|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 Frehiwot Bekele of the Office of the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President.
**Statement Attributable to the Spokesman
I’ll start off today with a statement on the Philippines:
“The Secretary-General is deeply saddened by the loss of life and destruction caused by the mudslide that hit the village of Guinsaugon on the southern part of the island of Leyte in the Philippines. He extends his deepest condolences to the families of those who have been killed or injured in the disaster.
“The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is deploying a United National Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) team to strengthen the Resident Coordinator’s Office in supporting the Government of the Philippines. The United Nations stands ready to assist the Government of the Philippines further in alleviating this situation.”
And OCHA also tells us today that it will release a $50,000 emergency grant to the UN operations in the Philippines for the emergency response coordination efforts. The information received by OCHA from the Philippines is that up to 2,000 people may have been buried in the landslide. Only three houses are still standing in the entire village. We have more in a press release available upstairs.
The Security Council this morning held closed consultations and heard daily briefings by UN Secretariat on Haiti and Côte d’Ivoire.
On Haiti, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hédi Annabi, told Council members that Haiti’s Transitional Government has welcomed the decision of Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council on René Préval’s victory, and that other candidates had acknowledged Préval’s win. He also said that counting on Haiti’s legislative elections has now resumed.
Afterwards, the Security Council President for the month of February, Ambassador John Bolton of the United States, read out a statement, in which he said Council members applaud the Haitian people for their patience and continuing commitment to democracy, and congratulate Préval on his victory.
Also on Haiti, you had asked me if the Secretary-General had spoken with Préval, and I can confirm to you that he did so yesterday afternoon. During their conversation, the Secretary-General congratulated Préval and encouraged him to work on national reconciliation.
Meanwhile, on the ground, the UN Mission in the country says that the situation is calm, with no reports of violence. The Mission says residents in Port-au-Prince have returned to work.
And on Côte d’Ivoire, Mr. Annabi told Council members that the UN and the African Union were co-chairing in Abidjan today the International Working Group, which is helping map out plans for elections in that country. He also reported completion of the transfer of a mechanized company of peacekeepers from the UN Mission in Liberia with the arrival of 14 armoured personnel carriers. He asked the Council members to expedite their decision on the Secretary-General’s request that a full battalion of peacekeepers be transferred temporarily from Liberia to Côte d’Ivoire, as well as a police unit.
Annabi also briefed on a statement issued yesterday by the High Representative for elections, Antonio Monteiro, calling on the country’s leadership to come to a political decision on the make-up and work of the local election commission, so it could quickly begin work on the elections scheduled for October.
** Côte d’Ivoire
And also from Côte d’Ivoire, Jan Egeland, the UN’s top humanitarian official, is visiting that country. He told a meeting of the International Working Group there that he was profoundly shocked to witness the systematic destruction of offices of humanitarian organizations in the western town of Guiglo. He said the offices had been pillaged, looted, destroyed and burned. We do have a press release upstairs with more information on that.
Also, from Liberia, the UN refugee agency today said that, because of what it called positive changes undertaken by the new Government in Liberia, it will now actively promote voluntary repatriation for the estimated 160,000 Liberian refugees still outside their homeland. Until now, UNHCR had “facilitated” the voyages of people who wanted to return, but they did not actively promote the return.
From Pakistan, the World Food Programme says it needs $24 million urgently to maintain its helicopter “lifeline” operation until the end of August, to assist the thousands of victims of last year’s earthquake. WFP is currently assisting 400,000 people in remote and cut-off areas, which can only be reached by helicopter in what it says is the largest relief helicopter operation in the UN’s history. The 20-helicopter airlift is now moving 300 metric tons of relief supplies every day.
And one last thing: we have “The Week Ahead” for you, today being Friday. And also to confirm that although it is a US holiday on Monday, it is not a UN holiday, so we will all be here, at least I will be here.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Steph, on behalf of the United Nations Correspondents’ Association, I’d like to lodge a complaint against ... on the Secretary-General’s handling of a question by a colleague, Benny Avni. I mean, we do understand that the Secretary-General has a right not to answer a question that he doesn’t like, or if the question is offensive to his liking, but we believe that when answering a question -- when somebody asks a question, his decision whether or not to answer the question should be based on the content and not on the basis of who is asking.
Spokesman: Well, I’ll say that we, of course, respect the right of every journalist here, of every UNCA member, to ask questions. The Secretary-General was asked a question, chose to answer it with a question of his own and then the substance of the question was later answered during the Q-and-A, but your protest is noted.
Question: Has the Secretary-General yet responded to the letter from Dumisani Kumalo last week and, if he hasn’t responded, what was his reaction to it? And secondly, on the same issue, since the letter from the Congressmen yesterday is co-signed by Tom Lantos, who is somebody pretty close to the Secretary-General, is he aware of that letter, what does he think of it? I just want to know what is his involvement in this exchange of letters in this ongoing argument between the GA or the G-77 and the Secretariat?
Spokesman: We are in the process of writing back to Ambassador Kumalo. There is obviously a lot of tension right now between the General Assembly and other organs about who has the right to ... or let’s say who has the lead in dealing with certain issues here at the UN. We very much hope that the membership will come to some conclusion on these issues. As far as the complaints to Ambassador Kumalo, we understand their concerns and we are very much well aware of the need to keep the membership at large appraised of these issues dealing with procurement and management, and it is something we are doing.
Question: And the Lantos letter –- is he aware that Lantos was going to do that?
Spokesman: I don’t believe he had any prior knowledge of the letter from Mr. Lantos and Mr. Hyde to the Chairman of the Group of 77, but I think we will let them... It was not addressed to him, so I think the G-77...
Question: [Inaudible] because Ambassador Bolton told us that the Secretary-General had read a piece of it to him last night, so he has a copy, yes.
Spokesman: Oh, yes, he is aware of the letter.
Question: Ambassador Bolton –- on the same subject –- after the lunch yesterday said that the Secretary-General was not in agreement on the procurement meeting. What’s the position on that? And is some of this tension between the GA and the United States due to the squabble over management reform in general that seems to be going nowhere?
Spokesman: I think that the second part is an analysis that I don’t think I’d like to get into here, but on the lunch, I think the Secretary-General was just voicing his opinion that he felt that the issues of management and procurement and budget have generally been the purview of the General Assembly, while of course, understanding the fact that the Security Council is ultimately responsible for peacekeeping. That being said, we will as always provide a briefer as requested by the Security Council on this very important issue, which I believe will take place in the middle of next week.
Question: One more thing: I want to second what Masood said about Benny and this is now a second time –- do you have any explanation for this? It’s a bit out of line to comment on reporters’ newspaper and past work, rather than on the question.
Spokesman: We try to keep an open attitude here to every member of the press, but I will pass this on to the Secretary-General. Yes, Benny.
Question: On a related subject: a couple of times in the last ... yesterday and before, Secretary-General Annan came, on issues that had to do with freedom of press, on the side against freedom of press, including yesterday he said that pictures of Abu Ghraib should not have been published and before that he said that the cartoons should not have been in the public. Is he concerned now that he might step over the line by using this bully pulpit against freedom of the press, which is part of the UN Charter?
Spokesman: I think the Secretary-General does not stand against freedom of the press. That would be misinterpretation of what he has been saying. I think on the issues of the cartoon, he says that people should exercise judgement and responsibility. And it is clear that freedom of the press is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which the Secretary-General wants to uphold. He is just asking ... saying that all these freedoms entail responsibility, but he is not...
Question: [inaudible]... Soviet Union from the start before...
Spokesman: I ... I
Question: The call for responsibility is very scary for newspaper editors.
Spokesman: I think the Secretary-General has spoken quite a bit on the issues of the cartoons and he has upheld the freedom of the press and will continue to do so.
Question: There is now a closed emergency meeting going on by the G-77. Before I got kicked out, I went in and listened. A couple of people –- Zimbabwe...
Spokesman: Should I call you Ambassador?
Question: Please. The Zimbabwe Ambassador said that the United States is getting away with murder in its contravention of UN procedures and Julian Hunte, the former President of the General Assembly, said that such acts -– in a sense, that release of this procurement draft should have resulted in summary dismissal of senior UN staff. I am wondering what the Secretary-General’s response to that is and whether he has an opinion about the fact that the G-77 is discussing leaks in the press, instead of what appears to be the real issue, which is corruption and misspending.
Spokesman: I am not going to comment on what went on in a closed meeting, which I would not have been able to get into, but you obviously were. This issue of procurement is one we take very seriously. There is the issue of transparency, which we want to uphold. We also need to brief the Member States, who are our ultimate bosses. I think one of the lessons learned from Volcker is that you can have as many audits as you want in a programme -– the problem is whether or not you act on these audits. We are acting on the audits of procurement, and we are going ahead and acting on its findings. I think you have been well-briefed on what’s going on in terms of OIOS investigations and the audit work, but we are fully aware of the need to brief the membership at large on these developments.
Question: Does the Secretary-General have any issue or would he make it an issue on this perennial contradiction between the fact that the United States pays about 25 per cent of the budget and peacekeeping, but then the G-77, which pays about 5 per cent, can completely stall any discussion of actual reform. Should there be sort of weighted voting in the Assembly?
Spokesman: I think whether you contribute $1, or $100 million, you have a right to expect that your money is well spent and not wasted. That’s, you know, how much you contribute really has ... it doesn’t matter. The money needs to be well spent. It’s obvious that we’re undergoing ... we’re in the heat of the reform process here at the UN on management reform and on the human rights council, and it’s important that the membership act constructively, so we can move ahead on these issues.
Question: Can you give us an update in terms of the military contingency planning for transition from the AU force to a UN peacekeeping in Darfur?
Spokesman: We are still in the planning process. DPKO is actively working on it, trying to put together a plan for a much more robust and mobile force with the elements it will need to have to do its work. And that’s going ahead. I can’t give you an end date on when that will be completed.
Question: But there are US military planners on the ground.
Spokesman: Yes, we have accepted the aid of US military planners, and we’ll... Excuse me...? I don’t know where they physically are, or whether they will be on the ground. They will be helping. And we will also be looking to other countries with robust militaries to also help us in the planning.
Question: I also want to echo the concerns raised by Masood and Evelyn concerning the incident -- whatever happened -– how you describe it with Benny yesterday.
Question: The furore that has been created by the Hyde-Lantos letter in the General Assembly -- can we ask you to ask either somebody from NAM or the President of the GA to come and let us know exactly what is happening?
Spokesman: Sure. In fact, I think Freh who is here has something to read out for you on the NAM letter.
Thank you very much.
**Briefing by Office of General Assembly President
The President of the General Assembly met today with the “Troika” of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), and the topic of discussion was the letter that NAM sent to him on 14 February, in which it outlined its position regarding the relationship among the principal organs of the United Nations. The President shares NAM’s concern that issues that fall within the functions and powers of the General Assembly should be dealt with by the General Assembly and that the balance between the principal organs of the Organization should be maintained.
The President of the General Assembly strongly believes that the authority of the General Assembly must be upheld and strengthened and to this end, he will, in close consultation with Member States, actively continue to explore ways and means through which this can be achieved. For instance, yesterday, during the first meeting of the ad-hoc working group on the revitalization of the GA’s work, these issues were brought up.
The President intends to continue to meet with the Presidents of the Security Council and the ECOSOC on a regular basis to ensure increased coherence and complementarity between the General Assembly -- which is the chief deliberative policymaking and representative organ of the United Nations -- and the other two principal organs of the Organization.
Question: But this doesn’t make any sense. This...the President’s statement. The question here –- if I can play the Devil’s advocate and pretend to be Ambassador Bolton -– is that peacekeeping obviously overlapped: the Security Council is responsible, and the General Assembly has financing control over it. And both of these meetings refer to peacekeeping. Is the GA going to have a similar one, or...? And also, unless I am wrong, the members of NAM in the Security Council didn’t seem to protest when the schedule happened –- or they couldn’t have done it. So, there are about five.
Ms. Bekele: You are right. These issues related to peacekeeping. In fact, the Fifth Committee is scheduled to take up the procurement issue in the spring. And the other issue of sexual exploitation and abuse is supposed to be taken up by the Fourth Committee. So it is on the General Assembly’s agenda. And the President is discussing this issue of the roles of the two organs, both with the President of the Security Council and also with members of NAM and other Member States.
Question: Well, his statement seems to side with NAM, and I am curious why.
Ms. Bekele: He shares their concern and the issue is under discussion.
Question: Does this mean that he objects to...
Ms. Bekele: No, it does not mean that. The issue is under discussion, both with the President of the Security Council and with members of NAM.
Question: Well, their concern is -– one of their concerns is that these meetings violate the UN Charter and shouldn’t be held. Does he share that concern?
Ms. Bekele: Their letter states Article 24 does not necessarily provide the Council with the competence to address these issues, so they are not categorically denying that the Council should address these.
Question: What is his view on whether these meetings should be held?
Ms. Bekele: As I said, the issue is under discussion. He is discussing it with the...
Question: [inaudible] is going to be resolved before the meetings are held or after?
Ms. Bekele: He is continuing discussing it, both with the President of the Security Council and with NAM members.
Question: In these discussions, what is he presenting as to whether these meetings should be held?
Ms. Bekele: He is hearing all sides.
Question: Does the President believe that the Security Council does not have the authority to discuss this issue?
Ms. Bekele: Nick, I just said that the issue is under discussion and...
Question: I mean... Okay.
Ms. Bekele: It’s not decided –- it’s an open question.
Question: There is a fear of headlines [inaudible] the Charter. Doesn’t he have a reading of this, on the Charter? What the guideline of the Charter is?
Ms. Bekele: Even NAM, which raised the question, does not categorically state that the Security Council cannot take up these issues. They just said it does not necessarily have the authority, so that’s why it’s being discussed, and I don’t think you can just settle the issue overnight.
Question: On a slightly related issue...
Question: Are we making up a new organization here?
Question: On the issue of the discussion of the procurement audit that was leaked to the press -– there was a lot of discussion in the General Assembly about that leak and dissatisfaction with the Secretariat for that leak. Does the President believe this is a serious issue of discussing these leaks? Or is he worried that it might be distracting from the real issue, which is the fact that peacekeeping procurement is [inaudible]?
Ms. Bekele: Actually, I don’t know what his stance is on that. I can get an answer for you on that.
Question: The General Assembly at one point decided to bring an “oil-for-food” question. I hear it is no longer on the agenda –- can you check on that?
Ms. Bekele: It is still on the agenda of the General Assembly.
Question: Do you know what happened? Because they wanted to translate 20,000 pages of Volcker?
Ms. Bekele: The Volcker report is not going to be issued as a United Nations document. It is available on the website, so the issue of its translation is moot. The item is still on the agenda of the General Assembly.
Question: There was a snippet a few days ago in the Secretariat briefing about the 2.2 per cent account that it will now be assessed against Iraq’s arrears to the United Nations -– do you know anything?
Ms. Bekele: I am not aware of that at all. I’ll have to see what that’s about and...
Question: Could you ask the President of the General Assembly or ... to come and give us a briefing on this whole issue?
Ms. Bekele: On the question that NAM has raised? I will put in the request.
Question: What’s the schedule now for the human rights commission?
Ms. Bekele: The President is still conducting his final bilateral consultations, and he hopes to present his text to Member States next week.
Question: Any day next week?
Ms. Bekele: We don’t have precise time yet. But as soon as we know, we’ll announce it.
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