|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Daily press briefing by the officeS of the spokesman for the secretary-general
and the spokesperson for the general assembly president
Following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General, and Pragati Pascale, the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President.
Briefing by Spokesman for Secretary-General
Good afternoon. Our guest, as soon as I’m done and Pragati is done, will be Inga-Britt Ahlenius, Under-Secretary-General for Internal Oversight Services, and she’ll be joining us to brief you on the annual Internal Oversight Services report to the General Assembly.
*South Asia Quake
According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), aftershocks are continuing to traumatize earthquake survivors in northern regions of Pakistan, and have triggered further landslides in remote and high altitude areas.
Relief supplies are starting to arrive, although about 20 per cent of hard-hit areas have not yet been reached. Over the next three days, assessment missions will be flying into those areas to evaluate people’s needs. Currently, there is still a huge need for winterized tents, and the World Health Organization warns that the lack of safe drinking water has become a major health risk for the victims.
Meanwhile, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), reports at least three cargo flights arrived overnight in Islamabad from Dubai and Jordan, and a fourth is expected today. In addition, a UNHCR-World Food Programme (WFP) truck convoy carrying tents, plastic sheets, blankets and jerry cans from warehouses in Kabul arrived last night in the town of Peshawar and is being offloaded for distribution.
For its part, the UN Population Fund has sent six mobile units into two hard-hit towns, all including female doctors, nurses and midwives, serving an average of 250 patients per day. One of the teams delivered three babies on its first day of operations at a Government-run field hospital.
So far $60 million has been pledged or committed to the UN flash appeal. That is less than a quarter of what the UN requested. The UN’s Emergency Relief Coordinator, Jan Egeland, will hold a high-level meeting in Geneva on 26 October, to garner more financial support for the appeal.
The Security Council today at 3:00 will hold formal meetings, followed by consultations, on Haiti. Council members will receive a briefing by the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for that country, Juan Gabriel Valdés.
The Council is also expected to adopt a Presidential Statement on Haiti, and Ambassador Valdés intends to talk to you after the meeting at the Security Council stakeout.
The Council is also scheduled this afternoon to vote on a resolution on Côte d’Ivoire, extending the mandate of the Group of Experts dealing with sanctions in that country.
* Côte d’Ivoire
Also on Côte d’Ivoire, the Chairman of the UN Sanctions Committee, Ambassador Vassilakis, arrived in Abidjan today for a three-day visit. He will meet with a wide variety of official and unofficial groups in several areas of the country.
According to Resolution 1572 passed last year, the Security Council has authorized targeted sanctions against anyone found to have violated human rights, broken the UN arms embargo there, blocked the peace process or incited hatred. Thus far no sanctions have been applied by the Security Council.
Ambassador Vassilakis will return to New York later this week, and will be reporting back to the Council. We have a press release available upstairs.
We’ve been telling in recent days about the situation in Eritrea, having to do with the ongoing ban by the Eritrean authorities on UN helicopter flights. One example of how UN peacekeepers have been affected by that ban: three UN peacekeepers from the UN Mission were injured, one in the head, in a road accident in the Temporary Security Zone. Following the accident, the UN Mission requested Eritrean authorities for permission for an aerial medical evacuation on humanitarian grounds. As of Tuesday morning, there had been no response from the authorities.
The evacuation of the soldier, therefore, had to be undertaken by road for an eight-hour trip under very difficult conditions. The group reached Asmara earlier today and they are being treated at the UN hospital there.
Out on the racks today are proposed changes to existing staff regulations on the issue of financial disclosure and sexual abuse.
As part of a continuing effort to increase accountability of UN staff and ascertain potential conflict of interest, the new rules will call for financial disclosure forms to be completed by anyone at the director level and above.
In addition, the Secretary-General would be granted the authority to ask staff of a lower grade but who work in the finance or procurement to also fill out such forms.
On the issue of sexual abuse, the new rules would clarify that sexual abuse and sexual exploitation constitute serious misconduct. The current rules specify that the Secretary-General may summarily dismiss anyone found to have committed serious misconduct, but does not specifically mention sexual abuse or exploitation.
The changes now need to be considered and approved by the General Assembly, so they can come into effect on 1 January of next year.
The Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, José Antonio Ocampo, will travel to Bolivia tomorrow, in his capacity as the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy to the country, to assess the current situation and the ways the UN can help support Bolivia.
Ocampo will meet with the President, as well as with presidential candidates and leaders of civil society organizations. He is to return to New York by the end of the week.
* El Salvador
We also have an update from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) on the situation in El Salvador, which has been dealing with flooding, landslides and a volcanic eruption. OCHA says the emergency is still not over, and further international assistance is required.
The World Food Programme (WFP) is working with the Government and the military to plan for a second round of food distribution, and the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) have worked with the Government to provide care to nearly 15,000 survivors and to establish a network of nutritionists to address food safety and prevent food poisoning.
Out on the racks today is the Secretary-General’s report on women, peace and security. The report makes specific recommendations for all UN agencies on how they can better implement the resolution passed in 2000 aimed at protecting women from the impact of war and insecurity. It also specifies areas where inter-agency and intergovernmental action would be most effective.
*World Food Programme
And a couple more items. The World Food Programme (WFP) warned today that, due to a shortfall of $4 million, food aid to 130,000 Azerbaijanis displaced by the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict could come to a complete halt in just three weeks’ time.
We also have upstairs a press release from WFP expressing concern about thousands of refugees from the Central African Republic who are currently living in Chad.
The Department of Public Information (DPI) would like us to invite you all to a preview of a documentary called “A Workshop for Peace”, which is the story of the creation of the UN headquarters complex, at 1:15 this afternoon in Conference Room 4. The screening will be followed by a Q&A session with the film’s producer and director, Peter Rosen. I think this film is then scheduled to air on PBS later.
We will also have two press briefings for you tomorrow. First, an update on the UN’s humanitarian response to the earthquake in South Asia, as well as an operational briefing from the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) on what is going on in the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE). We will let you know exactly what time those two briefings will take place.
And at 3:00 today, the Canadian Mission will be sponsoring a press conference by the NGO Act for Stolen Children to announce an international campaign to raise awareness of the humanitarian crisis in northern Uganda and to provide recommendations for the peaceful resolution of the conflict.
I’ve been asked to make an announcement by the United Nations Correspondents Association (UNCA) that the deadline for submitting entries to the tenth annual UNCA Awards for coverage of the UN, its agencies and field operations is 22 October.
There will be awards for print, online, and broadcast media, as well as an award for coverage of the humanitarian development aspects of the UN’s work. The details for submitting can be found at UNCA.com.
Lastly, last week when it was raining, we were talking to you about leaks, lots of leaks in this building. Since it’s no longer raining, I can now brief you on some electrical problems we had today.
We’ve been told that some of the electrical equipment in the Secretariat Building has been overheating, which makes it necessary to reduce power consumption in the building.
Elevator service has been reduced, as has heating, ventilation and air conditioning from the 21st floor through the 40th floor, until further notice.
As soon as the situation permits, the electrician folks will be gradually restoring services. That’s it for me. Any questions?
**Questions and Answers
Question: I just wanted to clarify. You said that Mr. Egeland is holding this donors’ conference on the 26th. According to all other reports, it’s the 24th. Then, also the figure that is being said by OCHA is 34, although it has gone much higher than that in Pakistan.
Spokesman: All right, we’ll get an exact update from OCHA and a clarification on the exact date of the meeting. [The exact date is the 26th]
Question: Was Secretary Rice here for breakfast with Mr. Annan this morning?
Spokesman: Yes, they met.
Question: And why didn’t we know until I asked?
Spokesman: It was a private meeting. They met this morning for breakfast at the residence. The Secretary-General briefed the Secretary of State on his recent contact with Latin American leaders in Spain, and she also briefed him on her recent trip to Europe. They had a discussion on a number of issues, including Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Ethiopia and Sudan.
Question: How long was that meeting?
Spokesman: It was a breakfast meeting. I’ll get you an exact time. It was this morning.
Question: Was it a secret? (inaudible)
Spokesman: It was meant to be a private meeting.
Question: Lebanese MPs are calling for an international tribunal into the assassination of Hariri following Mehlis’ report, and the United States has expressed support for this plea. Was this discussed during the meeting today between Rice and Annan, and can you tell us if the Security Council is discussing this issue, is discussing establishing an international tribunal?
Spokesman: I think those discussions will follow the report of Mr. Mehlis to the Council, and I don’t have any other detail about what exactly the Secretary-General and the Secretary of State discussed during their breakfast meeting.
Question: Just another question. Lebanon and Syria are discussing right now the drawing of the borders between the two countries. Do you think the United Nations will have a role in that, because there is the issue of Shabaa Farms, which is a disputed area? Any comments on that, do you think this is…?
Spokesman: We’ve encouraged Lebanon and Syria to discuss the delineation of the border between them, but as far as I know, we have not received any request for assistance.
Question: On the financial disclosure forms that you outlined to us today, are those forms going to be public as is normally the case in every national jurisdiction and, if not, why not? That’s the first question…
Spokesman: The forms once they’ve been filled out?
Spokesman: I don’t know, and…
Spokesman: I’m just trying to get details on the questions, Nick. I will find out for you.
Question: OK, and also will they include some circumstances that have arisen? For instance, we had the case of Gillian Sorensen, whose husband was retained by somebody who’s pleaded guilty to being a legal foreign agent for Iraq, who was representing that person in relation to the oil-for-food programme, so that was a situation where the UN official herself wasn’t receiving any retainer from this person, but her husband was. Will they [the staff regulations] cover that situation? Will they also cover the situation where a senior UN official might get lower than the market price accommodation from somebody who has an interest in influencing the UN? Will they also cover, for instance, receiving cut-price accommodation from somebody?
Spokesman: The forms themselves are still being developed, but they will cover not only the staff member but the spouse, as well as dependent children.
Question: Second question about payments-in-kind?
Spokesman: As I said, the forms themselves are still being developed.
Question: On the mystery meeting this morning between two of the world’s leading diplomats, do you have any sense of how much Syria was a part of that discussion? Rice has been making, this has been huge on her agenda. I know you might not have that much detail, but it would help if we can have a sense of what dominated their discussion, what was just discussed briefly.
Spokesman: What I can tell you is that Syria was discussed, and I’ll see if I can get you any more detail on how much it was discussed.
Question: A couple of questions. One, when you say it was a private meeting, what is the sense of that? Does that mean that it’s a meeting that had no official business at it because obviously…
Spokesman: No, no, it’s a meeting. It was a tête-à-tête. It was just the two of them without any other officials.
Question: You weren’t there.
Question: On Ethiopia and Eritrea, yesterday the Secretary-General seemed to say that if Eritrea didn’t want to cooperate with the peacekeeping Mission, that the peacekeeping Mission might pull out, and today Joseph Legwaila apparently said no, no, they had no intention of pulling out. I think, particularly in light of the incident today, when the Eritrean Government seemed to show no concern about a wounded peacekeeper, who is correct there and why?
Spokesman: I think they’re both correct. The Secretary-General was taking a bit more of a long-term view on the issue. In response to a question at a press conference in Asmara, Joseph Legwaila said a decision had not been made yet, but if we’re not allowed to discharge our mandate or if one or both parties makes it impossible to operate, then the Mission would have no option but to withdraw. We’re not at that point yet, but we definitely continue to be extremely concerned about the way we’re able to run our operation.
Question: When Ambassador Legwaila met with us here three or four years ago, he was very optimistic, and he said that the issue between Ethiopia and Eritrea would be resolved very soon. I wonder if he still holds those views at the present time. And also, there are indications that UN troops have withdrawn from the borders and are regrouping. Can you confirm that?
Spokesman: Yes, we announced that yesterday, that a number of outposts had been thinned out for exactly the reasons that we’ve stated, that we can’t resupply them and the continuing presence of these peacekeepers without any helicopter coverage makes it very dangerous for them.
Question: Two questions on Iraq. The allegations about fraud in the poll. How seriously is the UN taking those allegations? What’s being done about that? That’s my first question.
Spokesman: And your second question?
Question: My second question is that we hear that Ashraf Qazi didn’t attend any of those negotiations, and that most of those negotiations were actually US-driven. Can you just outline…
Spokesman: Which negotiations?
Question: Leading up to the vote on the Constitution. Can you just outline what he’s actually been doing with regard to those negotiations?
Spokesman: On your second question, for the amendments that were made shortly before the vote, we did not participate in those discussions, but we were kept informed. The head of Mr. Qazi’s constitutional team, Fink Haysom, participated in advice on the elaboration of the constitution further up the process. As far as the reports of fraud are concerned, we’re not in a position to reach any conclusion at this point. We share the concern expressed by the Iraqi Independent Electoral Commission about some of these reports. They are looking into it, but the referendum itself, the organization of the referendum, is being led by the Iraqis, and we will support them in any way that we can. The Iraqi Independent Electoral Commission is looking into these reports.
Question: Can you tell us, there was apparently a decision made by the tribunal looking into the Stephanides case. Can you tell us what that decision is?
Spokesman: No, I don’t have any information on that, but if I do, I will share it with you.
Question: When you (inaudible) disclosure forms, it seems to me quite unlikely that somebody who has a front company in Antigua, as Mr. Yakovlev admitted and as Mr. Kuznetsov is charged with having, is going to write on his form that yes, I have a front company to receive illegal payments in Antigua. So what further steps is the UN taking? Is there any consideration of what’s done on a national level, which is vetting UN officials for the positions they’re in?
Spokesman: These financial disclosure forms are to be seen as part of a broader effort to tighten what had been our ethics and financial disclosure rules. Are we going to be in a position to ensure ourselves 100 per cent or 101 per cent that no one will ever defraud this organization? I think not, and no organization can, but we are trying to have better financial disclosure forms. We’ve got the creation of an ethics office, better training of staff on issues of personal ethics. I’m sure our colleagues from Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) will brief you on what they are doing, but is this an ironclad insurance that we will never have a case of fraud? It’s not, but we are trying to tighten the system and make it more difficult.
Question: My point, Stéphane, was that the proposed new changes don’t even address the problems as we know them to exist at the moment. Isn’t it more window dressing after the fact, and isn’t it better that the UN try to investigate some system of vetting, as is done in most national Governments, to ensure that there is more probity among UN officials?
Spokesman: We would do whatever we can to increase, as you said, the “probity among UN officials”. I’m not convinced we have the capacity or the police powers to vet. What we do have is an Office of Internal Oversight, which routinely audits and checks up on the various departments and, accompanying that, we will have, as I said, better ethics training and we will have better financial disclosure.
Question: Just to follow up on this. Is there any legal standing to those disclosure forms? Meaning: can someone be prosecuted afterwards for non-disclosure if we found out that he wrote in his disclosure, or her disclosure, form that she has a Citibank account in New York, and it turns out that she has a huge…
Spokesman: If someone lies on a financial disclosure form, it is obviously something that will be addressed administratively by the UN. If that person is still a staff member, there will be an administrative follow-up.
Question: Only if they’re…(inaudible)
Spokesman: But listen, if you let me finish my answer, then maybe I can try to express myself. If we find out a crime is committed, then obviously that will be handed over to competent national authorities. We do not prosecute crimes.
Question: Will it be a crime to not disclose?
Spokesman: It will be an infringement on UN staff rules not to disclose. If a crime has been committed, if a staff member has committed a financial crime or fraud, then we will forward that information to the relevant national authorities, as we’ve done in the past.
Spokesman: Hold on, let me just go to Massoud for a second.
Question: Given all these questions about staff rule changes and everything else, I think it’s absolutely essential that Under-Secretary-General for Management Mr. Burnham finally come over here and tell us, explain to us what is happening, more so than now.
Spokesman: Trust me, no one more than me would like that.
Question: Isn’t there an argument then for making UN financial disclosure forms subject to some kind of national perjury jurisdictions, for instance the perjury jurisdiction of the nation of the UN employee?
Spokesman: You’re going into legal territory which I’m not very confident to answer on and these hypothetical legal questions, which would probably contradict whatever the clauses of the Convention on the Immunity, of the protections of the Organization, but I…
Question: The Secretary-General has the ability to waive diplomatic immunity in relation to anything he wants. Should he not waive diplomatic immunity in relation to perjury on disclosure of financial interests?
Spokesman: If we uncover that a crime has been committed or a financial mis..
Question: Including perjury. We’re talking about perjury.
Spokesman: If one does not fill out a UN form properly, it is a violation of staff rules, which can ultimately lead to dismissal.
Question: Just two quick questions. Can you give us an update on Carina Perelli, now that the elections are over and she’s possibly coming back, and also on Stephanides, if the administrative tribunal does rule in his favour and clear him, is the Secretary-General prepared to rehire him or clear his name?
Spokesman: It’s a hypothetical question. We’d have to see what the, I’m not even aware of the results of that first hearing. On Carina Perelli, she is continuing in Iraq right now, and the issues between her and the Office of Human Resources Management (OHRM) also continue.
Question: A couple of months ago, you mentioned an investigation into the procurement department, and I believe that Andrew Toh was temporarily removed from procurement while this was going on. Has that been resolved yet and, if not, when?
Spokesman: I think I will let my colleagues from OIOS answer that.
Question: I just wanted to double-check the status of Mr. Kuznetsov. Is it true that the UN originally hadn’t removed his pay, but upon the decision by Russia to pay for his legal fees, the UN has now removed his pay, and what is his status now under the UN? Is he still a UN official, or what is it?
Spokesman: The only thing I know is that he’s been indicted, and I will get you an update on him.
Question: In regards to the Eritrean Government, you say that the United Nations will wait and see whether this is viable, the mission (inaudible). How long do (inaudible), and what will it take to make that (inaudible)? Secondly, there is this sabre-rattling going on down there between Ethiopia and Eritrea…
Spokesman: There is what? Sorry.
Question: There is increased propaganda going on down there between Ethiopia and Eritrea, and there is also … in an interview on Saturday, the Prime Minister of Ethiopia said that his forces have been deployed in a defensive position (inaudible). Is there a real threat of war right now between the two countries, and what will the Secretary-General do? He has his own Special Envoy, (inaudible). Will he call upon him?
Spokesman: I think on the issue of how long we can stay, obviously if this continues, on a day-by-day basis, we’re continuing to take a very hard and critical look at our usefulness in staying there. As for the other issues you mentioned, we would encourage both sides to refrain from using any sort of propaganda to incite the situation, but obviously still a political solution needs to be found.
Question: You’ve said, in the past, that the Secretary-General accepts the Volcker report. I wonder whether that’s still the position, and particularly whether it’s still the position, the Secretary-General accepts, the passage in the report that says his personal assistant, Wagaye Assebe, passed “insider information” to his son?
Spokesman: Yes, the Secretary-General, his position on the Volcker report has not changed, and you can go back to what he said and I have nothing to add to that. There were absolutely no adverse findings against Ms. Assebe in the report.
Question: As we speak, children and old people are dying in the mountain villages of Pakistan, and Pakistan, as you know, has asked India to provide helicopters. India is ready to do that, but Pakistan says they cannot have Indian pilots driving those helicopters. Can the UN, at this stage, intervene by providing international pilots or bring in pilots from countries friendly to Pakistan to resolve the problem?
Spokesman: That’s a good question. I’ll follow up with OCHA to see if they’re doing anything on that issue.
Question: Do you know when Larsen is going to hand in his report to the Secretary-General and when the report is going to go to the Security Council?
Spokesman: Mr. Larsen will be back in New York probably tomorrow, at which point we’ll have a little further detail on the schedule for his report going to the Secretary-General and then going on to the Security Council.
Question: And, if I may go back to Iraq for a moment, the Independent Commission, how likely is the Secretary-General to actually back up the verdict of the Commission, even in the face of some Sunni opposition to the results?
Spokesman: I think we need to let the Commission do its work and investigate the reports that have come in, but it is not up to us to validate the results of the referendum.
Question: Just to be certain on the UN spokesman in Beirut Friji situation because reports said yesterday that he was relieved from his position, but today, in a quote in the Daily Star, he said that he’s still the UN spokesman in Beirut, so what is the situation exactly?
Spokesman: Yes, he continues to hold that job. For his own safety, and his own safety only, he was removed from Beirut and he has been temporarily reassigned to Mr. van Walsum in Western Sahara and he will probably go on to Tunis for a while.
Question: Was he threatened? Was his life threatened? What was the nature of the threat?
Spokesman: It was a decision made by our security people that it would be best for him to leave Beirut for the time being.
Question: But there are other United Nations officials in Beirut…
Spokesman: I understand that, but obviously these threats are taken very seriously…
Question: So he was threatened.
Spokesman: Yes, that’s what I… These security situations are taken very seriously and it was felt that it was best for him to be removed.
Question: One further question, who are you talking about?
Spokesman: Nejib Friji, who is the head of the UN information office in Beirut.
Question: What is the nature of the threat?
Spokesman: It has to do with the ongoing situation in Lebanon, and the security situation regarding Mr. Friji was deemed serious enough for him to be removed.
Question: So it was a personal threat, not against the office in general of the UN?
Spokesman: No, it was for him.
Question: Just on Zimbabwe, does the Secretary-General share Mr. Mugabe’s opinion that Tony Blair and George Bush are “unholy men”, or does he share Tony Blair and George Bush’s opinion that Mr. Mugabe is presiding over a disaster in his own country. And just to follow up on that, what’s the latest in terms of UN efforts to try and get some movement on the political front in Zimbabwe?
Spokesman: I don’t have any update for you on the political front, and I think the Secretary-General’s views on Zimbabwe were made pretty clear when he received and handed over the Tibaijuka report. Thank you very much. Pragati, go ahead.
Briefing by Spokesperson for General Assembly President
This morning the General Assembly is holding informal consultations of the plenary on the Human Rights Council, at which Member States are discussing the possible mandate and functions of the Council.
At yesterday’s consultations on the Peacebuilding Commission, there was a positive spirit and constructive dialogue by video-link with senior officials from the field, including the Special Representatives of the Secretary-General from Burundi, Haiti and Liberia. Interventions were made by a number of countries that had recently experienced conflict, including Guatemala, Rwanda and Sierra Leone. Tomorrow the two Co-Chairs, the Ambassadors of Denmark and Tanzania, are expected to send a letter to all delegations along with a paper setting out various options for the Commission. We will make that available to you. The next meeting is scheduled for Friday morning.
To follow up on the elections yesterday for the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), for the four seats allotted to Latin America and the Caribbean, the countries elected were Cuba, Guyana, Haiti and Paraguay.
Most of the Main Committees are continuing their work today. In the Sixth Committee, informal consultations are being held on a comprehensive convention on measures to eliminate international terrorism. The Working Group on that issue is expected to present its report to the Sixth Committee this Friday.
**Questions and Answers
Question: On the Human Rights Council, can the President report any progress at all on the negotiations that are going on?
Spokesperson: They’re still at quite an early stage. The schedule that the Co-Chairs outlined included three or four weeks of initial consultations, followed by preparation of a text that would be submitted around the third week of November, and then intensive consultations beginning toward the end of November.
Question: Is there still a target date, though, for completing the process, for coming up with a full plan for a Human Rights Council?
Spokesperson: They’re hoping to have agreement by the end of the year so that they can put it in place before the Human Rights Commission is scheduled to meet early next year.
Question: You said there was a positive spirit and constructive dialogue. Can you flesh that out for me? What does that mean exactly?
Spokesperson: This meeting was intended to bring the discussion on a Peacebuilding Commission to a more concrete level, in the hopes -- and I think there was a feeling that this was succeeding to some extent -- of dissipating the contentiousness by coming to a more concrete discussion of how the Commission might work on the ground.
Spokesman for the Secretary-General: Thank you very much.
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