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

22 February 2006

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

22/02/2006
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.

Briefing by Spokesman for Secretary-General

Good afternoon.

** Iraq

I’ll start off with a statement attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary-General on Iraq.

“The Secretary-General was deeply shocked and saddened to learn of the bombing of the holy Shrine of Imams Ali al-Hadi and al-Hasan al-Askari in Samarra this morning, an act which is clearly aimed at provoking sectarian strife and undermining further the peace and stability of Iraq.  He appeals to all communities to show maximum restraint in the face of these provocative actions.

“The Secretary-General further calls on all political and religious leaders of Iraq to come together in a spirit of dialogue and mutual respect to calm the situation and dedicate their efforts to ensure the respect of human rights and the protection of places of worship.

“The United Nations will continue to do everything possible to assist the Iraqi people to promote inter-communal dialogue and national reconciliation.”

**Democratic Republic of Congo

I also have a statement on the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

“The Secretary-General welcomes the promulgation on 17 February of the Constitution of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, following its adoption by popular referendum on 18 December of last year, and the adoption on 21 February by the Parliament of the electoral law.  These steps mark important milestones in the history of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

“The Secretary-General looks forward to the early publication by the Independent Electoral Commission of an electoral calendar providing for the timely holding of free, fair and transparent elections.  The United Nations remains deeply committed to providing all possible support for the Congolese peace process, including the conduct of the elections.”

And that statement is available upstairs in French and English.

**Secretary-General’s Trip

I mentioned to you parts of upcoming travels by the Secretary-General and I want to fill in the blanks.

As I mentioned, he will be travelling to Doha, Qatar, to attend two events.  On Saturday, the Secretary-General will convene a meeting to discuss the current crisis related to the caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed.  The other participants in this meeting, which Qatar will be hosting, will be the Secretaries-General of the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the Arab League, as well as the Foreign Ministers of Turkey, Spain, Austria and Qatar.  Also attending will be the European Union’s High Representative for a Common Foreign and Security Policy, Javier Solana.

That gathering will be followed by a joint press conference, also on Saturday afternoon, with most of the participants at the meeting attending that press conference, and they will read out a joint statement before taking questions.

On Sunday, the Secretary-General will attend the second meeting of the High-Level Panel of the Alliance of Civilizations.

From Doha, the Secretary-General will travel to Geneva, where, on Monday, he will host a mini-summit between President El Hadj Omar Bongo Ondimba of Gabon and President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea, in an effort to revitalize the mediation efforts relating to their ongoing territorial dispute.

The Secretary-General will then go to Paris where, on Tuesday, he will deliver remarks at the Ministerial Conference, hosted by French President Jacques Chirac, on Innovative Sources of Financing for Development.

Later in the day, he will meet with President Tassos Papadopoulos of Cyprus in order to review the situation in Cyprus and discuss ways of moving forward the process of reuniting Cyprus.

We expect the Secretary-General back in the office on Thursday.

**Security Council

The Security Council, as you know, is currently holding a public meeting on procurement aspects of UN peacekeeping operations.  From the Secretariat side, a briefing was given by Mark Malloch Brown, the Chef de Cabinet.  Copies of his remarks are available upstairs and we expect him to speak to you at the Security Council stakeout shortly at the end of the meeting.

Mr. Malloch Brown noted in his remarks that a comprehensive review is being undertaken to address the broader underlying weaknesses that have been identified in procurement.  He flagged the launching of radical proposals in a management reform report next week.  The Secretary-General is expected to present that management reform report to the General Assembly next Thursday morning on 2 March.

Later this afternoon, at 3 p.m., the Council has scheduled a meeting on Haiti, in which Interim Prime Minister Gérard Latortue will be briefing.  That is in an open meeting.  Then, in consultations, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Haiti, Juan Valdes, is scheduled to brief Council members.  Mr. Valdes is also expected to speak to you at the stakeout afterwards, after the meeting is over.

** Sudan

The UN Mission in Sudan reports that the situation in Darfur remains volatile.  The Mission says it has received reports that the armed forces, supported by militia, attacked yesterday a village in North Darfur.  They raided the market area in this village and then also attacked the water pump area, destroying the water point and killing many animals in that location, according to the Mission.

There are also reports that the day before, another village, called Al Amin, came under attack in North Darfur, during which the market was raided and huts were burned.  In addition, there are reports that the African Union has been targeted again in North Darfur.  An AU force vehicle was attacked on Monday by unidentified armed elements who stole the car.

Meanwhile, the Sudanese authorities, in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and other partners, today launched this year’s first round of the national polio immunization campaign in Sudan, that is from the 20th to 22nd of February.  The goal is to immunize the 8.1 million children under the age of five.

**Kosovo

Delegations from Pristina and Belgrade yesterday concluded their first round of direct negotiations in Vienna, under the auspices of the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the future status process of Kosovo, Martti Ahtisaari.

The talks, which were chaired by the Deputy Special Envoy, Albert Rohan, focused on decentralization, as it relates to health care, education, culture, social welfare, police and justice.  According to Mr. Rohan, common ground was found in all of those areas.

Both parties have decided to have their next formal meeting on 17 March.  In addition, Ahtisaari’s office will send expert delegations to both Belgrade and Pristina to have further in-depth discussions.  We have a press release available upstairs.

**Bird Flu

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today called for vaccination of poultry in Nigeria to avoid the spread of bird flu.  The agency said that although the Government has taken the right steps, such as culling in outbreak areas, those measures may not be enough.  We have more information upstairs from FAO.

** Azerbaijan

The World Health Organization (WHO), with support from UNICEF, is launching a measles and rubella immunization campaign in Azerbaijan this Friday.  The two-week campaign, which will target over 3 million 7-to-29-year-olds throughout the whole country, will aim to reach groups in remote rural communities.  Kicking off the campaign will be world-renowned cellist and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich.  We have a press release on that upstairs.

**Press Conference Tomorrow

Tomorrow in this room, at 12:45, Terry Davis, Secretary-General of the Council of Europe, will brief you on the issue of rendition flights that have been reported to take place in Europe.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  At least 15 or so people have been asked to speak to the United States Attorney’s Office.  Can you tell us whether any of them have taken that opportunity?

Spokesman:  No, there is ongoing investigation, both by the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) and the Southern District of New York, and we will not have any further comment.

Question:  I see that when the Secretary-General asked them to talk to the feds, he said that their diplomatic immunity would remain intact.  Normally, when a person is interviewed in a criminal investigation by federal officials in the United States, it would be a crime to mislead the federal officials.  So, people have a strong incentive to tell the truth.  Why did the Secretary-General in this case not waive diplomatic immunity so that those people would have the same incentive to tell the truth?

Spokesman:  As I said, as this current investigation is going on by the Southern District, I don’t have any further details to give out.

Question:  On the current confrontation between the G-77 and the US on who is responsible for taking up the OIOS report [on procurement practices in peacekeeping operations], the Secretary-General has not weighed in categorically, neither has Mark Malloch Brown.  What is the Secretary-General’s position on the issue?

Spokesman:  I would refer you to what he said the other day, when he said that peacekeeping procurement and sexual abuse are issues that should be of concern to all Member States and that they should find a way to discuss them openly and publicly and not fight over which forum is more appropriate.  Beyond that, this is one for the Member States to decide.

Question:  Is the matter of the swastikas and the Nazi salutes closed?

Spokesman:  The cases were investigated.  The person responsible was disciplined, and as a result, a number of staff have to undergo sensitivity training.  I am not aware of any further action.

Question:  Was the person who gave the Nazi salute the same person responsible for the swastika?  If not, what happened to the people who gave the Nazi salute?

Spokesman:  As I said, the person responsible, and as far as I know it was one person who was responsible, was reprimanded and a number of staff members and senior managers were asked to go on sensitivity training.

Question:  Was it a salute, singular, or...?

Spokesman:  I have no further details on that.

Question:  Is it true that the head of Peacekeeping and the head of the OIOS did not brief the Security Council on its discussion of procurement today?

Spokesman:  I think it was an open meeting.  The person who briefed on behalf of the Secretariat was Mark Malloch Brown.

Question:  The matter [of the swastikas and Nazi salutes] is closed, according to what you are saying.  Basically, the offender got a slap on the wrist.  [inaudible] for such an issue?

Spokesman:  The case was looked at, the actions were looked at.  The staff member was disciplined.  Sensitivity training was ordered for that staff member and other senior managers.  I know of no further action.

Question:  Nobody will be fired as a result?

Spokesman:  I know of no further action.

Question:  Was anybody disciplined for the Nazi salute or not?

Spokesman:  James, I have used every word I can on this case.  I don’t know any more than I have just said.  The cases were investigated and the staff member responsible was reprimanded for all the actions.

Question:  Was the same member who did the swastikas...

Spokesman:  My understanding is that this involved only one staff member.  I don’t know the exact nature of his offence.  I will see if I can get any further information, but this case, as I understand, was that the staff member was reprimanded and disciplined.

Question:  Can you give us an update on the state of play of military contingency planning regarding Darfur?  Has the Secretary-General been in contact with any of the players directly?

Spokesman:  The contingency planning is continuing, led by DPKO, it is going full steam ahead.  But while the contingency planning is ongoing, it would be wise for the Member States who have the capacity to help us in putting together the kind of force the Secretary-General said was needed, which is one that is robust and very mobile, to start thinking about what kind of assets they will be able to offer us when we come asking once the contingency planning is done.

Question:  As a follow-up to the swastikas and Nazi salutes, have any steps been taken to ensure that there will not be any retaliation against the person who reported it?

Spokesman:  We won’t want to see any retaliation taken against the person who complained.  We would expect that anyone who retaliates would be punished.  And we would expect to create an environment where people of all cultures, races and religions feel that they are welcome to work in.

Yes, James.

Question:  On the Mercedes, back in November, you told us the Secretary-General’s son’s lawyers were in contact with the Ghana authorities about the car.  But actually, the letter they subsequently produced appeared to be their first contact with the Ghana authorities and was dated 19 January.  Were you misled by the Secretary-General’s son’s lawyers, was it incorrect, or were they actually in contact?  If so, how were they in contact before the 19 January letter?

Spokesman:  I would encourage you to use the phone number that is at the bottom of that letter and call them.

Question:  Sorry, I have called them.  And I believe, as I have said repeatedly, that these questions should be answered by the Secretary-General, who owns the car.  The lawyers are refusing to talk to me.

Spokesman:  You and I will agree to disagree, but I have nothing further to add to the Mercedes.

Question:  Let me ask you again, does the SG still own the car?

Spokesman:  James, I have nothing further to add on this car.

Question:  I understand that the Secretary-General specifically kept the two heads from appearing today [in the Security Council].  Is that right?

Spokesman:  It was felt that Mr. Malloch Brown was the best person to speak on behalf of the Organization.

Briefing by Spokesperson for General Assembly President

Good afternoon.

Tomorrow at noon, at informal consultations of the plenary, General Assembly President Jan Eliasson will present to Member States his proposed text for a draft resolution on the Human Rights Council.  He will brief the press here in 226 directly afterwards, at 1:30 p.m.

Today, the President is holding several additional consultations bilaterally, and he is finalizing the text.  He is hopeful that the Human Rights Council -– as set out in this draft -– will strengthen the UN’s human rights machinery and build greater cooperation, dialogue and capacity in the human rights field.  He is also encouraged by a growing awareness among Member States that they need to come to closure on this important matter very soon.

And that’s all.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Does the President view this as the final text?  Is this something that he hopes will go to a vote in the next week or so?

Spokesperson:  It is not a “take it or leave it” proposition.  He is hoping it will be the final text.  It is the product of many weeks of consultations and it is, what he feels is the best proposal that will, indeed, strengthen the human rights machinery.  The anticipated course of action is that, once the text has been formally processed and the financial procedures have been followed, that it will go for a decision by Member States in an open meeting of the plenary.  He is hoping for a consensus, not an action by vote.

Question:  One of the sticking points had been the two-thirds majority vote for electing members of that council.  How close are the Member States on that issue?

Spokesperson:  He will tell you the details of what he is proposing tomorrow.

Question:  You said that you are going to present it to Member States by 12 o’clock but not present it to the press until after that.  The President knows the European deadlines fall in that period.  I would ask that we get the text at least as soon as it is given to the Member States, because his briefing will fall after European deadlines.

Spokesperson:  We will try to circulate the text to the press by e-mail at noon, when the Member States get it.

Question:  The question about blasphemy, has that now been resolved?

Spokesperson:  He was still consulting with the Organization of the Islamic Conference over their proposed amendments.  This morning he met with the ambassador, so that is still in progress.

Thank you very much.

* *** *

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