|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.
Good Afternoon. I understand we have a group of visiting journalists from Argentina, with the United States State Department international visitor’s programme attending today. Welcome to the United Nations.
**Secretary-General at G-8 summit
We’ll start with the G-8 summit. The Secretary-General spoke to reporters today at a press conference of the Group of Eight (G-8) summit in Germany, telling them that it is only fitting that climate change dominated the agenda, and calling it “a defining issue of our era”.
He said he wholeheartedly welcomed that the G-8 leaders agreed on strong and early action to combat climate change, and that the United Nations is the forum for negotiating future global action on climate change. But, he added, “While this is an important step, it is only a first step –- a beginning, not an end.” The Secretary-General informed the G-8 leaders of his intention to convene a high-level meeting on climate change on 24 September, the day before the opening of the General Debate.
The Secretary-General said that this year marks the mid-point of our work to realize the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015. He warned: “We have far to go indeed, especially in Africa.” This is why, he said, he has offered to chair a new MDG Africa Steering Group of all the major players to help refocus the efforts to achieve the Goals in Africa.
We have a transcript of his opening remarks upstairs, with a full transcript coming out shortly. He was also scheduled to meet with a number of leaders on the margins of the summit. We’ll try to provide some details of those meetings as we get them.
**G-8 - Global Fund
Also on the G-8, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria is applauding the G-8’s re-commitment to universal access for treatment. It notes that the G-8 leaders had pledged $6 to 8 billion per year for the Global Fund, calling it “very good news”.
There’s more information on that upstairs.
** Iran remarks
Late yesterday, we issued a statement attributable to the spokesperson on remarks made by the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The Secretary-General expressed his shock and dismay at the remarks attacking Israel attributed to President [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad, President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, on 3 June, in which he says repeatedly that the world would witness the “destruction of the Zionist regime” soon.
The Secretary-General points out that the State of Israel is a full and long-standing member of the United Nations with the same rights and obligations as every other member. He reminds that under the United Nations Charter, all members have undertaken to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State. The Secretary-General has repeatedly made his views clear on this issue. That was issued last night.
**Secretary-General on Geneva Conventions
Today, we have a statement attributable to the Secretary-General on the thirtieth anniversary of the 1977 Additional Protocols to the 1949 Geneva Conventions. Friday, 8 June, is the thirtieth anniversary of Protocols I and II, additional to the 1949 Geneva Conventions. The 1977 Additional Protocols supplement the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and provide very important legal protections for civilians and others in both international and internal armed conflicts.
At present, 167 States are party to Additional Protocol I and 163 States to Additional Protocol II. The Secretary-General calls on all States currently not party to the 1977 Additional Protocols to become party to these instruments.
There’s a full statement upstairs that actually describes in much more detail the Protocols which I just referred to.
Also, another subject from the Office of Legal Affairs: The International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism will enter into force on 7 July, following the ratification of that Convention by its 22nd State, Bangladesh, yesterday. The Convention requires 22 ratifications or accessions to enter into force.
The Convention aims to prevent and suppress nuclear terrorism, bring to justice planners and perpetrators of nuclear terrorist acts and promote cooperation among States in those fields. A background note on the entry into force of the Convention is available in the Spokesman’s Office.
And today, at United Nations Headquarters, the Security Council this morning held consultations on Cyprus, with Michael Møller, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for that country, briefing Council members on the work of the UN peacekeeping force there. As you know, we flagged to you the Secretary-General’s latest report on Cyprus yesterday and that’s out as a document.
After that, Jan Eliasson, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Darfur, is talking about his recent work with the African Union (AU) Special Envoy for Darfur, Salim Ahmed Salim, to reinvigorate the Darfur peace process. Mr. Eliasson will speak to you at the Security Council stakeout following the consultations. We’ll let you know when that begins.
Then, this afternoon, the Security Council will hold an open meeting to discuss the work of the Special Court for Sierra Leone. The Deputy Secretary-General [Asha-Rose Migiro] will address the meeting. The President and the Prosecutor for the court will brief the Council on its work and completion strategy, and will also note the Special Court’s need for securing funding, with available funds expected to be exhausted by this November.
During an unannounced visit to Mogadishu today, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Lynn Pascoe expressed solidarity with the people of Somalia, while encouraging the leaders of the Transitional Federal Government to reach out to opponents for the sake of peace and reconciliation.
“The international community is willing to help Somalis in all areas as long as there is progress on the ground,” Pascoe told reporters at the Mogadishu airport. He was in Mogadishu for about four hours, during which time he met with the Somali President and Prime Minister, along with members of the cabinet. He also met with Ali Mahdi, the chairman of the committee charged with organizing the upcoming National Reconciliation Conference.
Mr. Pascoe is on a weeklong mission aimed at shoring up peace and stabilization efforts in Somalia. Tomorrow he heads to Asmara for a meeting with the Eritrean President, then to Cairo to meet with the Egyptian Foreign Minister and the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States. On Sunday, Mr. Pascoe will be in Addis Ababa to meet with the Ethiopian Prime Minister and African Union Commission Chairman Alpha before heading to Brussels, where he will meet on Tuesday with European Union officials. He is expected back in New York Wednesday to brief the Secretary-General and then the Security Council on Thursday, 14 June.
Yesterday, we issued a statement expressing the Secretary-General’s satisfaction that justice had been done in the verdict regarding Sanjaya Bahel, and reaffirming the Secretary-General’s support for the work of the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) and the Procurement Task Force.
The statement says that the Secretary-General remains committed to actively pursuing any fraud and wrongdoing at the United Nations. Such actions tarnish the reputation of the organization and the tens of thousands of UN employees who work honourably and honestly. We have the full statement available upstairs on the web and we have also put out a fact sheet concerning the Procurement Task Force’s work relating to the Bahel verdict.
The Secretary-General, I just wanted to emphasize, is committed to achieving the highest level of performance, quality control and accountability for the Procurement Service. No one more than the Secretary-General wants to see a Procurement Service of the highest calibre. This is why he is committed to actively pursuing any fraud and wrongdoing.
He very much appreciates the efforts made by OIOS in helping bring about a stronger and more accountable procurement service. The Secretary-General and his staff are in fact working very closely with OIOS to implement many of their recommendations.
The Secretary-General is very aware that more needs to be done. Procurement reform is a dynamic process that needs to remain in tune with the ever-changing commercial market place and the needs of the organization. This is an ongoing and continuous process. No system will ever be 100 per cent corruption proof. That is why the United Nations continuously has to upgrade our oversight and training in all our duty stations.
There’s a fuller note on the measures taken to strengthen the Procurement Service and that’s available upstairs as well.
A few more notes. It’s Friday; there’s usually many more press releases on Friday than the rest of the week. In Somalia, a recent assessment by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), conducted in five settlements of internally displaced persons in Baidoa, found that nearly one in five displaced children suffer from acute malnutrition. Preliminary findings from three other nutritional assessments in the Gedo region found similar numbers, but also noted that there had been some limited recovery since the previous assessment.
And on the Ukraine, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is expressing concern at increasing racist attacks against asylum seekers, refugees and other foreigners there. In the latest incident, an Iraqi asylum seeker was killed on Sunday. That incident remains under investigation. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has asked the Government to keep it informed of developments in the case. We have more information upstairs.
**African Swine Fever
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is expressing concern over the possible spread of a highly contagious pig disease. The FAO reports that Georgia has been hit by African Swine Fever and warns that the disease could also threaten Armenia, Azerbaijan and the Russian Federation.
According to the FAO, this is a dramatic development in the international distribution of the disease, which was previously almost entirely confined to sub-Saharan Africa. The trans-boundary animal disease has the potential for wide international spread, FAO says. African Swine Fever does not affect humans but has serious socioeconomic consequences for rural livelihoods.
The World Health Organization (WHO) says that it has a new meningitis vaccine and it is showing great promise. The vaccine is expected to be much more effective than any other vaccine currently on the market. Margaret Chan, the WHO Director-General, said the initial results of the vaccine’s performance brought real hope that the lives of thousand of children, teenagers and young adults will be saved by immunization.
We have the Week Ahead for your planning purposes for your coverage next week. Just a couple of things to flag from there.
**Human Rights Council
The Human Rights Council next week is scheduled to begin its fifth session in Geneva. During the session, which lasts through the 18 June, the Council is expected to take up a wide range of human rights issues, including food, racism, housing and extreme poverty. There are several press releases on this upstairs.
Finally, you’ve been asking about the Special Tribunal for Lebanon and on Monday, at 3 p.m. here in Room 226, we have now arranged a background briefing on the Tribunal by a senior United Nations official. So that’s 3:00 p.m. on Monday.
That’s all I have for you. Yes, let’s start over there.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Just to follow up on what you just said on the Tribunal. Do we expect Mr. Michel to leave anytime soon for Lebanon?
Deputy Spokesperson: I have no information that, but I will suggest that you save all your questions for the background briefing on Monday afternoon.
Question: Marie, regarding the swine flu outbreak in Georgia, is the World Health Organization (WHO) taking any specific measures to [inaudible] this problem?
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, I’m sure they are, otherwise, they wouldn’t be raising the issue. But I don’t have the entire press release with me, so let’s take a look at it upstairs.
[After the briefing, correspondents were informed that the European Union Commission on Animal Health and the Food and Agriculture Organization are sending a joint team of experts on the disease to Georgia in the coming days to assess the situation and advise the Government on immediate control measures.]
Question: Yes, Marie. Last week Evelyn started asking for the non-governmental organization Women of Srebenica, who sued the United Nations and the Netherlands Government in a court in the Netherlands. Do you have anything new on that? What is -- any developed position on that in the UN?
Deputy Spokesperson: I just received word that the United Nations has received the legal documents relating to the case. Regarding the question about the UN’s reaction, I have the following:
The survivors of the Srebrenica massacres are absolutely right to demand justice for the most heinous crimes committed on European soil since World War II. The Secretary-General joins them in that demand, without reservation, and expresses his deepest sympathies to them and to the relatives of those brutally executed at Srebrenica, almost 12 years ago.
Those indicted for having planned, orchestrated and carried out the attacks must be brought to justice. Yet, Ratko Mladić and Radovan Karadžić remain at large. The international community should not rest until they are apprehended and brought to trial.
Nor should the UN rest until it is fully-equipped to prevent such tragedies from occurring in future within its peacekeepers' midst. To that end, the former Secretary-General's report of 1999, on the Fall of Srebrenica, highlighted in very frank terms the actions that need to be taken by the UN -- namely, the Security Council members, the Secretariat and military and civilian personnel on the ground -- to avoid a repeat of those tragic events.
So that’s what I have for you.
Question: If I can follow up, is the Secretary-General satisfied with the follow up on that? Members of the Security Council, did they, according to his view, undertake whatever was needed to be taken to follow up for that, or does he think more should be done?
Deputy Spokesperson: On that, I can say that the United Nationscontinues to do everything within its ability to bring those responsible for the atrocities to justice, and to assist in the recovery of Srebrenica and the region. These efforts have been through the work of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, as well as through a variety of efforts of other United Nations bodies and international partners.
Question: Does that mean that the United Nations will not be seeking to assert immunity and have the case dismissed against it?
Deputy Spokesperson: The fact that the United Nations is immune from the legal process under the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations in no way diminishes the United Nations' commitment to assist the people of Srebrenica in the aftermath of this tragedy.
Question: Someone from OLA [Office of Legal Affairs] will be making that argument in court?
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, this is the position.
Question: What happens then?
Deputy Spokesperson: I have just said that we have just received the documents then; I just confirmed that before I came down, so I don’t know what the next step is immediately in terms of logistics.
Question: And I assure you’ve put out copies?
Deputy Spokesperson: We just received this and the legal position is as I stated. Masood.
Question: Thank you very much. I just wanted to find out [inaudible] by promising $6 million on behalf of the Palestinians [inaudible] doesn’t give the monies to the Palestinians [inaudible]. This time [inaudible] and the Palestinians will not be able to get it. Now, has the Secretary-General taken note of this, as to how this can process could [inaudible] so Palestinians keep on getting their monies [inaudible].
Deputy Spokesperson: I’ll have to look into the specific question. I have no update on that for today. Evelyn and then back there. Yes.
[The Deputy Spokesperson later informed the correspondent that the Secretary-General has consistently called for Israel to transfer to the Palestinian Authority all the money owed to it.]
Question: A couple of questions. You answered one of them on the United Nations being sued, which I assumed you couldn’t. Is there a reason that that Iran statement came out late last night, considering that today is a holiday in the Arab Middle East?
Deputy Spokesperson: I have no reason for that.
Question: On Under-Secretary-General [Inga-Britt] Ahlenius, her point was it’s not just the Secretarary-General’s support she needs, but the Secretary-General needs to get the General Assembly’s support. She criticized the fact that a lot had not been done in the General Assembly to change rules of procurement and that relates to management responsibility all over the place and the secrecy that pervades this organization, in both the report she gave and other things related to procurement. Things don’t seem to get done until the press discovers the scandal, and this would involve the Secretary-General talking to the Member States, not just in press statements supporting her because it’s bigger than the two of them. So I just wondered whether anything was really going to be done on this besides another layer of investigation.
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, I just read to you a rather extensive statement about the Secretary-General’s commitment to strengthen the procurement services and, also, as you know, the Secretary-General does have a procurement reform package as part of his larger reform package in the works.
Question: [inaudible] what makes you think they’ll do it now?
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, this is at the top of his priorities and he’s pushed it forward, so please ask the General Assembly members what they’re going to do with it.
Question: Marie, on Cyprus –- the Security Council is meeting today. How much is the Secretary-General hopeful about negotiating a new agreement on the island. Is the Secretary-General working on a new plan? How does he see the parties willingness….
Deputy Spokesperson: I think I have nothing beyond the Secretary-General’s report which we flagged to you yesterday. The Council Members are discussing this now. I think he has made his points clear in yesterday’s report. So let’s see what the Council Members have to say after hearing the briefing by the Special Representative, who is here from Cyprus.
Question: The chairwoman of the non-governmental organization (NGO) that has consultative status with the Economic and Social Council called for the assassination of a New York City Councilman last week. The NGO is known as the December 12th Movement. What action, if any, will be taken by the Secretary-General or the United Nations against statements like that. Will there be any action?
Deputy Spokesperson: I’m not familiar with that statement, so I’ll have to look into it after the briefing.
[The reporter was later informed that consultative status at Economic and Social Council is given to NGOs upon decisions by Member States, so the question on whether the December 12th Movement would lose such status with Economic and Social Council needs to be taken up with Member States directly; the matter is in their hands.]
Question: Anything on the reports that the American position on climate change could have finally scuttled the climate change treaty [inaudible] at the G-8 summit? The agreement on G-8 summit [inaudible] and still the United States far apart on the climate issue than [inaudible].
Deputy Spokesperson: The Secretary-General issued a statement yesterday and again he reiterated today that he welcomes the leaders’ strong and early action to combat climate change. His message today, as I read earlier, is that this is just a first step –- it’s a beginning –- and that he is willing to tackle this issue as one of the top priorities during his administration, and he has now announced that he will convene a high-level meeting on 24 September before the opening of the General Debate; so, I think he will continue to press this issue to the best ability that he can. Matthew.
Question: Without American support, are we thinking he can go anywhere?
Deputy Spokesperson: I’ve read to you what the Secretary-General’s position is on this.
Question: At the G-8, it was said that French President Sarkozy had offered, proposed a six-month delay of the Kosovo status if Russia would agree to independence. Does the Secretary-General have a view of that, and is there a readout of that meeting with Russia?
Deputy Spokesperson: I’m familiar with the press reports that you are referring to on Kosovo, but on Kosovo, what I can say is, that the Secretary-General notes and welcomes the engagement of the G-8 countries on this issue, which is of central importance to the United Nations. Following the presentation of Mr. Ahtissari, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy’s comprehensive proposal for a settlement, it is important that the Kosovo future status process maintain a forward momentum. So that’s where we are on that.
Question: What’s the position that was taken at the G-8 summit on Kosovo? Mr. Sarkozy’s position to prolong for six months….
Deputy Spokesperson: That you’ll have to follow up with the G-8. I’m just simply stating the Secretary-General’s position….
Question: The Secretary-General is addressing exactly what, coming from the G-8 on Kosovo?
Deputy Spokesperson: Obviously, they’ve had discussions on the issue of Kosovo, so he’s just taking note and welcoming their engagement on the issue. He’s not commenting on their final decision because I don’t know what that is.
Question: He’s meeting with [ Vladimir] Putin, can we get a read out….
Deputy Spokesperson: As soon as we get a read out from our chief spokesman, who is with them, I will give you that readout.
[Following the briefing, correspondents were informed that the Secretary-General did not have a bilateral meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin today. The Secretary-General did meet bilaterally with the leaders of Japan and Italy.]
Question: I want to ask you something else. There’s a report out about the Côte d’Ivoire saying that the conflict between the New Forces and the Government was funded largely by cocoa leaf sold illegally or outside normal channels. The group that put out this study says that this could easily happen again. I wonder if the United Nations mission in Côte d’Ivoire or anyone in the UN system has noted that, what the response is and is there a new Special Representative of the Secretary-General, I guess it’s a myth, what’s happening in Côte d’Ivoire?
Deputy Spokesperson: I have not seen anything on that specific subject from the mission, but we will certainly look into that for you and, as you know, the Security Council is also headed to Côte d’Ivoire, as part of their larger mission. So you might want to discuss that with the Security Council mission before they go, as well.
Question: Just to follow up on Matthew’s question regarding President [Vladimir] Putin and the Secretary-General, but from a different angle. Regarding the proposal to build a joint system to protect Europe from missiles, has the Secretary-General said anything regarding this proposal?
Deputy Spokesperson: No.
Question: And he’s not going to make any statements….
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, he gave a press conference earlier today and I think they’re working on his transcript, but at a quick glance I did not see anything. Butlet’s take a look at the transcript, which is being put out.
Question: Regarding the G-8, is the Secretary-General commending or is he recognizing the French initiative to address the issue of Darfur in that meeting.
Deputy Spokesperson: What specifically are you referring to?
Question: There were thoughts that the G-8 would address more seriously the issue of Darfur. So, the Secretary-General recognized that they did talk about Kosovo, what does he think of that initiative that is coming out of…?
Deputy Spokesperson: That, I think he does address in his press conference, whose transcript is being prepared for you. Obviously, the Secretary-General General has expressed on a number of occasions and today as well his concern over the speed at which things are going. So he would appreciate the international community’s efforts to speed up whatever they can do to resolve the crisis on the ground. So, yes, I’m sure he would welcome the G-8’s engagement on this issue….
Question: Apparently, the leaders in Abkhazia and Ossetia sent a letter to the Secretary-General saying that we want independence next after Kosovo. Did he receive those letters; is that correct? And is he going to reply? And just one other on a similar subject, what has happened to the United Nations investigation with the helicopters that shot some rockets into a village in Abkhazia. Has it been officially dumped, or is it over or what?
Deputy Spokesperson: I don’t have answers on either one of your questions right now, so I’ll have to look into it after the briefing.
[The correspondent was later informed that the Secretary-General had not received any latter from Abkhaz and Ossetian leaders. Concerning the helicopters shooting that investigation is still ongoing.]
Question: You spoke about acts of nuclear terrorism, but what does the Secretary-General have to say about acts of cyberspace terrorism, which Estonian the [inaudible] Government experienced when their Government website, newspapers, businesses and banks were shut down. Has the Secretary-General made any statement on this subject?
Deputy Spokesperson: I would have to look into that for you. I’ll get back to you on that. Yes.
Question: West Papua, otherwise known as Irian Jaya in Indonesia. The United Nation’s [inaudible] is going there and there’s a demonstration asking the UN to use its influence to either have another referendum or to somehow consider them as next in line [inaudible]. Does the current Secretary-General have any thoughts on that long-standing conflict and has he noticed the demonstrations?
Deputy Spokesperson: I’ll check to see if there’s anything new on this that we can report to you.
Question: Marie, what is the Secretary-General’s description of nuclear terrorism and what are the origins of his fear?
Deputy Spokesperson: I’m not an expert on nuclear terrorism, as you can imagine, so I am going to have to consult with the experts to get back to you on that. If there are no other questions, good afternoon.
[The spokesperson’s office later put out a background not on the nuclear terrorism convention.]
Don’t forget Jan Eliasson at the stakeout following the consultations on Darfur.
* *** *For information media • not an official record