|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
Our guest at the noon briefing today is Major General Babacar Gaye, Force Commander of the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC), who will brief you on the situation in the DRC in a few minutes.
**Secretary-General in Sudan
The Secretary-General, in a joint press conference in Khartoum with President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan following a meeting between the two, announced the start of renewed peace talks on Darfur on 27 October in Libya. He said that the negotiations would be under the lead of the African Union and UN Special Envoys, who will continue to work in close coordination with the countries of the region.
The Secretary-General said he urges and expects all parties to declare their serious commitment to cease all hostilities immediately; achieve a political solution to the Darfur crisis; create a secure environment in Darfur conducive to negotiations; and participate in and commit to the outcome of the negotiation effort.
He added that there must be an end to violence and insecurity and a strengthened ceasefire supported by the incoming Hybrid Operation, as well as an improvement in the humanitarian situation and greater prospects for development and recovery for the people of Darfur. We have his opening remarks at the press conference upstairs and a fuller transcript will follow.
Also, we have a joint communiqué between the Government of Sudan and the United Nations that was issued at that press conference, expressing the hope that the parties will cooperate fully with the African Union and UN Special Envoys in order to ensure that negotiations are concluded as expeditiously as possible.
The Secretary-General began his last day with three back-to-back meetings. The first was with the Foreign Minister, Lam Akol, together with senior Government officials. He then met with the Speaker of the National Assembly and members of Parliament, and after that with Mini Minawi, Senior Assistant to the President. The Secretary-General is to conclude his official visit to Sudan tonight with a reception hosted by the Foreign Ministry.
** Democratic Republic of the Congo
Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes today continued his visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In South Kivu Province, he visited a hospital where he heard “stories that go beyond the imagination” from women who had been raped and then shot or stabbed in their genitals.
Calling such sexual violence a “societal cancer”, Holmes stressed the importance of helping the victims and punishing those who committed such crimes. Tomorrow, Holmes is scheduled to travel to North Kivu Province, where fighting has displaced more than 10,000 civilians in the past 10 days. We have more information in a press release upstairs.
The Secretary-General, in a recent exchange of letters with the Security Council, proposed that Ahmedou Ould Abdallah, who currently heads the UN Office in West Africa, be appointed as his Special Representative for Somalia.
The current Special Representative in Somalia, Francois Lonseny Fall, would be reassigned to head the UN Peacebuilding Support Office in the Central African Republic. And the head of that office, General Lamine Cissé, would be temporarily reassigned as officer-in-charge of the UN Office in West Africa.
These are changes aimed at ensuring that the United Nations is doing its utmost to rise to a number of challenges and opportunities it faces in several key arenas in Africa -– particularly Somalia and the Central African Republic.
On Liberia, the Security Council is holding consultations today on Liberia, and heard a briefing on the work of the UN Mission in Liberia by the head of that Mission, Alan Doss. Doss also briefed troop contributing countries earlier today.
The Liberia Mission’s current mandate expires at the end of the month, and the Secretary-General has proposed that the mandate be extended by a year.
Alan Doss will be the guest at tomorrow’s noon briefing.
On Chad, the World Food Programme (WFP) today urgently appealed for more than $80 million -- to feed nearly 400,000 refugees and internally displaced persons in eastern Chad. WFP says those new funds are needed by next month in order to ensure that enough food is pre-positioned in the area before next year’s rainy season. We have a press release on that upstairs.
**WFP -– Hurricane Felix
Turning to Nicaragua, the World Food Programme yesterday delivered an emergency airlift of more than four tons of beans, rice and cooking oil to the coastal town of Bilwi, which bore some of the worst devastation from Hurricane Felix.
Yesterday’s distribution follows the delivery of 70 tons of food on Tuesday, just hours after the storm hit. WFP has also distributed food to thousands of people in shelters in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa.
WFP Deputy Director Gordana Jerger said that the agency was able to respond so quickly because it had food stocks on hand for long-term projects in the area. She noted, however, that those stocks will need to be replenished, and urged donors to provide immediate financial assistance. We have more information in a press release upstairs.
The two Cypriot leaders, Tassos Papadopoulos and Mehmet Ali Talat, and the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Michael Moller, met yesterday in Nicosia, and Moller said afterward that their discussions were held in a constructive atmosphere.
He said that they agreed on the need for the earliest start for the process and discussed other issues leading to a comprehensive settlement. They have agreed to continue their contacts through the United Nations and to meet again when appropriate.
The Secretary-General was deeply saddened to learn of the death of Luciano Pavarotti, the tenor and United Nations Messenger of Peace. He extends his sympathy and condolences to Mr. Pavarotti's family, as well as to the Government and people of Italy, at this painful time.
The Secretary-General notes that Mr. Pavarotti made a profound contribution not only to music and the arts, but also to people in need around the world. His work for children -- particularly those affected by armed conflict -- stretched from Afghanistan to Liberia and beyond. By staging concerts and marshalling talented friends to help raise funds, he generated millions of dollars for humanitarian aid. A true friend of the UN, he described himself as “a small link to help promote the humanitarian aims and inviolable rights which are under the United Nations flag”.
The Secretary-General joins Mr. Pavarotti's countless fans and admirers, as well as all those he worked with to help and heal, in giving thanks for his life.
We also have a statement from the UN refugee agency on Mr. Pavarotti, whose concerts brought in more than $7 million for refugee projects over the years.
**UNIFIL Photo Exhibit
And a reminder that you are invited later today to the launch of a photo exhibition depicting the work of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, or UNIFIL.
UNIFIL’s Force Commander, Major General Claudio Graziano, who briefed you yesterday, and Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro will formally open the exhibition, which marks the anniversary of the Security Council’s adoption of resolution 1701 last year. It starts at 6 p.m. today, in the hallway opposite the Japanese Peace Bell garden.
**United Nations Correspondents Association (UNCA) Announcement
Last a little note from UNCA informing us that Omar Achy, UNCA member and correspondent for Agence Maghreb Arabe Presse has become a father for the second time. His wife gave birth to a baby boy this morning. So just a light note.
This is all I have for you today.
**Questions and Answers
Question: I just wanted to ask whether the Secretary-General has any reaction to Syrian charges that Israel violated its airspace this morning and that they had to fire back.
Spokesperson: Not at this moment. We are monitoring the situation.
Question: In a very extensive and explosive report, Human Rights Watch today charged that Israel’s indiscriminate airstrikes in the 2006 war killed 900 civilians in Lebanon. And it also said that lots of war crimes had been committed and it asked the Secretary-General to establish an international commission of inquiry in order to assess as to what happened, and whether there were war crimes committed, and whether -– such a commission should be established now.
Spokesperson: We’ll have an answer as soon as we get that report in from Human Rights Watch, and of course, this will be considered, and especially by the human rights offices of the United Nations.
Question: And also on the other subject that I said about Iraq about ethnic cleansing. Is the United Nations Human Rights Commissioner going to be looking into that fact also or not?
Spokesperson: Well, they always are looking into anything that is given to them in terms of human rights violations.
Question: In light of the reports in The New York Times and The Daily News on the substance found in the UNMOVIC office last month, that this is likely a non-toxic substance and quite possibly a solvent of some type, is the investigation going to be shifting to look at how a possible labelling mistake like this could have been made and creating such a panic at the office? And also is there still concern that there might be a potentially hazardous chemical agent somewhere in these files since there are these labels turning up showing that there was possibly something like that there?
Spokesperson: Well, this is one of the reasons why that board will look into this. Obviously so far we have good news and there is nothing at this point that we can see as being harmful. The reports that you saw -– we are still expecting, of course, a report from the federal authorities on what it was exactly, so we’ll know more about it pretty soon, I hope.
Question: A follow-up to that, when will we be briefed by the people who are investigating the substance in that [inaudible] case?
Spokesperson: You will first know the constitution of the group first. I don’t think you will be briefed by them until they start actually looking into this.
Question: Just to give us assurances of the process and the procedures that they’re going through. I mean, we wouldn’t anticipate that they would have an answer right away, be able to tell us, but at least the process and what they’re doing and how they’re going to --
Spokesperson: You’ll be informed of the process. You’ll be informed of the composition and you’ll be informed of the process, and exactly what they will touch upon and what the investigation will cover.
Question: OK. I have a follow-up to an article that Benny Avni had in the paper today about a second whistle-blower. And one of the things in there -– and it would be great to have UNDP come and talk to us -– it’s been a while -– but one of the things that was mentioned in that article is Morrison, the Spokesman for UNDP, mentioning to Benny in the article that the case of the second whistle-blower is being reviewed by the Joint Appeals Board, the UN Joint Appeals Board. And the question that comes to mind, is this yet another case? It’s almost like a déjà vu in which you have the Ethics Office, Mr. Benson’s office, do a review of Mr. Shkurtaj’s case and then come to a conclusion about what appears to be a good case that should be reviewed, but UNDP coming back and saying -- no, you don’t have jurisdiction, back off, this is our deal. Well, what’s the case with the Joint Appeals Board -–
Spokesperson: Joint Appeals Board.
Question: Is that a similar scenario in which perhaps they’ll review this fellow’s case, come back with a finding that will say, hey, there’s an issue here, we recommend that something be done, and UNDP, as a separate agency, says, get lost, we’re doing our own thing.
Spokesperson: We cannot in advance know whether this will happen and how it will happen. It’s a different story when you’re talking about an internal judicial body looking at a complaint. It’s a different situation.
Question: Does it have jurisdiction?
Spokesperson: As far as I know, yes, they do. But we can get more on that pretty soon for you. But UNDP gave me the same answer, that it was being reviewed by the Appeals Board.
Correspondent: It would be good to get that [inaudible].
Spokesperson: Yes. Yes, Benny?
Question: First of all, to follow up on that, so how come the Joint Appeals Board does have jurisdiction and the Ethics Office doesn’t? From what I understand, the reason the Ethics Office doesn’t have jurisdiction is a circular by the Secretary-General [inaudible] that said it doesn’t, which I would presume means that the current Secretary-General could issue a similar circular that says that it does have jurisdiction, change the situation.
Now the follow-up on that, Congressman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen wrote a letter today to the Secretary-General in which she quotes a previous letter by the Secretary-General that said that Shkurtaj’s allegations will be investigated through the Ethics Office, which is responsible for implementing the whistle-blower policy [inaudible] in this case. So if the Secretary-General believes that in the letter that he wrote the Congressman -– I mean the Congressman wrote -- Congresswoman --
Spokesperson: Congresswoman. Yes, I checked whether the letter has been received. It has not been received so far. We’ll have a reaction when it is received.
Question: No, but this is a previous letter by the Secretary-General. I assume that she’s quoting from a real letter, and not something, you know, from July in which he said that it will be examined through the Ethics Office.
Spokesperson: I promise you we’ll have a briefing on the whole internal judicial system of the UN very soon. On the Ethics Office. You know, we are going to try to put all this together in a briefing for you very soon.
Question: And one more question about a letter that was written today by the 88 generation students group in Burma, urging the Secretary-General to bring the questions on Burma in front of the Security Council.
Spokesperson: Well, we have received those letters. We have a letter also from Hollywood personalities asking for the liberation of Aung San Suu Kyi. We have –- you heard yesterday the Under-Secretary-General Gambari talk to you at length about Myanmar, so I’m not going to come back to this. But there have been a number of interventions on the part of the human rights organization, Louise Arbour, High Commissioner, in particular, the Secretary-General himself, about this issue. And Gambari, I think, tried to answer your questions yesterday on that.
Question: But not that particular question. He declined to answer that particular question, whether it should be brought in front of the Security Council. That’s what they are, the 88 students group is calling on them to do.
Spokesperson: Well, it is up to the Security Council.
Question: They are calling on the Security --
Spokesperson: -- on the Secretary-General to call --
Question: -- to raise it in front of the Security Council.
Spokesperson: Well, the SG will in time answer that question.
Question: One follow-up on the issue of the two whistle-blowers, there’s some concern now raised -– it seems that Ban Ki-moon has said the Executive Board of UNDP is the appropriate venue, somehow, to --
Spokesperson: Not the Executive Board -– the review board set up by the Executive Board of UNDP.
Question: OK. Exactly. Concerns have now arisen if whether the relocation even of jobs to countries that are leading the Executive Board can create some kind of conflict of interest that wouldn’t exist with the Ethics Office. I’m wondering if Mr. Ban or the Secretariat has some comment on how conflicts of interest in the review of these types of cases can be avoided, or if the Secretariat sees that as a problem or whether funds and programmes should suspend individualized assistance to the countries that are reviewing the case with the whistle-blower.
Spokesperson: I think we will get to this in the proper context. We will discuss all these issues together when we discuss the whole issue of jurisdiction and the whole issue of internal justice and the whole issue of whistle-blower protection, which we will have a briefing on very soon.
Question: Is it by Benson?
Spokesperson: I don’t know yet. We have asked a number of people.
Question: Can we get that before UNDP, actually, the Executive Board names the expert and adopts the terms of reference? Because that’s sort of a watershed moment. It seems that once that’s done, I don’t want to say the fix is in, but that decision has been made, and it’s not going to go back.
Spokesperson: At any rate, the Executive Board of UNDP has decided to name that review board, and they will name that review board. So whether the briefing is before or afterwards is irrelevant.
Question: But I guess, if that goes forward then Ban’s position is clear that he’s [inaudible]. OK. I wanted to ask one question --
Spokesperson: His position is clear. He has made that position clear already.
Question: So he does not see that as a conflict of interest?
Spokesperson: No. Let’s try to shorten this. Betsy and then we’ll have one more question, because I don’t want to have the General wait too long. OK. Betsy?
Question: Just want to beat the horse to death. On the phosgene, or whatever it is, is the head of management and the head of security still conducting an investigation into what may or may not be a lethal substance?
Spokesperson: No. As we said, as the Secretary-General said, there is going to be a group that is going to be taking care of this. We’ll be announcing the names very soon. There will be three experts on it -– on this specific type of substances and --
Question: What exactly will they be investigating?
Spokesperson: About the process -– how it happened, why it happened and these are the different issues they will be looking into, from the time 11 years ago when there was the presence of the inspectors in Iraq, until now, when the substances were found.
Question: OK. Does the Secretary-General think that it is a proportional response to put all of those people and all of those resources into figuring out what happened 11 years ago in an agency that technically no longer exists, and not putting those resources into other perhaps more contemporary problems, like the whistle-blower crisis?
Spokesperson: OK. Betsy, I don’t think it has anything to do with 11 years ago. It’s a process, you know. Something like this happens. One has to know why it happened, so it won’t happen again. So I think this is the essential idea –- these are security issues for now. They’re not security issues on what happened 11 years ago. They’re security issues about now and how this should not happen again.
Spokesperson: That’s not quite what I said, Benny.
Question: Is UN Special Representative Moller trying to implement the 8 July 2006 agreement or he’s looking for something else, another venue to put the parties in action?
Spokesperson: Well, right now, I will stand with what I just said about the fact that they met and the fact that they have decided to continue to meet. That’s all I can say at this point.
Question: Is it still viable the 8 July agreement, or we are in another stage past that?
Spokesperson: We are pursuing the same process. OK. Thank you very much.
Question: Secretary-General Ban dispatched Barcena and Veness back to Turin. What are they doing [inaudible]?
Spokesperson: Well, they have been discussing what happened, and Mr. Veness is doing his job as the chief security person at the UN. I don’t have any details of what they do at every hour on the hour, Benny. Thank you very much.
* *** *For information media • not an official record