|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.
**Guests at Noon Briefing
Good afternoon, all. My guests today are Jan Eliasson and Salim Ahmed Salim, the UN and African Union Special Envoys for Darfur. They will be here to brief you on the Darfur peace process.
**Resignation of Under-Secretary-General for Security and Safety
We first have a statement from the Secretary-General:
“At a meeting with me yesterday, the Under-Secretary-General for Security and Safety, Sir David Veness informed me that, as the Head of the Department of Safety and Security of the United Nations, he was willing to shoulder full responsibility for any security lapse that may have occurred in the context of the heinous terrorist attack on the United Nations in Algiers of December 11, 2007. In the light of this responsibility, as the Head of the Department of Safety and Security, Sir David has voluntarily offered me his resignation.
“I am grateful to Sir David Veness for his high sense of devotion to duty and strong professional motivation. As the first head of the Department, he has provided it strong leadership at a critical period in building a safety and security structure for the United Nations that has significantly improved its security management system in a whole range of areas. This fact is recognized by the Independent Panel itself. The Organization is deeply indebted to him. While accepting his decision to resign, in the interest of continuity, I have asked him to stay on until such time as a stable succession can be assured. I am aware that this will require some time.”
**Report of Panel on Safety and Security
We issued a few minutes ago the Report of the Panel on Safety and Security. It will be available shortly on the UN News Centre Special News Focus page on the Algiers bombing.
We are disseminating its contents with minimal redactions connected primarily with our concern not to divulge details of our functioning that may pose further hazards or threats to our personnel or premises in their normal functioning.
While the Panel has not identified individual accountabilities, it found “ample evidence that several staff members up and down the hierarchy may have failed to respond adequately to the Algiers attack, both before and after the tragedy.” For this reason it suggested an independent accountability procedure to review the responsibilities of the key individuals and offices concerned. The Panel felt such a procedure would help restore confidence and morale among the staff.
In a letter to the Staff published on iSeek today, the Secretary-General announces the creation of a group to follow up on individual accountability. That group will be headed by former Assistant Secretary-General for Legal Affairs Ralph Zacklin, and it will urgently examine the question of individual accountabilities connected with the attack on the UN premises in Algiers. Mr. Zacklin will be assisted by Mr. Jean Jacques Graisse, Mr. Sinha Basanayake, Ms. Zelda Holtzman and Ms. Marisela Padron. They will work from Headquarters, and the Secretary-General expects them to report their findings to him within a period of six weeks.
The Secretary-General reiterated his firm commitment to ensuring full accountability on the part of his senior managers as well as all those at other levels of responsible decision-making. But combating security threats from terrorists and other detractors of the United Nations and ensuring the safety and well-being of staff and dependents, national or international, makes it incumbent that host governments and Member States also realize their responsibilities more strongly, he says, so that fuller and more concrete cooperation on security matters can be elicited from them. This factor cannot remain under-emphasized.
In a press statement also issued today, we have also outlined the main recommendations of the Panel. It is available upstairs.
The Special Envoys for Darfur for the United Nations and the African Union, Jan Eliasson and Salim Ahmed Salim, briefed the Security Council a short while ago on the political process and the search for peace in Darfur. As I said earlier, they are my guests at noon today.
In his briefing, Jan Eliasson says there is now reason to seriously question whether the parties are ready to sit down at the negotiation table and make the compromises necessary for peace, despite the envoys’ best efforts to assist them.
He also says that the outside world, as much as the parties, has a responsibility to bring an end to this tragedy. It risks tearing apart a great nation. A new generation in Sudan may be doomed to a life in conflict, despair and poverty. The international community should have learned enough lessons from other conflicts where populations are left to stagnate and radicalize in camps.
He spoke of the urgent need to mobilize all available political energy inside and outside Sudan to, first of all, stop escalation and reach a cessation of hostilities and, secondly, to lay a foundation for serious peace talks in Darfur.
But at the end of the day, he concludes, progress will not be made unless the Sudanese themselves show seriousness, political will and a focused commitment to peace.
And then at 3:30 p.m., the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, B. Lynn Pascoe, is scheduled to brief the Security Council on the situation between Djibouti and Eritrea.
Meanwhile, the Secretary-General’s monthly report on the deployment of the AU-UN Hybrid Operations in Darfur is out as a document today. The Secretary-General notes that the ongoing violence has hindered the deployment of UNAMID, which struggles to carry out its mandate by continuing patrols, escorts and the protection of humanitarian convoys despite limited resources. The Secretary-General also reiterates his call for all parties to lay down their weapons and begin substantive negotiations.
The Security Council wrapped up its consideration of Zimbabwe yesterday evening by adopting a presidential statement condemning the campaign of violence against the political opposition ahead of the second round of the Presidential elections there. The Council called upon the Government of Zimbabwe to stop the violence, to cease political intimidation, to end the restrictions on the right of assembly and to release the political leaders who have been detained.
The Security Council, in its statement, regretted that the campaign of violence and the restrictions on the political opposition have made it impossible for a free and fair election to take place on 27 June.
The Council issued that statement after hearing a briefing, in a private meeting, from Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe on the alarming deterioration of the situation in Zimbabwe, in which he said that the United Nations strongly discouraged the authorities from going ahead with the run-off election under these circumstances.
The Secretary-General, speaking after meeting the Council members at lunch yesterday, warned of the situation on the ground, “There has been too much violence, too much intimidation. A vote held in these conditions would lack all legitimacy.” Under the circumstances, he said, going ahead with the run-off on Friday would only deepen divisions within the country and produce a result that cannot be credible.
We have his remarks to the press, Pascoe’s Council briefing and the presidential statement upstairs.
** Great Lakes Region
The Secretary-General welcomes the entry into force of the Pact on Security, Stability and Development in the Great Lakes Region on 21 June 2008, following its ratification by eight of the 11 core countries of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR).
Under the terms of the Pact, the Governments of the region have committed themselves to address the underlying causes of the conflicts in the heart of Africa, and to tackle the key security, governance, development, humanitarian and social issues from a regional perspective. By prioritizing and realizing results on the ground, the Conference will send a strong signal to the international community of its determination to turn the ideas of the Pact into concrete achievements.
The United Nations, which helped facilitate the Conference process for many years, remains committed to support the implementation of the Pact. The Secretary-General renews his appreciation to the Executive Secretary of the Conference, Ambassador Liberata Mulamula, and to the Conference Secretariat.
** Central African Republic
The Secretary-General welcomes the peace agreement signed in Libreville on 21 June between the Government of the Central African Republic and the APRD and UFDR political-military groups, with the facilitation of the President of Gabon, Mr. El Hadj Omar Bongo Ondimba.
The Secretary-General commends the parties to the agreement for their resolve to restore stability in the Central African Republic. He hopes that the agreement will enable the Central African authorities to convene, without further delay, the inclusive political dialogue needed to allow the country to embark on a path to sustainable peace, stability and development. The Secretary-General urges all signatories of the agreement to scrupulously respect its provisions and calls on all other political-military groups in the country to join it.
The Secretary-General reaffirms the United Nations’ support to the stabilization efforts of the Central African Republic. He calls on the international community to continue to provide assistance to the country to sustain its recovery. We have the French version of the statement upstairs.
** Middle East Quartet
Right now the Secretary-General is participating, via videoconference and teleconference, in a meeting of the Middle East Quartet, which is taking place today in Berlin, Germany.
Later this afternoon, a press conference will be held in Berlin, where Javier Solana, the European Union’s High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, will read out the Quartet’s latest statement. As soon as that statement is finalized, we’ll make it available to you.
The Secretary-General’s new Special Representative in Kosovo, Lamberto Zannier, has arrived in Pristina to take up his duties. In his latest press encounter, he said he sees his role as one focused on helping to maintain peace, security and stability in the region – as a key condition for economic and social development.
On Somalia, the UN Refugee Agency is continuing to press for the immediate and unconditional release of the head of its office in Mogadishu.
Hassan Mohamed Ali, also known as Keynaan, was abducted from his home on Saturday. He spoke with a relative by phone on Sunday and said he was in good condition. But no other information has been received about his abductors, their motives or his whereabouts.
As a result of his abduction, humanitarian activities in the Somali capital will be affected, with delays in the delivery of aid to people who are already desperate, UNHCR says. There is more information in the Geneva briefing note upstairs.
The latest report from the Secretary-General on missing Kuwaiti and third-country persons and property in Iraq is out as a document today. In it, the Secretary-General details the work of his new High-level Coordinator, Gennady Tarasov, in returning Kuwaiti or third-country nationals or their remains from Iraq. He adds that he is pleased that Iraq has shown sensitivity and understanding, as well as a sincere intention to assist in resolving the outstanding cases.
High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour will pay her first official visit to Pakistan this week. This will be her last official mission overseas before finishing her four-year mandate on 30 June.
She leaves for Pakistan tomorrow and will spend three days in the country discussing a wide range of human rights issues with top Government officials, members of civil society and other interlocutors. Pakistan will be the 55th country to receive an official visit by Ms. Arbour during her four years in office.
The Secretary-General chaired today the third meeting of the High-Level Task Force on the Global Food Security Crisis. FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf briefed on the High-Level Conference on Food Security that was held in Rome earlier this month.
The Secretary-General stressed the need to build on the momentum generated by the High-Level Conference and to focus on the way forward in addressing the food crisis. He indicated that key upcoming events, including the G8 Summit, a possible General Assembly meeting in July, and the Assembly’s High-Level Segment, are all critical occasions to build upon the foundation provided by the Rome outcome to confront global challenges effectively and in a coherent way.
Task Force Coordinator John Holmes provided an update on the Comprehensive Framework for Action being prepared by the Task Force, which includes a set of actions to address both immediate and longer-term needs, including the structural factors underlying the current food price hikes.
The UN Development Programme, together with Transparency International, will be launching a new report tomorrow on corruption in the water sector. The event will take place in the Dag Hammarskjöld Library Auditorium from 10:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and will feature a panel discussion. We have more information upstairs.
**Safety of UN Personnel
Tomorrow at 12:30 p.m., there will be a ceremony in Conference Room D to honour the 14 countries that ratified the 2005 Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel.
UN Legal Counsel Nicolas Michel and UN Staff Council President Stephen Kisambira will present those Member States with a certificate and draw attention to the fact that eight ratifications are still required for the instrument to come into force.
The Optional Protocol extends legal protection to UN and associated personnel in peacebuilding missions.
**Commemoration Ceremony for Alioune Blondin Beye
Thursday, the 26th of June 2008, marks the 10th anniversary of the passing of Alioune Blondin Beye in a plane crash near Abidjan. Maitre Beye was serving as Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for the Angolan peace process, and was making one of his frequent missions in the region to build support for the end to the civil war that plagued Angola for decades and cost a half million lives. A former Foreign Minister of Mali and Secretary General of the African Development Bank, Maitre Beye and eight other people perished in this tragedy, all committed persons of peace.
Maitre Beye touched the lives of all those who knew him, and was beloved by millions of Malians, Angolans, and other peoples of Africa and beyond for his selfless dedication to peace, justice, human rights, and national reconciliation. His life was the ultimate symbol of selflessness and dedication to the common humanity of all people.
A commemoration of his life will be held in the Dag Hammarskjold Auditorium from 11:00 am to 12:00 pm on 26 June 2008. The media are welcome to attend. More information on the event will be available on the media alert being issued tonight.
Yesterday in Vienna, the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) welcomed prime ministers and foreign ministers representing 10 countries, the European Commission, and others, as leading participants in its “Say NO to Violence against Women” campaign.
UNIFEM seeks to gather one million names through the campaign’s website before 25 November, when the signatures will be handed over to the Secretary-General on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. We have a news release on that from UNIFEM upstairs.
**Questions and Answers
Question: I have a couple of questions on the Algiers fall-out. First, will Mr. Brahimi or Mr. Veness be available to brief us on this?
Spokesperson: Mr. Brahimi is presently out of the country, but we spoke to him and he will be here on Monday to brief you. He will be here at 12:30 on Monday.
Question: Great thanks. A couple more to go.
Question: The report that you mentioned today found evidence that other staff members up and down the food chain were also either negligent or irresponsible – I’m paraphrasing. Do you expect additional action from that? Will there be --
Spokesperson: Well, that’s why the accountability group was formed and that’s exactly what they have to do -- determine personal accountability.
Question: Will they be looking specifically at DSS [Department of Safety and Security] personnel?
Spokesperson: They will be looking at everything that the report by the original panel is leading to.
Question: The “original panel” meaning the Brahimi Panel?
Question: Because none of us have actually had the chance to actually see that.
Spokesperson: You are going to be able to see it.
Question: I know, but because we haven’t seen it yet, I’m afraid the details are a little beyond me. So, there will be more personal accountability. The largest picture that emerged from the Veness report from January is the role of political pressure in this. The Algerian Government refused to, first of all, to agree to a panel unless it was conducted under certain circumstances. They obviously withheld certain security procedures or protocols from the UN mission in Algiers back when there were still warnings about this, before the attack had happened. What steps is the Secretary-General going to take to hold host Governments accountable for UN staff security?
Spokesperson: Betsy, may I suggest that you read the report first? We have six weeks for the accountability panel to come up with exact personal accountabilities and the follow-up action will come from there.
Question: As soon as I get to see the report, I’ll read it. Does the UN still have a mission in Algeria? Has that mission been closed?
Spokesperson: No, there is still a mission in Algeria.
Question: How many people are in the Algeria duty station?
Spokesperson: We can check that for you.
[There are currently 11 international staff and 117 local staff there, the Spokesperson later added.]
Question: Is it still Phase 1 security or have you upped it?
Spokesperson: I don’t know. We can check that also for you.
Question: Thank you. Just one last question. Tomorrow is the ceremony to celebrate the signing of the Optional Protocol on Staff Security. Am I right that it’s still not passed?
Spokesperson: No, because not enough countries have approved it.
Question: Sense of irony there?
Spokesperson: Your conclusion. Yes, Mr. Abbadi?
Question: I just want to tell my colleague that the prime minister of Algeria has been replaced. Has the report of Mr. Brahimi been amended or revised prior to its publication?
Spokesperson: I told you that it has been – I said it earlier. The report has been slightly redacted on the issue of names and because of the follow-up on accountability. There were many small redactions, redactions connected primarily with our concern not to divulge details of our functioning that may cause further hazards or threats to our personnel or premises in their normal functioning. That was the reason for the slight redactions you have on the text – on the initial text. And you will see it. It’s written when we have withheld names.
Question: You indicated that the UN will support the pact coming out of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region. What concrete form will that support take?
Spokesperson: There was a Secretariat established to support that Conference. And it has still been going on while the larger UN support stopped about two years ago. But we can get for you what the support will be in the next few months.
[The Spokesperson later clarified that the United Nations had fully supported the process with a Special Representative and an office in Nairobi, until two years ago when the 11 core countries took full ownership of the process by adopting the Pact. After the Pact was signed in December 2006, the Security Council ended the United Nations mandate in March 2007 and the office was closed. The United Nations is now supporting the fledgling structures of the Conference, through the United Nations Country Teams, Missions and Offices in the countries of the region.]
Question: A couple of questions. You mentioned Ms. Arbour. Do you have any notion yet when we can expect appointments to succeed Ms. Arbour, Mr. Michel and Mr. Guéhenno?
Spokesperson: I don’t have any dates on that.
Question: In light of this afternoon’s Council session on Djibouti and Eritrea, since he became Secretary-General, has Ban Ki-moon spoken with the President of Eritrea?
Spokesperson: I can check that for you.
[The Spokesperson later added that the Secretary-General had never spoken to the President of Eritrea.]
Question: Also, do you have anything on the reports in Somalia of both hostage-taking at sea and this UNHCR staff member?
Spokesperson: Well I just spoke about the UNHCR staff member. If you were listening, I said it.
Question: What about these three Germans and one French that are supposed to have been taken --
Spokesperson: We don’t have anything on that.
Question: Okay. Thanks a lot. And if you don’t mind, there’s also a report that MONUC (the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo) in the Congo has accepted some defectors from the Lord’s Resistance Army and is building an airstrip in a town called Dungu to begin or to assist in operations against the Lord’s Resistance Army.
Spokesperson: Well, we can direct you to MONUC and you can have that information from them. Or we can try to get that for you.
Anything else? Thank you very much. We’ll be having Mr. Eliasson in a few minutes and Mr. Salim Ahmed Salim.
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For information media • not an official record