of painted shoes are being displayed outside on the Plaza. They’ve been painted by students around the country to symbolize young people’s commitment to reducing their carbon footprint.
**Secretary-General in Spain
The Secretary-General is in Madrid, today, where he spoke to the staff of the World Tourism Organization. He told them about the importance of tourism as a means of bringing peoples together, and, noting that today is World Environment Day, he also drew attention to efforts to create a greener United Nations. We will make his remarks available as soon as we get them.
The Secretary-General and Mrs. Ban are to meet in a private dinner this evening with the King and Queen of Spain.
Turning to Lebanon, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, known as UNRWA, and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) are supporting a programme in Lebanon in which eight school buses have been transporting about 1,000 Palestinian youths and teachers from the refugee camp in Beddawi to UNRWA schools in the Tripoli area, to help provide normalcy following the fighting in some Palestinian camps in northern Lebanon.
UNICEF and UNRWA are also closely monitoring the emergency in the Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian camp near Sidon, in southern Lebanon, where thousands of civilians are estimated to have fled recent fighting. There’s a press release upstairs with more details.
UNRWA, yesterday, called for $12.7 million to address the urgent needs of the thousands of Palestinians displaced by the fighting around Nahr el-Bared in the north, near the Beddawi camp. The money will be used for food assistance, non-food items and shelter over the coming 90 days.
**UNHCR - Iraq
On Iraq, the United Nations Refugee agency, the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) calls for increased international support, as the situation in Iraq continues to worsen.
UNHCR reports that more than 2 million Iraqis are now believed to be displaced inside Iraq and another 2.2 million are sheltering in neighbouring states.
The refugee agency is rapidly expanding its operations and presence in the region but the magnitude of the crisis is staggering, it says, and access to social services for Iraqis remains limited.
** Iraq reports
On Iraq today, another report on the racks: The Secretary-General calls for the Government of Iraq to ensure that those responsible for the killings of Kuwaiti and third-country nationals by the previous Iraqi regime be brought to justice. He says he is greatly concerned about the lack of progress with regard to finding and returning the Kuwaiti archives, and asks all parties with knowledge of the archives to come forward and share information.
Also on the racks, today, is the latest quarterly report on the activities of the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission dealing with Iraq, known as UNMOVIC.
In Timor-Leste, the security situation there has been stable, although the district of Viqueque remains tense following the shootings on Sunday. The United Nations mission there says that United Nations police conducted 43 patrols and attended a total of five incidents today in Dili. There were no injuries or damage to property.
United Nations police are continuing their investigation into the alleged murders that took place on Sunday. Officers from the Major Crime Investigation Unit are working with forensics experts and other officers from the National Investigation Unit, which arrived on the scene today.
On Zimbabwe, roughly a third of Zimbabwe’s 12 million people will face serious food shortages between now and early next year, due to a poor harvest and a worsening economic crisis. That’s according to a new joint report by the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
Drought conditions across southern Africa are likely to cause food shortages in Swaziland, Lesotho and elsewhere, the report says. There’s more information in a press release from those two agencies.
And a couple of answers to questions I had yesterday. In response to a question about shortlists -- I don’t know if it was Matthew, if you were the one who asked, this is to advise you that our practice of announcing shortlists for senior appointments remains the same.
In the case of senior appointments, which involve intergovernmental bodies in the appointment process, such as the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) etcetera, shortlists are made public, or have been made public.
However, in terms of appointments made directly by the Secretary-General, and in conformity with established practice, shortlists are not announced. Of course, that doesn’t mean that shortlists don’t exist, they’re just not announced.
Now, I also mentioned to you yesterday that we had asked the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) for a background briefing on the updated proposed African Union (AU)-United Nations hybrid peacekeeping operation in Darfur.
A senior DPKO official will give a background briefing tomorrow at 3 p.m. and it will take place in the DPKO conference room on the 37th floor. The report is expected to go to Security Council members before that time, so you should probably have it in hand.
The contents of the briefing will be attributable to “a senior UN official" – background briefing.
Two more things to flag in connection with the G-8 summit. Tomorrow at 11 a.m. in room 226, that’s here, Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro will present the latest United Nations System data and analysis on Africa’s progress towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). This is an advance excerpt from the MDG report, showing progress in all regions, to come at the end of June.
The Deputy Secretary-General will be accompanied by Francesca Perucci of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), lead author of the MDG report and the chief of statistical planning in the development section, as well as Guido Schmidt-Traub of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), team leader of the MDG support team. They will be here to take your questions. So at 11 a.m., the Deputy Secretary-General will be here tomorrow.
And the guest at tomorrow’s noon briefing will be Ad Melkert, the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Associate Administrator, who will be briefing you on UNDP’s priorities regarding management and accountability. That’s for you, Matthew.
**Questions and Answers
Question: What does it mean that the Department of Political Affairs (DPA) and the Under-Secretary-General will tour the Horn of Africa?
Deputy Spokesperson: You mean in terms of his official…
Question: Is there a delegation accompanying him?
Deputy Spokesperson: No, I think he may be accompanied by a DPA officer. I could find that out for you, but I think he’s being accompanied by a desk officer.
Question: On Iraq, I just want to ask a couple of follow-up questions. Now that we’re talking about Kuwaiti property and compensations, and also the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), are these still being funded by the Iraqi oil-for-food programme? I had asked the President of the Security Council yesterday. He didn’t know. I’m sure you would know. Are these being funded by the Iraq oil-for-food programme, and, if yes, how much money is being spent on this? Also, the oil-for-food inquiry committee ended. How much money was spent on it? Do you have any figures on that also?
Deputy Spokesperson: We’ve given you updates on that. I’d have to go back and give you the latest. I don’t have it off the top of my head.
Question: The figures as to how much money is still being spent on these programmes….
Deputy Spokesperson: I understand your question. I just don’t have any figures with me and I didn’t follow up on your question to the Security Council President. I probably should have.
Question: In the backdrop of what today the United Nations report says about 4 million Iraqis have been displaced -- where will the money come from? It could come from the oil-for-food programme, to help them.
Deputy Spokesperson: The agency which is mandated to deal with the displaced Iraqis and the refugees, in particular, is the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). It is an agency that is almost entirely funded by voluntary contributions. It recently, as you know, held a major conference in Geneva on this issue, drawing world attention to it and asking for international support.
So part of their message today is drawing attention for more support on all counts, not just in assistance but probably the resettlement, etcetera, of these Iraqi refugees and displaced.
Question: There’s no harm in using oil-for-food programme money for helping displaced Iraqis either, is there?
Deputy Spokesperson: The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has a separate mandate. You might want to pose that question to UNHCR.
Question: Can you give us any sort of facts on how many people they’ve staffed for the Iraqi refugees and the internally displaced persons (IDPs)? The conference was in Geneva in the beginning of April. If we could get some sort of update, that would be great.
Deputy Spokesperson: Why don’t we ask somebody from UNHCR to come and brief you. Okay?
Question: That would be good. And if I can ask another question: Do you know who is going to the mediation talks between Frente Polisario and Morocco later this month? There are supposedly four United Nations staff, but I don’t know the names.
Deputy Spokesperson: You’ve exhausted my knowledge on the Western Sahara by what I gave you yesterday, so I’ll have to look into this for you. There are no other questions? Matthew?
Question: Chad has said that it doesn’t see a need for these humanitarian corridors proposed by France and that is one of the reasons the Prime Minister of Chad has said, because there’s perfect coordination between Chad and United Nations agencies. Is that the UN’s position and how has the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) discussions with Chad about getting a force in to protect IDPs…?
Deputy Spokesperson: I know the other day a senior DPKO official briefed the Security Council on the latest mission there. I believe he said that there was a forthcoming mission report in the works. So let’s wait until we hear on that. On the agencies, you’d have to check with the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). I don’t know the answer to that question.
Question: Also, there was this report on AFP out of the Central African Republic (CAR) of the Government burning down “hundreds of homes” in retaliation for one person being killed. What is the United Nations presence in the Central African Republic?
Deputy Spokesperson: The United Nations has a mission on the ground and I believe it has the regular UN country team on the ground as well.
Question: I don’t know if they’ve said anything about that….
Deputy Spokesperson: I have not seen anything. Yes?
Question: Marie, yesterday I asked a question as to whether the Secretary-General was concerned about the tension between the Turkish-Iraqi borders and, today, we learned that at least eight soldiers, Turkish soldiers, have been killed, and the Foreign Minister of Turkey insists that they have the right to strike back at the Kurdish separatist element. Is the Secretary-General concerned about tension on these borders?
Deputy Spokesperson: The Secretary-General, as you know, is always closely monitoring what is going on in Iraq and, of course, he monitors the region as a whole very closely. On this particular issue, I believe Under-Secretary Pascoe will be, has been or is in touch with the Turkish authorities. If there are no other questions…one more?
Question: Actually it’s two, but very quick. One is, in Pakistan, there’s been this crackdown in the media and other things going on there. The Committee to Protect Journalism has called a [inaudible] censorship. The United Nations, through the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) or otherwise -- have they said anything on this?
Deputy Spokesperson: UNESCO, generally, is the lead agency that comments on press freedoms or violations thereof, so let me look into -- well, you should probably look into UNESCO.
Question: This is like a policy question. Down in the basement, yesterday and today, there’s this conference called the World Diversity Leadership Summit, and it’s being sponsored by the United Nations, by the Executive Office of the Secretary-General (EOSG). I tried to attend yesterday but they said it’s a closed meeting. It actually costs $1,000 to attend this conference. I’m wondering what the UN’s policy is on giving its facilities for a for-profit conference, costing $1,000?
Deputy Spokesperson: I am not aware of this conference, so I’d have to look into that for you.
Question: If you could, that would be good. Because it says EOSG right at the top, hosted by the EOSG, and then “entry fee $1,000”.
Deputy Spokesperson: Thanks for the tip off. I’ll look into it for you.
[After the briefing, correspondents were informed that the conference, which is co-sponsored by the Global Compact, is open to the media and United Nations community free of charge.]
* *** *For information media • not an official record