20 August 2007
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.


**Guest at Noon


B. Lynn Pascoe, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, is our guest at the noon briefing today.  He just returned from visits to China, Kyrgyzstan and Nepal.  He visited the UN Mission in Nepal over the weekend, where he pledged full UN support for the country’s political process.


Speaking at a press conference, Pascoe said that he feels very strongly that the process in Nepal is a very positive one and is very optimistic that the process will move forward.  He underlined the importance of an open, fair and transparent election for a Constituent Assembly taking place on time, in November this year.  You will hear more about it in a few minutes.


** Nepal


Also, the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) today launched a 15-minute magazine-style radio programme, “UNMIN Ko Boli”, made available to all radio networks and stations around the country.


The twice-a-week programme, produced in partnership with Nepal’s public broadcaster, Radio Nepal, aims to reach out to communities across the country to increase awareness on what the UNMIN and the UN Country Team is doing to support Nepal’s peace process, especially in the lead-up to the Constituent Assembly election.


The programme will go to air in the Nepali-language initially, and within weeks it will also be broadcast in five other Nepalese languages.


**Hurricane Dean


Hurricane Dean, which entered the eastern Caribbean on Friday, caused damage to rooftops and flooded streets in Saint Lucia, Dominica and Martinique, killing 9 people and causing serious economic damage to the agricultural sector in those countries.


The hurricane also passed through Haiti during the weekend, where more than 5,000 people are in temporary shelters, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).  The World Food Programme (WFP) is providing biscuits and aid kits while UNICEF has sent essential drugs.  The UN Mission in Haiti also provided logistical support to evacuate the people most threatened by the hurricane.


Today, the hurricane passed just south of Jamaica, bringing floods to the streets of the capital, Kingston.  UNICEF, the World Food Programme and the World Health organization (WHO) have pre-positioned medical equipment, water-purification tablets, food stocks and relief staff to transport relief aid to Jamaica and elsewhere in the region as needed.


The United Nations is sending a 5-member disaster assessment and coordination team to Belize, where tropical storm force winds could hit Belize City.  And we have more on this upstairs.


**Security Council


Following brief consultations, the Security Council this morning unanimously approved a resolution extending its authorization of the African Union Mission in Somalia by a further six months.


It also requested the Secretary-General to consult with the African Union Commission on what further support might be provided to the African Union Mission, and to develop contingency planning for the possible deployment of a UN peacekeeping operation.


**Timor-Leste


Over the weekend in Timor-Leste, some 27 incidents of violence -- characterized by rock-throwing and fighting amongst local groups -- were reported in Dili.  The remainder of the country was reportedly calm although the Viqueque district remains tense.


There have been no security incidents reported from Viqueque, but most government offices and schools remain closed.  Meanwhile, a rally will be held by a radical pro-Fretilin group in Dili today and tomorrow.


** Iraq


The UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) yesterday commemorated the fourth anniversary of the bombing of the UN Baghdad headquarters at the Canal hotel.


During his remarks commemorating the event, the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq, Michael Schulenburg, said that the United Nations remains determined to shoulder its responsibilities in helping and assisting the people and Government of Iraq as they chart their way towards a future marked by peace and prosperity.


Schulenburg yesterday received Iraqi Foreign Minister, Hoshiyar Zebari, and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner at UNAMI headquarters in Baghdad.  They had come to pay tribute to the 22 people who were killed in the bomb attack four years ago, and they both laid wreaths at the UN compound.


** Peru


Turning to Peru, the United Nations system in the country is finalizing a Flash Appeal for aid to benefit the survivors of the 15 August earthquake.


The UNDP Resident Coordinator in the country reports that providing water, shelter, sanitation, food and temporary employment are among the priorities in assisting earthquake survivors.


According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the Government of Peru has established an air bridge to reach the city of Pisco in order to deliver humanitarian supplies and facilitate the deployment of international relief and aid workers.


In addition, two UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination team members are working in Lima to help the Peruvian Government identify the areas that have yet to be covered.  Three other team members are in the on-site coordination centre in Pisco.


** Sudan


The United Nations will allocate $8.7 million to support the ongoing humanitarian response for flood victims in Sudan.


The Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, John Holmes, approved a grant from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) that will be used for relief operations in the most affected areas of the countries -- including the states of Gedaref, Kassala, Khartoum and Upper Nile.


“Thanks to these funds we will be able to assist over one and a half million current or potential flood victims, until or beyond the end of the rainy season,” Holmes said.  The funding will allow the UN agencies to provide, among others, medical drugs, water purification products, non-food items and emergency shelter.  And we have an OCHA press release on this upstairs.


** Afghanistan


In Afghanistan, the Representative of the Secretary-General for the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, Walter Kaelin, is expressing concern over the potential for a significant increase in the number of IDPs if the conflict continues at the present pace.


After a week-long visit to the country, Kaelin reports that the armed conflict in Afghanistan has triggered the displacement of tens of thousands of persons in the last year alone.  The families fleeing the present fighting are adding to the 130,000 internally displaced persons in the south and south-west, who are still living in provisional settlements since they were displaced by drought and insecurity five or more years ago.


**Convention on Biological Weapons


In Geneva today, a ceremony was held to inaugurate the new Implementation Support Unit for the Convention on Biological Weapons.  This Unit, which is part of the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs, will assist States parties in their efforts to reduce the threat posed by biological weapons.


The ceremony was attended by the Chairman of this year’s meetings of the Convention, Ambassador Masood Khan ( Pakistan), High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Sergio Duarte and a group of experts on biological weapons who meet this week in Geneva.


**UNESCAP


The UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) said in a statement today that it is working to establish a regional network of women’s cooperatives.  The initiative will allow female entrepreneurs to share business knowledge and experiences.  It will also help them market their products through the Internet.  A regional meeting is taking place from 23 to 24 August in Bangkok, Thailand, at which participants will develop and adopt a strategy for the creation of the first regional knowledge network.  There is more on this upstairs.


**Press Conference


Tomorrow, at 1 p.m., there will be a press conference by Ambassador Vitaly Churkin of the Russian Federation on the recent incident in Georgia.


This is all I have for you.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  There is a memo from the Ethics Office Director Robert Benson to Kemal Dervis at UNDP, saying that the whistle-blower at UNDP has been made a case of retaliation, and saying that UNDP has not accepted jurisdiction.  It is cc’d to Ban Ki-moon and asks Dervis to accept jurisdiction for the good of the UN.  Number one:  has he received his copy of the memo, and what does he intend to do about having the whistle-blower protection of the UN system applied to UNDP in this case?


Spokesperson:  He has received it, received it this weekend.  It was sent on Friday to him.  He has not had time to study the memo yet, and he certainly will take this into consideration.  As you know, he is very much concerned about this whole issue.  I know what you said, it is true that UNDP is not covered by the Ethics Office.


Question:  Not covered?  I asked you a question last week about it.  Are you saying now that UNDP is not covered?


Spokesperson:  Is not covered as things stand now.  UNDP is not covered by the Ethics Office.  I got the information for you.  I know that the Executive Board of the UNDP, and I think you can have answers from UNDP, but the Executive Board of the UNDP is considering a complimentary external review to cover some key issues not covered by the UN Board of Auditors.  That is what I got from UNDP.  As far as the memo is concerned, as I said, it has been received and is being studied by the Secretary-General.


Question:  Mr. Benson seems to be saying that he is asking UNDP, and Ban Ki-moon by implication by the cc, in this one case, since UNDP does not have whistle-blower protection, according to Mr. Benson there is no acceptable protection in place at UNDP, to accept jurisdiction so that it can be reviewed in this case.  Benson says it will be for the good of the UN.  I think the question here is, does Ban Ki-moon agree with the Ethics Office, whom he has nominated and put in charge...


Spokesperson:  It’s a jurisdiction issue.  UNDP does not fall under the jurisdiction of the Secretariat’s Ethics Office.


Question:  But just in this one case?


Spokesperson:  Yes, that is what is being considered now, what is being examined now by the Secretary-General, who has received the memo.


Question:  I have a follow-up on this.  Apparently, there is a situation here where the whistle-blower protection was hailed last year as one of the major achievements of reform at the UN.  But here we have a whole area where it seems that whistle-blower protection is not even covered, because UNDP does not have its own ethics office.  The UN does have an ethics office.  The UN did take this case.  It said that prima facie it seems there was a case of retaliation.  All of a sudden they say... there is this black hole of no jurisdiction here.  So, the question is, does the UN stand by the fact that this was a major reform achievement?


Spokesperson:  The fact that something is not covered by a Secretariat body is something that has nothing to do with the Secretary-General himself.  He has someone in the Ethics Office, and that Ethics Office covers a certain number of cases.  There is no doubt that the Secretary-General is going to discuss ways of filling what you called a “black hole”.  Any credible evidence that has appeared needs to be looked into.  And I think it is going to be looked into.


Question:  Well, it was looked into.  That is the point I made.  The Ethics Office did take it up initially, and then it is the UNDP that asserted that the Ethics Office does not have jurisdiction.  A:  if the Ethics office does not have jurisdiction, why does the Ethics Office take it up to begin with?  And B: Since it has taken it up, why doesn’t it have jurisdiction?


Spokesperson:  That is what I said, it is being examined right now.  The Secretary-General received a memo and is examining the situation.


Question:  What exactly has the Secretary-General done about this case?  I mean, we all recall when the allegations began that the Secretary-General called for an investigation into this thing, an audit.  The audit has happened, but that still was not finished, but what does the Secretary-General...  Does the Secretary-General have the power to say:  “No, you have a black hole here.  Mr. Benson is under my authority.  He is going in to investigate this thoroughly.  And I don’t care what the jurisdiction is, I am taking the assertive position here.”  Does he have the power to even do that?  And secondly, what has he done so far?  You say he is going to review this memo, but what steps has he undertaken along the way.  Perhaps you can enlighten us about that?


Spokesperson:  Well, so far he is just discussing with the different bodies who are in charge with investigating about what should be done.  As you know, he cannot say:  okay, you have to examine UNDP, even though UNDP is not part of your mandate.  He cannot overrule jurisdiction issues himself.  It is obvious he can not.  But finding other ways of dealing with the issues, that he is working on and he has been dealing with.


Question:  Is he specifically looking... I mean, if he is powerless...


Spokesperson:  There are other ways...


Question:  But you are saying essentially that he is powerless to intervene here in a real concrete...


Spokesperson:  Unless UNDP was to invite the Ethics Office to come in and work there, or invite the OIOS and do an investigation that way.  It has to come...  You know, those are intricate legal issues, which the Secretary-General cannot rule over without consulting the different bodies involved.


Question:  And what concrete steps has he taken to overcome this “catch-22”, which of course...  Apart from all the things that he said he stands for and wants to get changed here.


Spokesperson:  As I said, he just got the memo, okay, the copy of the memo.  So I cannot give you an answer right now.  He just got the copy of the memo and I said he is examining that memo trying to find ways.


Question:  So you are inferring this is the first time he understood there is a jurisdiction issue here?


Spokesperson:  Yes.


Question:  One of the tools he has, obviously, is making phone calls.  Hasn’t it [inaudible] so far... that he urges North Korea to accept that audit mission, which it hasn’t yet.  And I think... would it be imprudent for him to [inaudible]


Spokesperson:  Well, he certainly will tell them.  The Secretary-General’s strength -- you should know it by now -- is one of diplomacy, of quiet diplomacy -- of talking to people and trying to get results that way.  I think he has shown, so far, that he can obtain results that way, okay?  Now, what he is going to do in this case, I said it is too early to tell you, because I don’t know what he is going to do, because he has just received that memo.  So, my answer is the same.  You are suggesting ways for him to act -- he is to decide.


Question:  Are you saying it is easier to deal with the President of Sudan than with the Administrator of UNDP?


Question:  I just like to follow-up on this issue of accusations that the Deputy Force Commander -- this Rwandan fellow -- in Sudan is a war criminal.  I understand this was in newspapers last week and then I saw that some UN official had said that they are taking these accusations very seriously and that they are investigating.  So I would be quite interested to find out a little bit more about what is being done over there.


Spokesperson:  Well, there have been discussions with the Rwandan Government about this.  As you know, each country is supposed to vet the people that they submit.  The Rwandan Government is saying that those allegations are coming from the opposition.  There is no doubt that discussions are continuing on this.  This is being followed very closely, I can tell you that.


Question:  It is obvious that the Rwandan Government is not an unbiased party in this.  The genocide clearly was the major crime in 1994.  There is a lot of accusations of human rights atrocities committed on the other side.  None of these are fully explored.  So, does the UN basically believe... does the UN take the Rwandan Government’s word for it, or does it actually have serious investigations with other parties that might have a different point of view?


Spokesperson:  They are also talking to other parties.


Question:  So who are they talking to?


Spokesperson:  International organizations dealing with human rights to find out if there is any basis to the allegations.


Question:  Is there going to be a formal investigation?  How does this work?  Is it just [inaudible] a few people or is it actually something more formal?  Is it going to create a report assessing...


Spokesperson:  It is something being pursued on a very systematic basis since the accusations came out.


Question:  So how many investigators are you sending?


Spokesperson:  I am not saying that investigators are being sent.  Right now, there are requests to international human rights organizations and other organizations to look into this.  And there is also discussion with the Rwandan Government to know what they have to say.


Question:  On the same subject, the AU has accepted him and the UN -- I guess -- Peacekeeping Department has not?  Is that correct?


Spokesperson:  At this point, they are still discussing.


Question: I mean, who has not been approved, is that...


Spokesperson:  As far as I know, not yet.


Question:  Has the UN spoken with Democratic Forces, a Brussels-based group that has raised allegations about him?


Spokesperson:  No, not that I know of.


Question:  A few days ago the leaders of Southern African States, the Southern African Development Community (SADC), established for the first time a brigade as part of the permanent standing force for the African Union peacebuilding operations [inaudible] and humanitarian affairs.  Does the Secretary-General consider this an important development and does he have any reaction?


Spokesperson:  Well, he certainly welcomes such a development.  That is all I can say at this point, because I don’t have any details.


[A question followed about the sexual abuse case in Côte d’Ivoire.]


Spokesperson:  [Summarizing her answer given in French]:  As far as I know, the investigating team from Morocco is still on the ground and still investigating.


Question:  I am asking about the position of Mr. Ban Ki-moon to Serbian announcements last Friday about its readiness to re-deploy some of its security forces in Kosovo.  How far can such a statement affect the negotiations of the Contact Group...?


Spokesperson:  Well, I can tell you at this point, this is a decision by a country.  The Secretary-General does not necessarily get involved in every aspect of such deployments.


Question:  Yes, but one of the assistants of the Serbian Prime Minister was quoted as saying that Security Council resolution 1244 stipulates its right to re-deploy hundreds of security forces in Kosovo.  I mean, how far does Mr. Ban Ki-moon see such a thing to complicate the status of Kosovo?


Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t have anything to add on this from what I said earlier on the Kosovo situation.


Question:  I have another question.  Is there any readout on the UN team visiting Tehran now on its nuclear instalments?


Spokesperson:  The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)?


Question:  Yes, is there any readout on that?


Spokesperson:  No, not yet.  We are waiting for information from them.  But you can always get information on their site, because the information is put up as soon as they have it.


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