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

8 December 2005

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

08/12/2005
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.

Spokesman for the Secretary-General

Good afternoon.  I’d like to welcome our visitors from the People’s Republic of China, who are sitting in the back.  Jan Egeland, the United Nations’ humanitarian coordinator, as you know, will be our guest after Pragati and I are done briefing.  He will be joining you to talk about his recent visit to Zimbabwe.

**Ethiopia-Eritrea

The Secretary-General has decided to send the head of the United Nations peacekeeping department, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, as well as the United Nations military advisor, General Randir Kumar Mehta, to Ethiopia and Eritrea, as soon as practicable, to review and assess the situation on the ground and to see what steps can be taken to improve that situation.

The United Nations has conveyed to the Eritrean authorities that it cannot accept the request for staff of certain nationalities of the United Nations Mission to leave the country.  We issued a statement on behalf of the Secretary-General to that effect yesterday afternoon.

Both the Secretary-General and the Security Council have demanded that Eritrea reverse its decision, which is inconsistent with the fundamental principle of universality of peacekeeping operations representing the whole of the international community.

From the field, the United Nations Mission today reports that the military situation in the Temporary Security Zone and adjacent areas remains tense and potentially volatile.

Troop movements have been noticed on both sides of the border.  The ban by Eritrea on United Nations helicopters is still in place, and restrictions are continuing on the movement of United Nations peacekeepers.

We have copies upstairs of the briefing by the Spokeswoman for the United Nations Mission available for you.

** Sudan

The Secretary-General is gravely concerned by the worsening situation in Darfur.  The United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) reports banditry, looting, inter-tribal fighting, clashes allegedly between the Sudan Liberation Movement rebels and tribes, attacks on civilians, which is destroying wells, which are essential to their livelihood, and forcing thousands more people to leave their homes in addition to the 2 million already displaced, and a further increase in the number of attacks and robberies committed against humanitarian workers.  Once again, the Secretary-General calls on all parties to respect their agreements on the provisions of international humanitarian law.

He also urges them to make serious efforts to reach a political settlement in the Abuja peace talks before the end of the year.  He notes with pleasure that the Sudanese Government delegation to the talks now includes members of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, and hopes that the Government will apply to Darfur the same principles that made it possible for the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.  He also urges the Security Council to give close attention to the situation in Darfur, and to do everything possible to assist and strengthen the African Union mission deployed on the ground.

** Iraq -- Kidnappings

The Secretary-General is dismayed by the recent wave of kidnappings in Iraq.  He is extremely concerned about the fate of all Iraqi and foreign civilians who have been abducted, including the group of four foreign hostages whose lives are being threatened.  The Secretary-General calls for their immediate, safe and unconditional release, and strongly reiterates his appeal to all sides to respect, at all times, the fundamental principles of international humanitarian law.

** Iraq -- Elections

Also on Iraq, Ashraf Qazi, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for that country, today visited Najaf, where he met, among others, with Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and briefed him on the United Nations Mission’s work towards facilitating the elections in Iraq, through its technical advice to the Independent Electoral Commission.  They also discussed the United Nations mission’s role in the national reconciliation conference that is to take place early next year.

Mr. Qazi and Ayatollah Sistani agreed on the need for elections to take place on 15 December that are free from violence and intimidation, and are inclusive, transparent and fair.  They agreed on the need to focus on confidence-building measures that can pave the way towards national reconciliation among all Iraqis.

**Iraq-Security Agreement

This afternoon at 4:00 p.m., Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Ibrahim Gambari will meet with United States Ambassador John Bolton to sign an agreement between the United States and the United Nations on security arrangements in Iraq.

That signing will formalize the existing security arrangements already on the ground in that country.

**New Humanitarian Emblem

The Secretary-General was delighted to learn of last night’s decision by the signatory countries of the Geneva Conventions to adopt a nondenominational humanitarian emblem, the Red Crystal, in addition to the Red Cross and Red Crescent.

He notes that this emblem will henceforth have the same legal significance, and enjoy the same legal protection, as both the Red Cross and the Red Crescent, which for over a century have symbolized the humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.  He hopes that this will enable the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement to become fully universal, and thus to bring aid and protection to the victims of war, natural disasters and other catastrophes more efficiently, wherever they may be.  He hopes, in particular, that this will open the way for societies that are not yet formally part of the Movement, such as Israel’s Magen David Adom (Red Shield of David), to be admitted as full members.

He also hopes that the Palestinian Red Crescent Society will in due course be admitted to membership to the Movement.  In this connection, he welcomes last week’s agreement on operational agreements between the Palestinian Red Crescent Society and the Israeli Magen David Adom.

We have the full statement available upstairs.

**Human Rights Day

This Saturday, as you well know, is Human Rights Day, and in a message to mark the occasion, the Secretary-General has called for a renewed commitment to ending torture around the world.

Noting a disturbing trend of countries claiming exceptions to the prohibition on torture, he says “torture can never be an instrument to fight terror, for torture is an instrument of terror”.  He adds that the fear of terrorists can never justify adopting their methods, and he calls on all States which have not yet done so, to ratify the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

We have full copies of that statement upstairs.

**Safety Protocol

Earlier today, the Secretary-General today congratulated the General Assembly for its adoption of the Optional Protocol to the General Convention on the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel.

He said the new protocol expands the legal protection of all United Nations operations, from emergency humanitarian assistance to peacebuilding.  He urged all Member States to become party to today’s Optional Protocol, saying that, “Without security, our work for the peoples around the world suffers”.

The Secretary-General also urged all countries to move forward to finalize the text of a comprehensive convention dealing with terrorism, saying that we must do our part to forge a coordinated response against terrorism.

**Security Council

The Security Council this morning discussed Côte d’Ivoire in its closed consultations.  Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hédi Annabi briefed the Council on the recent developments in that country, including the appointment of the new Prime Minister, Charles Konan Banny.

Then, Ambassador Vassilakis of Greece, who chairs the Sanctions Committee for Côte d’Ivoire, discussed his committee’s work.

** Pakistan

A couple of humanitarian notes.

From Pakistan:  the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says it has started delivering the first batch of over 50,000 warm clothing kits for children who survived the earthquake.  Available in four sizes, each kit contains a padded jacket, a hat or shawl, socks and snow boots.  Over 100,000 more kits are now on their way.

**Food Aid

James Morris, Executive Director of the World Food Programme, joined by Antonio Guterres, High Commissioner for Refugees, as well as Ann Veneman, Executive Director of UNICEF, today issued a joint statement directed at negotiators at the World Trade Organization.

Acknowledging that agricultural trade reforms could overcome poverty in the developing world, they also said that such reforms should be carefully designed to protect millions of the world's children, refugees and malnourished people who count on food aid donations for their survival.

The statement comes in response to reports that food aid donations are coming under scrutiny at the Doha Round of trade negotiations, with some proposals seeking to replace food donations with cash or to restrict food donations to major emergencies.

**New Deputy Chef de Cabinet

The Secretary-General today announced the appointment of Alicia Bárcena Ibarra, a native of Mexico, as Assistant Secretary-General to the post of Deputy Chef de Cabinet in the Executive Office of the Secretary-General.  Ms. Ibarra has most recently served as Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, more commonly known as ECLAC, where she has been actively promoting the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals in the region.

Ms. Ibarra replaces Elizabeth Lindenmayer who left that position earlier this year.

We have a biography of Ms. Ibarra available for you.

**Disarmament

Also today, the Secretary-General announced the forthcoming resignation of Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs Mr. Nobuyasu Abe, who will be returning to the service of the Japanese Government.  Mr. Abe’s resignation will take effect at the beginning of January 2006.

The Secretary-General takes this opportunity to express his profound gratitude for the dedicated service that Mr. Abe rendered during his two-and-a-half years’ tenure as Under-Secretary-General, and, in particular, for his quiet leadership and sound political judgment in addressing the many challenges that the Organization faces in the field of disarmament and international peace and security.

**Tomorrow’s Guest

Lastly, our guest tomorrow will be Anwarul Chowdhury, Under-Secretary-General for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States.  He will be discussing the impact that current trade rules have on the world’s poorest countries, and the main challenges they face at the World Trade Organization talks in Hong Kong next week.

That is it from me.  Any questions?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  My question will be on the mass graves found next to the headquarters of the former Syrian intelligence in Lebanon.  Lebanon is asking now for an international probe.  Is there any reaction from the United Nations?

Spokesman:  No, I haven’t seen the official request, but I know the United Nations’ representative in Lebanon, Mr. Geir Pedersen, has been working with the Lebanese authorities on this issue of the graves, and is following the issue closely.  We will check with him if there is an update on that end.

Question:  After the Commissioner for Human Rights’ remarks here yesterday -- as you know, the American Permanent Representative characterized some of them as “inappropriate” -- I was wondering if the Secretary-General thinks that she was out of line in speaking the way she did?

Spokesman:  The Secretary-General has absolutely no disagreement with the statement made by the High Commissioner yesterday.  He sees no reason to object to any of her statements.  I think, I would reiterate his absolute full confidence in Ms. Arbour, who is a highly respected jurist, who was a prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and also serves on the bench of her country, Canada’s, highest court.

I think, also, it bears reminding that the mandate entrusted to Ms. Arbour by the General Assembly is a global mandate for her to speak on human rights on a global scale.  The Secretary-General is confident that she will carry out her work without being pressed or intimidated by what happened yesterday, and the Secretary-General told me just a while ago that he intends to take up this issue with Ambassador Bolton.

Question:  On the issue of Mr. Guéhenno, has the United Nations ascertained whether Eritrea would allow the United Nations to go to Asmara to make their case?

Spokesman:  This trip was just decided upon this morning.  We expect that the Eritrean authorities allow full access to Mr. Guéhenno, so he can see the staff of United Nations missions on both sides, in Ethiopia and Eritrea, so he can assess the situation for himself and get a full briefing from our staff on the ground.

Question:  On the situation in Iraq, which you have described yourself as getting more compromised than ever before, is just getting assurance from Sistani enough to hold elections, and does Mr. Qazi or the United Nations believe that the election process can go forward?

Spokesman:  On the Iraqi-led election process, we will do whatever we can to support their decision, to support their work, while at the same time appealing, as the Secretary-General has done and as Mr. Qazi has done, for calm during these elections.  That means, for us, talking to all parties and as many people as possible.

Question:  In that same reference, has the Secretary-General decided to appoint somebody else in place of Ms. Perelli, who was earlier responsible for the election work?

Spokesman:  As I’ve said here, the work of assisting the Iraqi people in their electoral process has been done by Craig Jenness, who’s been on the ground since 23 October, if I’m not mistaken.  He has a team of about 24 people working with him.

Question:  Two questions.  First of all, you highlighted Ms. Arbour’s great achievements, I assume, to highlight her moral authority.  But she also heads an organization that has been called for by Secretary-General Annan to be abolished and replaced by a more human rights-oriented organization.  Is that a problem?

Spokesman:  I would object to your characterization.  Ms. Arbour does not head the Commission on Human Rights.  She does not chair that Commission.  She is the High Commissioner for Human Rights, as entrusted by the General Assembly to speak on human rights on a global level.  As for the Commission on Human Rights, the Secretary-General has spoken on a number of times on the need to reform it and to replace it by a Human Rights Council.

Question:  I have a second question.  Yesterday, the Hyde Commission requested more investigation of several United Nations officials, including Iqbal Riza.  Can we have Iqbal Riza brief us about civilizations or something?

Spokesman:  I think, if you are that keenly interested in the Alliance of Civilizations, the office has a director and a deputy director who’d be very glad to be here and brief you on that issue.

Question:  I think Benny’s right.  You should definitely have Mr. Riza come and brief us.  But also, I have a question.  Can you flesh out the United States-United Nations agreement for security in Iraq?

Spokesman:  Basically, putting it on a signed, legal framework the existing security arrangements in Iraq, in which the multinational force provides security for the United Nations as they move around the country.  I would stress that it is really formalizing an agreement that is already de facto in place.

Question:  Approximately how many United Nations people are on the ground now?

Spokesman:  Off the top of my small head, about 80 civilians and about, probably, another 120 to 140 security types, which includes the Fijian guard units and the Fijian close protection.  But I will get you exact figures.  [The Spokesman later added that there were 90 international staff plus 160 guards/security, for a total of 250.]

Question:  Ms. Perelli has been dismissed and was escorted out of the building.  Will she be entitled to the status of retired staff, with a card allowing her to come into the building or not?

Spokesman:  I don’t know what regulations entitle people to receive the retired staff card, so I would have to check and let you know.

Question:  Stéphane, when you say that the Secretary-General is going to “take up” with Ambassador Bolton this issue as soon as possible, could you elaborate?  Does that mean has he asked to meet with him?

Spokesman:  He intends to try to meet with him at an early date.

Question:  Just a follow-up on Warren’s question.  He’s going to be taking this up to defend Ms. Arbour?  To try to flesh out Mr. Bolton’s position?

Spokesman:  I think to defend Ms. Arbour.  I think, and I’ve stated his position pretty clearly, he feels that international civil servants should be allowed to speak freely in their areas of competency.

Question:  Steph, apparently the Security Council is not going to be involved in finding the replacement for Detlev Mehlis, and the Secretary-General will be.  Do you have a list, a shortlist of candidates, already?  Also, is it true that in order to make things more objective, the selection will not be with anybody from the United States, France or Great Britain?

Spokesman:  On the choice of the chief investigator, the recruitment is currently being done by the Secretary...  We’re trying to find someone as soon as possible to replace Mr. Mehlis, if and when the mandate of the Commission is extended.

Question:  But will you be announcing the shortlist then, shortly?

Spokesman:  We will not be announcing the shortlist, but we will be announcing the replacement as soon as we are able to do so.

Question:  In the same vein, who is going to replace Mr. Abe, Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament?

Spokesman:  We will start the recruitment process on that.

Question:  Will you be announcing the shortlist also?

Spokesman:  No, the shortlist will not be announced for internal candidates.  It’s more for heads of funds and programmes.

Question:  Can you explain the divorce between the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Commission for Human Rights?  They’re not connected?

Spokesman:  I didn’t say they were not connected.  But you said she “heads” the Commission.

Question:  Could you explain, in your own words, what’s the relations between the High Commissioner and the Commission?

Spokesman:  Obviously, the High Commissioner works in support of the Commission when asked to do so.  But she does not lead its work, she does not choose its members and she does not choose what issues the Commission discusses.

Question:  How is she linked to the Commission?

Spokesman:  She supports the work of the Commission as requested by the Commission.  But Ms. Arbour as High Commissioner is also an independent voice, global voice, on human rights.

Thank you very much.  Pragati, all yours.

**Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Good afternoon, and welcome to our guests.

This morning, at the General Assembly’s plenary meeting, the President made remarks on the adoption of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel, extending protection to personnel engaged in humanitarian assistance and peacebuilding work.

He said that the adoption of the Optional Protocol is an important step in the implementation of the 2005 World Summit Outcome, and that “the Protocol will effectively help to protect and boost the morale of those United Nations and associated personnel who risk their lives to serve the vulnerable and needy of the world”.  He strongly encouraged all Member States to sign and ratify the Optional Protocol when it opens for signature in January.

There is a press release from the Department of Public Information giving more background on the Optional Protocol.

The President also commented on the adoption of the resolution on measures to eliminate international terrorism.  He said that it is crucial for all to work together to end the current impasse in the negotiations on a comprehensive convention on terrorism, and strongly encouraged delegates to use this window of opportunity to continue working with a sense of urgency.

These two resolutions are among a number being adopted this morning, submitted to the plenary in the reports of the First, Fourth and Sixth Committees.

Also this morning, informal consultations of the plenary are being held on the Peacebuilding Commission to continue hearing speakers responding to the latest text.

This afternoon informal consultations will be held on development, to hear responses on the issues paper on reform of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

Any questions?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Pragati, have any of the Committees finished their work yet?

Spokesperson:  Yes, a number of them -- the First, Third, Fourth and Sixth.  Now the plenary is taking up those resolutions.

Question:  This thing about the Economic and Social Council, I didn’t quite get it.  Are they still negotiating?

Spokesperson:  Well, this is the informal consultations that the plenary set up in the Summit follow-up process.  There’s a group on development and Economic and Social Council reform.  They are discussing an issues paper put together by the co-chairs on different issues on ECOSOC reform that need to be addressed.

Question:  ECOSOC reforms –- do they expect them to be approved by the end of this year?  Is that part of the process?

Spokesperson:  They hope to have that in the early part of next year, before the organizational session of ECOSOC.

Thank you very much.

* *** *

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