DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL

15 March 2006

DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL

15 March 2006
Spokesman's Noon Briefing
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL

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

**Human Rights Council

Good afternoon, sorry for the delay.  As you know, the General Assembly just adopted the framework for the new Human Rights Council.  The vote was 170 in favour to 4 against ( United States, Israel, Marshall Islands, Palau), with 3 abstentions ( Venezuela, Iran, Belarus).

I now have a statement from the Secretary-General on the Human Rights Council.  It’s a bit long, but I will read it into the record.

“Today, by this historic resolution, the General Assembly has established the new Human Rights Council that world leaders resolved to create at the summit last September.  This gives the United Nations the chance -- a much-needed chance –- to make a new beginning in its work for human rights around the world.  I congratulate General Assembly President Jan Eliasson, and thank him for his patience and tenacity in bringing this sensitive matter to a conclusion.  No country will be wholly satisfied with every paragraph in the resolution, but such is the nature of international negotiations.  It preserves important strengths of the Commission on Human Rights, such as the system of special procedures and the participation of NGOs, while also setting forth important innovations to address the Commission's weaknesses.  Taken as a whole, the resolution gives us a solid foundation, on which all who are truly committed to the cause of human rights must now build.  I believe they will succeed in building a framework within which Governments from all parts of the world can work together to promote human rights, more effectively than ever before.

“This is only the first step in a process of change.  In the coming weeks, States wishing to be elected to the new Council will put forward their pledges and commitments to protect and promote human rights.  It will be up to their fellow Member States to evaluate these promises, and to hold the successful candidates to them.  The General Assembly will vote on all candidates, and thereafter will have the responsibility to suspend any of the Council’s members that commit gross and systematic violations of human rights.  The members will have committed themselves to uphold the highest standards of human rights, cooperate fully with the Council, and have their own human rights records reviewed during their term of membership.  The universal review mechanism will allow the Council to hold all Member States to their human rights obligations fairly and equally, without selectivity or double standards.  The Council will meet regularly throughout the year, and can hold special sessions when needed.  This should enable it to deal with human rights crises immediately, whenever they arise.

“Now the real work begins.  The true test of the Council’s credibility will be the use that Member States make of it.  If, in the weeks and months ahead, they act on the commitments they have given in this resolution, I am confident that the Council will breathe new life into all our work for human rights, and thereby help to improve the lives of millions of people throughout the world.”

And that statement from the Secretary-General is available upstairs.

**Secretary-General in South Africa

Earlier today the Secretary-General wrapped up his trip to South Africa, where he travelled from Cape Town to Johannesburg to meet with former South African President Nelson Mandela.  He spoke to reporters after the meeting with President Mandela and was asked about the Human Rights Council.  He said he very much hoped that even those who would not support it in a vote would work with the Council as it moves ahead.

The Secretary-General then visited Soweto, where he laid a wreath at a memorial for one of the first victims of the uprising in that township 30 years ago, a 12-year-old boy named Hector Pieterson.  While in Soweto, the Secretary-General held a dialogue with civil society representatives, as well.

He has now just arrived in Madagascar, where he landed in the capital, where he was scheduled to be greeted by the Prime Minister, and will now overnight in Madagascar.

**UNEP Appointment

I have an appointment to announce.  The Secretary-General today proposed, for election by the General Assembly, Mr. Achim Steiner of Germany as Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) for a four-year term.

Mr. Steiner is currently the Director General of the World Conservation Union -- the world’s largest environmental network with over 1,000 members, including States, government agencies, and non-governmental organizations in  140 countries.  Mr. Steiner has worked both at the grass-roots level and at the highest levels of international policy-making to address the connections between environmental sustainability, social equity, and economic development.

Mr. Steiner will succeed Klaus Töpfer and is expected to begin his term, if ratified by the General Assembly, on 15 June 2006.

And we do have his biography upstairs.

** Lebanon

Serge Brammertz, the head of the UN International Independent Investigation Commission (UNIIIC), yesterday gave the Security Council the third report on the inquiry’s work, which as you know is looking into the killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 22 others.

Mr. Brammertz will brief the Security Council tomorrow morning in an open meeting, and that will be followed by closed consultations on the same subject.  And Mr. Brammertz has assured me that he will make himself available to the general press corps at the Security Council stakeout, not in here but at the stakeout, tomorrow after his meeting with the Council.

**Security Council -- Iraq

Earlier today, Ashraf Qazi, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, told Security Council members in an open briefing that the next six months in Iraq are going to be critical.  He warned, “The cloud of pessimism that has further darkened as a result of recent developments has to be lifted.”

Despite some grounds for hope, Qazi said, the overall situation in Iraq remains tense and volatile.  Recent developments have made negotiations on government formation more difficult.  With the expected convening of the Council of Representatives on 16 March, he added, it is now incumbent on all concerned to move on swiftly to form a fully inclusive Government.

We have his remarks upstairs.

Council members also heard briefings from the United States and Iraq on the situation in Iraq, and they have now moved into closed consultations.  Mr. Qazi is also set to speak to you at the stakeout afterwards, and he will also brief you in a longer press conference at 10 a.m. here tomorrow morning.

**Security Council -- Middle East

Yesterday afternoon, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Ibrahim Gambari briefed the Security Council in consultations on the upsurge in violence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, following the Israeli incursion into a Palestinian prison in Jericho.  Israel’s violent incursion, as well as the Palestinian actions carried out in response, risked destabilizing even further the already tense situation in the region, Mr. Gambari told the Council.

In remarks to the press following those consultations, the President of the Council, the Ambassador of Argentina, said that Council members expressed serious concern over the upsurge in violence and called for the parties to exercise maximum restraint and to take urgent steps to restore calm.  Council members also called for the release of those who have been kidnapped.

** Sudan

Meanwhile from Sudan, the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) says that it has received various reports about a series of attacks in West Darfur over the past week.  The latest attack was reportedly over the weekend, when around 1,000 unidentified militants, travelling in motor vehicles and on camels and horses, attacked a village and killed eight people and stole livestock.

Meanwhile, the Mission says the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Jan Pronk, met yesterday with the head of the African Union Mission in Sudan to discuss a possible transition to a UN force.  They agreed on the need for a joint approach and have decided to meet weekly.

**ICTY

From The Hague, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) is looking into opening to the public confidential materials and documents from the case against Slobodan Milosevic.  Those documents might be necessary for the Dutch authorities as they investigate Milosevic’s death, said the Tribunal. And the Tribunal also formally closed the proceedings against Milosevic yesterday, and is conducting its own internal probe into his death.

We have a press release with more available upstairs.

**General Assembly President’s Press Conference

Lastly, but more importantly, at 1:30 in this room, Assembly President Jan Eliasson will be briefing you on the just adopted Human Rights Council.

That’s it for me.  Any questions?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Do you have an official reaction of the Secretary-General on the report?

Spokesman:  It’s not up to the Secretary-General to report.  He appointed Mr. Brammertz, he obviously fully backs his work to report to the Security Council, and that reaction should come from the Council.

Question:  In his statement to the Council this morning, Special Representative Qazi said that he had proposed the idea of establishing a Contact Group, which would include Iraq’s neighbours, to consider stability in Iraq.  Do we have any idea about who would be represented in that Contact Group?

Spokesman:  No, I think my understanding is it would represent the neighbours and other interested nations.  Obviously, the situation in Iraq had always benefited from the support of the neighbours, as Iraq transitions into a more peaceful and democratic State.  As for the exact list of the Contact Group, I will see what we can get for you, Mr. Abbadi.

Thank you very much.

[The Spokesman later added that there is no list of nations on the proposed Contact Group yet.  What Ashraf Qazi has suggested is having a Group formed that would comprise the nations in the region.]

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