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

19 December 2005

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

19/12/2005
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

The 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

**WTO Outcome

Good afternoon.  I will start off with a statement from the Spokesman on the outcome of World Trade Organization meeting in Hong Kong.

“The Secretary-General is relieved that the World Trade Organization meeting in Hong Kong did not end in failure as had been widely predicted.  He recognizes the effort made by the negotiators, and especially by the WTO Director-General, Pascal Lamy, to keep the Doha Round on track; and congratulates those who negotiated on behalf of the developing countries, particularly the least developed, on their success in working together and securing limited gains.  These gains, if fully implemented, should bring improved opportunities to some of the world’s poorest people to trade their way out of poverty.

“But the Secretary-General also notes that the ambitions set out four years ago in Doha have not been realized, and that a real effort of political will is required from all parties in 2006 if these negotiations are to deserve the name, the Development Round.  He recalls that trade is no less important than aid for successful development, and that without open markets and fair competition few countries will have a real chance of meeting the Millennium Development Goals by 2015.”

And that statement is available upstairs.

**Security Council on Africa

The Security Council is holding a meeting on the humanitarian situation in Africa.  Jan Egeland, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and the UN’s Emergency Relief Coordinator, focused his briefing on the crisis in Darfur and its impact on Chad, and the regional crisis caused by the activities of the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda, Sudan and most recently the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  He also discussed Zimbabwe, from which he just returned and briefed you on recently.

On Darfur, he noted that unless measures taken by the Security Council have a real impact on the ground, the wound will continue to bleed, and he appealed for an expanded and more effective security presence on the ground as soon as possible.  “It cannot be right that we have twice as many humanitarian workers in Darfur as international security personnel”, he said.  He made proposals to the Council to address the crisis caused by the Lord’s Resistance Army, including the creation of a panel of experts to explore the sources of funding and support for this group.  And on Zimbabwe, he said he is convinced that the United Nations and the humanitarian community at large must try to engage more actively with the Government.  And we have Jan Egeland’s remarks available upstairs.

**Security Council Committees

At 3 p.m. this afternoon, the Chairs of the Security Council committees and working groups will hold an open meeting in the Security Council chamber on their work.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

And turning to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the UN Mission in that country says the constitutional referendum held over the weekend was carried out peacefully and throughout the country with few incidents.  If approved, the draft constitution would pave the way for the country’s first democratic elections next year.

The referendum was the first democratic ballot held in the DRC since 1965; and it is also one of the biggest polls the UN has ever been involved in, with 36,000 vote offices and close to 200,000 electoral agents and 25 million voters.  The event was organized by the DRC’s Independent Electoral Commission, with the UN providing technical and logistical assistance.  The referendum’s provisional results will be announced this evening by the electoral authorities, while the definitive ones are expected to be officially announced on 18 January of next year.  And we do expect a press release with more information on the referendum a bit later this afternoon from the UN mission.

**International Court of Justice

Today in The Hague, the International Court of Justice ruled that Uganda has violated the principle of non-intervention by occupying the Ituri Province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and engaging in military activities on DRC territory.  The Court also finds that Uganda has violated its obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law by committing acts of killing, torture and other inhumane treatment of the Congolese civilian population, and deems that Uganda is obliged to make reparations to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  And we have a press release detailing the Court’s decision available upstairs.

** Haiti

The UN mission in Haiti reports that three Chilean peacekeepers were wounded last Friday afternoon during a patrol in Plaisance, which is around 30 kilometres south of the northern city of Cap Haitien.  At least four gunmen opened fire on the vehicle the peacekeepers were travelling in.  The peacekeepers returned fire and the attackers retreated, according to the mission.  The wounded peacekeepers were evacuated to Port-au-Prince for medical care but the Mission says their lives are not in danger.

** Bolivia

Late on Friday, we issued a statement noting that Assistant Secretary-General Angela Kane had travelled to Bolivia on the Secretary-General’s behalf to convey a message of support to the President of Bolivia and the Bolivian people ahead of the elections that took place yesterday.  Ms. Kane delivered a letter from the Secretary-General, in which he emphasized that the election constituted an invaluable opportunity to advance the search for peaceful and democratic solutions to the challenges the Bolivian people face.

**South-South Cooperation Day

And the Secretary-General, in a message to mark the UN Day for South-South Cooperation, says that, in an era of globalization, countries have to forge a new partnership to meet the challenges ahead.  He notes some recent developments that provide cause for optimism, including the strong support for South-South cooperation expressed at this year’s World Summit.  The full message is available upstairs.

The Second Annual Day for South-South Cooperation will be observed in a ceremony beginning at 3 p.m. this afternoon in the Trusteeship Council.  And UN Development Programme Administrator Kemal Dervis and Nane Annan, the Secretary-General’s wife, will also be among the participants.  And that is open to the public, I assume.

**UNICEF

A heads-up that tomorrow in both London and Khartoum, the UN Children’s Fund will be launching the first of a series of “Child Alerts”, a new advocacy tool on silent emergencies.  It focuses on what it’s like to be a child in Darfur three years after the conflict there began, and the kind of future they face as a result of that violence.  And we have more information in a media advisory upstairs.

**Economic Commission on Africa

The UN Economic Commission for Africa has released its annual “Economic Report on Africa” today in Addis Ababa.  This year’s report, entitled “Meeting the Challenges of Unemployment and Poverty in Africa”, puts job creation at the centre of successful poverty reduction efforts on the continent.  It shows how donor countries can help create the employment opportunities that will give young Africans a future in their own countries.  And we have more information, and the report, available upstairs.

**Briefings

At 2 p.m. this afternoon, the Japanese mission will sponsor a press conference on the “Spirit of the East” exhibit, which opens today in the Visitor’s Lobby.  And our guest at the noon briefing tomorrow will be Martti Ahtisaari, the Special Envoy for the Future Status Process of Kosovo.

And we also expect to have a briefing by General Assembly President Jan Eliasson tomorrow afternoon, but we will update you and Pragati will brief you on the status.  And on that note, I’ll take questions.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  In an interview in Asharq al-Awsab with one of our colleagues here, Mr. [Detlev] Mehlis is quoted as saying that he definitely believed the Syrian authorities are behind [Rafik] Hariri’s killing.  That’s either prejudging the outcome of the inquiry, or will action be taken?  What’s the story?

Spokesman:  I would encourage you to read the full story on the website of the newspaper because the quotes that were identified as Mr. Mehlis’s in some of the wire copy were, in fact, erroneous.  And if you look at the full transcript of the interview, you will then see that what Mr. Mehlis then said, didn’t really go further than what he said in his first report.

Question:  Well, it says here that he was asked if Syria was behind this and Mr. Mehlis says, yes, the Syrian Government, or, let’s say Syrian politics.  He was asked if it was high in the Government and he said he has to look at it.

Spokesman:  Yes, and he said he would not want to speculate.  If you look at the first report he put out, this really doesn’t go much further.

Question:  He talks of high-ranking Syrian officials.  He’s never mentioned Syria as being directly involved, or Syrian authorities.  How does the SG react to those comments?

Spokesman:  We’ll based ourselves on what Mr. Mehlis has said in his previous reports, and obviously this Commission is continuing and we look forward to the next reports.

Question:  Isn’t making such remarks prejudging the outcome?

Spokesman:  My reading is that he’s not prejudging the outcome and obviously Mr. Mehlis is very much aware that the investigation continues under him until we announce a successor, which should be very shortly.

Question:  The referendum in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was reported to have come off without any serious violence, but the election itself was said to be seriously marred, including by a breakdown in logistics and a failure to distribute the Constitution.  Has the mission reported all this?

Spokesman:  We expect more reporting from the mission later this afternoon.

Question:  Does the Secretary-General have any comment on the Bolivian president-elect’s platform that coca production should be legalized?

Spokesman:  No, he doesn’t.

Question:  When Mehlis says, yes, it’s the Syrian Government, it’s farther than he’s ever gone before.  I don’t understand how you can say it’s not.

Spokesman:  We obviously have different reads of the interview.  Read the transcript.  Our read is that he does not go further than in previous reports.  And again, Mr. Mehlis is an experienced investigator.  He knows the Commission is still going on and will continue, so I don’t believe he was prejudging.

Question:  On the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The Secretary-General will be meeting the Ambassador at 4.  Is this a congratulatory meeting, or will they talk about the International Court of Justice ruling?

Spokesman:  I’ll try to get you a pre-read-out of the meeting.  [The Spokesman later informed correspondents that the Secretary-General and Ambassador Ileka discussed the holding of the constitutional referendum and the wider electoral process.]

Question:  Was there any comment from the Secretary-General’s representative about the fairness of the Bolivian election?

Spokesman:  As far as I know, we weren’t there on electoral assistance.  I can check.  But the message from the Secretary-General was that the elections were an opportunity not to be missed and people should abide by the results.

Question:  Does the UN have a policy on legalizing drugs?  Is there an institutional policy on legalizing coca production?  Do you know?

Spokesman:  I do not.  We can check with the drug control office.

Question:  To go back, the previous Mehlis report didn’t go anywhere close to saying the Government did it.  Can you point out the paragraph that you say is close to the paragraph just read out?  The Government did it.

Spokesman:  Except in the interview he doesn’t say the Government did it.  The Syrian “authorities” is not the Syrian “Government”.  We can go back after the meeting and point out the paragraph.

Question:  We’ve read the report many times and he’s never said the Syrian Government.  Why is he reporting something to the press that he’s not reporting to the Security Council?

Spokesman:  What he had to report to the Council he’s reported.  I’d take his report to the Council as the official word as to where the investigation stands.

Question:  The debate on the UN budget and its tie-in to reform is heating up.  Has the Secretary-General come out with a new position or a fresh look at the situation to try to move things forward, and on 21 December when he gives his talk, will he talk at large about the UN budget issues?

Spokesman:  The budget is definitely at the forefront of his mind.  We’re getting very close to “ midnight” on the budget issue and we very much hope the Member States deliver us a budget.  The situation on the budget was explained to you very explicitly by Warren Sach, the UN Controller, and he has gone down and given that same briefing to members of the GA committees and to the regional groups, so they know what the facts are, and the Secretary-General’s been clear on his need for a budget.

Question:  On a lighter note, for those who can make it with the strike and all, there will be an UNCA Christmas party, food and drink at 5:30 tomorrow, strike or no strike.

Question:  Isn’t there a UN body that fights drugs and shouldn’t the president-elect’s comments be referred there?

Spokesman:  Yes, the UN Office of Drug Control.  We can bring someone from UNODC here and take a look at the president-elect’s statement but I won’t have any further comment on it at this point.

Question:  On a heavier note, Mr. [Paul] Volcker’s last report to the Committee has some new information I wasn’t aware of about a friend of Kofi Annan in Procurement, and it said that the Committee had e-mail communications to Ms. [Diane] Mills-Aryee and Kojo Annan in 1999 concerning Kojo Annan’s various business interests.  First question is about the propriety of someone in procurement having communication with somebody who at the time was employed by a UN contractor, Cotecna, about his personal interests.  Can you comment on the propriety and whether you were aware of these e-mails?  One is the infamous one of 1999 where Kojo says don’t worry, your son will take care of your early retirement, where he seems to say he’s formed Sutton investments and that Sutton is consulting for Cotecna, so it seems no doubt that Aryee, a procurement officer in Iraq at the time, knew he was involved with Cotecna in a business sense.  So, can you comment on the propriety or Aryee being in contact with Kojo Annan while Kojo Annan was working for a UN contractor?

Spokesman:  I have nothing to add to things that relate to Mr. Volcker and the report that was quite exhaustive in looking at the activities of Kojo Annan and Cotecna.

Question:  This is information subsequent to the report that has come to light, in a letter Mr. Volcker wrote to Congress.  So can you ask whether the UN is aware of this contact between Aryee and the Secretary-General’s son and what was the nature of this discussion about Kojo’s interest and did it relate to UN business?

Spokesman:  Next.

Question:  Can you give us an update on the OIOS investigation?

Spokesman:  I have nothing to give you beyond what Mr. [Christopher] Burnham gave you in an exhaustive briefing a couple of weeks ago, in which he said the OIOS investigation was continuing actively into issues relating to procurement.

Question:  A couple of questions to follow through on a Foxnews.com story that ran on Sanjay Bahel.  Did Sanjay Bahel receive all the documentation that’s related to him?  More specifically, has he received the second audit that mentions him?

Spokesman:  I’ll try to get you answers on those.

Question:  And when did Thunderbird get removed from the vendor list, do you know?  TCIL has not been removed.  Does that mean they’ve been exonerated?

Spokesman:  These are pretty detailed questions.  I need to follow up on them.

Question:  Has the Secretary-General finalized his plans for travelling to Asia and China?

Spokesman:  No, I have nothing to announce on the travel plans.

Question:  Mr. Burnham had promised us a timetable for announcing various things related to the ethics office, such as special disclosure forms.  Last I asked, you said it would be the first week in December.  What’s the latest on that?

Spokesman:  Part of the whistleblower policy, as I understand, is ready to go, ready to be rolled out.  A key component of that policy is the creation of an ethics office, which we very much hope Member States will agree on in the coming days.  We’re working with Mr. Burnham’s office to see if he can come down and present to you the financial disclosure forms, which he’s talked about, as well as the whistleblower policy, which, as far as we’re concerned, is done.  But a key component of implementing that is the creation of the ethics office, which Member States have not yet voted on.

Question:  We were told 18 months ago that we’d see the whistleblower policy coming into force, so we’d like to actually see the thing.

Spokesman:  I promise you will.  I spoke to Chris Burnham earlier today and I know the policy is done.  It was done over the last few days and we’ll see if we can get him down here to unveil it to you even before the ethics office unveiling.

Question:  There seems to be a series of selective buy-outs in the Security Department.  I think there have been five in the last month.  What is the basis for the buy-outs?  Is there an objective criterion?  Is it by years of service or is somebody just picking people they don’t like for some reason?  Could you find out for us?

Spokesman:  I’ll see what I can find out and see if there’s a general policy, but obviously, matters concerning specific employees, we can’t comment on.  But if there is a policy, I’ll let you know.

Question:  The reason I’m expressing concern, why it’s not just a question of employees, is because if there were a pattern of people involved in investigations, where they were being selectively bought out, it would be interesting to the press to know that the people involved in investigations, either as subjects or eyewitnesses, were being bought out.

Spokesman:  I can’t speculate on something I don’t know, but I’ll try to find out as much as I can.

Question:  Are the Member States devising a policy of buy-outs for the budget?

Spokesman:  I don’t want to speak off the top of my head on this, but I’ll find out.

Question:  Has the gift ceiling policy been enacted yet?

Spokesman:  That’s all tied in with the ethics office, but I’ll get you an update on that.

Question:  Another question brought up in Burnham’s briefing was senior staff receiving accommodations provided by Member States.  Can we get a list of senior staff receiving accommodations provided by Member States, particularly whether Louise Fréchette is in such accommodation?

Spokesman:  I do not know if that information is publicly available.

Question:  Will we get an update on the situation in Haiti?  We’ve been getting bits.

Spokesman:  Sure, we’ll get somebody here.  Pragati.  Oh, and I’m told Mr. Egeland will talk to you at the stake-out as soon as Pragati’s finished.

**Spokesperson for the Assembly President

This will be a crucial week in the General Assembly, as Member States work to reach agreement before the holidays on several key items, including the Peacebuilding Commission and the budget for 2006-2007.  A plenary meeting is scheduled for tomorrow to consider, among other items, the draft resolution establishing the Peacebuilding Commission.  Although the draft resolution presented by the President has received broad political support, the financial implications have not yet been approved by the Fifth Committee.  Therefore, the precise timing of the adoption may have to be adjusted.

The President is scheduled to give a press briefing tomorrow at 1, as Steph mentioned, on the Peacebuilding Commission and the status of the various UN reform initiatives, as we approach the end of the year.  We will notify you if there are any changes in the timing of that.

Informal consultations of the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) on the biennial budget were held all weekend on an extended schedule, late into the evening.  The President met with the Chair of that Committee this morning to review progress and he stressed the urgency of reaching an agreement.  Informal consultations of the plenary on the Human Rights Council are being held today, being presented by the Co-Chairs.  They are aiming to make as much progress as possible on the text before the end of the year.  And in the Second Committee (Economic and Financial), there are a few draft resolutions on which the Committee did not take action on Friday, including on financing for development.  These will hopefully be adopted this afternoon and the Committee will conclude its work for the year.  Yes, a question?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  There was applause last week when the resolution on the Peacebuilding Commission was presented.  Now I understand the only hitch is programme budget implications?

Spokesperson:  That’s the main issue to be worked out, whether the financial implications can be separated out from the revised estimates on all the reforms.  But there are one or two small political points that are being tweaked as well.  There are some political aspects, but he received broad support on the politics of the resolution; a few details are still being worked out.

Question:  Is the text on the new Human Rights Council available?

Spokesperson:  We’re still in a stage where they want to keep the texts informal.  They’re still quite preliminary.

Question:  On the Peacebuilding Commission, the Secretariat is asking for new funding for new posts.  I thought the idea in the Summit outcome was that the Peacebuilding unit would be added within the existing budget.

Spokesperson:  That’s one of the issues they have to work out, how to approach it.

Question:  What’s the Secretariat’s position, do you know?

Spokesperson:  There is a document, the revised budget estimates, that has the budget implications for all the Summit reforms, that has figures by the Secretariat.  You have to check the documents for the exact figures.

Question:  You know how many posts they requested?

Spokesperson:  No, I don’t.  But it’s publicly available in the document.

Question:  How many of these reform things will be made public by the end of the week -- because we’re facing the winter break and the budget is tied to the reforms.  Any benchmarks we can expect over the next days?

Spokesperson:  It’ll be primarily the Peacebuilding Commission, hopefully in the early part of this week if we can get the budgetary aspects worked out.  On the Human Rights Council, they’re working intensely but I think everybody recognizes it’ll be in January.  There may be a few management reform proposals that may be acted on this week.  They’re in the stage of being tied up with the Fifth Committee or the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ).

Question:  Will they be threshed out by midweek?  Can we expect something concrete on the management reform that can crystallize by Thursday and we can report on?

Spokesperson:  The ethics office is one of those.  I was told that the report of the Secretary-General on those three items -- the ethics office, the independent audit body [and the external evaluation of the oversight system] -- had been sent to the Fifth Committee and the ACABQ, and was supposed to be sent back today to the management reform group.  I have to check on where it stands.

Question:  The Chairman of the financial Committee was supposed to have booked his flight on 21 December and Mr. Eliasson on 22.  Today is 19 December.  Do you know if the Chairman of the financial Committee is still planning to go home Wednesday?

Spokesperson:  I don’t think that’s the case.  The hopeful plan is that the Fifth Committee will meet on Thursday to adopt the budget and then the plenary would take it up on Friday.

Question:  Is the question of the interim budget still on the table?

Spokesperson:  My understanding is that no proposals for a shortened budget have been officially tabled, so any discussions on that are taking place informally.

Question:  I don’t understand.  You’re saying the only reform measures likely to go through is the Peacebuilding Commission, which will enlarge the UN budget.  All those other ideas that are supposed to shrink the budget are delayed until later.  How could anybody project a budget based on its largest point?

Spokesperson:  That’s the complication in the budget process this year.  The biennial budget is always a very complex issue that takes it to the very end of the year.  But this year it’s complicated by the revised estimates in addition to the regular budget, resulting from the Summit reforms.  And some of those reforms, according to the agreed schedule, will not be adopted until early next year.  So Member States have to work out a way to either reflect that in the budget or mandate how that will be incorporated into the budget.

Question:  Can you ask the President if we can have texts made available before tomorrow’s press conference?

Spokesperson:  The text on the Peacebuilding Commission is out and available.  The text on the Human Rights is still preliminary and I think it’s the wish of Member States that it be kept informal.  But I’ll ask.

* *** *

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