|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.
**Statement on Algiers Bombing Report
I have a statement on the Algiers bombing report:
On Friday, 11 January, the Secretary-General received from the Under-Secretary-General for Safety and Security a preliminary report on circumstances leading up to the terrorist attack that took place a month earlier against United Nations premises in Algiers.
The Secretary-General has now decided to appoint an independent panel to establish all the facts concerning the Algiers attack and also to address strategic issues vital to the delivery and enhancement of staff security for the United Nations in its operations around the world. The panel will seek the full cooperation of the Algerian governmental authorities.
The Secretary-General fully recognizes the global reality of the environments in which the United Nations operates and the need to work actively with Member State support to improve the security of our staff.
The composition of this independent panel, which will draw on international experts from outside the United Nations system, and its more detailed terms of references are expected to be announced shortly. The Secretary-General reiterates his commitment to continue to work with Member States to improve the security of United Nations staff.
**Secretary-General in Spain
The Secretary-General is scheduled to open tomorrow morning in Madrid the Alliance of Civilizations Forum. Also opening the Forum are the Prime Minister of Spain, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, and the Prime Minister of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, as well as the High Representative for the Alliance, Jorge Sampaio.
The high-level event will bring together political leaders, representatives of international and regional bodies, donor agencies, civil society groups and foundations to explore ways of addressing the growing polarization between nations and cultures worldwide and develop partnerships to promote cross-cultural understanding globally.
We will make available this afternoon embargoed copies of the Secretary-General’s opening statement. I refer you to the Alliance website for the list of participants and the Forum’s program.
Officials of the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) and the Government of Sudan began negotiations on the Status of Forces Agreement today at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Sudan in Khartoum. The agreement will regulate the deployment and operations of UNAMID forces and civilian personnel.
The finalization of this agreement is among the unresolved issues that depend on the outcome of discussions with the Sudanese Government. Others include the final confirmation of the composition of the force, and clearance to function 24 hours a day.
Meanwhile, the African Union (AU) and United Nations Special Envoys for Darfur, Salim Ahmed Salim and Jan Eliasson, arrived in Khartoum over the weekend on a mission aimed at providing fresh momentum to the Darfur Peace Process. The special envoys will meet with Government of Sudan officials and representatives of the movements in Darfur.
During their visit, they will assess the parties’ commitment to the political process and urge all parties to exercise maximum restraint and to cease hostilities. In the course of their visit, the special envoys will ascertain the readiness of the Darfur Movements to participate in a meeting, to be hosted by the AU and UN, aimed at developing a common platform for resumed substantive negotiations with the Government of Sudan.
And for the record, on Friday afternoon, the Security Council condemned “in the strongest possible terms” the 7 January attack by Sudanese army elements on a UNAMID supply convoy.
In a presidential statement, the Security Council also expresses its readiness to take action against any party that impedes the peace process, humanitarian aid or the deployment of UNAMID. UNAMID, meanwhile, reported that the convoy that had come under attack had returned to El Fasher.
**Democratic Republic of Congo
Alan Doss, the new Special Representative of the Secretary-General in the Democratic Republic of Congo, met yesterday with President Joseph Kabila in Kinshasa. Doss said he assured President Kabila that he intended to contribute to the consolidation of peace in the country, and also reaffirmed the United Nation’s support for the President’s initiative on the Conference on Peace, Security and Development in the Kivus.
This morning, Doss met with the President of the Senate and later with the Prime Minister, whom he assured of the UN Mission’s firm commitment in helping the Government restore its authority across the vast country.
And in the north-eastern town of Goma, the Kivu Conference continued over the weekend with presentations by South Kivu community leaders and by representatives of various armed groups opposed to the Government. The Conference is expected to conclude on 17 January.
The Security Council today is holding consultations on Côte d’Ivoire, on which it received a briefing by Choi Young-jin, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for that country.
The current mandate of the United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) is set to expire tomorrow, and Council members are considering a draft resolution on a six-month extension for that mission.
Turning to Ethiopia, the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) has allocated nearly $600,000 to the World Food Programme (WFP), which will use the funds to help Ethiopian authorities deliver WFP food to the Somali region.
To date, WFP has provided almost 17 metric tons of food for the five zones under military operations, though it notes that a shortage of military escorts continues to hamper timely deliveries. Meanwhile, amid fears of a large-scale meningitis outbreak next month, the World Health Organization is helping the Ethiopian Government develop a preparedness and response plan.
On Mozambique, with floodwaters rising along the Zambezi River, the United Nations Humanitarian Country Team has established a presence in Caia to help the local government respond to the emergency.
The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has also sent a second emergency team to the hard-hit town of Mutarara. The UN is helping to provide safe drinking water and sanitation, insecticide-treated mosquito nets, as well as tents and school kits. We have more information in a press release from UNICEF upstairs.
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Mohamed ElBaradei and his senior aides visited Tehran last Friday and Saturday, meeting with senior officials, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
An agreement was reached on the timeline for implementation of all the remaining verification issues specified in the August 2007 work plan. According to the agreed schedule, implementation of the work plan should be completed in the next four weeks.
During the visit, discussion also took place on the importance of the implementation of the Additional Protocol, as well as on other confidence-building measures called for by the Security Council. Furthermore, Iran also provided information on its research and development activities on a new generation of centrifuges.
On Afghanistan, the World Food Programme (WFP) says that as many as 1.3 million people in Afghanistan are at high risk of food insecurity because of price increases in staple foods like wheat flour and vegetable oil. The price of wheat flour, for instance, has increased by nearly 60 per cent over the past 12 months.
The World Food Programme intends to provide an additional 40,000 tons of food to assist the Afghan people who are at risk. We have further details about what WFP and the Food and Agriculture Organization are doing to deal with food insecurity in Afghanistan in today’s briefing notes from the UN Mission in that country (UNAMA).
Over in Nepal, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Ian Martin, said a credible and inclusive constituent assembly election is reachable in Nepal. Speaking to the press today, he stressed that such an election is what the Nepalese people have said to want, and that he believes it will receive international support, including that of the Security Council.
Mr. Martin added, however, that achieving it still depends on the commitment and wisdom of Nepali political and community leaders to address outstanding differences and grievances through dialogue, and on their action to bring about a climate of security for voters and political actors in all parts of the country.
**Greece/The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
The Secretary General’s Personal Representative for Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Matthew Nimetz, has announced that talks between the two parties will resume on 21 January in Ohrid, in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The discussions, which will focus on the “name issue” and related themes, will be opened by Antonio Milososki, Foreign Minister of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
This is to be the first of a series of meetings, which Nimetz announced during his visit to the region last month. If progress is made, the next round will be held in Greece. It is the first time that direct talks will be taking place in the region; they’re usually held in New York.
The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) received record support from the international community in 2007. A total of 181 Member States contributed $419 million to UNFPA’s budget. That’s the highest number of donor nations and the largest amount of contributions since the Fund began operations in 1969.
The top five donors were the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, the United Kingdom and Japan. Every single nation in sub-Saharan Africa also pledged funds in 2007, UNFPA notes. We have more information upstairs.
The Secretary-General will respond to questions from children around the world through a new web feature called “Ask the Secretary-General”.
The questions will be collected on the Department of Public Information’s Cyberschoolbus website between now and 31 March. They can be about the United Nations, the role of the Secretary-General or global issues on the UN agenda. Answers to select questions will be posted online.
You can visit the site at: www.cyberschoolbus.un.org. There is a press release with more information in my office upstairs.
This is all I have for you. Thank you.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Michèle, three or four questions about the report, about Algiers. First, you have been saying, officially and publicly, that the United Nations had no warning about this attack. Can you still say that? Number two, will this report be made public? Number three, will it be shared with the leaders of staff organizations, staff unions that obviously have a direct concern about this? And the fourth question is: did Mr. [David] Veness [Under-Secretary-General for Safety and Security] investigate a claim that’s being made by the widow of the Senegalese official who was in charge of security, that he had recommended that the state of alert be raised and that that recommendation had been ignored?
Spokesperson: I can still say that at United Nations Headquarters, they had no knowledge of previous warnings and threats.
Question: Let me just follow up on that. That’s a change from the last thing. The last one didn’t have the qualifier “UN Headquarters”, so…
Spokesperson: No, I did say “UN Headquarters” last time.
Question: I don’t believe -- in the press conference, he said the UN didn’t receive any warnings whatsoever…
Spokesperson: Oh, you mean the Secretary-General…?
Question: You’re modifying that, now it’s at “UN Headquarters”. The question is, did the United Nations globally receive any threats -- that’s what the Secretary-General said last week. Can you still repeat that position?
Spokesperson: You mean in Algiers?
Question: In general, anywhere.
Spokesperson: We receive threats all the time. This is assessed by the security people on the ground and whether this should be pursued and sent to Headquarters is something that is determined by the security people on the ground.
Question: That now sounds as though you’re acknowledging that there were threats received in Algiers.
Spokesperson: No. I’m not saying this. I’m still saying that for Algiers we didn’t have advance warning here, in New York.
Question: But did you have advance warning in Algiers is the question I was asking.
Spokesperson: Well, this is have not assessed yet. This is why we are having the special investigating group…
Question: Please, you’re modifying and restricting what the Secretary-General himself said publicly in the press conference last week and we’re trying to determine why you’re modifying that. Is that because you know something now that he didn’t know last week? That there was a threat, even if it wasn’t received at Headquarters? Was there a threat received outside of Headquarters?
Spokesperson: I cannot answer that question, James. There was a preliminary report, as I said, that was submitted by Mr. Veness to the Secretary-General directly, and from that report, the Secretary-General decided to create a special, independent panel to establish all the facts. It means he wants all the facts.
Question: But does that mean the Secretary-General was wrong, now that you have more information, it would be wrong -- the Secretary-General’s statement -- if it were repeated today?
Spokesperson: I wouldn’t say that. He talked in general, remember? He talked about threats…
Question: The whole UN. The UN received no threats whatsoever. Is that statement still good, or has that statement now been overtaken by the inquiry?
Spokesperson: Well, you know the threats are transmitted to the Secretary-General whenever they are at a very high level and in this specific case he had not…
Question: He said the UN…
Spokesperson: The UN, as far as we know, in the case of Algiers, as far as we know here at Headquarters, there was no advance warning.
Question: You keep qualifying it. I’m trying to determine -- he said something last week. I’m doing Warren’s spade work but basically Warren’s question was, what the Secretary-General said last week -- is that still true, as a UN position? Every time you repeat it, you modify it by putting a qualifier. The UN’s position, is it, as stated in the press conference by the Secretary-General, still true?
Spokesperson: It is true that he did not receive any threats? Yes.
Question: But he did not say he personally, he said the UN had not received any threats. So can you repeat it without introducing new qualifiers?
Spokesperson: I said we had not received any threats before the Algiers bombing here.
Question: No, no -- “here” he didn’t say.
Spokesperson: That’s what he meant.
Question: No, it’s not what he meant. He said there were no threats whatsoever -- exactly what he did not mean. So now the question is, you seem determined to introduce qualifiers, so it makes us suspect there was a threat that was received outside Headquarters. Is that the fact now?
Spokesperson: I cannot say that. It’s an interim report. It will not be shared. What will be shared will be the report that we’ll get from the independent panel. Will the staff unions around the world be made aware of this report? Not the preliminary report that was received on Friday. What will be given would be the report that would come out of the investigation that will be led by this independent group. I have to say, I would like to underline the fact that this independent group, what they are doing is a much larger review of security measures for UN staff throughout the world. There are several places where there are dangers, and we know those dangers -- we have routine reports on those dangers. What this panel will do is to assess the security picture for United Nations personnel.
Question: The fourth thing was the claim of the Senegalese official who died, who had suggested that the alert be raised from the low level that it was at. Does the Veness report, did he talk to the widow, who was the one saying this in Senegal? Does he explore that particular rumour or report?
Spokesperson: I don’t know. I don’t have the information.
Question: What is the current level of threat alert in Algiers? How could it be, in a city that had only just recently experienced a major terrorist bombing, that the UN threat alert was at Level One, the lowest threat alert, even in the wake of that major bombing in April in Algiers. How…?
Spokesperson: I assure you that it’s not at Level One.
Spokesperson: It is not, no.
Question: Okay, but it was at the time of the bombing of the UN office, though, wasn’t it?
Spokesperson: I don’t know what the level was at the time of the bombing, but I can tell you right now it is not at Level One. Yes, Benny.
Question: There are two storylines here that were addressed in two questions to the Secretary-General in his press conference. One was Bloomberg, who basically asked if there were any threats from within the UN, i.e., by the Senegalese [inaudible]. Secondly was mine, which was this Algerian Interior Minister -- right after the bombing the Algerian Government had warnings that international organizations and the UN will be targeted. My question is, was any of those two addressed in the Veness report, since they were already raised? Since Veness already reported, I’m not asking you to reveal every detail of the report. But can we get answers whether those two questions were addressed in the Veness report?
Spokesperson: Not at this point. It is an interim report. We won’t have anything from that report at this point. It is, of course, true that what was said by Mr. Ndiaye’s widow was investigated by Mr. Veness, but they want to go beyond that and now have an independent international panel to focus not only on the Algiers incident, but all the security issues for UN personnel throughout the world…
Question: Just to make sure that my message is received: What you are asking us basically is to base our reporting on this -- two questions that are out there because they were asked and reported on and so on -- on leaks, rumours and all kinds of stuff like that, rather than giving us what Veness actually said.
Spokesperson: If I had verified facts, I would give them to you, Benny. I do not have verified facts.
Question: So what you’re saying is that the Veness report does not contain verified facts. Is that what you’re saying?
Spokesperson: No, what I’m saying is that the Veness report is an interim report that doesn’t go far enough and this is why an independent panel is being made.
Question: There’s also another of these reports or rumours, whatever you want to call them, that there was some kind of warning from Al-Qaida in the Maghreb on a website or something ahead of the bombing against the UN. Does the UN know anything about that threat?
Spokesperson: I’m not aware of it. Okay. Yes, Linda.
Question: Michèle, could you just give us some clarification in terms of when this independent assessment of UN security will be conducted and when we’ll hear something? There’s also been some reporting about one of the security officers suggesting that concrete barriers be set up. Apropos of that, are there many missions in dangerous places around the world where these concrete barriers are set up? Or are most of them vulnerable to traffic?
Spokesperson: Well, some of them have blocks. The details I cannot discuss with you, which ones are particularly protected. There are some cases where the UN is worried about the security of its personnel. One of the major reasons I cannot tell you everything there is in that report is essentially for security reasons. There are a number of things that have to be assessed and a number of things that have to be done as soon as possible. Of course, we are first waiting for the recommendations of that panel, but in the meantime there are security measures being taken all over the world.
Question: And your sense of when a final report will come out…?
Spokesperson: I don’t know at this point. I can only say what I have just said earlier. Yes.
Question: How does this independent panel that is going to be investigating this particular bombing differ in makeup and goals as compared to the panel and the investigation in the wake of the Baghdad bombing?
Spokesperson: I don’t have that information now at this point because we don’t have the names yet of the people who are going to be participating on the panel. What I was told is that they are independent experts, outside of the UN system, who will be doing the work. How will they do it? They will do it, as I read earlier, with the Algerian authorities. At this point, I don’t have anything more.
Question: This is now going to be the fourth investigation of UN security -- the Ahtisaari investigation, the Volpes investigation, the Veness investigation and now the panel investigation -- in five years, after two bombings that have killed 22 plus 17 people. Is the system broken? I mean, does the UN accept that the system is broken?
Spokesperson: The world is a dangerous place to function in. And for UN officials, it definitely is. After the bombing in Iraq, after the Canal Hotel, a number of security measures were taken to protect UN personnel. Those security measures were taken all over the world.
Question: Well, for instance in the Volpes report, one of the big issues was anti-blast film on the windows. Did Algiers have anti-blast screen on the windows, do you know?
Spokesperson: Well, I know that it is being done in several stations around the world. I don’t know whether it was done in Algiers -- but in Algiers the whole building collapsed.
Question: Is there any special care taken in countries where terrorism is more prevalent, such as North Africa?
Spokesperson: Definitely. I cannot discuss with you in detail what security measures but I can tell you, yes, it is true…
Question: [Inaudible] whether you put the same money into protecting the East Timor mission, as you do in Afghanistan?
Spokesperson: There is no doubt that the measures that are taken are at the level of threats that exist in the region.
Question: So was Algeria part of a high-level threat or a lower…?
Spokesperson: No, not before the bombing occurred. It was not considered as such when the bombing occurred.
Question: It seems to me, a priori, that there’s been a security failure. When you have a building blown up and people die, it would seem obvious there’s a security failure. Does the UN acknowledge, in this case, that there was a security failure?
Spokesperson: This is why we’re having an independent investigation, an independent panel.
Question: So you don’t acknowledge at the moment that there’s a security failure, you just…?
Spokesperson: We are ascertaining the facts.
Question: Isn’t it obvious that there was a security failure?
Spokesperson: Well, obvious to you. We have to find out where the security failure was -- on which side, who was responsible.
Question: Yes, but do you acknowledge that there was a security failure, even though we don’t know what it was?
Spokesperson: Well, yes.
Question: Can I go back to the panel, please? Can you give us a little bit more information on the mandate of this panel? Is it going to be forensic assistance to Algeria? What is it exactly?
Spokesperson: I did say that when I give the names of the people involved in the investigation, I will definitely give you at the same time the terms of reference of their mission, exactly what they are assigned to do. And one of those tasks, as I said, is to assess the security level not only in Algiers but in other regions of the world because Algiers was a difficult and painful warning that there are other stations that are in danger.
Question: But in Algiers they will offer assistance to the local authorities to find suspects? What is their mission going to be in Algeria, beside assessing the situation…?
Spokesperson: Well, at this point, they will have to define part of their mission locally, when they speak with the Algerian authorities. Yes?
Question: A related two questions, please -- at Headquarters, is there a particular department that decides which countries’ operations and which countries’ offices are at what level of threat, or is it done by the head of that particular country’s Resident Coordinator, for example, that would decide…?
Spokesperson: No, we have a security service here at the UN that was set up after the Canal Hotel bombing and you have a full department that takes care of security matters, and the security of UN personnel.
Question: So, related to that, is this independent panel going to see if this department here at Headquarters is determining well or not each country’s threat levels?
Spokesperson: Well, they are certainly going to review procedures -- how procedures are carried through or what information comes from the actual field offices and how much information goes into Headquarters, how decisions are taken -- all this will be part of the independent panel.
Question: What the Secretary-General said, by the transcript, “The United Nations has never received any advanced warnings from whatsoever sources on this issue.”
Spokesperson: On this issue. The Algiers issue.
Question: I wanted to make sure, number one, that that definitely includes, for example, the UN Development Programme (UNDP). Because it said that the coordinator for security in Algeria was this guy Mark de Bernis of UNDP. When he said this, did he mean the United Nations, the entire system?
Spokesperson: The entire system, yes.
Question: And do you know if this guy de Bernis was spoken to by Veness?
Spokesperson: I don’t know.
Question: Is it in the panel’s mandate to consider things like the proposal to build a new headquarters in Iraq, or are they only considering…?
Spokesperson: They are considering the security aspects of every UN mission set up in a field office anywhere there could be threat to personnel, to UN staff.
Question: Two questions. The UN has offices all over the world. So who’s going to determine which offices this panel is going to examine for security conditions? For instance, in Algiers, this wasn’t considered a threat. Who’s going to make that determination of what’s a risk and what isn’t? And secondly, when is the panel going to be named? Are we going to find out the names in the next few days?
Spokesperson: That was a question that was asked earlier. I don’t have the answer on exactly when you’ll find out. I assume it’s going to be very soon. In terms of threat assessment, this is done on a daily basis by the Department for Safety and Security. As I said earlier, we have a full department that takes care of security threats.
Question: But that wasn’t my question. Who’s going to determine which places the panel goes…?
Spokesperson: That is definitely worked on with the existing Department for Safety and Security.
Question: I’m interested in why you’re expanding the mandate of this panel so broadly when you still haven’t gotten to the bottom of what happened in Algiers. Isn’t it important to establish first what happened in Algiers? Why delay that and muddy it withal these other issues about the worldwide security system?
Spokesperson: It’s not muddying it. We’re going to first focus on Algiers. Then after Algiers, they’re going to focus on the future -- what is going to happen to measures taken for the safety of other staff members in other stations.
Question: Will they be reporting once they’ve concluded what happened in Algiers or they will decide what happened in Algiers and it’ll stay quiet for another few months while they review the security system?
Spokesperson: I cannot tell you how they will run. They will decide how they will work. It’s going to be an independent panel. Yes?
Question: I just want to know if you had any contact with the Algerian authorities before announcing that you were going to appoint an independent panel. And will the United Nations speak with those authorities before announcing the names of the panel members?
Spokesperson: Our Department for Safety and Security has been in constant touch with the Algerian authorities since the Algiers bombing.
Question: So you called them before to tell them you are going to appoint…?
Spokesperson: I said that they are in constant touch, so I’m sure they are informed.
Question: Did they request that the names of this panel be announced to them prior to the…?
Spokesperson: No, that cannot be done. It is an independent panel, named by the Secretary-General and we don’t need to get approval for names of people on that panel.
Question: Just a follow-up on Matthew’s question. When he was quoting Ban’s press statement in which he said that there was no advance warning of a threat in this type of situation, how would you understand the word “advance”? Do you mean there was no advance warning of a specific threat, or would you take it more generally, that there were no “warnings” in the system at the time?
Spokesperson: We didn’t have any advance warning of that bombing.
Question: But were there warnings… Were people saying “there’s a bad feeling in the air”, “things are getting more dangerous”, there’s chatter…
Spokesperson: This happens all the time. This happens all the time. You don’t know how many dangerous places we are talking about here. I mean, UN staff is deployed in places that are dangerous.
Question: Of course, I appreciate that but in terms of that statement, “advance warning” means no advance warning of this bomb? No one calling up and saying: “We’re gonna bomb you at 12 o’clock.”
Question: Since the UN is an Organization where pretty much every Member had pretty much the same good standing, my question is whether we are getting into a situation where maybe we should do the equivalent of what is known in police work as profiling -- which is some countries are more dangerous because there is more activity there of people who have a particular animosity towards the UN?
Spokesperson: Dealing with safety and security is a responsibility of the Department of Safety and Security. I will not speculate on what they do.
Question: Sort of related to terrorism, I’ve got a question: there have been some recent reports looking at how the Procurement Service had blacklisted at least one firm in particular- an Italian firm -- from doing business and UNDP ended up doing business with that very firm? And I just have a follow-up question related to terrorism: if an organization has been cited as a terrorist financier, or doing some sort of nefarious practices, where is there a guarantee that another agency within the United Nations would not pick and do business with them, or maybe fulfil some previous contracts with them, or sign a new contract? Does such a mechanism exist within the United Nations? I mean, can you guarantee that there aren’t terrorist financiers now setting up deals?
Spokesperson: Well, the Procurement Task Force, first, and you had the opportunity to ask them all those questions. They can tell you what procedures they follow. All procurements have to go through them.
Question: But specifically with terrorism… (talkover). But with jurisdiction over funds and programmes…
Spokesperson: They told you that they had no jurisdiction over funds and programmes?
Question: (talkover) That’s exactly the case… So it’s one thing if there was some bribery or a firm was doing some nasty things like that, it’s horrible. But if it’s a terrorist financer and it’s been cited as a terrorist financer, what if UNDP picks up and starts doing business with them because they don’t… There’s no jurisdiction is what the Secretariat is saying. Can you guarantee that other UN agencies are not doing business with terror financers now?
Spokesperson: We have to ask the question. It’s a hypothetical question and we don’t usually answer hypothetical questions, but I can try to find out for you whether a procedure has been established in terms of terrorist activities of any one group or firm.
Question: Has the Secretary-General perhaps taken some proactive efforts in hat regard?
Spokesperson: I cannot say that at this point.
Question: And then just one other -- I’m sorry, James, I know you have a question -- but in the case of what transpired with the blacklisted company and other issues where, sort of, the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing within the UN, because of this issue of jurisdiction, is it not sensible to consider having an independent panel step in -- maybe like the Volcker Commission did, or whatever -- to scrutinize this in an independent way to make sure there is some kind of unified, system-wide approach to these issues?
Spokesperson: I’ll transmit your suggestion.
Question: Bearing in mind that after the last investigation report on a bombing, the Chief of Security was forced to resign, the “Res Rep” was demoted and two other staff members were disciplined, I’d like to ask whether anybody, as a result of the Veness preliminary inquiry, has been reassigned or suspended or disciplined in any way.
Spokesperson: I’ll try to find out for you.
Question: This relates to the mandate of this panel. Can we at least say if they will look into the question whether there was any breach of communication between the Algiers office to Headquarters? Can we say that that is one of the questions that they will look into?
Spokesperson: Of course.
Question: I‘d like to go back, because I think it’s relevant to the aftermath of the Canal Hotel bombing and the Ahtisaari investigation. Was that somehow very narrow? I would have assumed -- I wasn’t here then -- but I would have assumed that it would also at least treat possible breaches … potential breaches of security at UN installations all over the world. How was it so narrow that somehow the system failed with this Algiers bombing? How is the independent panel, which has been just appointed and of which you have been speaking, going to be instructed to see to it that that doesn’t happen again, hopefully, anywhere at any UN installations?
Spokesperson: I just said earlier that there were measures taken after the Canal Hotel. A number of security measures were taken all over the world where UN staff is deployed. The fact that the Algiers bombing occurred does not take out the fact that there were measures taken. Those measures may not have been enough. Maybe more need to be taken. This is what the independent panel is going to discuss: how can we reinforce security for UN staff. And that is the whole purpose.
Question: A follow-up on the Congo: This case of Cormet, which was banned by the procurement system in March and then in April, UNDP did business with them. So I guess the question becomes does the Secretary-General feel that funds and programmes, even before the General Assembly acts, should commit to not doing business with companies that have been banned from doing business with the Secretariat, due, in this case, to a bribery charge?
Spokesperson: Well, I’ll ask more about this specific case. And you probably had a chance to ask about it last time, right?
Question: No, actually, this story broke after he was here…
Spokesperson: Afterwards? Well, I think only people in Procurement can answer that question, whether people were informed of earlier disciplinary measures taken.
Correspondent: This says that the Secretariat e-mailed out the information that the company had been banned, but it doesn’t say whether the Secretariat expects, once they’ve e-mailed out the name of a banned company, funds and programmes obey and take note of it and not do business with it.
Spokesperson: Well, I think the Secretary-General does expect the rest of the system to take note of it, yes.
Question: On the Congo, I wanted to ask, at this conference in Goma, the delegation of Laurent Nkunda has made this call for direct negotiations by the Government in Kinshasa and return of refugees, including Mr. Bemba. Does the UN system, given its involvement in the conference and the size of MONUC, think that these are legitimate calls that should be responded to by the Government?
Spokesperson: The UN is a facilitator in the case of the North-South Kivu Conference. The UN is a facilitator: we are not a party. The parties are making decisions and they are meeting.
Question: Does the UN think…?
Spokesperson: They are meeting until the 17th.
Question: Does the UN think that, if Mr. Bemba were to return, that it would be a safe environment for him? Would the UN provide security?
Spokesperson: I cannot answer that question.
Question: Also on the Congo, there’s reports that the contractor PAE, which has the airfield contract, has not signed any new contracts with its employees in the Congo since 1 January, but is holding onto a contract that they haven’t seen and haven’t signed. The employees are alleging falsification of hours and a slew of other things. What I want to know is whether DPKO or DFS is aware of this problem, and what are they gonna do if they are paying PAE and PAE is not paying its employees in the DR Congo?
Spokesperson: We will pursue that question. I do not have the answer for you.
Question: The last one is that before we had that briefing by Ms. Ahlenius and Mr. Appleton, I think there was some idea that maybe the questions around PAE/Lockheed Martin would be addressed in the briefing. Mr Appleton said he couldn’t talk about any particular company, and Ms. Ahlenius said that has only begun or has yet to begin the investigation that the General Assembly is calling for. So I guess I’m still wondering whether somebody from DFS can come and brief us about the selection of Lockheed Martin and the specifics of how it was done and why it was done before the Security Council.
Spokesperson: There is an investigation, as Ms. Ahlenius told you. That is an investigation on the contract on the request of the General Assembly. They won’t talk about anything until they are finished.
Question: To me it seems like a Catch-22, because once it came out, you said there would be a briefing after the General Assembly voted. But the GA vote called for an investigation, not specifically of Lockheed Martin, but of all the extraordinary measures the Secretary-General announced on 2 October.
Spokesperson: You were told by the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) -- was it three days ago, four days ago? -- that there was going to start [inaudible].
Question: The Secretariat never having answered the questions of why, for example, Jane Holl Lute pushed for the [inaudible] sole source contract back in April. She never came to do a briefing until the GA voted and when the GA voted they called for an investigation, which now puts it off to an infinite time in the future. The question was never answered. And the OIOS investigation will not be released when it’s finished. So I guess I’m wondering: Who can answer the question?
Question: I thought the Secretary-General was committed to transparency. It’s not exactly transparency. It’s the same problem with the Veness report. He said he couldn’t comment on it because there is an investigation…
Spokesperson: We never promised transparency on security issues, okay? When people’s lives are at stake, there are security reasons why details of a report of that sort cannot be issued. I’m sure you understand that.
Question: You might also say, Michèle, that failure to make public the failings of the system means that they go unaddressed and, therefore, the lack of transparency costs people’s lives as well. After all, this will be the fourth investigation, so there’s an argument that transparency…
Spokesperson: You’re talking about the two investigations on the Canal Hotel?
Question: The Veness and then the panel now. But the same problem is that once there’s an investigation under way, you don’t comment, but when the investigation finishes, like the Veness investigation, you still don’t comment.
Spokesperson: You are just assuming that when I don’t talk about something, something does not happen. That’s not true. I said that security measures were taken after the Canal Hotel. Those security measures were known certainly by the people serving in the field. They know which station had what kind of security.
Question: Sure Michèle, but one of the issues in the Volzer report was perimeter security, for instance, setting up a perimeter. And actually the UN asked for the perimeter to be taken away. Well, that obviously wasn’t done in the case of Algiers and the question is why it wasn’t done in the case of Algiers, months after a major bombing in the city? This is the question we’re asking.
Spokesperson: Those are the questions which will be asked.
Question: Let me suggest a compromise that is done in other areas where security is involved. That is, when you have a report like this, rather than either having it put away on some shelf or making it all public, release the points that do not compromise security. Just so we know the answers to questions that are out there. I’m sure that Veness -- who had been there five minutes after the bombing and stayed there for a few days or a week or so -- I’m sure he suppressed those questions. The question is: Is everything in the report so secret that, if you reveal it, you compromise security or can we get at least the cardinal points? Release it like they did with the NIE, it was a 600-page report and they released two and a half summaries.
Spokesperson: Now, I said at the beginning that this is a preliminary report. Because it is a preliminary report, they cannot put up facts that are not completely covered and ascertained, okay? And that’s why I said this independent panel is being put together.
Question: So they won’t even release…
Spokesperson: The Veness report will not be released. No. It will not be released.
Question: The reason for that is security or the fairness of just having a preliminary report?
Spokesperson: It’s, first, because it’s a preliminary report, so it’s not complete. The second one being that there are some aspects of the report that pertain to security issues that cannot be revealed.
Question: Would my suggestion of just releasing the non-compromising parts of the report…?
Spokesperson: The preliminary report will not be released, Benny.
Question: None of it?
Spokesperson: None of it.
Question: When will the independent experts’ report be released?
Spokesperson: [inaudible] most probably.
Question: In its entirety?
Spokesperson: I cannot promise this. If there are security issues again here, there might be parts of it that might not be released. But most of it, the way the Ahtisaari report was released. The two reports that were done on the Canal Hotel were released, minus some elements which were security sensitive.
Correspondent: Every day from now on, I’m going to be reporting on unconfirmed rumour instead of the real thing.
Spokesperson: Well, if you are doing your job as a journalist, then publishing unconfirmed reports, that seems to be…
Question: [inaudible] seems to be the job of someone who is supposed to disseminate information for journalists.
Spokesperson: I gave you all I could give you, Benny. Thank you. Yes?
Question: May I make one other suggestion -- that someone from security come and talk to us as soon as possible to at least answer some of these questions.
Spokesperson: Okay, we might arrange this as a background briefing, okay?
* *** *For information media • not an official record