TRANSCRIPT OF PRESS CONFERENCE BY DEPUTY SECRETARY-GENERAL LOUISE FRÉCHETTE AT HEADQUARTERS, 20 JUNE 2001

20 June 2001
DSG/SM/134

TRANSCRIPT OF PRESS CONFERENCE BY DEPUTY SECRETARY-GENERAL LOUISE FRÉCHETTE AT HEADQUARTERS, 20 JUNE 2001

20/06/2001
Press Release
DSG/SM/134


TRANSCRIPT OF PRESS CONFERENCE BY DEPUTY SECRETARY-GENERAL LOUISE FRÉCHETTE


AT HEADQUARTERS, 20 JUNE 2001



The Deputy Secretary-General:  This is an attempt to present in a comprehensive way what is going to happen at the special session, which, as you know, will take place on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday next week.


That session has never been billed as a summit.  It is not a summit, but the fact is that there will be quite a number of heads of State and Government attending.  By a current count, I think at the moment we have about 24 at the level of head of State and Government and six at the vice-presidential level.  We expect other countries to be represented at very senior levels, mostly at the ministerial level.  So, while this is not a summit, it is going to be a very well attended meeting at very senior levels.


As is customary, part of the action will take place in the plenary.  The President of the General Assembly and the Secretary-General will be speaking to the plenary on the morning of Monday, 25 June, and, of course, all Member States will speak in turn in the course of the three days. In addition, the Member States have decided to hold four roundtables modelled on the round tables held at the Millennium Summit last September.  The four round tables will discuss prevention and care, HIV/AIDS and human rights, the social and economic impact of HIV/AIDS and international funding and cooperation.


There will be a couple of innovations with respect to these round tables. One is that there will be civil society participation -– in limited numbers, but nevertheless there will be a few representatives from civil society participating in the round tables.  That was not the case at the Millennium Summit, where only the leaders met among themselves.  Secondly, it is my understanding that the proceedings of the discussions in the round tables will be covered in a listening room, to which the press is invited.  I think that is also a change from the Millennium Summit format, where only selected representatives could listen in on the discussions in the round tables.


In addition, there will be a very large number of parallel events throughout the three days taking place right here in the Building.  I think you have the whole list in your press kits this morning.


I would mention an event with people living with HIV/AIDS.  There will be a meeting of chief executive officers of major corporations to discuss the response of the private sector.  The International Labour Organization (ILO) will formally launch new guidelines on AIDS in the workplace.  There will be panels on women and AIDS and on AIDS orphans.  There will, indeed, be a lot of activities outside of the formal plenary and round tables.  Of course, there will be numerous activities outside of the United Nations premises, which, I am sure, some of you will be covering in one way or another.


As to the expected outcome of this special session, I guess the formal outcome will be a declaration of commitments which will really provide for comprehensive strategies that governments will sign on to, which will become the guiding policy framework for the United Nations and for the Member States.  But I would like to suggest that the outcome of the special session is not only this document –- important though it is -– but also the awareness-raising phenomenon that has started to happen around that session, the presence in the Building and around the United Nations of a very, very large number of AIDS activists, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), foundations and corporations.

I think all of this is helping to raise the profile of the issue very much, which is, after all, one of the main purposes of the special session.  So what we are looking at is an event that will produce not only a document, but also will really help to continue to raise the profile of this issue internationally.


So, in closing, I would signal that this special session is one very important event in a continuum of activities in the United Nations relating to the AIDS issue.  As you know, the United Nations family has been involved in this issue since the very beginning, from the mid-1980s.  The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) has been at the centre of United Nations activities and coordination for the last six years now.  More recently, the Secretary-General himself took the leadership, if you will, of an international campaign, and he issued a call for action.  He has proposed the creation of a global fund to deal with AIDS, and we expect that there will be some progress made on the fund issue, as well in the course of the special session.


Let me stop here.  I will be happy to take your questions.


Question:  I would like to raise the issue of funds.  I think the Secretary-General’s goal is to raise $7 billion to $10 billion annually.  What is the total amount raised to date?


The Deputy Secretary-General:  What the Secretary-General has said is that we estimate that it will cost between $7 billion to $10 billion annually to tackle the AIDS issue effectively.  Part of that money will be raised nationally, by the governments themselves, but part of it –- a significant part –- must come from international cooperation.  For reasons of efficiency, of coherence, the notion of a fund is gathering a lot of support, and it is expected that a significant proportion of the external assistance will be channelled through the fund.


So far, we have had a number of public commitments.  They started with the United States, with its $200 million initial commitment.  The Government of France has indicated a readiness to provide 150 million euros, which, I think, translates into about $127 million.  Yesterday, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced a $100 million contribution. We have had smaller offers -- Crédit Suisse last week pledged $1 million for that fund.  The Olympic Committee has offered $100,000.  The Secretary-General himself is putting prize money that he got into that fund -- $100,000, in his case.


I would say that is a very good start for a fund that does not exist yet and is still in the process of being defined.  I expect that we will hear more indications of commitments on the part of donor countries during the special session.


Question:  What is the connection, if any, between this session and the recent Security Council meeting on AIDS?


The Deputy Secretary-General:  I do not think that there is any formal connection between the two.  The Security Council meeting on AIDS was held to focus on one very particular dimension of the AIDS issue, which was AIDS in the context of armed conflict and peacekeeping missions.  Of course, because it was a public debate, the debate went beyond the narrower purpose of the discussion.  But there is no formal connection or relationship between the two.

I think that what it does suggest is that, at last, the international community is starting to focus in a serious way on the AIDS pandemic.


Question:  Have there been any appointments yet to the management of the board?  Any expectations of who will be involved in running and administering that?  And also -- $7 billion to $10 billion -– is there an expectation or a hope that this will in some way be administering international aid?  A lot of developed countries are giving money to help with the problem of AIDS in other countries.  Is there some sense that this will be administered through the fund?


The Deputy Secretary-General:  Perhaps it might be useful if I describe a little bit the process that has taken place since the Secretary-General called for the creation of the fund.


First, one has to remember that before the Secretary-General made his call for the creation of a fund, there had been various proposals.  Starting at the Okinawa summit, there was a general focus on international health.  Then, I believe, there were various European proposals for funds related to health issues in developing countries.  So the Secretary-General’s proposal was intended to rally all of these proposals around a single concept.


Following his call, there were a number of consultative meetings held to begin shaping this fund.  The most important one was held in Geneva in the first days of May.  At that point, I think that a majority of traditional donor countries were present, and so were a number of developing countries, such as the beneficiaries or countries that have experience nationally with the AIDS issue, like Brazil.  Also present were a couple of the large foundations that had been taking a particular interest in the problem, as well as several NGOs that are associated with UNAIDS and the fight against AIDS.


At that meeting, certain concepts started to emerge about what this fund should be about.  I think that there is an emerging consensus that this fund should essentially be about AIDS, plus tuberculosis and malaria, but that the expectation is that the majority of the funding would probably be going to AIDS.


The emerging consensus is that these funds should be governed by a partnership of both donor and recipient countries and foundations, that there should be some way of associating to the fund the full range of stakeholders in this.  But it would not be a United Nations fund; it would not be linked with a decision of the General Assembly, nor would it be a World Bank fund linked to their own governing body.  It would be a stand-alone fund with its own governing institution.  It would have some mechanism to draw on the best expertise around the world.  We expect that the United Nations agencies that specialize in one or another area would have an important role to play in providing expert advice to the board.  The fund should have a small secretariat.


There is, I think, general understanding that the banking function -- the money-management function -- would probably be given to the World Bank.  This does not give them any kind of policy responsibility, but it would likely be the one institution that has to do the banking work.


There is agreement that the procedures to access the fund should be light; they should not generate totally new and complex sets of requirements for recipient countries.  The funding should be linked very much to national plans for fighting HIV/AIDS.  What is important in dispensing assistance is to make sure that the assistance corresponds to the requirements of the country in question. And each country has its own set of problems, which will probably dictate slightly different priorities from one country to the next.  There is a clear understanding among all those who have discussed this fund so far that the funding should really be based on country-based planning and processes.


Now these are the general concepts on which there seems to be very broad agreement.  I think the next phase will be to start designing the fine print of this, so that this fund becomes operational by the end of the year.  That was the other key element of consensus:  that this should happen by the end of the year. So, yes, there is a lot of work to be done.


So to answer your question directly:  no country has been nominated to this board yet because there is still some design work to be done to define the board, how it will be composed, what its powers will be.  But given the very strong support for this fund, and the broad consensus that this consultation revealed, I do not think it should take too long for agreement to permit the actual creation of the fund and its entry into operation by the end of the year.


Question:  Are you concerned that the final declaration may be watered down so much that it will not have the impact that the United Nations would like because of serious differences remaining on issues such as homosexuality, prostitution and so forth?


The Deputy Secretary-General:   This is a matter that is in the hands of the Member States, and we will see how they resolve the remaining differences.  But I think there is already a very solid set of agreements on very significant commitments and a very comprehensive strategy already agreed to among the Member States.  And this itself I think will be a very important and useful outcome.


The issues that remain on the table are sensitive issues.  They relate to cultural issues that are, as we know, not always easy to handle.  But my sense talking to delegations is that there is a very strong desire to come to an agreement, so that the session ends on full consensus on a good, strong declaration.  I think that ways will have to be found to find words that take into account the cultural sensitivities without doing damage to the intent of the declaration.  Certainly, I sense that there is a very strong desire across the Member States to find this compromise, which will mean that they will have to find the right words that deal with the reality, but do not offend the sensitivities of some cultures.  It is a reality, and it has to be taken into account.


Question:  One of the lingering issues in discussing the fund has been the question of how it is going to be managed and disbursed effectively and in a transparent fashion.  You mentioned that the fund is going to involve a partnership, which might chill some donors or potential donors who are reluctant to donate funds to governments, because over the years they have found that these people have perfected the art of looting funds, no matter what cause they are for.


The Deputy Secretary-General:   I think that built into the procedures for disbursement will be very strong support at the country level and monitoring mechanisms.  And I expect that the mode of funding will not be the same in every country.  In some countries where you have solid State institutions, where you already have a good health infrastructure, you may have a different form of funding than in countries where you have very weak State infrastructure, countries which are emerging from conflict.  There you might find funding going via either non-governmental organizations or local communities.  I do not think there will be a single model for the funding at the country level.  And I think that this was one of the elements:  a very strong consensus among all the participants -— which included, as I said, both developed and developing countries, and non-governmental organizations and foundations -- that the funding decisions should be based on the reality of the country in question, rather than on a kind of top-down uniform model decided by the fund management, if you wish.


Question:  I have only just glanced at the chart that is prepared here, but I wanted to ask what goodwill ambassadors and other high-profile civil-sector actors will be participating at various levels?


The Deputy Secretary-General:  I think that we will have several high-profile people participating in the various side events, in the various panels.  In addition, I think there is a large number of goodwill ambassadors who have volunteered to talk about the HIV/AIDS issue.  We have provided them with information materials.  So even those who will not be present next week will be helping out.


You have to remember that this is a campaign that will have to be sustained for a long, long time.  The special session is sort of giving a boost to this campaign.  It is going to give great visibility to the issue internationally, and I think it will help to mobilize political energies.  But beyond that, we and everybody will have to bear in mind that this is a battle that we will be fighting for years to come -- using the services, working in tandem with people who, by virtue of their celebrity, can have influence.  I think it is a very, very good way of maintaining attention on the issue.  So we are very grateful for all the goodwill ambassadors, for the work they are prepared to do.


I do not have the list myself of all the participants in the side events, but I am sure that the names will be provided.


Question(spoke in French):  Again, with respect to the fund, according to what criteria will the money be distributed and what share will go to prevention and what share to treatment?


The Deputy Secretary-General(spoke in French):  This has not yet been decided.  There is a whole set of issues which have yet to be resolved.  These include the access criteria and the criteria for distributing the funds.  The share —- I do not think there will be a fixed share reserved for prevention or for treatment.  At the Geneva meeting a few weeks ago, there was an agreement on the principle that this fund should provide support to an integrated strategy for fighting AIDS, and in an integrated strategy there are both preventive and treatment elements.  I think that this will vary from one country to another. There are countries that are now able to provide treatment.  I am thinking, for example, of Botswana, which recently announced a major treatment programme.  For other countries, perhaps, it is much more difficult; perhaps in these cases it will be necessary to stress prevention.  The board of the fund will have to

develop various criteria, but I do not think that it will come up with a set percentage.


Question:  Are you concerned that this conference could drown in words at the expense of action –- that there could be far more well intentioned talking, or even obfuscation of real differences, than concrete results?


The Deputy Secretary-General:  I am less concerned now than I would have been, say, six months ago, because I think we have seen a real change in international mobilization around the AIDS issue in the last six months, both in the affected countries and in the developed countries.  Six months ago, yes, everybody was conscious of the fact that there was an AIDS crisis, but there was nothing that compared with the amount of attention that is being paid to the issue now.  I think that the political leadership in parts of the world has really taken that on board.  If you look at the change in Africa, for instance, I think it is quite remarkable that you have more and more and more leaders who are truly and demonstrably committed to the fight.  In other parts of the world, I think that awareness is starting to rise.


So, I think the likelihood of the session having a real impact on real life is very good at this point, because the timing is good.  And certainly, if one judges the environment by the response given to the Secretary-General’s own campaign and his own appeal, it is quite remarkable.  That gives me a lot of confidence that this will be a session that really will make a difference.


Question:  A factual question:  how many people are we expecting, in total, at this conference?  Have you any idea?


The Deputy Secretary-General:  I do not know, but I think we will probably be near capacity.  I do not know how many thousands of people we can have in the Building at one time. There will be at least 3,000. There are 350 non-governmental organizations registered; I think the delegations will be fairly large.  Some will have delegations that will involve their health people and their development people.  It is a big event.


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For information media. Not an official record.