|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon. I’ll start with a statement issued a short while ago out of Rome on the Middle East.
**Statement on the Middle East
The Secretary-General has decided to dispatch a three-person team led by his Special Political Adviser, Vijay Nambiar, to the Middle East to help defuse the major crisis in the region. The other members of that team will be senior UN officials Alvaro de Soto and Terje Roed-Larsen.
The team will first visit Cairo to meet with Egyptian officials and consult with Arab League foreign ministers, who will be meeting there on Saturday. Mr. Nambiar and his team are also expected to travel to Israel, the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Lebanon and Syria. Other stops will be added as needed.
Mr. Nambiar will emphasize to all parties the Secretary-General’s call to exercise restraint and do whatever possible to help contain the conflict. He will also reiterate the Secretary-General’s message to respect international humanitarian law and to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure.
**Secretary-General’s Press Encounter in Rome
A short while ago the Secretary-General spoke to the press in an encounter in Rome, in which he expressed his deep alarm at this escalating violence in Lebanon and Israel.
He said he was particularly concerned at the suffering that has been unleashed on civilians, with tens of Lebanese civilians already killed as a result of Israeli operations and many more injured, and Israeli civilians killed and wounded from Hizbollah attacks on Israeli population centres.
The Secretary-General added that he was gravely concerned about the situation in Gaza, where Palestinian civilians are paying a bitter price from heavy Israeli military operations and an alarming humanitarian situation that threatens to get worse.
He condemned all actions that target civilians, and reminded the parties that under the law of armed conflict, attacks must not be directed against civilian objects. He also asked for all concerned to extend full support to the mission headed by Vijay Nambiar.
**Statement on Geneva Conventions
And in a statement issued even earlier today in Rome, the Secretary-General welcomes the decision by the United States Government requesting its defence officials to promptly review all relevant policies and practices affecting alleged Al Qaeda or Taliban militants detained in US custody, to ensure that all such measures comply with the standards of common article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.
The Secretary-General said he believes this decision strengthens the international rule of law, and is true to the US’s strong tradition of respect for civil liberties. He encourages all countries to keep their legislation and practices under constant review, with a view to ensuring that they are in conformity with international humanitarian and human rights laws. We have that full statement upstairs.
And here at the United Nations, this morning the Security Council held a closed meeting on Kosovo, during which it heard from Serbian Prime Minister [Vojislav] Kostunica. The Council then moved into consultations on Kosovo and other matters.
Briefing in that session is Martti Ahtisaari, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Kosovo’s future status process. Mr. Ahtisaari is informing the Council that he intends to take the process from technical talks to a new high-level political phase, to be held this month in Vienna. During the new phase, teams from both sides will be invited to present their positions on status.
Ahtisaari is expected to go to the stakeout after he is finished with consultations. And that should be in a short while.
Then, at 3 this afternoon, Kosovo President Fatmir Sejdiu will be informally briefing Security Council members in an Arria Formula meeting.
Two reports are available on the racks today. One is the Secretary-General’s report on the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and the humanitarian situation in LRA-affected areas. In it, the Secretary-General describes the impact of the LRA rebellion on civilian populations in Northern Uganda and in the border region between Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and southern Sudan.
The Secretary-General also analyses how UN Mission forces in Sudan and the DRC could contribute towards limiting or ending the destructive LRA activities under their respective mandates.
Taking note of the indictment by the International Criminal Court of five LRA leaders, as well as ongoing efforts by Uganda and international actors to curb the LRA through a negotiated settlement, the Secretary-General proposes the creation of a UN senior-level envoy position to help the Government of Uganda deal with the situation created by the LRA activities.
And the second report available today is on developments in Guinea-Bissau and the work of the UN Peacebuilding Office in that country.
In it, the Secretary-General says the political climate remains fragile as deep antagonisms between political actors continue to hamper a frank and open national dialogue. The security and human rights situation, he says, is similarly unstable; but the critical and constructive advisory work of the UN Peacebuilding Office is showing encouraging results. And both of these reports are on the racks upstairs.
And then, on Liberia, a two-day donor conference intended to encourage donors to release funds they have pledged in 2004 towards Liberia’s reconstruction began yesterday in the capital, Monrovia. The conference is being hosted by the Liberian Government in collaboration with the United Nations.
Speaking at the opening session, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Liberia, Alan Doss, quoted from remarks made by the Secretary-General during his recent visit to Liberia, saying that it is imperative to avoid the tendency for international actors to leave post-conflict regions too hurriedly. And we have a press release from the UN Mission in Liberia upstairs on this subject.
And that’s all I have for you. As I mentioned, Special Envoy Mr. Ahtisaari should be at the Security Council stakeout microphone shortly.
Yes, why don’t we start with Bill?
**Questions and Answers
Question: In addition to sending the three envoys to the Middle East, who has the Secretary-General been on the phone with? Has he talked with the Prime Minister of Israel, has he talked to Abbas, has he talked to Assad? What’s going on there?
Deputy Spokesman: He continues to make calls to leaders in the region and on leaders around the world who can bring some influence to bear to calm things down. He has spoken with the US Secretary of State. He has spoken to the French President. He has spoken to the French Foreign Minister. He has spoken to the British Prime Minister. He has spoken with the Egyptian Foreign Minister. He has spoken with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. He is constantly on the phone with all players in the region.
Question: Well, okay, in the last 24 hours has he spoken to anyone from Lebanon, Israel, the Palestinians or Syria.
Deputy Spokesman: Yes he has.
Deputy Spokesman: He has spoken ... yesterday we mentioned that he spoke with Mr. Siniora. He has spoken, as I said, with the Egyptians. He is about to speak to Mr. Olmert. And I think yesterday I mentioned that he spoke with Mr. Mubarak and to Mr. Assad. So, he really is on the phone, personally very engaged in trying to do his best to calm things down.
Question: Follow-up to this question. This team, what’s the timeline that this team has and when is it going to come back to report to the Secretary-General?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, let’s let it go out there first. It is leaving today...
Deputy Spokesman: Well, the urgency is reflected in the fact that the team is ... Mr. Nambiar is leaving tonight, he will already be in meetings on Saturday and he will be going, as I mentioned, to Israel, the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Lebanon, Syria, Saudi Arabia and back to Cairo again.
As of now, we have to let the mission start -- see how it goes -- before we can give an end date. But it is leaving with urgency, immediately.
[The Deputy Spokesman later announced that the high-level mission would be in the region for about one week.]
Question: Has the Secretary-General responded to Israel’s claim, voiced here both by the Ambassador and also by the Prime Minister, that Lebanon’s actions were tantamount to an act of war, a declaration of war?
Deputy Spokesman: I think the fact that the Secretary-General has just announced that he’s sending this very senior, high-level mission to the region to help calm the situation is a reflection of how seriously he takes the situation in the Middle East.
Question: I’ve been asking about the [inaudible] situation of North Korea, whether the Secretary-General will consider appointing a special envoy in place of Mr. Maurice Strong. I was asking earlier about the Middle East, now he’s appointing these envoys. Will he consider appointing anybody over there?
Deputy Spokesman: The appointment of this high-level mission is a direct response to the various calls that he’s been making with the leaders that he’s been talking with, and in response to the serious escalation in the situation. And obviously he feels that he has room to send in and space for this mission to work, for which he is asking for utmost cooperation.
On the situation with North Korea, I have to repeat again that his good offices are always available and if and when he feels that there is space for his envoy to make a difference, I’m sure he will appoint somebody.
Question: What realistically do you think that this special mission going to the Middle East can actually achieve in concrete results?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, I think in concrete terms, we’re looking for them to help implement the Secretary-General’s repeated call for a ceasefire, for the release of the abducted and for his constant urging for restraint by all parties on the ground.
Question: And you think he’ll be listened to?
Deputy Spokesman: That’s why he’s sending a mission.
Question: I have a couple of questions. The first is, now that the Secretary-General’s report on the Lord’s Resistance Army is official, since between the time it was written and circulated to the Council and now, the President of Uganda has offered full amnesty to Joseph Kony, the leader of the LRA. I’ve asked this a couple of times, now that the report is out, does the Secretariat have any guidance to provide on whether despite the ICC indictments, Mr. Kony should be offered amnesty?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, first of all, there was a statement issued by the Prosecutor of the ICC which you probably saw yesterday. It confirms that the Government of Uganda had not asked for any withdrawal of the warrants for arrest.
And secondly, as for the Secretary-General’s position, I think the Secretary-General and the entire UN system, the position has not changed. As a whole, we do not condone impunity and strongly believe the justice must be served without delay. And that line has not changed before and after the report has been issued.
Question: I have one other, if you don’t mind. Because a couple of these you’re aware of. UNHCR -- the situation that I asked about yesterday? I had asked your office to seek comment from people in the Secretariat on UNHCR’s benefiting from an investment in a fund controlled by a guy who’s on the UN Investment Committee. Were you able to get any comment on that?
Deputy Spokesman: If I get -– yes, when we get something, I’ll get back to you. I don’t have anything today. That’s why I haven’t come back to you.
Question: The spokesman for UNHCR, along with other things he sent you, he had said it would have been helpful to UNHCR if there were some kind of database showing the business connections on the UN Investment Committee. And I’ll say that having done a web search, it’s not even that easy to find who’s on that committee. So I guess I’m saying, maybe if you’re still seeking comment from them, asking them how agencies ... the more I’ve looked into it, it may not be UNHCR’s fault. They may not have been able to know this.
Deputy Spokesman: As of now, the answer that we have from UNHCR is the answer that you have. When we have some more, I’ll let you know. But I’d like you to also note that the partnership between the UN and the private sector is a complex one and it is still an evolving one. I just want you to note that.
Question: No, no. Exactly. Whatever. Thank you for that. And this is the last -– this is a UNDP question. It’s one that I asked them. Your colleague, Ari, did get an answer from them about Uzbekistan. The answer was, UNDP helps Uzbekistan collect taxes because UNDP works with Governments and civil societies in the developing world. That’s their answer. Thank you for getting it.
On the other thing that they haven’t answered -- Zimbabwe. Why they’re funding Robert Mugabe’s human rights council. They haven’t answered it, but in the interim, various NGOs in Zimbabwe have boycotted that and, in fact, the date has been pushed back. Since they’re not answering my questions frankly, what is the Secretariat’s view, or it’s good to work with Governments, it’s good to work with civil society -- blah, blah, blah. Where do you draw the line? If a Government that the UN system itself says it’s violating human rights, asks for funds to set up a quite questionable human rights council, do you fund it? What does the Secretariat say? What guidance does the Secretariat provide the UNDP?
Deputy Spokesman: I think we need to find out a little bit more about the programme that you are talking about in UNDP, but we are following up with UNDP for you, and we’ll get back to you with that answer first.
Correspondent: Thanks for both.
Deputy Spokesman: If there are no other questions, have a good afternoon.
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