6 December 2005


Spokesman's Noon Briefing
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York


Following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.

Later, we will be joined by Mr. Christopher Burnham, Under-Secretary-General for Management, who will be here to brief you on the outcome of a survey of the United Nations procurement office, which was conducted by the Deloitte consulting firm.

**Carina Perelli

This morning, Ms. Carina Perelli was given a letter informing her of the Secretary-General’s decision to summarily dismiss her for misconduct. That decision is effective immediately.

** Zimbabwe

Turning to Zimbabwe, United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland, who is in Zimbabwe to assess the humanitarian situation in that country, met with President Mugabe this morning.

Speaking to reporters afterwards, Mr. Egeland said he had “a long, good and frank exchange”.  He said he explained to the President that the United Nations can be more effective if there are better procedures for how to help.

In response to a question at a press briefing afterwards, Mr. Egeland said that he did not think they disagreed on the need to help the people to help themselves.  “There is disagreement around the eviction campaign”, Mr. Egeland said.  “There is also disagreement on how to help those who were evicted.  There has been some concern on how to reach food security.  But this is not the time to list all the points of disagreement”, said Mr. Egeland.

He went on to add that there is agreement to work to redouble our efforts to be more effective to meet the challenges of millions who are infected with HIV/AIDS and the more than a million children who are AIDS orphans in Zimbabwe.

**Avian Flu

Yesterday, the Secretary-General met with Franz Humer, Chairman and CEO of the pharmaceutical group Roche, and discussed preparations to deal with a possible global avian flu pandemic.

In that meeting, the Secretary-General congratulated Roche and Dr. Humer for their responsiveness, and reiterated the importance of ensuring access of preferentially priced treatment for avian flu to the poorest and neediest countries.

He also expressed the hope that the donors would be generous with funding to buy the Tamiflu drug in bulk for poor countries.  

The Secretary-General reiterated that the best way to protect intellectual property rights of the pharmaceuticals was to make sure that the poorest and neediest countries get the medicines they need at a preferential price.

**Security Council

The Security Council today held a public meeting to discuss the recent Council mission to the Great Lakes area and Central Africa.

Ambassador Jean-Marc de la Sablière of France, who led the mission, briefed the Council on its work and on the written report that followed it.  The ambassadors of Burundi, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo also contributed to the discussion.

** Côte d’Ivoire

Late yesterday we issued a statement from the Secretary-General welcoming the appointment of Charles Konan Banny as the Prime Minister of Côte d'Ivoire for the transition period.  The Secretary-General, in a statement, urged the parties to cooperate fully with the new Prime Minister.

We have the full text available upstairs.

**Human Rights

Louise Arbour, who, as you know, is the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Robert Orr, the Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Planning, will be briefing NGOs today on the proposed United Nations Human Rights Council.  The discussion begins at 1:15 p.m. in Conference Room 2 and it is open to the press.

Ms. Arbour will brief you here in Room 226 at 11:00 a.m. tomorrow morning. 

**State of Microcredit Summit Campaign 2005

Also, at 1:30 tomorrow afternoon, the Permanent Mission of Bangladesh will hold a press conference on the reported title of “The State of Microcredit Summit Campaign 2005”.

**Secretary-General’s End-of-Year Press Conference

Lastly, you’d all been asking us about an end-of-year press conference by the Secretary-General.  That has now been scheduled for 21 December, two weeks from tomorrow, at 10:30 in the morning right here in this room.

That’s it from me.  Any questions?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Anything on the interviews in Vienna?

Spokesman:  No, we have no information on the interviews.

Question:  Again, on the mass graves?

Spokesman:  No, nothing aside from what we said yesterday.

Question:  On the extension of the mandate?

Spokesman:  On the extension of the mandate, I know you had asked, or someone had asked yesterday, about a letter from the Lebanese Government.  The Secretary-General this morning was shown a letter from the Prime Minister of Lebanon, in which the Prime Minister asked that the Council extend the Mehlis independent inquiry by a further six months.  The Secretary-General will now forward that request, that letter, to the Security Council for action.

Question:  On the investigation in Vienna, I know you don’t have any information on that, but I have a question.  Who paid for the trip to Vienna and for the accommodations of the Syrians in Vienna?  Did the Syrian Government pay, or did the United Nations pay for that?

Spokesman:  That’s a legitimate question.  I’ll try to get you an answer for that.  [He later informed the journalist that the Syrians paid for their travel and all other expenses.]

Question:  On the Perelli case.  Everyone is asking, why now?  Why couldn’t the United Nations have waited a week until these elections were over?  My question was, was she engaged in supervising, organizing or working on the elections right up until today?

Spokesman:  No.  Mr. Craig Jennessof Canada has been on the ground as the lead United Nations electoral officer in Iraq since 23 October.  He had a hand-over period with Carina while they were in Baghdad.  Mr. Jenness leads our effort.  He has a team of about 24 international electoral workers, and he is leading.  He is the lead person for the United Nations on the Iraqi elections.

Question:  I’m told that Mannet also investigated (inaudible) two or three years ago at the urging of the Secretariat -- Stephanides and his operation.  First of all, can you confirm it?  Secondly, is there any pattern here of using Mannet as a political tool inside the United Nations?

Spokesman:  First off, I’m not aware of any other investigation by Mannet.  But you have to be aware that the decision to dismiss Ms. Perelli was based on the work, the investigation, conducted by the office of human resources.  It is not based on Mannet.  Following the Mannet report, which was forwarded to the head of the political affairs department at the time, there were a number of issues that came up, including the issue of harassment and sexual harassment.  The head of political affairs then asked the human resources department to start an investigation and they did just that.  What you see today is the result of the work of the human resources department.

Question:  The human resources report, wasn’t it based entirely on the Mannet findings, I mean the critical findings?

Spokesman:  I think the way to put it is that Mannet flagged some issues, but human resources interviewed dozens of people; did not rely on information that may have been collected by the Mannet survey.  Again, the result of what you see today is based on the work of the United Nations human resources department.

Question:  Did human resources interview Perelli in the course of their investigation?

Spokesman:  They interviewed all sorts of people, dozens of people.  She was made aware, she’s been made aware, of all the charges against her.  She’s had a number of opportunities to respond to those charges.

Question:  Did she respond?  What form was that opportunity?  I mean, was an interview conducted?

Spokesman:  There were a number of written exchanges between her and human resources.  But she was given the written allegations of misconduct, all the relevant documentation, and she was given a chance to respond.

Question:  Did she respond?

Spokesman:  You’d have to ask her about most of the details of her response.  I don’t want to go from here into the details of the response since the case will most likely be appealed.

Question:  Just a follow-up on that.  Are you concerned that there may have been any violation of disciplinary procedures on this case, given the fact that, you know, when we talked to her in the elevator going up for her meeting this morning, she said she still had absolutely no information on what she was about to face outside of what she learned from the press?

Spokesman:  As I said, she was given the written allegations of misconduct and all the relevant documentation.  The exact procedure to be followed was followed in this case.

Question:  What does this mean for -- and we were told that there’s a zero tolerance policy on sexual harassment claims -- what does this mean for other staff or senior managers who currently face sexual harassment claims?

Spokesman:  It’s that each case will be analyzed and assessed on its merit.  Zero tolerance means zero tolerance.

Question:  So that’s how it is for Ruud Lubbers, for example?

Spokesman:  I said each case is analyzed and assessed on its own merit.  I think we have a duty to act on these, when these allegations come up, in terms of the rest of the staff here at the United Nations, people who feel they’re subjected to this kind of atmosphere.

Question:  I just want it to be made clear.  All the questions have been asked.  How many inquiries took place in the case of Ms. Perelli?  There was one in May, and there was one, I believe, during December, and then there was a third one now?

Spokesman:  There was the Mannet study asked for by the Department of Political Affairs, and then the Office of Human Resources Management investigation.  The first charge letter was sent to her in August informing of the conclusion of that investigation.

Question:  So it finally ended in August?  The last inquiry ended in August?

Spokesman:  That’s correct.  From August until now has just really been a back and forth with her on administrative issues and on the investigation.

Question:  Since yesterday you said that until the papers were served you weren’t going to comment on the merits of the case, could you specify -- now that you’ve fired the most senior political, I mean, electoral official -- can you specify what exactly are the charges that led to that, and how many cases of sexual harassment and what their veracity is?

Spokesman:  The veracity we obviously feel very strongly about; otherwise we wouldn’t have gone ahead with the case.  They include allegations of harassment, including sexual harassment and abuse of authority.  That’s as far as I can go at this point.

Question:  Speaking of those allegations, what’s the status of the Dileep Nair investigation?

Spokesman:  There’s nothing more than what I’ve told you, I think, 10 days ago.  It’s my understanding that Mr. Ackerman is still going on with his work and he has not yet provided us with an end-date for the end of his work.  But I will check again as soon as this briefing is over.

Question:  With regard to Ms. Perelli, what discussions took place on whether it would have been convenient to wait until after the Iraqi elections, and what was factored into the decision not to wait?

Spokesman:  What was factored in was that she was, you know, as I said, since 23 October she was no longer involved in the Iraqi elections.  A letter was sent to her on 4 August.  There is usually about a two-week extension, a two-week response time for her to respond.  She was granted a number of extensions, because she was, in fact, on mission.  She finally responded on 17 November.  But I think it needs to be re-stated that the United Nation’s work in Iraq on the election and other issues continues unaffected.

Question:  Steph, but there was a meeting reportedly between members of the political department and Mark Malloch Brown in which he told them that the reason that she was...  He was asked why there’s a double standard on Stephanides being fired summarily and nothing happens to Perelli.  He said Perelli was indispensable, and her work in Iraq -- nobody else was willing to do that kind of work.  You can’t say, based on that, that there was no political consideration involved here.

Spokesman:  The case was examined on its own merit.  The Secretary-General made the decision to dismiss her, which is a pretty serious decision, based on the merits of the case.

Question:  That doesn’t seem so from what Mark Malloch Brown said.

Spokesman:  You know, she has now been separated from service, and as I said, our work in Iraq since 23 October has been led by Mr. Jenness and he is the lead United Nations person on the Iraq work.

Question:  On a somewhat separate issue:  the General Assembly is getting ready to pass a resolution that declares 2008 the International Year of the Potato.  Noting that the potato is a staple food in the diet of the world’s populations, I’m wondering how much the United Nations is planning to spend on focusing world attention on the role that the potato can play in providing food security?

Spokesman:  I would encourage you to ask the questions of the Member States as to what lies behind this resolution and how much money they expect us to spend on it.

Question:  Small potatoes.

Spokesman: (no response)

Question: Turning back, Stéphane, to the Perelli case.  Considering the severity of the charges now being brought against Ms. Perelli, didn’t, in hindsight, the Secretariat, the Secretary-General, commit a mistake by sending her, while she was being investigated, to such sensitive missions as she went on -- Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan?  How do you explain that?

Spokesman:  I think one has to wait for the conclusions of the investigation and for her to have a chance to respond.

Question:  But wouldn’t the normal course of action have been to suspend her while she was being investigated?

Spokesman:  Each case, as I’ve said, is analyzed and assessed on its own merit.

Question:  You’re not answering my question.  Is it the normal course of action to send someone who is being investigated, on such serious charges as you say, to go on such sensitive missions as she did?

Spokesman:  The decision at the time to send her was the one that we had to take.

Question:  “Separated from service” means that she’s no longer being paid by the United Nations?

Spokesman:  That’s right.  Her service with the United Nations ends effective today.  She is no longer permitted to come into the building unless she makes an appointment for affairs having to do with a potential appeal to her case.

Question:  Just a follow-up on that. 

Spokesman:  On the potato?

Question:  Sorry, on Perelli.  She says that her locks were changed last week and her e-mail account was frozen.

Spokesman:  I was assured that her locks were changed, in fact, this morning.

Question:  We wrote the story yesterday.  Is it standard procedure for them to change the locks before they announce that she was fired?

Spokesman:  As I said, I was told that the locks were changed this morning.

Question:  Totally off the subject:  What is the status of the United Nations Office of the Special Envoy for Children and Armed Conflict?  This was an office in flux.  Have you decided to keep it or leave it?

Spokesman:  I have no update, except to say that it continues to be headed by Ms. Karin Sham Poo, and if there’s anything to add I’ll let you know after the briefing. 

[It was later announced that the officer in charge is Carolina Owens.]

Question:  On the potato again, can you tell us which Member States were behind that?

Spokesman:  I would urge you to canvass all one hundred and ninety-one.

Question:  Can you update us on the United Nations budget negotiations going on at the Secretariat?

Spokesman:  We will try to get you an update on those discussions.

Question:  Do you have any updates on the possibility of a visit by United Nations experts to China and Russia on the chemical spills?

Spokesman:  No, I do not.  But we will get you something right after the briefing.

Mr. Burnham, you’re most welcome to join us.

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