14 July 2008
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 Farhan Haq, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


**Today’s Guest


Good afternoon.  My guest today will be Stephen Rapp, the Prosecutor for the Special Court for Sierra Leone, who is here to brief you on the trial of the former President of Liberia, Charles Taylor.  Before that, we’ll have our own portion of the briefing.


**International Criminal Court on Sudan


Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, today presented evidence in The Hague that accused Sudanese President Omer Hassan al-Bashir of criminal responsibility in relation to 10 counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur.  The prosecution says that its evidence shows that President al-Bashir masterminded and implemented a plan to destroy in substantial part the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa groups, on account of their ethnicity.  The Court has more information available in a press release.


**Statement on Court and Sudan


We responded to the information from the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in a statement earlier this morning.  In it, the Secretary-General emphasizes that the Court is an independent institution and that the United Nations must respect the independence of the judicial process.  The United Nations peacekeeping operations in Sudan will continue to conduct their important work in an impartial manner, cooperating in good faith with all partners, so as to further the goal of peace and stability in the country.  The United Nations will also continue its vital humanitarian and development work there.  The Secretary-General expects that the Government of Sudan will continue to cooperate fully with the United Nations in Sudan, while fulfilling its obligation to ensure the safety and security of all United Nations personnel and property.  And the full statement is upstairs and on the web.


** Sudan


Also, the Secretary-General spoke by telephone with Sudanese President Omer al-Bashir on Saturday.  The Secretary-General emphasized the independence of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the importance of managing the situation on the ground.  He also stressed that the UN Secretary-General does not have any influence on the ICC Prosecutor.  The Secretary-General indicated that he was gravely concerned about the scale and brutality of the deadly attack on UNAMID peacekeepers on 8 July and asked President al-Bashir to investigate the circumstances of that attack.


The Secretary-General indicated to President al-Bashir that he was concerned by a declaration made by the Permanent Representative of Sudan, which linked the initiative of the ICC Prosecutor with the two UN peacekeeping operations deployed to Sudan.  And the Secretary-General also called for further contacts to discuss the situation in the coming days.


** Darfur


Meanwhile, the joint African Union–UN peacekeeping mission in Darfur, known as UNAMID, today vowed to maintain its operations in the region and continue implementing its mandate, as non-essential staff prepared to relocate due to the recent deteriorating security situation across Darfur.  General Martin Luther Agwai, the UNAMID Force Commander, emphasized that force protection levels and patrolling would remain the same.  “We are working on all those issues in our mandate and we will continue to work on them,” he said.  “We will continue to conduct patrols and security, as well as protect UN personnel and UN facilities on the ground.  In addition, we will continue to assist the humanitarian organizations to do their job of rendering humanitarian services to the people in Darfur.”


As you’ll recall, on 8 July, 7 UNAMID peacekeepers were killed and 22 injured, 7 critically, in a well-organised attack by heavily armed militia in Um Hakibah, North Darfur.  General Agwai said the mission had been assessing recent security incidents and attacks against peacekeepers, including a series of carjackings and the attack at Um Hakibah, which was the worst in UNAMID’s six-month history.


**Secretary-General in Paris


The Secretary-General is in Paris today and he recently spoke to the press in Paris after meeting with French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner.  In that meeting, the Secretary-General reiterated the independence of the International Criminal Court.  And in addition to Sudan, they discussed Zimbabwe, the UN Mission in Chad and the Central African Republic, the Shab’a Farms, Cyprus and Kosovo.  The Secretary-General was the guest of honour at a parade this morning in Paris that celebrated the sixtieth anniversary of UN peacekeeping, and members of the Blue Helmets from different parts of the world took part for the first time in that event.  Two different contingents, one comprising 145 soldiers from 25 different countries and one of French soldiers returning from service with the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, participated in the commemoration.


The parade was attended by Heads of State and Government, who had been present for the Paris summit for the Mediterranean, which was held on Sunday.  The Secretary-General took part in that summit, and speaking at its launch, he underlined a number of global challenges that require a common approach, including the food crisis and climate change.  In closing remarks at the summit, the Secretary-General also spoke of the need for common solutions to political issues in the Mediterranean basin, saying that the coming months will be crucial.  He noted encouraging signs in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, in Gaza, in Lebanon and in Cyprus.  And we have speeches from the Sunday summit upstairs and on the web.


The Secretary-General met several Heads of State and Government on the margins of the summit yesterday and today, including the Presidents of Cyprus, Egypt, Lebanon, the Palestinian Authority and Syria, and the Prime Minister of Israel.  The Secretary-General discussed Cyprus in his meeting with Dimitris Christofias, and noted that he would meet with the Turkish Cypriot leader, Mehmet Ali Talat, in Berlin tomorrow.  In his meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the Secretary-General talked about Lebanon and the positive developments in the area, including the possibility of renewed relations between Lebanon and Syria.  They also discussed the implementation of resolution 1701 (2006), the signs that the truce in Gaza is holding and the Israel-Hizbullah prisoner and hostage issue.


He also discussed the implementation of resolution 1701 in his first meeting with the new Lebanese President, Michel Suleiman.  They also talked about the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, the Shab’a Farms and the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.  The Secretary-General also met yesterday with Ingrid Betancourt, following her recent rescue after years being held hostage in Colombia.  He told reporters that he respected her exemplary courage during her years of captivity, and he invited her to a forum to take place in New York this fall to support the victims of terrorism.


** Zimbabwe


For the record, the Security Council failed to adopt a draft resolution last Friday that, among other things, called for sanctions against specific individuals in Zimbabwe.  Nine members of the Council voted in favour of the resolution, but two permanent members, China and Russia, vetoed the text, and three elected members, South Africa, Libya and Viet Nam, also voted against the resolution.  Indonesia abstained.  We also issued a statement over the weekend reiterating the Secretary-General’s impartiality in defending the right of the people of Zimbabwe to choose a legitimate Government in a free and fair election.  The Secretary-General will continue to support efforts to promote talks between both sides in Zimbabwe that can lead to a democratic transition and economic recovery for the people of that country.


** Côte d’Ivoire


Out on the racks today is the Secretary-General’s newest report on Côte d’Ivoire.  In it, he commends the Ivorian parties for their sustained implementation of the Ouagadougou peace agreement.  He is particularly encouraged by the unanimous adoption of decrees in connection with the upcoming electoral process.  Despite positive developments, Côte d’Ivoire still faces a host of challenges, including the continued existence of militias and insufficient cash to fund the cantonment of disarmed combatants.  As the Ivorian parties have agreed to defer the effective reunification of the army and disarmament until after the elections, the Secretary-General encourages Government and former rebel forces to jointly ensure security during the elections.  He also recommends that the mandate of the UN mission (UNOCI) be extended until January 2009.


** Nepal Report


The Secretary-General’s report to the Security Council on the request of Nepal for United Nations assistance in support of its peace process is out today.  On the overall request by the interim Government for the continued presence of the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN), the Secretary-General has asked his Special Representative, Ian Martin, to seek further clarification from the new Government about the scope of support it would like to receive from UNMIN before submitting his formal recommendation to the Security Council.  Should the matter be clarified and a six-month extension of the political mission is mandated, the Secretary-General said the Security Council should receive a report after three months on the progress and further possible downsizing of the Mission.


** Afghanistan


The UN Mission in Afghanistan condemned in the strongest terms the suicide bomb attack that took place yesterday in a marketplace in the province of Uruzgan, which resulted in the deaths of a number of civilians and police officers.  To target civilians who were shopping for food shows a total disregard for the sanctity of life by the perpetrators of the attack, the Mission said.  And we have the Kabul briefing notes upstairs.


** Burkina Faso


The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is in the final stages of a month-long distribution of seeds and fertilizer to more than 30,000 farmers in Burkina Faso.  Parts of that country are facing food shortages as a result of soaring prices and severe weather.  In all, FAO is providing more than 400 tons of fertilizer and about 600 tons of millet, sorghum, maize, cowpea and peanut seeds.  The agency is also training local producers to raise their crop yields and produce more seeds for next year.  And there’s more information upstairs.


** Madagascar


The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) are helping Madagascar respond to an outbreak of Rift Valley Fever in humans and animals.  FAO and WHO have developed an emergency response plan to address at-risk populations and improve surveillance, reporting and laboratory diagnostics capabilities.


**Endangered Species


Ivory trade is at the top of the agenda at the meeting of the Standing Committee of the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), taking place all this week in Geneva.  The 300 participants from all over the world will consider the quantities of raw ivory stockpiled in four Southern African countries approved for export and the importing countries that are allowed to buy it.  The Secretariat of the Convention announced that China has now reached the required verification standards and could, therefore, be designated as a trading partner.  And there’s a press release with more information upstairs.


**United Nations Industrial Development Organization


Lastly, the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) today designated Dr. Rajendra K. Pachauri, Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, as Goodwill Ambassador.  The designation is in recognition of Dr. Pachauri’s work in the field of energy and the environment, one of UNIDO’s three major thematic priorities.  And you will recall that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007, together with the former US Vice-President, Al Gore.  And we have a press release from UNIDO upstairs.


That’s it for me.  And like I said, we’ll have shortly Stephen Rapp, the Prosecutor for the Special Court for Sierra Leone, to brief you on the Charles Taylor trial.  Any questions before that?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  On the International [Criminal] Court announcement today, the Secretary-General has been stressing his independence from the Court proceedings, but it was the Security Council that requested the investigation in the first place.  The Security Council has also requested that the peace process continue to move forward.  My question is, how can peace talks continue if Bashir is indicted as a war criminal?  And as a follow-up, doesn’t the Secretary-General have to honour that indictment if it comes forward and he’s named a war criminal or actively call for the Court to set that aside?


Associate Spokesperson:  As far as that goes, the announcement by the Court Prosecutor does not affect the existing commitment and obligation of the UN to support peace in Sudan.  Operationally, the UN will continue to work with the Sudanese authorities to further the full implementation of the two mandates of the two peacekeeping missions, UNAMIS and UNMIS.  Meanwhile, the UN will continue to act with full impartiality in Sudan, including supporting implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and, together with the African Union, to work for peace in Darfur in partnership with the Government of Sudan and in line with its mandates from the Security Council.  All of those are tasks that we have had mandated for us and we’ll continue with those.


You’re quite right that the Security Council also has transferred the situation in Darfur to the International Criminal Court, and that is what the Court was responding to in its actions today, and obviously that process must also be respected.


Question:  As a follow-up on that, Farhan, what does this indictment mean for the relationship between the Secretary-General and Bashir?  Can they continue to meet and shake hands, the Secretary-General sitting in a room with an indicted war criminal?


Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t want to speculate on any meetings in the future, but, as you know, the Secretary-General spoke with President Bashir as recently as Saturday.  I just gave you the readout of that.  In terms of that, we’ll continue working with the Government of Sudan in fulfilling our mandated tasks.  That part has not changed.  How that indictment proceeds, we’ll see how the Court goes with that.  As you know, there’s not even, at this stage, a formal indictment.  What happened today was that the Prosecutor, Mr. Moreno-Ocampo, turned in a request to a three-judge panel on the International Criminal Court, seeking an arrest warrant for President Bashir.  Now they will study that request and respond to it and we’ll see in the coming weeks and months what the response is.


Question:  To make this clear, you see no problem in the future with the Secretary-General meeting face to face with Bashir?


Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t want to speculate on what meetings will take place in the future.  We do intend to continue our contacts with the Government of Sudan as is needed to fulfil our various mandates, whether peacekeeping, whether our humanitarian mandate, or whether our political efforts in support of the peace processes.  That work will continue.


Question:  If an arrest warrant is issued, can the UN forces in Sudan be used to make that arrest?


Associate Spokesperson:  That is not part of the current mandate of the forces.  If that was added to the mandate, that would be a different question, but at this stage, UNMIS and UNAMIS are impartial peacekeeping operations.  They’ll continue to work with all the parties to go about their mandated tasks.


Question:  I have a follow-up on the question of Zimbabwe that you mentioned before, that the Secretary-General will do whatever he can to whatever, I don’t remember the end of that sentence.  But, the bottom line is, if the G-8 asks the Secretary-General to name a special representative, and the vetoed resolution had that component in it as well, does he plan to do that?


Associate Spokesperson:  As far as that goes, the Secretary-General continues to be in touch with the African Union and with the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to discuss what all of us agree is the best way forward to proceed and he’ll make his decisions accordingly.


Question:  Will he or will he not appoint a special representative at the request of the G-8?


Associate Spokesperson:  The first thing we do is to communicate with our partners, which are, to say, SADC, the main regional group, and the African Union, and we’ll see with our partners what’s the best way forward.  If it seems that the appointment of an envoy is necessary, he would do it at that stage, but first let’s discuss this with our partners.


Question:   A follow-up on the indictment thing.  If the Court authorizes the UN force, would it then be able to arrest President Bashir?  Another question on the same issue, will President Bashir be allowed to come over here, to the United Nations, to attend any meetings, if he is indicted?


Associate Spokesperson:  First let’s see whether the indictment is confirmed or handed down by the three-judge panel of the International Criminal Court.  At this stage, some of that is hypothetical.  In terms of what you asked about the International Criminal Court authorizing the peacekeeping missions to make arrests, the Criminal Court doesn’t have that power.  Ultimately, the mandate of the peacekeeping missions is set by the Security Council.


Question:  Aren’t parties to the Rome Statute required to actually try and apprehend those who have indictments or arrest warrants against them?


Associate Spokesperson:  You’re correct that that’s part of the Rome Statue, which is binding on the States Parties to the Rome Statute.


Question:  So if you’re a peacekeeper, a General or a Major, and you come across an indicted war criminal?


Associate Spokesperson:  Peacekeepers who are part of UN mission are not at that point serving their national Governments, they’re serving the United Nations.


Question:  On the same subject, we heard the Chinese say openly that they don’t think this decision by the Prosecutor will help the operation in Darfur, or even the peace talks, and we heard those statement from other diplomats, too.  So what does the Secretary-General personally think about that?  I know it’s not part of the UN and all that, but does he have his own thoughts about whether this is helpful or not?


Associate Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General made it clear in recent days that, on the one hand, he is concerned about the ability of the United Nations to carry out all of its various other tasks, and we’re trying to make sure that the tasks that we’ve had under way, not just in Darfur but in Sudan as a whole, can continue to be carried out.  But, as far as that goes, the Court has its own independence from the United Nations.  It’s going about its work as its own mandate requires, and we respect its independence and we respect its right to go about its judicial process.


Question:  The Secretary-General had earlier favoured the closing down of the UN Mission in Nepal.  Now he’s recommending its extension for another six months.  Can you say what is the reason for this change in his recommendation?


Associate Spokesperson:  I just mentioned that we have a report out upstairs, which specifies what his views are on the mandate.  Just to reiterate what I said, the Secretary-General asked his Special Representative, Ian Martin, to seek further clarification from the new Government about the scope of support it would like to receive from the UN Mission in Nepal.  And should that matter be clarified and if a six-month extension of a political mission is mandated, the Secretary-General still said the Security Council should receive a report within three months about the progress of the Mission and its further downsizing.


Question:  Didn’t Nepal suggest that the Mission should be extended?


Associate Spokesperson:  We’ve received a request.  If you look at our report, there are some further details in that.


Question:  You mentioned that Mr. Ban Ki-moon made a phone call with President Bashir on Saturday.  Can you tell us what did President Bashir request the Secretary-General to do?  Why did he call him?  Also, you mentioned that Mr. Ban Ki-moon has asked him to fully cooperate with the Court.  Can you tell us what full cooperation with the Court means in this case?


Associate Spokesperson:  As you know, there’s Security Council resolution 1593 (2005) that calls upon the Government of Sudan, among other things, to cooperate with the International Criminal Court in the handling of the request on Darfur.  So that cooperation is simply part of implementing the resolutions of the Security Council.  As for President Bashir’s views, I will leave it to the Government of Sudan to describe what President Bashir requested during that phone conversation.


Question:  Were there assurances that the security of the UN is guaranteed?  Did Mr. Bashir provide that kind of assurance to Mr. Ban Ki-moon?


Associate Spokesperson:  We have received assurances, not just from President Bashir, but from our counterparts in the Government of Sudan, that the work of the United Nations on the ground in Sudan will continue to be carried out as before.


Question:  Can you tell us the nature of the phone call?


Associate Spokesperson:  I just gave a readout of the phone call earlier.  I could read it again but that’ll take some time.


Question:  Let me rephrase the question.  Did they talk about the modalities of the indictment in particular?


Associate Spokesperson:  Like I said, I gave you the readout.  I can provide it to you afterwards.


Question:  Can you comment on the steps the UN is taking in Sudan right now in case of fallout on the ground?  Have people been evacuated or pulled back?


Associate Spokesperson:  This is what happens when we start the briefings on time.  I know a lot of you aren’t actually in the room at that point.  But I read out at the start, the Mission in Sudan has provided some details about how it will continue to carry out its work on the ground.  I did mention that, because of the security situation on the ground, there will be some relocation of non-essential staff and we have a press release from UNAMID with some details about that upstairs.


QuestionFarhan, now that the Secretary-General is in Paris, meeting with all the Heads of States, and as you know, there are winds of war waging in the Persian Gulf between Iranian threats and Israeli threats to attack Iran and all that, will he be talking to world leaders about how to dissipate this threat and how to bring the threat level down?


Associate Spokesperson:  He’s been talking with a number of leaders in the last couple of days, including leaders from that region, about developments in the Middle East, both positive developments, by the way, there have been a number of positive developments that he’s been trying to build on -- as well as any potential threats.  One of the meetings he’s just had within the last hour or so was, in fact, with the Prime Minister of Israel, Mr. [Ehud] Olmert, and we’ll try to get a readout of that meeting later in the day.


Question:  Has he spoken to other leaders about this threat that is now so ominous?


Associate Spokesperson:  He’s been talking to leaders in the region about the situation in the Middle East in general, yes.


Question:  Another question on Zimbabwe.  Would it be fair to say that any appointment of any UN envoy will wait until the outcome of the Sharm el-Sheikh implementation in Durban this week?  Because I know the African Union wants to support a mediator, that’s what came out of Sharm el-Sheikh, to help the facilitator, and then maybe the UN.  Is that the timeline you’re following?


Associate Spokesperson:  I wouldn’t specify a timeline quite as precisely as that, except to say that we’re certainly aware that there are more developments happening on the side of the African Union, and we’re keeping in touch with them and we’ll see how they proceed and then we’ll make our decision based on that.


Question:  Back to the prosecution and the Court and al-Bashir, the Rome Statute does allow for Security Council to delay the prosecution, to defer it, for 12 months.  Has any nation asked for a Security Council meeting, like China or anybody else on that?


Associate Spokesperson:  I haven’t heard of any proceedings in the Security Council on that.  You might want to check with the members of the Security Council or the Council presidency.  But, in terms of the Criminal Court side, the Prosecutor, Mr. Moreno-Ocampo, will be here talking to the press on Wednesday, in this room at 11 a.m.  So you can talk to him about any of those proceedings at that time.


Question:  I was watching outside when you were talking about peacekeepers potentially being allowed to arrest.  We’ve seen with UNMIK that the Secretary-General can reconfigure a mission.  Would reconfiguring the mission be something he could do, tell the peacekeepers to arrest al-Bashir, or again, is that something the Council has to do?


Associate Spokesperson:  Again, the mandated tasks of the two peacekeeping missions in Sudan are set by the Security Council.  Ultimately, any change in mandate would have to come from them.


Question:  What’s the next step as far as the ICC is concerned?  When are they going to hand down the decision on whether to issue that warrant?


Associate Spokesperson:  As I just pointed out, you’ll be able to ask those questions directly to the Prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the day after tomorrow.  For now, he has submitted a request to a three-judge panel, one of the trial chambers of the International Criminal Court.  And it’s up to them to consider, as they do with all other requests from the Prosecutor.


Question:  So how long does it normally take for the three judges to make such a decision?


Associate Spokesperson:  If you look at the last several years of work of the Criminal Court, similar requests have taken sometimes two or three months.  I wouldn’t want to speculate whether this will be the same as that.  At this stage, it’s in the hands of the judges.


And I think that there are actually other trials to consider, so that’s what Mr. Rapp is here to talk to you about one of them.


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