|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICES OF THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
and the spokesperson for the general assembly president
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and Enrique Yeves, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.
Briefing by the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
** Sri Lanka –- Humanitarian Update
As you are aware, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, John Holmes, has just returned from Sri Lanka and he is to brief in this room at 3 p.m. about his trip and the current situation in that country.
As of today, more than 171,000 people have crossed out of the conflict zone in Sri Lanka, including almost 3,000 wounded and caregivers in hospitals. There have been no new arrivals at the Omanthai screening point in the last 24 hours and the Government informs the United Nations that none are in transit.
The UN believes that 50,000 people remain in the conflict zone. The situation in the camps, while improving due to the efforts of all aid providers, remains less than optimal. One of the most serious concerns is congestion in the camps. Shelter in the camps remains inadequate, and there is urgent need for the allocation of more land by the Government of Sri Lanka in which to house the displaced. Furthermore, options need to be pursued to allow more people to be accommodated with host families.
Health facilities continue to be overwhelmed and more capacity is needed. Water and sanitation remain key concerns, with some areas having only one toilet for 140 people. Although all internally displaced persons have drinking water, there is inadequate water for other purposes. And also psychological trauma is a serious issue.
The World Health Organization (WHO) just wrapped up a telephone press conference on the swine flu. The agency confirmed that there has been an increase in lab-confirmed cases,from 79 yesterday to 114 today. The infections have been reported in Canada, the United States, Mexico, Israel, Spain, the United Kingdom and New Zealand. WHO also noted that the virus is spreading, with no evidence of slowing down.
Regarding its influenza pandemic alert level, which was raised to phase 4 on Monday, WHO said that we are moving closer to phase 5 but are not there yet. Before raising the alert level again, WHO said it would need to make sure that it was dealing with sustained human-to-human transmission, with widespread community outbreaks in at least two regions.
Noting that the virus did originate in pigs, WHO stressed that there is no evidence that people are now getting sick from pigs or pork products. The agency also noted that many countries have increased surveillance activities, as it recommended a few days ago.
WHO emphasized that experts are continuing to study the situation and that there are still unanswered questions. For example, it is currently unclear whether people, upon becoming infected, will develop mild or severe illness.
And if you missed today’s press conference, you can access the audio and a transcript at WHO’s website.
The Secretary-General today addressed an open meeting of the Security Council, chaired by Mexico’s Foreign Minister, on children and armed conflict, and he told the Council that he has witnessed scenes of unbearable suffering when he has seen children affected by wars. He said, “Never have I been so outraged as when I recently spoke with girls who had been sexually victimized during the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.”
The Secretary-General noted that his latest report on the question of children and armed conflict includes annexes that name 56 parties, including States and non-State actors, which recruit child soldiers and commit other grave violations. He urged the Council to consider action to stop these violators from continuing to victimize children. The protection framework needs to be strengthened, he said.
He added that we must also do everything possible to ensure that, no matter how severely conflicts may rage, schools are always protected. The Secretary-General also urged Member States to allow contact between the United Nations and non-State parties aimed at ensuring the protection of vulnerable children.
His Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, said that the time is ripe for the Security Council to extend the focus of its protection agenda beyond child soldiers so that parties that commit rape and other grave sexual violations against children can also be listed.
Also at today’s meeting, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Alain Le Roy discussed the child protection policy for UN peacekeepers, while UNICEF Executive Director Ann Veneman said that adherence to international humanitarian law and respect for children’s rights must be strengthened.
The Security Council also heard from Grace Akallo, a former child soldier who was abducted at gunpoint in Uganda by the Lord’s Resistance Army and was forced to fight as a soldier and repeatedly raped. She told the Council, “I’m here to remind you of the very real suffering of these children who are hoping for you to act.”
You can find those statements upstairs. And the Council’s discussion of children and armed conflict will continue into the afternoon, with nearly 60 speakers inscribed in all.
The UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) today issued its fourteenth report on the human rights situation in the country, which says that the second half of last year was characterized by further improvements in security, although the overall human rights situation in Iraq remains a matter of concern.
The report says the situation in prisons and detention centres still remains an issue of concern, and it recommends reviewing the legal framework in order to make the essential move away from a system based on confessions to one that is based on evidence. UNAMI stands ready to help in this process.
The report shows that gender-based violence remains one of the key unaddressed problems throughout Iraq. Numerous murders of women under the guise of so-called “honour killings” are still being recorded as suicides, the report shows, while in the northern region of Kurdistan the practice of female genital mutilation remains a tolerated practice.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, whose staff helped compile the report, said “the situation of Iraqi women is extremely difficult” and she urged the authorities to make it a priority to both improve legislation and law enforcement in order to protect them properly. And we have a press release upstairs with more details.
**Special Tribunal for Lebanon
The Special Tribunal for Lebanon said today that the Tribunal’s Pre-Trial Judge, Daniel Fransen, had received a submission from Prosecutor Daniel Bellemare on Monday in which the Prosecutor stated that he does not seek the continued detention in Lebanon of four generals in connection with the 14 February 2005 attack on former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.
Bellemare had said that he was guided by three basic legal principles: the presumption of innocence; the principle that detention of persons presumed innocent must always be the exception and not the rule; and the need for sufficiency of credible and admissible evidence. On the basis of those principles, the Prosecutor concluded that the evidence was insufficient at this time to warrant filing indictments against any of the four detained persons.
The Pre-Trial Judge accordingly decided today to grant their release. And we have a press release upstairs with more details.
The African Union-UN mission in Darfur (UNAMID) today announced the launch of a cooperation agreement between the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and UNAMID Police.
Deputy Police Commissioner Elizabeth Muwanga said the new partnership will enhance the achievement of harmonized and focused coordination of commonly shared values on safety, security, livelihood support and overall well-being of internally displaced persons, particularly women.
UNIFEM Regional Director Meryem Aslan urged both parties to enhance gender equality, raise the profile of women and address issues relating to all forms of discrimination against women, particularly in conflict situations.
UNAMID Police are mandated to assist in harnessing the capacity of women to participate in the peace process, including through political representation, economic empowerment and protection from sexual and gender-based violence.
To this end, UNAMID Police and UNIFEM join hands in supporting actions to bring the Darfur peace Agreement back on track by facilitating collective responses and participation by all parties to the Agreement; and to include gender equality in representation and participation in the Darfur peace process. They will also support and facilitate an enabling environment for women’s equal and meaningful representation and participation in the Darfur peace process.
** Darfur Humanitarian
Meanwhile, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that in West Darfur, 10 out of 13 therapeutic feeding centres formerly run by expelled international non-governmental organizations have maintained their activities. UNICEF is currently providing salaries or incentives to all staff working in these centres.
Yesterday, a UN and international NGO assessment in the health, nutrition and water and sanitation sectors was conducted in the Kalma internally displaced persons’ camp in South Darfur. It was observed that basic services in the sectors are still operational, but a replenishment of some stocks is required.
OCHA also reports that the State Humanitarian Affairs Commission has not handed over the keys to the United Nations Joint Logistics Centre to their warehouses in El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur.
** C ôte d’Ivoire
The UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (ONUCI) is welcoming the announcement by the Permanent Representative of Côte d’Ivoire that the first round of the presidential election in the country will take place between 11 October and 6 December 2009. That announcement was made yesterday at the UN Security Council’s meeting.
The Mission is hoping that this positive development will give fresh momentum to the peace process and will entice all the parties concerned to agree on a new election date. At the same time, the Mission encourages the protagonists of the Ouagadougou Political Agreement to make tangible progress towards the reunification process. And we have a press release on this upstairs.
The United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) is welcoming the publication of the results of the first round of elections for the renewal of one third of the senate seats in that country, which took place on 19 April.
The Mission says it is now time to prepare for the second round of these elections, which are scheduled for 7 June. It adds that it stands ready to continue assisting the Provisional Electoral Council and the Haitian National Police in order to learn from the first round and make the necessary adjustments for a successful second round.
MINUSTAH also encourages the Haitian population, and particularly the candidates, to participate calmly, and in compliance with the law, in campaigning for a second round.
The UN refugee agency says more than 10,000 Mauritanian refugees have returned home from Senegal since the start of the year. Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees launched its repatriation programme for Mauritanian refugees in Senegal a little over a year ago. Forty-four convoys have since been organized to return refugees, all of whom UNHCR has also helped to reintegrate into their native communities with income-generating projects.
The refugees are among tens of thousand of Mauritanians who fled into Mali and Senegal in 1989, when a decade-old border dispute between Mauritania and Senegal spiralled into ethnic violence.
Closing arguments were delivered today before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in the trial of Léonidas Nshogoza, the Tribunal said. The accused was an investigator for the defence in an earlier ICTR case. He is alleged to have tampered with information with intent to fabricate additional evidence and procure false statements in that earlier case. He now faces four counts of criminal misconduct, including contempt of the Tribunal.
Nshogoza, a Rwanda national, voluntarily surrendered to the Tribunal in early 2008. His trial began in February.
**International Atomic Energy Agency
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) today confirmed that it has received the nomination of five candidates to be the next IAEA Director General. The five nominees are: Mr. Jean-Pol Poncelet of Belgium; Mr. Yukiya Amano of Japan; Mr. Ernest Petric of Slovenia; Mr. Abdul Samad Minty of South Africa; and Mr. Luis Echavarri of Spain.
The five candidates were nominated in line with a process approved by the Board in October 2008. IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei´s term of office expires on 30 November 2009. He has served as Director General since 1997 and has stated that he is not available for a fourth term of office.
**Press Conferences Today
For press conferences today, we’ll have at 1 p.m. Carlos Lopes, Executive Director of the UN Institute for Training and Research, and William Lacy Swing, Director-General of the International Organization for Migration, here to discuss the Migration and Development Seminar Series.
This two-day seminar, which opened yesterday morning in Conference Room 8, is organized in partnership with the UN Population Fund and the MacArthur Foundation. It discusses the role and inclusion of diasporas in formal peacebuilding processes. And we have more information on this upstairs.
Later today at 3 p.m., like I said earlier, John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, will be here to brief on his recent mission to Sri Lanka.
And after I am done, we also have Enrique Yeves, the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly, who will talk to you about that. Yes.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Regarding this release of the four generals in Lebanon, Detlev Mehlis was the one, the investigator, behind their detention. Shouldn’t he come out with some statement, or the Secretary-General, explaining why these people have remained about four years in jail without an indictment and why all appeals in the past were ignored totally?
Associate Spokesperson: In terms of that, you’re right that the first commissioner, Mr. Detlev Mehlis, recommended the arrests by the Lebanese authorities of the individuals concerned based on the information that was available to him at that time. They were then arrested in 2005 by the Lebanese authorities and held by them under Lebanese law. The subsequent commissioners Serge Brammertz and Daniel Bellemare, in light of their investigations, were in frequent contact with the Lebanese authorities and made their views on this issue clear. And we just mentioned Mr. Bellemare submission just a few minutes ago. Beyond that, the Secretary-General was not involved in the early decisions to detain people, or today’s decision to release them, and he respects the independence of the process.
Question: How about the fabricator of the evidence? I mean, [inaudible name]...is still at large. He was supported by many countries who are members of the Security Council, and also now he is at large still in... Isn’t the United Nations supposed to pursue the detention of that guy and ask for his extradition?
Associate Spokesperson: Well, the United Nations, or at least in this case, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, is entrusted with following up on all of the various leads involving the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Hariri, and so they will continue with their work to follow up on all available evidence. Yes.
Question: I have a question about the Board of Inquiry for Gaza. Yesterday, Michèle said that the SG was going to present it to the Security Council some time next week. And when asked what format that would take, she said she didn’t know and that he was discussing it with the Council members during the luncheon yesterday. So I am wondering if anything came out of that discussion and if there’s been a decision about how that would be presented to the Council and when.
Associate Spokesperson: Yes, you’re right that this was a matter that was discussed at the Security Council luncheon. At the same time, there is no decision to convey just yet. So hold tight and hopefully in the coming days or the coming week we’ll have something more to say about how this report will be presented. Yes, Jonathan.
Question: Farhan, I just have a little question, a follow-up from a while ago. There was an Indian computer company that was embroiled in a big scandal, called Satyam, and the UN was reviewing its contracts with the organization. Do you know where that is now? Has the UN cancelled all deals with them?
Associate Spokesperson: It’s not a question of cancelling, we’ve suspended them, so they’re no longer a vendor for the United Nations. I believe that there may have been some previously concluded agreements which are being wrapped up or honoured. But yes, we have stopped any future dealings with Satyam.
Question: And that’s a permanent status and it’s done? I mean, a suspension, you know, can be a temporary suspension.
Associate Spokesperson: It’s a suspension. Yes, Mr. Abbadi.
Question: Thank you, Farhan. The WHO is considering a global response to this swine flu crisis. Have there been any measures or recommendations made here at Headquarters or any action taken to prevent an incidence here?
Associate Spokesperson: Well, the lead role for dealing with swine flu is with the World Health Organization. At the same time, we’re monitoring events in New York and we’re taking steps, including any efforts to advise staff on what may need to be done if there is an outbreak here. Some of that remains hypothetical, but there are officials at the UN who are looking into this matter and seeing what to do in case there is an outbreak. But the lead role in this, again, goes to WHO.
Question: Just to follow up on that, Farhan. I mean, if someone ends up with a contagion, what’s done? Who intervenes and how’s that...how are they evacuated, where do they go? What mechanism is in place now?
Associate Spokesperson: If you’re talking about something that is happening in New York, there are medical authorities in New York who’d be dealing with...
Question: [inaudible]...would they first be looked at by the medical team here, and then sent out into a New York City hospital? What’s the protocol?
Associate Spokesperson: In essence, it’s something that we’d deal with in coordination with the local health authorities in New York. At this stage it’s kind of a hypothetical question, so I would be better equipped to handle it if there’s something happening. Right now what we’re doing is we do have regular meetings of senior officials who are dealing with monitoring this and seeing what sort of response needs to be taken. But at this stage, certainly there is no reason to believe that any staff or people working in the building have contracted this disease. Yes.
Question: To follow up on that especially since there are so many school groups that come into the building, in the contingency planning, has there been any consideration of bringing in thermal-reading barriers that pick up if people have infections as a more preventative hi-tech approach within this building?
Associate Spokesperson: I am not aware of any new technology being brought in, but I’ll check for you. Yes.
Question: I just wanted to ask you a question but it had been answered in the last week, about this Israeli decision not to cooperate with the inquiry, the committee set up by the Human Rights Council headed by Judge [Richard] Goldstone, I believe. First the Secretary-General, [inaudible]...said that its inquiry itself has absolved its soldiers of any wrongdoing in that thing. Has the Secretary-General read that report? Does he have any response to that?
Associate Spokesperson: I believe we’re still awaiting any formal report from the Israelis on this. As for the Human Rights Council, at this stage we’d need first to see what response the Human Rights Council has once it has a formal response from the Government of Israel. I believe it’s still working to try to get its investigators to see the actual facts on the ground.
Question: Also last week, I had asked Marie on that point and she said that at that point she didn’t have any response from the Secretary-General’s Office. It’s about the Israeli Deputy Prime Minister calling Iran a fascist, Nazi State, and he was very indignant when Ahmadinejad called Israel an apartheid State. So does he have any response to that?
Associate Spokesperson: No, we don’t have any comment. Yes.
Question: A follow-up on Satyam, but I wanted to ask about Sri Lanka first. There is a controversy about a UNOSAT document that’s come out that the UN had satellite photographs from Sri Lanka of, it’s called a damage report of craters in the no-conflict zone caused by artillery. So some are asking why the UN had these satellite photos and didn’t release them in this conflict as it did in Gaza and other situations. Are you aware of it, and can you explain what the policy of the UN is in releasing satellite photos of conflict zones?
Associate Spokesperson: As far as this particular question goes, I would urge you to wait until 3 p.m., when you will have John Holmes, who’s been leading our response to this over the last few days, and he’ll talk to the press about the situation in Sri Lanka.
Question: Has he also been in charge of things like this, like the release of satellite photos by UNOSAT?
Associate Spokesperson: He’s been dealing with the humanitarian issue on the ground, which is our focus. And so I’d ask you to try him out first.
Question: Also on Sri Lanka, can you first of all confirm that the Secretary-General has been asked to brief the Council tomorrow afternoon on Sri Lanka? And also, that at the luncheon that you discussed that the exclusion of Sweden’s Foreign Minister was raised to Ban Ki-moon, and if so, what’s his position on it?
Associate Spokesperson: I am not aware whether the issue of Mr. [Carl] Bildt was raised. Beyond that I would suggest that, for questions about what’s on the Council’s programme, to check with the Council Presidency whether this will be put on their programme. I do believe that this is something that some members of the Council have raised, but check with the Council Presidency whether this is actually going to be put on the programme for tomorrow or not. Yes.
Question: Yesterday Helen Clark of UNDP was welcomed to the UN in a traditional Maori ceremony organized by the Permanent Mission of New Zealand to the UN. Do you have any idea as to when there will be a press briefing with Helen Clark in this room?
Associate Spokesperson: I don’t know. I’ll contact my UNDP counterparts and see when that is. She’s only just started her work right now, so it might take a little while, but we’ll try and arrange something. Yes.
Question: Can I just ask a follow-up?
Associate Spokesperson: Yes.
Question: On Satyam, can you say whether, explain whether, this prohibition or decision not to give them any new contracts also applies to the International Computing Centre, and whether this ICC unit in fact does computing work for DPKO and other entities? Some have described it as sort of a loophole in the barring of Satyam.
Associate Spokesperson: I think...Didn’t you get an answer on this a few weeks ago?
Question: I did get an answer, then I’ve heard contradictory things that DPKO was using ICC, even at the Valencia Computer Centre, and that some individuals may have even been sort of “rehatted” under the ICC. So, I guess...
Associate Spokesperson: I’ll see if there is any change, but I believe you’ve received some information on this a few weeks ago. I am not aware of any change since we gave you that.
Question: And also, do you have a response to these reports that Bosco, the ICC indictee for war crimes, was described as a deputy coordinator in the Congolese Army action against the FDLR, and also, therefore, calling into question the UN statement that it doesn’t work with indicted war criminals.
Associate Spokesperson: Yes, we’re aware of those reports. At the same time, the UN Mission in the DRC, MONUC, has not seen the documents that were referred to in the media reports that allegedly showed that Jean Bosco Ntaganda was part of the joint operation. Actually, on the contrary, the DRC authorities have shown MONUC relevant documents defining the operation’s command structure, which does not make any mention of Mr. Ntaganda. MONUC has clearly stated that it will not conduct or support joint operations in which Jean Bosco Ntaganda plays a part.
This has been communicated directly to the DRC Minister of Defence and the Chief of the Defence Staff, who in turn have assured MONUC that Mr. Ntanganda is not a part of any joint operation’s command structure. MONUC leadership continues to engage with our Congolese interlocutors on this matter.
Question: Even when you actually see this document, what will the UN do if it turns out he was the deputy commander of that operation?
Associate Spokesperson: Well, as I just said, we continue to engage with our Congolese interlocutors. But I’ve told you exactly the precise assurances that we’ve been given by the Government of the DRC on this. And as for the hypothetical question, we’ll cross that bridge if that is a reality. Yes, please, Mr. Abbadi.
Question: Farhan, my colleagues had a follow-up with the question I asked regarding the swine flu. What I was trying to say is, what measures have been taken by the Medical Service to prevent an incident here? Do they have, for example, Tamiflu vaccines present here at Headquarters?
Associate Spokesperson: As I said, we’re monitoring the situation and there are medical people who are advising us on what to do here in the building. At the same time, what we’re also trying to do is coordinate that with the efforts that are being advocated by the World Health Organization. Yes.
Question: Do you know if they have any vaccines here at the present moment, Tamiflu, here at the health service?
Associate Spokesperson: I don’t have any information to give on that right now. I think we’ve already mentioned what the World Health Organization’s own policy on vaccines are. And I believe Michèle mentioned yesterday, I think, that it might take four to six months to actually develop a new vaccine to deal specifically with this strain. Yes.
Question: [inaudible]...said one of the generals released today sent two letters to the Secretary-General and to the Security Council in the past. Why didn’t they find their way to the Security Council and why were they never released to us, these two letters? I mean, he asked the Secretary-General to intervene for his release since he was innocent. And those two letters never found their way to the Secretary-General himself.
Associate Spokesperson: As I pointed out to you, the Secretary-General is not involved in the decision-making on this affair because of our respect for the independence of this process. The process was handled, in other words, in recent days by the Special Tribunal. And you see what their decisions on this have been.
Question: On this one, in this particular case, those two letters were telling the Secretary-General and the Security Council that he is innocent and he wants some interference in order for justice to be done. And this was totally ignored, and for a long time.
Associate Spokesperson: I believe the appropriate judicial authorities have been seized of this matter for some time and they have taken action accordingly and have acted along the lines we have just described. Yes.
Question: WHO has these telephone call-ins for conference calls, and I know that, I think, when the outbreak of swine flu began you did have a hook-up with, you know, one of your video hook-ups with Geneva. Are you going to be doing any more of those or is it really going to just be telephonic?
Associate Spokesperson: I think it’s telephonic. We might try and make some other arrangements if there is interest in this. At the same time there is, the WHO website does provide the audio that you need and it’s been providing webcasts, as well as transcripts afterwards. So there is a wealth of resources there. Yes.
Question: Thanks, Farhan. I am wondering, regarding the swine flu, has the UN appointed a specific focal person to take care of this as much as they did with David Nabarro for the avian flu? It seems like there might be some similarities.
Associate Spokesperson: The lead role in this right now -- I think we’ve said this a few times in the last few days -- is being played by the Director-General of WHO, Margaret Chan. Dr. Nabarro has been involved with flu outbreaks and he’s also been helping in this particular case, but right now the leadership is with Margaret Chan.
[It was later noted that David Nabarro remains the Senior United Nations System Coordinator for Avian and Human Influenza.]
Question: Can you confirm that the UN has raised the threat assessment level in Mexico to 1 and to 2 for [inaudible]...?
Associate Spokesperson: I cannot confirm that. We tend not to give out security phase levels. I’ve already told you what WHO’s phase level is for the outbreak; where it’s at level 4. But in terms of country level security things, that is not information that we give out.
Question: Forgetting the threat level for a moment, in terms of UN staff in Mexico, have there been any specific precautions taken?
Associate Spokesperson: I am not aware what specific precautions in Mexico would be. Certainly, the staff continue to go about their regular work.
Question: I’ll ask one more thing. Yesterday, Mr. Choi, the SRSG for Côte d’Ivoire, was asked about the status of the Moroccan peacekeepers that were repatriated from Côte d’Ivoire on charges of sexual abuse or exploitation. And he said that everything somehow went well, the Government committed to training. But he was unable to say whether anyone was actually disciplined. So, I mean I e-mailed DPKO, [inaudible],...but I haven’t heard back. So I wanted to know, both on this case and also on the Sri Lankan peacekeepers from Haiti, can the UN state whether any of these peacekeepers charged with sexual abuse and exploitation were in fact disciplined by the [inaudible]...?
Associate Spokesperson: If you’ve already asked DPKO, I suggest that they would be the ones that would have any further information. For now, we’d stand behind what Mr. Choi has said. Yes.
Question: Farhan, just a follow-up on that. We really are not getting any progress on that actually, to tell you the truth. Would it be possible that maybe we could have a briefing by DPKO or we could get some definitive answers?
Associate Spokesperson: We’ll see when the next DPKO briefing could be. I think that could be sooner than you think, but we’re trying to get that arranged.
Question: Or just a one-page memo updating the various publicly reported repatriations and what actually happened in each case. Because the reason I am asking here is that I am feeling that this information -- I asked the same thing on Haiti, the ones repatriated from Haiti -- I never got it. So I don’t know if there is a policy on the UN’s part despite saying zero tolerance, to not release any actual information about what happens to the peacekeepers.
Associate Spokesperson: We mention what happens when peacekeepers are repatriated. After that, it’s up to their home Governments to pursue any further action, and we follow up with those Governments to see whether action has been taken. But it is not our ability or our authority to do that.
Question: No, I understand that. But once the Government tells you something was done or wasn’t done, do you then release the information under the rubric of zero tolerance to see whether anything actually happened to the people? See what I mean? I think the credibility of the whole referral to the country comes down to what happens in the country. So do you release that information when you get it?
Associate Spokesperson: It’s not our place to comment on what is happening at the national level. That’s for the national Government to do. But we do try to accumulate this information and then report that in to the respective bodies who deal with that here. And with that I will bring Enrique Yeves, the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.
Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President
Good afternoon. Good to see you all.
The President of the General Assembly, Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann, is attending today the Ministerial Meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement in Havana, Cuba.
In his address to the 118 countries representing over half of the world’s population, President d'Escoto said, and I am going to quote: “For the first time in history, all the countries of the world, including all those that have traditionally paid only the consequences of the failures of the powerful, will now have the opportunity to participate actively in the design of the new financial, economic, monetary and trading architecture of the world. In order to make their voices heard, our Governments will have to participate at the highest level in the meeting on 1, 2 and 3 June next. Before, we were always marginalized. Let us hope that we do not now marginalize ourselves.
“The opportunity that we have today, we might never see again. The more Heads of State and Government that attend the meeting in June at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, the greater guarantee we will have that our suggestions are accepted and implemented. We need a system to replace maximization of profits as a primary goal of economic activity and to place people and their welfare at the centre of all activities.”
And this is all I have for you today, unless you have any questions for me. Masood.
**Questions and Answers
Question: I just want to know, was there any communiqué adopted after -- maybe you announced it yesterday -- after this meeting in Havana?
Spokesperson: Not that I am aware of because I think the meeting is starting today. And I think they’re going to have still...
Question: Are they going to issue a communiqué in advance or no; or not as yet?
Spokesperson: Not that I am aware of. You’ll have to talk to the Non-Aligned Movement.
Question: Will there be one?
Spokesperson: I assume so. But again, I don’t speak for the Non-Aligned Movement; I speak for the President of the General Assembly. But I assume, like in many other meetings, that they will issue a press release. Jonathan.
Question: President d'Escoto, when does he return here and does he plan to hold a briefing on his recent travels?
Spokesperson: He is due to return to Headquarters on Saturday, this Saturday, and yes, he plans to give a briefing on his trips.
Question: He does?
Spokesperson: Yes. Mr. Abbadi.
Question: Enrique, thank you. Does the Non-Aligned Movement have a unified position regarding the reforms of the Security Council, or are there divergences within the Movement?
Spokesperson: To be honest, the negotiations of the Security Council that are taking place right now are not open. And I don’t think that the Non-Aligned Movement have themselves made any official position. As you know the countries are discussing and negotiating different issues, but I don’t think they have a position as such, I believe. Matthew.
Question: Yes, Enrique, there is report on Mr. d'Escoto Brockmann’s reaction to the final text of Durban II, have you seen this? And they say that he regrets, he expressed his regret for how the final statement came out. I just want to make sure that this is the same thing. Is this the same thing that you sent us here, or has he spoken publicly on the topic since we last heard from you on this?
Spokesperson: No. The only official reaction that you have is the reaction that I explained to you already, and that we have distributed officially as a communiqué of the President of the General Assembly.
Question: Mr. d'Escoto said in a Friday summary speech that it was a shame that a passage regarding the rights of Palestinians to statehood had been removed from the final text of the current conference. Did...(inaudible)?
Spokesperson: I will need to see what is the source of information. Send it to me and I will check on it for you.
Question: (Another correspondent interjected) We received that statement. I think you’re asking if it was... (back and forth between correspondents)
Spokesperson: Send it to me and I will check that for you. That’s what I am saying. I am saying that he has said only one thing and that is the statement that we released.
Question: Okay. This may be re-heated old news then.
Spokesperson: Most likely. No more questions? Jonathan.
Question: I just have one quick question. You mentioned what President d'Escoto said this morning. I’m wondering how in practical terms what he’s saying is realized, because what you read out was that they’re going to have, for the first time, an impact on the decision making, but how does that work in terms of real, practical, on-the-ground interface? I know it’s not an easy question, but I am just wondering if there is...
Spokesperson: I assume you’re asking me about the meeting, the Summit that is going to take place in June?
Question: Yes, the June 2 and 3 meeting.
Spokesperson: Okay. We already have had several briefings on this Conference, but I am very happy to summarize it very quickly to you. As you know, the members of the General Assembly -- the 192 countries -- in Doha, Qatar, last December asked the President of the General Assembly to organize a meeting at the highest level possible to discuss the implications of the financial crisis. And the modalities were to be discussed during the next months. During the first months of 2009, those modalities were discussed. The Member States unanimously have decided to hold this Summit on 1, 2 and 3 June to address the financial crisis and the international economic architecture, the impact in the developing world and what are the solutions at short and long term. And the President of the General Assembly, as you know, has always said that his position is that some of these very important decisions for everybody in the world have been taken in very small groups -- whether there were the G-8 or the G-20 recently -- and he believes that decisions that affect all countries in the world should be taken collectively and democratically by all the countries in the world and that forum -- this is his position -- is the United Nations General Assembly, and that has been supported by the Member States. So that is the framework. Now, you’re asking me...
Question: I mean, for lack of a better way of saying this, how do they twist the arm of the well-off nations to listen to what the demands are of the less financially well-off countries? And as a follow-up, I am just wondering, are Heads of State coming for the 3 June meeting? Who is coming exactly?
Spokesperson: That’s the whole idea! The whole idea is that we have in this Summit as many Heads of State as possible.
Question: Do you have any confirmation of participants...(inaudible)?
Spokesperson: Yes, we already have. As you know, the modalities were approved only a couple of weeks ago. We have already in a couple of weeks we had the confirmation of -- I am doing it by heart -- I think it’s 92 countries, already.
Question: Ninety-two countries already?
Spokesperson: Ninety-two countries have already confirmed that they’re going to participate. And I don’t know how many Heads of State we will be having until the date is closer.
Question: And you have the Heads of State already agreeing to...?
Spokesperson: We have many, several heads of state already...
Question: Can you name maybe a couple that have already...?
Spokesperson: I don’t want to do it by heart, so let me come back. If you want a more in-depth -- which may be the right time now to do it -- a little bit more detail on the Summit, I can prepare a brief for you, either at the end of this week, Friday, or at the beginning of next week, if you want.
Question: Thank you, yes, please.
Spokesperson: Okay. Mr. Abbadi.
Question: Enrique, the ideas of the President that this economic transaction should be non-profit and that decision-making should be within the Assembly with the total membership, what implications would that have on the decisions made by the IMF and the World Bank, since they don’t represent the Assembly, since they’re not representative of all the countries?
Spokesperson: That is correct. And that is precisely why the President of the General Assembly believed that this is the forum for those discussions to be taking place and...
Question: (Inaudible)...those two bodies, to the IMF...?
Spokesperson: Well, that is, as you know, the financial crisis has underlined several issues. One of them is this lack of the international bodies to really control and prevent this kind of crisis. And everybody -- or most of the people -- is in agreement that this is a red light and that something has to be done.
Now, there are several positions depending on the leaders that you talk to; there are some who believe that those preventive measures, those institutions that have been working until now, could be working in the same way, just with some small adjustments or some additional financing. There are some other leaders who believe that those decisions that are affecting all of us should not be taken at a restrictive group like the G-8 or a limited group like the G-20, even though it is a little bit larger, but it is a minority group in any case. In 192 countries that leaves 172 countries out of it.
What the President of the General Assembly, with the support of the majority of the countries in the Organization, is doing is trying to make this inclusive dialogue and negotiation forum at the UN to try to set up the future of the international architecture. As you know, this is a very complex issue. I mean, you cannot expect from one day to the other to change everything. We have now for a few months a Commission of Experts -- as you know, 18 experts from all around the world -- coordinated by Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel Laureate, as designated by the President of the General Assembly. They’re going to come up, they have been working with some propositions that are public already, as you know, some of them. The last meeting of the Commission is due to take place in the middle of May in Holland. I believe it is 17 and 18 May. With that final document, the President of the General Assembly will be able to put together, with other inputs, a proposal for the Member States for discussion and negotiations for the Summit in June.
Question: A follow-up. Does then the President of the General Assembly feel overall that he has the support of Member States for all these international institutions, including the IMF, the World Bank and even the Security Council? Does he feel that they are ready to...?
Spokesperson: Well, it is not only that he feels that he has the support; it is also that the 192 Member States of this Organization have given him the mandate and have approved the agenda and the mandate and the scope for discussion.
Question: And does he believe that will happen?
Spokesperson: Well, certainly the Summit is going to happen on 1, 2, and 3 June. Then, as you know, in any negotiation, this is up to the Member Sates to see how they negotiate the outcome.
Question: (Inaudible)...Maybe you will know this one. Has the Presidency heard from say, the United States, or the United Kingdom or France who they’re sending to the financial Summit? What level, if not by name, what level of representation?
Spokesperson: I think it’s too early. Certainly, President d'Escoto has been already talking to most of the countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom and some others, and asking them to be represented at the highest level.
Question: Did he write directly to President [Barack] Obama of the United States?
Spokesperson: Yes, he did.
Question: Okay. Can that letter be released? Can we see the letter?
Spokesperson: I am not sure. I have to check, because he has been writing to all the Heads of State personal letters. What I can confirm is that he has asked President Obama to attend, and he has done also that through the Permanent Representative here at the UN.
Correspondent: Check maybe if the letter can be released. And I don’t know if it can or not, but, you know, if it’s not a problem...
Spokesperson: Okay, I’ll check that for you.
Question: And the invitation goes out to all 192 Member States and their Heads of State?
Spokesperson: Yes. Thank you very much.
* *** *For information media • not an official record