DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
AND THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT
Following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by
Fred Eckhard, Spokesman for the Secretary-General, and Djibril Diallo, Spokesman for the General Assembly President.
Spokesman for the Secretary-General
**Guest at Noon
Our guest at today’s briefing will be Kristin Hetle; she’s here in the front row. And she is the Chief of the UN Population Fund’s Media Services Branch. She will be talking about “Fistula Fortnight” in Nigeria, the largest surgical effort to treat women living with obstetric fistula.
**Statement Attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary-General
We’ll start the briefing with a statement on the earthquake in Iran:
“The Secretary-General is deeply saddened by the heavy loss of life and destruction suffered by the people of the Islamic Republic of Iran after the recent earthquake in Zarand, Kerman province. He extends his deepest condolences to the people and Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, especially to the families of the hundreds who have been killed and injured in the earthquake.
“The United Nations is organizing assessment missions to the affected region and stands ready to assist in efforts to respond to the humanitarian needs created by the disaster.”
**Statement on Lubbers - Issued Sunday
The second is a statement that we issued on Sunday on Mr. Lubbers that I will read into the record:
“The Secretary-General has accepted the resignation of Ruud Lubbers as High Commissioner for Refugees. He wants to take this opportunity to thank the High Commissioner for the devotion and the commitment he has shown to refugees and the Office of the High Commissioner over the past four years.
“However, the Secretary-General is convinced that it is in the best interest of UNHCR, its staff and the refugees it serves that the page be turned and a new chapter be started.
“While the Secretary-General had accepted legal advice that the original allegations made against Mr. Lubbers could not be substantiated, the continuing controversy has made the High Commissioner's position impossible. He is therefore pleased that Mr. Lubbers has made this decision in the wider interest of UNHCR.”
On that subject, the OIOS report on the High Commissioner has been leaked to the press, as you know. And we, therefore, think it only fair that we make available to you Mr. Lubbers’s defence. And you will find that document in my office.
The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, Ashraf Qazi, is continuing his consultations with the Iraqi leadership from across the political spectrum ahead of the National Assembly meeting.
Qazi held a number of separate meetings to discuss the UN’s role in promoting a broad-based national dialogue among all Iraqi political powers in implementation of its mandate under Security Council Resolution 1546.
These meetings included ones with the Interim Iraqi Minister of Planning, Mahdi Hafed; Hussein al-Shahristani, a leading member of the United Iraqi Coalition; and Farouq Abdel Rahman, Head of the Iraqi Turkoman Front.
At 3 o’clock this afternoon, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Kieran Prendergast, will brief the Security Council on the Middle East in an open meeting. That meeting will be followed by consultations, also on the Middle East.
We have available on the racks, today as well, an exchange of letters between the Secretary-General and the President of the Security Council, concerning the establishment of an independent Commission of Experts to examine the human rights violations that took place in East Timor in 1999.
Late on Friday afternoon, we announced that the Secretary-General would be sending a team to Beirut pursuant to the request of the Security Council that he urgently report on the circumstances, causes and consequences of the killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri.
The team will be led by Peter Fitzgerald, a Deputy Police Commissioner of the Irish national police force. It will consist of staff with relevant experience.
The team will make contact with Lebanese officials and others to gather such information as necessary for the Secretary-General to report to the Council in a timely manner.
Over the weekend we received a letter from the Lebanese authorities pledging their support for the work of the UN team. We expect the team to deploy to Beirut very shortly.
The UN Mission in Haiti has helped return three prisoners to Haiti’s national penitentiary after a mass escape this past weekend.
The trio includes former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune and former interior minister Jocelerme Privert. They left the jail during the break out, and later asked the UN Mission to return them to jail in safety.
The Mission has deplored the break out, which occurred on Saturday when armed men attacked the jail, and in the process, allowed almost 500 prisoners to escape.
The UN Mission has offered the Haitian Transitional Government its full support in finding the escapees, and welcomed the Government’s decision to set up an independent inquiry into the jail incident -- it hopes that it’ll make the results of its investigations public as soon as possible.
We have more on that story upstairs.
**Statement on Togo – Issued Saturday
On Saturday we issued the following statement regarding the situation in Togo:
“The Secretary-General is concerned that talks between the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Togolese authorities on the country's constitutional crisis have not advanced. He notes that ECOWAS has consequently suspended Togo from the regional body. The Secretary-General reiterates his call for continued and urgent efforts to find a peaceful solution consistent with constitutional order and the rule of law.”
And that was also issued in French.
The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, is sending a 15-member emergency team to southern Sudan, to start urgently-needed reintegration projects to prepare for the return of more than half a million Sudanese refugees from neighbouring countries.
Refugees in those countries have told UNHCR that they are reluctant to return to a region that almost totally lacks infrastructure and basic services following more than two decades of conflict. The reintegration projects are aimed at putting in place conditions for the refugees to return home.
We have more details in today’s UNHCR briefing notes from Geneva.
Meanwhile, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Sudan,
Jan Pronk, is returning today from a visit to Rumbek, south Sudan, where he met with the leadership of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement, including its Chairman, John Garang.
While in Rumbek, Pronk discussed administrative and operational issues with the UN Country Team there, including preparations for spontaneous and organized returns, protection issues and issues pertaining to recovery.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that cereal resources in Ethiopia are expected to run out by March. Meanwhile, only 26 per cent of the distributions of emergency food assistance scheduled in January were allocated.
This month, 2.4 million Ethiopians are in need of food aid, a figure that will rise to an estimated 2.9 million in March and 3.1 million in April. Only 22 per cent of the total food requirements for the year are available and will remain largely uncovered unless new contributions are received, the UN Office warns.
Meanwhile, the number of internally displaced persons resulting from conflicts associated with the recent referendum between the Oromiya and Somali regions continues to increase, with more outbreaks of violence this week.
Afghanistan has made remarkable progress since the fall of the Taliban, but it still suffers from poor human development and risks becoming a failed State once again. That is the outlook from the first Afghanistan Human Development Report put out by the UN Development Programme (UNDP).
The report ranks Afghanistan as 173rd out of 178 nations in terms of human development. Afghanistan’s life expectancy -- at 44.5 years -- is at least
20 years lower than that in neighbouring countries, while its education system, according to the report, is the worst in the world.
At the same time, the report says that the Afghan economy has recovered significantly since the Taliban’s fall. By 2004, some 54 per cent of primary age children were in school, while more schools and public spaces have been opened to women.
More information on this report is available on the UNDP web site.
Finally, a report from the United Nations Environment Programme presents recommendations on how to reduce the vulnerability of countries to future coastal hazards. The report says that the destruction caused by the recent tsunami in south Asia offers an opportunity to rebuild in a manner that preserves natural resources for the benefit of the local communities that were hardest hit by the disaster.
And there is more on that in a press release.
That’s all I have for you.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Fred, do you know what the timeline is for the special investigative team that’s going to Lebanon?
Spokesman: No, except that the Secretary-General hopes that they can report back quickly and they will be going with that accelerated timetable very much on their mind.
Question: And are they going to report back to him and then that’s going to the Security Council, or how does it work?
Spokesman: That’s the standard procedure, yes.
Question: Fred, were you surprised that your resignation has been accepted or were you expecting it? I hear it’s mainly due to a conflict in styles with Mark Malloch Brown?
Spokesman: No, it had nothing to do with a conflict with
Mark Malloch Brown. I wanted to give the Secretary-General the option of making a change now. With the arrival of Mark, of course, there is already a noticeable change in how we handle our communications.
Was I surprised? I think I was relieved. And I think the
Secretary-General has a very good instinctive sense of the people who work for him and he picked up how profoundly tired I am. So he asked me to stay through the end of June and I agreed. And after that I’ll be a free man, thank you very much.
Question: Fred, there is a growing feeling among some of the delegates that I have talked to that, in fact, Mr. Mark Malloch Brown has become the
de facto Secretary-General and most of the decisions are being made by him. The Secretary-General is just rubber-stamping them.
Spokesman: Oh I don’t think that’s an accurate reading at all, if you know anything about the Secretary-General and how he operates. His choice of Mark Malloch Brown, I think, reflected his sense that the UN needed to get upfront and more aggressive in defending itself against an increasingly hostile segment of the media and the political spectrum.
Mark Malloch Brown is a very outgoing personality, as you know from having met him. It’s easy to see how he would get plenty of media notice. And that, indeed, is part of his job description that the Secretary-General has given him.
But taking over? No way.
Question: No Chef de Cabinet before him has been so bold and made decisions at that level before...
Spokesman: The position of Chef de Cabinet is a very powerful one, and different people carry out their responsibilities in that post in different ways. The predecessor, Mr. Riza, was a consummate diplomat and you hardly ever saw him. It didn’t mean that he didn’t have a significant role to play.
That’s why the Secretary-General picks a very close confidant as
Chef de Cabinet, because it is such a powerful position.
Question: So was it then Mark Malloch Brown who was the one who decided to be, as you described him, upfront and aggressive about Ruud Lubbers? That it was time to get going on Ruud Lubbers?
Spokesman: You’ll have to make that judgement. But I think the Secretary-General has struggled with this decision from the very beginning. As you will see, now that we have released Mr. Lubbers’ defence, including a legal defence by Max van der Stoel, the distinguished Dutch jurist who did a paper for Mr. Lubbers at his request, you’ll see the difficulty that the Secretary-General faced.
It’s also his style not to act aggressively. And so, I think he moved slowly and steadily to bring about this desired result that happened over the weekend.
I am not sure that it’s Mark Malloch Brown’s hand that made that happen. I think it’s the Secretary-General’s determination to see a situation that was growing increasingly painful for UNHCR and its staff resolved in a way that would allow that agency to get on with its important work.
Question: And Lubbers says he’ll stay on until a replacement is found there. What’s the time frame for this?
Spokesman: The Secretary-General told me this morning that he expects that this process will be transparent and rapid. So I can’t predict a specific date, but he’ll be moving quickly.
Question: Is this one of those regional rotation jobs, or how does this work?
Spokesman: I don’t believe regional rotation comes into it. I think, as I have already said from this platform, major contributors to UNHCR tend to be those who put forward names of candidates for High Commissioner. But I don’t think the Secretary-General feels locked into that formula or any formula. He’ll be looking for the best person.
Finished? One more?
Question: Yeah, just one more question. I think Annan had promised that there would be a report coming out on Dileep Nair after the Staff Council had submitted some comments to him, or they would take up...(inaudible), apparently the Staff Council did that on Friday. What’s the plan for reporting on
Spokesman: I haven’t heard that the Staff Council did that on Friday. We had not heard from them, apart from a letter that they had sent seeming to say that, as long as we did not reopen the investigation into Mr. Nair before receiving anything from them, they had no intention of submitting further substantiated claims against him.
Frankly, we didn’t see the justice of that. So we were not about to
reopen the investigation until someone, in this case, or in the first case, the Staff Council, had come forward with substantiated claims against him.
And to my knowledge, they haven’t. If something happened on Friday, I’ll have to confirm that for you and then give you a reaction.
[He later confirmed that a letter from the Staff Council was received on Friday specifying allegations against Mr. Nair. The Secretary-General would study the letter and then decide, in consultation with the Staff Council, whether to reopen the investigation.]
Question: The team that’s going to Beirut, does it have a mandate broad enough to follow it; to see it as a political assassination rather than as a crime? And if so, will it have access to intelligence or to staffing capable of dealing with a probe that might involve Syria or any of the militias currently operating in Lebanon?
Spokesman: I don’t think they go with any preconceived notion of the nature of the killing of Mr. Hariri. If you know Mr. Fitzgerald, he is a very distinguished police commissioner who has worked on a number of UN peacekeeping missions and has also done investigative work for us before. So I think you will see a police action looking at evidence and trying to reconstitute how this crime was committed and, if possible, who committed it.
They’re starting in Lebanon. And if they feel they need to go wider than Lebanon as part of the inquiry, they will do so.
Question: Fred, just a follow up on that, I’m sorry, Fred.
Question: Did Annan speak to the Syrians about this investigation? The Lebanese have obviously said that they welcome this. But did Annan have any conversations with the Syrians or anyone...(Inaudible)?
Spokesman: I’ll have to look into that for you. I don’t know that.
Kristin, why don’t you come up then and talk to us about fistula?
Spokesman for General Assembly President
Fifty-eight speakers are taking part in the informal meeting of the plenary of the General Assembly on the findings and recommendations of the United Nations Millennium Project 2005 and on the High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change. Again, for your own reference, the two document numbers are A/59/565 and A/59/565/corr.1.
The meeting was opened by President Jean Ping and he, by way of background, recalled that the General Assembly had already had separate exchanges of views on the two reports. And, in the course of the informal consultations, Member States have expressed their views on the wide range of findings and recommendations contained in the reports.
Subsequent to the latest exchanges of views, as you will recall, which took place on 10-11 February 2005, President Jean Ping sent a letter to all Member States, a letter dated 16 February 2005, in which he suggested four clusters, namely: peace and security; development; rule of the law and protecting the vulnerable; and strengthening the United Nations institutional reform - these four clusters as a basis for informal consultations for today’s meeting on both reports. In the same letter, the President of the
General Assembly laid out a distribution of labour for the 10 facilitators. There are 10 facilitators who have been appointed in this connection. And he laid out a division of labour for the 10, according to the topics, while stressing that the group of facilitators, as a whole, should operate as one entity and (inaudible) general responsibility for all reform issues. Furthermore, the facilitators would serve as regional focal points. A list containing all the facilitators was attached to the letter from the President of the General Assembly.
Before opening the floor, President Jean Ping recalled that according to the schedule, this informal session today represented the final round of consultations on these reports and that the General Assembly will start the substantive phase of consultations once the Secretary-General has presented his comprehensive report to the General Assembly in March.
The second item has to do with cloning.
The Sixth Committee concluded its work on Friday 18 in the afternoon, when it recommended to the General Assembly the adoption of a declaration on human cloning. The Declaration would call on Member States to prohibit all forms of human cloning inasmuch as they are incompatible with human dignity and the protection of human life.
The Committee approved, by a vote of 71 in favour to 35 against with
43 abstentions, a draft resolution entitled, “United Nations Declaration on Human Cloning”. The draft resolution was the result of negotiations by the Working Group, which, as you will remember again, was established to finalize a common text. And I would like to give you the document number for your own reference. It is A/C.6/59/L.27/Add.1
The draft resolution also called on Member States to adopt all measures necessary to protect adequately human life in the application of life sciences, and to prohibit the application of genetic engineering techniques that may be contrary to human dignity.
Again for your own background, you will recall that on 19 November 2004, the Committee averted a divisive vote at the time on the question of an international convention against human reproductive cloning by deciding to take up the issue again as a declaration at a February session. It was Italy that then introduced a resolution containing a declaration on human cloning, which essentially replaced two earlier texts that aimed at a treaty, one proposed by Costa Rica and the other by Belgium.
The General Assembly, on the recommendation of the Sixth Committee in December 2004, established a Working Group to finalize the text of a
United Nations declaration on human cloning, using draft resolution A/C.6/59/L.26. And that draft resolution was presented by Italy. And the General Assembly also asked the Working Group to report to the Sixth Committee in February.
The Committee adopted its provisional programme of work for its sixtieth session.
And I’d like to end this briefing by giving you a quote from the Chairman of the Committee, Chairman from Morocco. His name is Mohamed Bennouna. He said it was important that the Committee had adopted the declaration on cloning, which marked the end of one stage in the debate. “It is what it is, with its weaknesses and strengths.”
That’s all I have for you.
Questions and Answers
Question: (inaudible)... and also went and met with Mr. Jean Ping. And after having a position paper on the (inaudible)... Now, these facilitators that you’re talking about, will they be also involved in, what you call, ... as some sort of a compromise towards which models to adapt, as far as the reforms are concerned?
Spokesman for General Assembly President: Yes, the role of the facilitator is to strengthen the open-door policy by the President; to have as many consultations as possible with Member States, including the ones that you mentioned. And you will recall also, just by way of addition to your question, that over the weekend there have been media reports about the Africans meeting, and again, giving their own views. The intention of the President of the General Assembly is that all Member States should be given as many opportunities to give their views as possible. And then all of those views are put together with the help of the 10 facilitators and, among other things, shared with the Secretary-General to help him prepare his own report to come out in March.
Question: ...(inaudible) meeting separately to have their positions on the Security Council reforms and...?
Spokesman for General Assembly President: Yes, on the Security Council reform and the reform of the United Nations following a summit that was held in Abuja, Nigeria. Yes?
Question: On cloning, Djibril, I listened to that debate on Friday. I don’t see how you could, in any way, call it a compromise that declaration, since as many people either abstained or voted against as voted for. Under those circumstances, you would never get a treaty on aspects of it, including cloning of human life, unless they start from scratch again. What’s the next step? The Assembly is going to probably approve the same statement. And then where does it go? It just hangs in limbo? Because nobody is going to change legislation or adhere to this.
Spokesman for General Assembly President: I hesitate to answer you because, Evelyn you’ve followed this question very, very closely over a long time.
Question: The dynamic of it eludes me right now.
Spokesman for General Assembly President: Right.
Question: They seem to be stuck in nowhere.
Spokesman for General Assembly President: But, strictly speaking, the Committee approved the draft resolution. Therefore, the next step, once it’s adopted by the General Assembly, is to move to its implementation phase. Like everything else, from this podium, I have given you examples of negotiations that have gone on for decades and then have come forward. But in this case, at least according to the Committee and the Chairman, it marks the outcome of one phase, which is, we do have a resolution with a vote of 71 in favour, 35 against and 43 abstentions.
Question: That is not a consensus. That can’t be implemented.
Spokesman for General Assembly President: Seventy-one people were in favour and 35 were against.
Question: You can’t implement this worldwide with that kind of a vote.
Spokesman for General Assembly President: I’ll leave that interpretation to you because, as I said, you have followed this very closely.
Question: It’s what everyone said from the floor -- the Islamic nations, the Belgians and the British. It’s not my interpretation. It would be a nicer story if something were implemented.
Spokesman for General Assembly President: All right, I take note of your comments.
Okay, thank you.
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