|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.
**Security Council - Lebanon
Good afternoon. Just a short while ago, Serge Brammertz, the head of the International Independent Investigation Commission, briefed the Security Council on the considerable progress of the Commission’s investigation into the 14 February 2005 killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 22 other people.
Presenting his latest report to the Council, Brammertz said that critical forensics work on the crime scene and the convoy vehicles has now been completed, and the modalities and circumstances of the attack are now largely understood. In the months ahead, the Commission will focus on identifying the perpetrators of the crime, he said.
He added that, in light of the potential linkages between the Hariri investigation and 14 other cases in Lebanon, the Commission believes that a much more concerted and robust effort is needed to move those other cases forward.
And we have copies of his speech upstairs.
The Council has now ended consultations on the report, and we do understand that a draft resolution has been circulated regarding a one-year extension of the Commission.
**Security Council - Darfur
This afternoon, starting at 3:00, the Security Council has scheduled a public meeting, followed by a private one, on Sudan.
The Council will hear from Luis Moreno Ocampo, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, about the progress of the Court’s work in dealing with alleged crimes committed in Darfur.
Mr. Ocampo does plan to speak to you at the stakeout afterwards.
The Secretary-General’s latest report on the UN Mission in Liberia is now out on the racks.
In it, he says the progress made in the short time since the Government of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf assumed office is very encouraging. Other positive developments include the resettlement of internally displaced persons and the return home of more Liberian refugees.
The Secretary-General adds that the decision concerning the transfer of Charles Taylor to the Special Court for Sierra Leone sent a strong message to other warlords in the region.
**WHO – Palestinian Territories
The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that, because of the funding crisis in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, health-care workers have not received salaries since March, leading to increased absenteeism. In addition, hospitals are running out of essential drugs, and fuel shortages are hindering normal vaccination services.
WHO is, therefore, currently looking into the creation of an interim, urgent, funding mechanism to alleviate the situation.
And we do have a press release available upstairs.
**UNHCR – Uzbek Refugees
The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, says it is “extremely concerned” about the fate of four Uzbek refugees who are still in detention centres in Kyrgyzstan, nearly a year after an extradition request from the Uzbek Government led to their arrest.
UNHCR reiterates its urgent appeal to the Kyrgyz authorities to refrain from any action aimed at forcibly returning these four refugees to Uzbekistan.
The agency has secured resettlement places in different countries for the four and encourages the Kyrgyz Government to allow them to either remain in the country or transfer them to UNHCR for immediate resettlement.
**Secretary-General’s Press Conference
And lastly, I did want to mention, a reminder to you that the Secretary-General, tomorrow at 10:30, will be having a press conference in this room.
And since the Secretary-General will have a press conference, we will not have a noon briefing.
Lastly, I wanted to share some sad news with you.
Our friend and colleague of many years, Sonia Lecca, passed away last Saturday in Lima, Peru.
Anyone who has ever had the opportunity to work with Sonia knows what a force of nature she was. She was a fierce defender of the Organization and of the journalists that cover it.
Her laugh and charm were both contagious and disarming, and no one could stay cross or angry at Sonia for more than five minutes.
This morning I received an e-mail from one of your former colleagues. And I just wanted to quote his words because I really couldn’t agree with him more. He said, “Serving as parent and promoter, tyrant and tutor at one time or another to us all, through her humour, Sonia defined humanity. Through her disability, Sonia defined strength. Through her memory, Sonia defines a seemingly simpler time.”
She worked for 31 years at the UN, all of that time in the Department of Public Information.
She is survived by her daughter, also named Sonia, her son-in-law Hernán, and two grandchildren, Christian and Gaston. Her daughter will be arriving in New York next Thursday and a mass, I’m told, is being arranged for Friday, the 23rd, at Holy Family Church around the corner. And I hope all of you will be able to attend.
I will now take your questions.
**Questions and Answers
Question: I hope I didn’t miss anything you said earlier on this issue, but the Israelis yesterday came with a very detailed explanation of why they think their shells did not hit the family on Friday. Human Rights Watch came with evidence to the contrary. And in contrast to that, Secretary-General Annan said that one explanation is very odd in his view. What did he base that on, and is there any independent, detailed analysis by the UN?
Spokesman: First of all, if you look at the transcript of what the Secretary-General said yesterday, it was clearly ... he spoke before the results of the investigation had been published. We are obviously watching and seeing the disputed accounts of what may have happened on the beach ... those from the Government of Israel, from Human Rights Watch, as you mentioned, and from the Palestinian Authority. And we’re just watching this debate very closely at this point.
Question: But Stéphane, he said that one explanation which the Israelis posit as the most logical possible explanation, although they don’t say clearly that that’s what happened, is odd. What did he base that determination on?
Spokesman: On the information at the time. At this point, there are differing accounts of what happened, different investigations, and we’re watching this debate very closely.
Question: There was no information at the time that said that beach mines are odd.
Spokesman: Benny, all I can tell you is that we’re watching this debate and the investigations very closely.
Question: One more question as a follow-up. Annan urged the Israelis last Friday to launch an investigation. The Israelis say that in their investigation, they have asked the Palestinian Authority to cooperate and give their side of the story to help their investigations. The Palestinians did not do that. They refused to do that. Does that enter into the calculations of assessing the final results of those competing investigations?
Spokesman: I don’t think I have any more to add than to say that we’re watching these different investigations very closely.
Question: The Secretary-General said yesterday that he was putting in a call to President Mahmoud Abbas. Has he?
Spokesman: Yes, he spoke yesterday to President Abbas, who briefed him on the ongoing political dialogue within the Palestinian political spectrum.
Question: And did he bring up anything about the Quartet or that the Quartet was fully engaged?
Spokesman: That’s all I have on the conversation at this point, but I think the Secretary-General did tell you yesterday that he was in touch, the Quartet members at the envoy level and the principals level were in touch.
Question: The situation in the DRC is getting very complex. The opposition is demonstrating in the streets. They are asking for consultations among all the elements in the country. They pretend they have never been consulted regarding the procedures adopted for the elections in a few weeks. The Vice-President said the ballots would not arrive on time to the desired places. Is the Secretary-General concerned about the possibility of a delay in the elections?
Spokesman: As far as I know, there’s no discussion of delaying the elections. These have been well prepared. The consultation process has been thorough in advance of the elections. One of the messages brought back by the Security Council members who just came back was for everyone to lower the rhetoric that we have seen in recent days in Kinshasa.
Question: You mentioned UNHCR’s statement about the Uzbek refugees. Earlier this week, it was reported that the Secretary-General sent a message of praise to the meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization -- that’s China, most of the States of Central Asia and Russia -- including, at least in the report that I read, praising them for their work against terrorism, extremism and separatism. This Uzbek thing, that’s described as Uzbekistan cracking down on separatism. What China is doing in Xinjiang is also that. So I wondered, was the Secretary-General’s statement somehow more nuanced than what I read about it, or did he unequivocally praise the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s work against separatism? And if so, how does that square with ...?
Spokesman: I think we’d have to look at that statement in more detail, but the Secretary-General’s position has always been clear -- that in the fight against terrorism, there needs to be respect for international human rights law and international humanitarian law.
Question: Can you confirm that the Secretary-General is sending a special envoy to the occupied territories?
Spokesman: He is not sending a special envoy. No. Those reports are erroneous.
Question: Just to clarify the schedule for this afternoon. Do I understand correctly there is an open Security Council meeting at 3:00, followed by a closed meeting, followed by a stakeout with Mr. Moreno Ocampo, is it?
Spokesman: That’s correct.
Question: In other words, it might be 4:00, 4:30 before he got to the stakeout?
Spokesman: 4:30, 5:00.
Question: The Staff Union has commissioned a report to overhaul the UN internal justice system. Any response to that? Have you seen it?
Spokesman: We have not yet seen the report. I think I answered those questions pretty extensively yesterday. The Secretary-General is also one who has stated a number of times that the internal justice system needs to be overhauled, needs to be made more efficient, more professionalized, more transparent; both managers and staff need to have trust in it. At the request of the General Assembly, he named a panel, which has been looking since the beginning of the year at the issues of upgrading the internal justice system in the UN, and he very much looks forward to the work of that panel, which should come very shortly.
Question: Like shortly this month, shortly ...?
Spokesman: Shortly, in UN time. I can get you an exact date.
Question: A follow-up on that, you said yesterday, first of all you did characterize this in an extensive answer, that you haven’t seen the report yet and so ... still you haven’t seen the report?
Spokesman: I’m not aware that the report commissioned by the Staff Council has been handed over to the Secretariat. I can check. But what I’m telling you is that, while the Staff Council was going about its exercise, the Secretary-General had appointed this panel to examine those same issues, and at the start, when we announced the panel, the Secretary-General said he was determined to find ways to upgrade and make the internal justice system fairer and more professional.
Question: A follow-up precisely on that point, one of the findings of the Staff Union report, which (inaudible), is that they don’t trust the current administration to actually change the system.
Spokesman: Well obviously, I think we have to wait until this panel comes up with its recommendations. A lot of those proposals will have to be acted upon by the membership, by the General Assembly. It is clear that currently we have a system that lacks the trust of the staff and of some of the managers, and we need to make it better.
Question: One more on this, and then Central Asia. It’s in the report but it exists outside of the report, floating around. Does the Secretary-General have a position on something like the Freedom of Information Act applying to UN documents, i.e., that there be some kind of a right of the public or the media to documents, rather than just at will?
Spokesman: I hope I’m not speaking off the top of my head, but it is my understanding that as part of the management reform process, there is a plan to put in place a more open policy towards documents that would serve the Secretariat, the press, the staff, the public and would be acceptable to the General Assembly, to the membership.
Question: Have you mentioned that Under-Secretary-General Gambari is in Tajikistan?
Spokesman: I mentioned that he was on a trip to Central Asia.
Question: When he comes back, is he going to speak about it?
Spokesman: I’d be happy to ask him to.
Question: (inaudible) these types of human rights or refugee issues ... are these among the issues he may be …?
Spokesman: I will double check. I don’t want to speak off the top of my head on this one.
Question: The Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, has said that he’s going to provide arms to warlords across Afghanistan to fight the Taliban. Does the UN have a view on this?
Spokesman: I don’t have any guidance on that. We can see if we can get you something.
Thank you very much.
* *** *