DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICES OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL AND THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT

22 November 2005

DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICES OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL AND THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT

22/11/2005
Spokesman's Noon Briefing
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, Spokesperson for the General Assembly President.

Good afternoon. Our guest today will be Dermot Carty, the Landmines Coordinator for UNICEF’s Landmines and Small Arms Team, who will be joining us to discuss the Portfolio of Mine Action Projects 2006 report.  I understand his briefing will be embargoed until 12:01 a.m. tomorrow morning for publication.  

**Secretary-General -- Blue Line

I have a statement on the incidents across the Blue Line.

“The Secretary-General deplores in the strongest terms the exchange of fire across the Blue Line yesterday, which resulted in the reported deaths of several Hizbollah fighters and an unconfirmed number of wounded on both sides.

“The hostilities, which were initiated from the Lebanese side, quickly spread along the entire Blue Line with Israeli civilian areas reportedly being targeted.  The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) has brokered a ceasefire to prevent further escalation.

“The Secretary-General appeals to all parties to respect the Blue Line in its entirety.  He also calls on the Government of Lebanon to extend its authority over all of its territory in accordance with Security Council resolutions.

“The Secretary-General appeals for a return to calm and calls on all parties to exercise utmost restraint.”

And that is available upstairs.

** Sudan

The UN Mission in the Sudan reports that the Secretary-General’s Special Representative there, Jan Pronk, will be heading to Darfur tomorrow for consultations with some of the leaders of the Sudanese Liberation Movement/Army, prior to talks that have been scheduled for Abuja next week.  Pronk has said that he was looking forward to a signed and meaningful agreement in Abuja.

The Secretary-General, in his monthly report on Darfur, which was on the racks yesterday, said that a further deterioration of the situation there can be averted by consolidating the progress made at previous talks in Abuja.  He called upon the international community to help implement any agreement reached by the parties.

Also on the racks is the report of the Security Council’s mission to Central Africa.  The Council makes very specific recommendations on four countries it visited in the region.

**Disaster Prevention

Jan Egeland, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, briefed journalists in Geneva today on a meeting of the International Task Force for Disaster Prevention, which is taking place over the next two days.

Noting that, in the last two years, hundreds of thousands of people had died and hundreds of millions of livelihoods had been lost due to natural disasters, Egeland said that with a more effective humanitarian system and better prevention and preparedness systems, those losses could have been reduced significantly. 

This particular meeting of the Task Force will be focusing on the risk of earthquakes striking “mega-cities” in Latin America, Asia and the Middle East.

**UNHCR

Also today, the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), together with the Government of Yemen, is about to begin a large-scale operation to register thousands of refugees in that country, most of them from Somalia.  The Yemeni authorities agreed on Sunday to start registering at six newly-created centres around the country, the first such exercise since the last registration in June 2003. 

Meanwhile, in Sri Lanka, UNHCR says it’s completed its post-tsunami role as the coordinator of a nation-wide transitional shelter effort after the target of more than 58,000 shelters built by over 100 non-governmental organizations was reached.  UNHCR will now be returning its focus to its pre-tsunami work of providing assistance to people internally displaced by the conflict, and refugees repatriating from India.

**FAO

In a new report published in Rome today, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says that hunger and malnutrition are killing nearly 6 million children each year.

The State of Food Insecurity in the World, says many of the children die from a handful of treatable infectious disease, and would survive if their bodies and immune systems had not been weakened by malnutrition.  We have a press release upstairs, and the entire report is available on the FAO website, and one of our colleagues from FAO is in the back of the room today in case you have any further questions.

**Secretary-General -- Press Encounter

Speaking to the press yesterday evening, following his meeting with the Group of 77, the Secretary-General said that everyone in that meeting had wanted an effective, efficient United Nations that would implement mandates given to it by the Member States.  Saying that there were no sides and that we were all one team with one mission, he added that the encouraged reforms should be in the interests of all Member States.

Responding to a question about alleged power struggles between the General Assembly and the Secretariat, the Secretary-General emphasized that the General Assembly was “in the driver’s seat”, and that, at the end of the day, it made the final decisions.  A transcript of that encounter is available upstairs.

In related news, the Secretary-General and his senior management team are today holding a one-day retreat, here at UN Headquarters, dedicated to budget and human resources regulations, oversight and mandate review, as requested by the General Assembly in the Outcome Document of the Summit.

That is it for me, except to mention to you that tomorrow Antonio Maria Costa, the Head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, will be joining us to launch the Afghan Opium Survey.  Any questions?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Did the Secretary-General receive a letter from the Syrian Foreign Minister asking for his help in negotiating with Mehlis?

Spokesman: A letter was received. It is currently being studied and obviously will be responded to.  But I think the Secretary-General made his general position clear yesterday when he spoke to you.  His efforts are focused on encouraging Syria to cooperate and cooperate fully with the Security Council resolution, and that was his message to a number of countries he visited in his recent trip.  As for the details and modalities of the interviews that would take place between Mehlis and Syrian officials, that has to be worked out by Mehlis himself.  And the Secretary-General will not be negotiating on behalf of Mr. Mehlis.

Question:  Mr. Spokesman, there are two things.  Yesterday I believe Iraqi Government officials had a meeting and one of the things that they’re talking about is they’re really trying to get a timeline on getting the coalition forces out.  Can the UN give them any help on that?  My second thing is, is the UN in a position to begin to respond?  Sixty-seven cities in this country have put resolutions before their governing bodies asking them (inaudible) to withdraw.  I know that’s internal, but maybe the UN can focus on that?  Also, a Special Rapporteur from the UN, coming out of Geneva, just laid out a report on the 15th, I don’t think it was widely circulated, that poverty in America could constitute an abuse of human rights.  How does the UN respond to that?  You and I had talked before and put those modalities together, but I don’t think a lot of my colleagues are aware that this report sits there, that abject poverty in this country could be seen as an abuse of human rights.

Spokesman:  On your first question, the presence of the Multi-National Force, as sanctioned by a Security Council resolution which they just renewed recently, I think it’s 1637, and in it, it’s clear that the presence of the coalition forces is done at the request of the Iraqi Government, the Iraqi authorities, and that presence could be terminated, again, at the request of the authorities.  So that’s where things stand.  As for the Special Rapporteur report, I have not seen it, but special rapporteurs are independent experts named by the Commission on Human Rights.

Question:  On the Mercedes, in reading the Volcker report, there’s two occasions on which Kojo Annan makes clear that he intends to seek his father’s approval for purchasing the Mercedes.  There’s one in the March 1998 email to Michael Wilson in which he says he’s going to see his father in Jamaica and will seek his approval for using his name.  And then, again, there’s the memo recovered from the computer disc of Wagaye Assebe, in which Wagaye Assebe says Kojo Annan has called up and asked for his father’s permission.  My understanding from the Volcker report is that Kofi Annan’s position is that he didn’t give permission for Kojo Annan to use his name.  So my question is, does the Secretary-General then consider himself to be the victim of identity theft?

Spokesman:  I think my colleague yesterday spoke to you about the Mercedes in a statement she was allowed to make, and I really have nothing else to add to what we said yesterday.

Question:  Can you just give us a few more details on what his management retreat is all about?  Whether anything is actually expected to come out of it?  Specifically, are we going to see any proposals after this retreat?

Spokesman:  The Secretary-General meets every week with his senior management group, and once or twice a year they have a theme-focused retreat where they have a chance to discuss these issues in-depth and in a more relaxed atmosphere.  The outcome will be the reform proposals that we will send to the General Assembly over the next few weeks.

Question:  We’re still waiting for this briefing by the UN on its role and what the International Advisory and Monitoring Board (IAMB) found on the Development Fund for Iraq (DFI).  It strikes me that we’ve been through this whole phase of the UN having been seen to be derelict in some way in its responsibilities of monitoring the “oil-for-food” programme, and yet here we have another case where the UN has been given a monitoring role over a major programme in Iraq and the UN never says anything, never reports on it, never tells us anything about it.  This may actually be seen to be a similar dereliction of duty and I’m wondering whether we’re actually going to see any change in that position?

Spokesman:  Well, I would take objection to your term of “dereliction of duty”.  If there has been a fault, and that has been to provide live briefings for you, and that’s something that we would like to see corrected, but the reports of the IAMB and its audits have been fairly complete and substantial.

Question:  Yesterday I had asked the Secretary-General this question and he just dismissed it basically, but it’s very important.  Ambassador Bolton last week, in the Jesse Helms Institute, seemed to suggest that he’s frustrated with the process of reform in the UN General Assembly and how to move forward.  And he also went on to say at least that the United States will be seeking forums to resolve the international issue.  Now this is a serious sort of thing, especially a statement made by a super-Power.  Has the United Nations studied that at all, as to how to respond?

Spokesman:  Again, I think the Secretary-General’s words were that he wasn’t going to interpret what Mr. Bolton said, and if he’s not, I don’t think I would risk it too.  But we are working with the US and the Permanent Mission with Ambassador Bolton very closely, as we are with all the other Member States, on the issues of reform that are being discussed right now.

Question:  I think before you went away we had a series of briefings about UN reform were it was announced we were soon going to have an ethics office, we were soon going to have financial disclosure forms and we were soon going to have a whistleblower policy, none of which seemed to happen on schedule.  Can you tell us what’s happening with them now?

Spokesman:  I will check and get you an update before the end of the day.

[The Spokesman later announced that those new policies would be finalized by the end of the first week of December.  At that time, Under-Secretary-General for Management, Christopher Burnham, would brief the press.]

Question:  On the briefing on the IAMB, when is it going to happen?

Spokesman:  I will go upstairs and make a call.

Question:  Before you went away you made a statement saying there was some kind of mechanism set up for Volcker follow-on within the Secretariat and after you went away, Marie didn’t seem to know anything about that.  We pressed her for a couple of days about that, but she didn’t seem to know what it was.  So maybe you could explain what that was that you referred to?

Spokesman:  I’ll get you an answer on that.

Question:  I just want to put into the record; I found your answer a bit shocking in response to Mark’s question on the IAMB since many of us have been complaining since it was formed.  Its reports are inscrutable.  There’s no one who answers, at least not in this building.  You have to search around in Washington a bit.  They get on the website without prior notice, and press-wise, it has been a disgrace, like it’s trying to hide something.

Spokesman:  I think that was my answer to Mark, that there is a problem on the press issue.  I don’t think on the substance, yes they have….

Question:  No, on the substance too.  It’s deliberately hidden in there.  We can read.  I’m sorry, we can read.

Spokesman:  I’m not saying you can’t.  I’m just saying you’re right, there have not been regular press briefings on this, but I think the reports themselves have been full.

Question:  I just want to go on the record; it’s just not true.  If you’ve had to read these things, it’s not true.  Anything that’s controversial is hidden in obscure language so that they don’t rock the boat, and there’s no one there to respond and explain.  And it’s not just press briefings.  It’s on or off the record.  And this building, the contribution from the UN as far as explaining, any human being reading that would not understand.

Question:  I’ll just echo what Evelyn said.  Unless you’re an accountant, it’s often pretty inscrutable and the fact that the last report was just sort of posted and nobody knew about it.  I mean, maybe somebody in Washington obviously got tipped off, but nobody here knew about it and we all got caught flat footed and then there’s nobody to call.

Spokesman:  My understanding from just reading some of the email traffic while I was away is that there is a spokesperson for the IAMB, based at the IMF.  But I will check up on that as soon as the briefing is over.  Pragati.

Briefing by Spokesperson for General Assembly President

General Assembly President Jan Eliasson is currently in Geneva, holding consultations on the Human Rights Council and other Summit follow-up issues.  

This morning the first meeting is being held of the informal consultations of the plenary on follow-up to the World Summit outcome on development and ECOSOC reform, co-chaired by the Ambassadors of Belgium and Mali.  Member States are considering a letter that was circulated by the co-Chairs on Friday, proposing that the consultations ahead focus on two central tasks:  spearheading follow-up across the UN system on the Summit’s Outcome on development, and deciding how this would be monitored; and moving forward on the agreed reform of ECOSOC.  That letter is available from our office or on the Summit follow-up website.

Also this morning, the Third Committee is taking up a number of draft resolutions, including one on the situation of human rights in Uzbekistan.

Tomorrow morning the Assembly will meet in plenary to consider a number of agenda items, including appointments for various bodies, financing of the UN operations in Côte d’Ivoire and Haiti, and a draft resolution on the International Criminal Court.  They will also consider several recommendations forwarded by the Sixth Committee, including for a new Convention on the Use of Electronic Communications in International Contracting.  This had been under negotiation since 2002 by the Working Group on Electronic Commerce of the UN Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL); a press release will be available from them.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  What’s the draft resolution on the ICC, what is that?

Spokesperson:  I have the text of it, I can give it to you.

Question:  Are there any more rapporteurs giving reports, or is that process done?

Spokesperson:  The rapporteurs have all presented their reports and now draft resolutions are being adopted in a series responding to those.

Question:  I’m sorry, this is for Stéphane again.  I just wanted an update on Zimbabwe, what’s happening with Zimbabwe?  Because we keep on getting these answers I can barely remember because they don’t really mean anything.  Is the UN going to be taking any further action to press home the fact that people are still being thrown out of their homes, that nothing is being done to cater to the people who are living in abject misery as a result of being thrown out of their homes.

Spokesman:  I will get you an answer but I think last week you did get an answer to a question relating to the construction of shelter for people who had been displaced, but we can check right after the briefing.

Question:  Last thing, is there an update on the way the UN is seeing the evolution of the situation on the Ethiopia/Eritrea border?

Spokesman: I will get you something.

* *** *

For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.