|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 the noon briefing by Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon. I am going to try to start, because, as you know, Ambassador Wang of China is going to brief you in his capacity as the Security Council President for the month of July on the Council’s programme for the month. He will be here immediately after this briefing.
**Secretary-General in Rome
The Secretary-General is in Rome, as you know, and he is presently meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Rome on the margin of the conference on the rule of law that concluded its work today. This is their second meeting in less than 10 days, after the Secretary-General visited Kabul last Friday. And on their agenda today was the high level of civilian casualties resulting from the operations of international forces and documented by the Independent Human Rights Commission in Afghanistan.
In other bilaterals with the Italian Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister and the Secretary-General of NATO, the Secretary-General stressed that in countering the ongoing anti-Government insurgency, Afghan and international forces have to act strictly in accordance with international humanitarian law. “We simply cannot hide from the reality that civilian casualties, no matter how accidental, strengthen our enemies and undermine our efforts,” he said, echoing one of the central themes of his statement this morning to the conference. During his bilaterals, he also discussed the need to renew and reinforce international partnerships to rebuild Afghanistan’s institutions, but, at the same time, the need for transparency, accountability and political will on the part of the Afghan Government to uproot corruption.
The Secretary-General is expected to close the day in Rome with a joint press conference with President [Hamid] Karzai and Italian Foreign Minister Massimo d’Alema. He is expected in Turin tomorrow to visit with the United Nations Staff College, before returning to Geneva for a Global Compact leaders’ summit on Thursday.
We have copies of his statement to the conference upstairs in its entirety, and we will have the transcript of his press conference, obviously after it takes place.
**Deputy Secretary-General in Africa
Meanwhile, the Deputy Secretary-General has arrived in Nairobi on the last leg of her current trip. During her three-day visit in the Kenyan capital, she is expected to meet with Government officials and to deliver a keynote address at the opening ceremony of the International Women’s Summit on Women’s Leadership on HIV and AIDS.
The Deputy Secretary-General will also meet with a National AIDS Consultative Council on progress made in addressing the epidemic in Kenya and will be visiting a primary school located in Kibera, one of Africa’s largest slums. Yesterday, before leaving Accra -- where she was attending the African Union Summit -- the Deputy Secretary-General held a press conference, and we have the full transcript of that press conference upstairs for you.
This morning, the Security Council met in closed consultations on the Central African Republic (CAR) and other matters. General Lamine Cissé, the head of the UN Peacebuilding Office in that country, briefed Council members on the latest developments there. A press statement on CAR is expected to be read out.
The Council also adopted its provisional programme of work for the month, which includes, this is for Laura, the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for Western Sahara, Peter van Walsum’s briefing on the eleventh.
China’s Ambassador to the UN, as I mentioned, Ambassador Wang, will be here at 12:30, I have been just informed.
We have an update from the UN Mission in Sudan about the political track of the Darfur peace process.
The Mission reports that over the past week, the United Nations-African Union Joint Mediation Support Team, jointly led by Pekka Haavisto for the UN side and Sam Ibok for the African Union, has been travelling in Sudan and Eritrea for consultations with Darfur Peace Agreement non-signatory movements in North Darfur and those based in Asmara.
They met with Eritrean officials in Asmara to discuss the next steps of the political process as outlined in the roadmap. Together with Eritrean officials, the team also met with first Vice President Salva Kiir in Juba, in southern Sudan, on 2 July to discuss the SPLM's (Sudan People’s Liberation Movement) role in the political process.
As you know, the Secretary-General has said that there are four main tracks in which the United Nations is addressing the Darfur crisis. Together with the political process, there is humanitarian assistance, the hybrid operation to stabilize the situation and a development package.
** Pakistan Floods
A couple of responses to questions yesterday: In response to Masood’s question, a UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination team is on its way to Pakistan, following severe flooding and destruction caused by the recent cyclone there. Hundreds of people have been reported killed, and more than a quarter million driven from their homes.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has released an emergency grant of $100,000 for local procurement of emergency relief, and UN agencies are establishing two field coordination hubs, one in Quetta and one along the coast. UNICEF is providing tents, blankets, medicine and food, while the World Health Organization is sending trauma and emergency kits.
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), meanwhile, is rushing 15 tons of emergency supplies to thousands of Afghan refugees in the south-western Baluchistan province of Pakistan. And there is more information in the Geneva briefing notes from upstairs.
And this is in response to a question from Matthew, I believe:
The police chief for the UN Mission in Kosovo says he has banned the use of rubber bullets by all police units operating in Kosovo.
At a press conference today in Pristina, the Police Commissioner said that, shortly after his arrival earlier this year, he prohibited the carriage or use of rubber bullets “by any police unit in Kosovo for whatever purpose”.
The decision came in the wake of the deaths of two protestors in February. At that point, Commissioner Richard Monk says, he instituted a review of the UN and Kosovo Police Service policies and procedures for crowd and riot control.
There is more information in a press briefing transcript upstairs, which we have just received.
** Democratic Republic of the Congo
Next week, the third phase of the disarmament, demobilization and reinsertion programme will begin for ex-Congolese combatants in the restive Ituri district. That is according to the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which says that the $2.5 million exercise will affect three of the main militia groups and will be supervised by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), in cooperation with UNICEF, the UN and Congolese military and civilian authorities.
The project will last a little more than three months and is expected to bring some 4,500 combatants to surrender their weapons and receive disarmament certificates, which would further facilitate their return to civilian life.
And there is more information on that upstairs.
**Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
Persistent high malnutrition in refugee camps has to be tackled now to save lives, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other UN agencies who are urging donors to support a $32 million appeal to improve care for the refugees -– mostly Somali and Sudanese refugees –- living in camps in Dabaab and Kakuma.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the World Food Programme and UNICEF are particularly concerned by the rate of acute malnutrition among children under five. The agencies also say a complete assistance package is needed to overcome chronic shortages in essential commodities.
There is a press release on that upstairs as well.
The UNHCR also reports that an estimated 100 Palestinian refugees living in Iraq will be resettled in Brazil. This will provide a humanitarian solution for Palestinians who have been staying in a Jordanian camp since 2003, says UNHCR, which stressed the extremely harsh living conditions of this desert camp. In recent years, UNHCR has repeatedly appealed for a solution for this group, but before this latest response from Brazil, only Canada and New Zealand had come forward –- taking in respectively 55 and 22 Palestinian refugees.
The UN World Food Programme is seeking help from international donors to assist the Government of Timor-Leste, in meeting the food needs of people living in areas affected by a severe ongoing drought there.
A recent food security and crop survey conducted by the World Food Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organization found that drought conditions and a locust outbreak had caused a 30 per cent decline in crop production on the island in the past year, leaving one fifth of the population vulnerable to food shortages through the coming “lean season”.
You can read more about this in a press release upstairs.
**Fourth of July
To remind you, tomorrow, the UN Headquarters will be closed, during the Fourth of July holiday, so there will be no noon briefing. The regular noon briefing will resume on Thursday, the fifth. Holiday duty roster information is available upstairs.
Before we get Ambassador Wang, yes, Laura?
**Questions and Answers
Question: I wanted to ask you about the report on Western Sahara that was re-issued last night. There is an asterisk on it and it said it was re-issued for “technical reasons”. According to my research, if it is re-issued for technical reasons, it is usually because of a typo or printing error. It has no reference to any editorial issue. That would be a revision or a corrigendum. So I am really confused and I want to know why it was re-issued for technical reasons.
Deputy Spokesperson: I think the “note to correspondents” last Friday explained the reason for the re-issuance. I have nothing beyond that.
Question: But actually, the “note to correspondents” did not say anything about, I mean, this is a technical issue that I am asking you about. Because there have been some reports re-issued in the past on other issues, but not for technical reasons. There was nothing in the note to correspondents that says anything about a corrigendum or a revision.
Deputy Spokesperson: I think we all know, we explained to you on Friday, as well as yesterday in response to questions, that the reason for Mr. Van Walsum to brief the Security Council on his observations orally, and that after a lot of consideration went into the report, the decision was taken to omit the observation portion of the report. So that is the reason. The asterisk, I can’t explain the reasons for that. But the reason behind it I explained to you yesterday, and I think that was the intent of the “note to correspondents”. Further than that, Laura, I really think that we have to pose those questions to the Special Representative, who is obviously going to brief the Security Council on the eleventh. And we have asked him to brief you afterwards.
Question: Can you just repeat what you said about Mr. Van Walsum? Did he brief the Council, or…
Deputy Spokesperson: He is scheduled, according to the Security Council programme for the month of July, on the eleventh in consultations, and we have asked him to speak to you following that. And hopefully, he will do so.
Question: Two days ago, the US Military Attaché in Cyprus was murdered, Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Mooney. Do you have any information about that?
Deputy Spokesperson: No, I don’t.
Question: You have not received anything from UNFICYP (United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus)?
Deputy Spokesperson: No, I have not.
Question: This is an important event. Murders are very rare there and this is an American colonel over there, and then the military attaché, and you know nothing about it? UNFICYP did not provide any…
Deputy Spokesperson: No, they have not.
Question: Is Mr. Brammertz heading the investigation into the killing of the UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon)peacekeepers in the south of Lebanon? The six Spanish battalion forces?
Deputy Spokesperson: What we told you: At the time of the investigation was that there were members of his team with expertise who were on loan to assist in the investigation, but he himself is not.
Question: Why didn’t the Lebanese Government, for example, ask to be incorporated into the list of those who were assassinated in Lebanon.
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, you’ll have to ask that to the Lebanese Government.
Question: Did you ask the, I mean, for coordination on this matter? Because it seems there is a linkage here, a very obvious linkage, between all these assassinations –- [inaudible] Nahr el-Bared –- and in south Lebanon. Shouldn’t… The Secretary-General, for example, when he talked to Mr. [Fouad] Siniora, didn’t he discuss that with him?
Deputy Spokesperson: As I mentioned, and I think we mentioned at the time, there is an investigation ongoing. They are obviously looking to all the pertinent facts. And as I said, there are some experts from Mr. Brammertz’ team assisting in the investigation.
Question: I have a question on the report on the Western Sahara, because it is not issued under Van Walsum’s name, but under the Secretary-General’s name. And it says, well, we don’t really retract those observations, we are just eliminating them, because we are going to present them orally, or something to that implication. And then comes the technical thing. And I am just curious. The explanations do not mesh…
Deputy Spokesperson: Let me find out, in response to your question and to Laura’s question, with Documents Control about the symbol and the issuance. In terms of what we have explained, that has not changed. The Documents Control and their symbols, I’ll find out for you.
Question: Shall we act as if we have never seen the Observations?
Question: Last month, Atrjon Shkurtaj, former Operations Manager of UNDP in North Korea, applied for and was granted whistleblower status under the UN’s new Ethics Committee. Since then, Mr. Shkurtaj has been dismissed. What is the current status of this case?
Deputy Spokesperson: Can you explain who Mr. Shkurtaj…
Question: He was the former Operations Manager of UNDP in North Korea, a 13-year UN veteran. He was granted whistleblower status under the UN’s new ethics code and apparently he was the first person accepted under this new code. Since then, he has been dismissed. Can you tell me the current status of his case?
Deputy Spokesperson: I think I need to clarify something which you said. The only thing at this point we can say about this gentleman is that he has requested with the UN Ethics Office for protection against retaliation for having reported misconduct pursuant to ST/SGB/2005/21, which is what you mentioned –- it is whistleblower protection. This request is being reviewed by the Ethics Office, and that is where the status is, right now.
Question: So, he has not received whistleblower status yet?
Deputy Spokesperson: He has submitted his request to be considered, and that request is now being reviewed.
Question: Is he going to receive protection while his case is being reviewed?
Deputy Spokesperson: This is the information that we have now: It is being reviewed. The Ethics Office has said this is, as of now, that is the only thing they can say.
Question: He is also on a watch list, a watch list that bans him from the premises. And this watch list is usually reserved for disorderly persons, terrorists, people of that nature. Are you investigating why he is on that list, and who asked to put him on that list?
Deputy Spokesperson: Okay, what I tell you right now is the only information I can give you currently about this gentleman’s status.
Question: Yesterday, I have asked you about this photo array, and you told me that without his consent, nothing could be said about it. I think, earlier this morning you received his consent to discuss it. If you look in your e-mail… So he has provided his consent, both to the Ethics Office and your office, to discuss his…
Deputy Spokesperson: Based on information of the Ethics Office, which is the question now, I can… This is what I told you, they have received the request, and they are reviewing it. And that is the information that the Ethics Office can release at this point.
Question: On Friday, I asked Michèle about the whistleblower without using his name, and she said that the Secretary-General has discussed this with different senior advisers here in this building. This is being taken care of. So, now that you have his consent to discuss it, what did she mean, how is it being taken care of?
Deputy Spokesperson: By the Ethics Office, who is now reviewing his request. His request to be considered under UN whistleblower protection policy. And if you look at the Secretary-General’s bulletin on the subject, obviously it will outline all the ways in which this could be done. But right now, his request is simply being reviewed.
Question: I am sorry, just one last question on this. Because I think… I mean, as of 5 June he had made his request. The other question, the concern is, is what happens to a UN person who applies for whistleblower status while it is pending? Is it possible that either the Secretary-General or UNDP can bar him from the building? What steps are taken while it is pending to protect the person, I think that is the question?
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, entering the building, anybody who has legitimate business in the building can enter the building. As for what protection he is receiving now, I will have to check that for you.
Question: How many whistleblowers are there who are officially acknowledged?
Deputy Spokesperson: I’ll have to ask that from the Ethics Office, if they are releasing that kind of information.
[The Deputy Spokesperson later said that the information is contained in the annual report to the General Assembly on the activities of the Ethics Office (document A/61/274).]
Question: What is the official procedure when somebody from a State sends you a letter, that letter to be published as an official document of the United Nations? What would be the procedure?
Deputy Spokesperson: If a letter is sent to whom?
Question: The Secretary-General, to the UN, to the Security Council, how it goes really. If it is addressed to the Secretary-General, has the Secretary-General an obligation to publish it?
Deputy Spokesperson: I think, in most cases, as far as I know, if a letter is received and is requested to be circulated, it is.
Question: And what is the reason that the letter from the two-member Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina was not circulated, because it has been inside the current request to be circulated to the Member States as an official document.
Deputy Spokesperson: I’ll have to look into that for you.
[The Deputy Spokesperson later told the correspondent that, in connection with the specific case of a letter from two of the three-member presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina to the Secretary-General, such a letter would only be circulated as an official document if it had been sent by all the members who comprise a Head of Government.]
Question: There is a report that the UN is involved in building an airstrip near where the Lord’s Resistance Army is in Garamba National Park to ferry them to the talks with the Uganda Government. It is widely reported that that is taking place. Can you confirm that the UN is involved, and if so, I guess, what funds does it come out of, I guess would be one question.
Deputy Spokesperson: I’ll look into that for you. No, I can’t confirm that information. I have not received information. I have seen the press report.
No more questions for me? We will go get Ambassador Wang.
* *** *For information media • not an official record