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

25 September 2006

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

25 September 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 SPOKESWOMAN 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 Gail Bindley-Taylor Sainte, Spokeswoman for the General Assembly President.

Briefing by the Spokesman for the Secretary-General

**Security Council

The Security Council this morning is holding consultations on Liberia, following a meeting with troop-contributing countries to the UN Mission in that country.  Council members were briefed by Alan Doss, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for the country, on the Secretary-General’s recent report on Liberia.  That report, which came out last week, says that the authority of the Liberian State is being consolidated throughout the country.  We expect Mr. Doss will come to this briefing once he gets out of the Council Chamber.

Then, at 3 o’clock, the Security Council will hold a closed meeting on Somalia.  Council members are to hear a briefing by the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Kenya and the Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development.

** Lebanon

The Indian, Ghanaian and Italian battalions of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) over the weekend provided medical assistance to 64 people, as well as other health aid.  In addition, several thousand litres of water were distributed by UNIFIL to three Lebanese checkpoints.  We have more details upstairs in a press release.

** Iraq

Ashraf Qazi, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, expressed deep concern that more than 140 persons have been sentenced to death, and that over 50 persons have been executed in Iraq since 2004.

He noted that the Secretary-General has consistently encouraged States to abolish the death penalty, which he rejects in all circumstances.  Qazi recalled that the United Nations Commission on Human Rights has called on States to abolish capital punishment completely and, in the meantime, to establish a moratorium on executions.

The United Nations continues to urge the Government of Iraq to commute all sentences of capital punishment and to base its quest for justice on the protection and promotion of the right to life.  We have a press release upstairs with more details.

** Afghanistan

The UN Mission in Afghanistan today expressed its sorrow that Safia Annajan, the Director of Women’s Affairs in Kandahar, was shot and killed this morning outside the front gate of her home as she left for work in that southern Afghan city.

The UN Mission in Afghanistan is appalled at what it called “the senseless murder of a woman who was simply working to ensure that all Afghan women play a full and equal part in the future of their country”.  We have a press release upstairs with more details from Afghanistan.

** Sudan

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Sudan, Jan Pronk, sent a letter to the leaders of the Government of Sudan and all movements involved in military action in Sudan’s western region of Darfur, urging them to refrain from hostilities and resume dialogue during the holy month of Ramadan.  He urged them to embrace peaceful dialogue as a gesture of sincerity and goodwill to the innocent civilians who have silently borne the brunt of the violence and insecurity.

** Ethiopia - Eritrea

Available on the racks today is the Secretary-General’s latest report on Ethiopia and Eritrea, in which he notes that the situation in the Temporary Security Zone between the two counties remains generally stable.  However, the Secretary-General is deeply concerned about the continued restrictions by Eritrea on the freedom of movement of the UN Mission in many areas of the Temporary Security Zone and the prolonged ban on UN helicopter flights.

In an annex to the report, the Secretary-General presents an update on the proceedings of the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission, which reopened its office in Addis Ababa in August, while it still seeks Eritrea’s permission to do so in Asmara.

** Thailand

The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, is urging the leaders of the Council for Democratic Reform under Constitutional Monarchy in Thailand to ensure respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and reinstate the country’s human rights commission.

The forcible and unconstitutional replacement of Thailand’s freely-elected Government on 19 September, the establishment of martial law, the abolition of the 1997 Constitution, as well as the dissolution of Parliament and the Cabinet, have raised important human rights concerns, Ms. Arbour said in a statement released in Geneva.

**Human Rights Council

In Geneva, the Human Rights Council is continuing its discussions on a number of thematic reports presented by UN-appointed human rights experts.  Today, Council members heard presentations by, among others, the Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography; the Independent Expert on the effects of economic reform policies and foreign debt on the full enjoyment of all human rights; and the Chairperson of the Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights.

Tomorrow, the Council will take up its consideration of country and regional reports, starting with Somalia, Cuba and the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

** Rwanda

The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda reports that it has begun the trial of former Rwandan Deputy Prosecutor Siméon Nchamihigo, who is charged with four counts of genocide, extermination, murder and other inhumane acts as crimes against humanity.

The former Rwandan prosecutor is accused of distributing weapons and ordering the killing of Tutsi civilians in 1994.  He was arrested in Arusha by Tanzanian authorities in 2001.

** Burundi

The Secretary-General on Friday appointed Youssef Mahmoud of Tunisia as his Deputy Special Representative for Burundi.  Mr. Mahmoud will also serve as United Nations Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator.  He previously served in posts in Guyana, as well as in the Department of Political Affairs here in New York.

**UNICEF

UNICEF head Ann Veneman will be speaking today at a panel discussion on the education of girls in the developing world, at 1 p.m. in the Dag Hammarskjöld Library Auditorium.

Also speaking will be the US Under-Secretary for Global Affairs, Paula Dobriansky, and Mary Wilson, whom some of you may remember is a former member of the Supremes.  The event will be moderated by Kate Snow of ABC News.

**Trade

The Secretary-General today sent a message to the World Trade Organization’s Public Forum in Geneva.  In it, he says that setbacks in the Doha talks have led some to consider settling for something less than a true development round -- or for no round at all -- and that must not happen, he stressed.

The Secretary-General adds that he joins developing and least developed countries in calling for the Doha Round of trade talks to resume as soon as possible.

**Security

Lastly, just an in-house note, we have been told by our colleagues in security and media liaison that the restrictions in place regarding access by journalists to the second floor have been lifted as of noon for those of you who only carry a pen and paper.  For those of you who work with TV cameras, you will still need an escort, but the rest of you are free to roam.

Questions and Answers

Question:  UNIFIL in Lebanon, there is a story in the front page of the New York Times and there is an interview in the Jerusalem Post with General Pellegrini, and it seems that the new UNIFIL looks like the old UNIFIL, and the robust mandate is slowly being watered down on the ground with alleged reference to rules of engagement, which we certainly didn’t see when DPKO put them out.  We need a bit of an explanation because I can see no reason why Israel should withdraw its troops if UNIFIL:  a) does not stop a bunch of missiles that may come in front of it, b) does not nothing if Hizbollah moves over the border.  What is it doing there?  It sounds suspiciously like the old UNIFIL.

Spokesman:  The mandate of this new UNIFIL is more robust than the previous one.  Obviously, there are operational decisions that the commanders will have to make on the ground.  But clearly, if UNIFIL troops come in contact with people who are violating the resolution they will need to take appropriate action.  One of the aims of the deployment of UNIFIL is to assist the Lebanese army in creating this weapons-free zone in the south.  That will be primarily the responsibility of the Lebanese army, but if in the course of its duties, UNIFIL does come across incidents where people are in violation of the resolution, they will have the authority to take operational action.

Question:  That is just not what it is saying and I would love to have DPKO explain this to us, because what you are saying is the standard understanding after the resolution.  Now they are down on the ground and they are saying that they have to ask permission from the Lebanese Armed Forces to go to the bathroom.  And that is not what we understood.

Spokesman:  I am telling you what our understanding and our framework is from here.

Question:  Can you give us an update on the incident with the Venezuelan Foreign Minister?  And what’s the next step from the United States?

Spokesman:  We were advised on Saturday of this incident at Kennedy Airport.  The Secretary-General was informed.  He has tasked his legal counsel Nicolas Michel to try to gather the facts and help both the Venezuelans and the Americans get past this unfortunate incident.  In theory, the proper channel for these cases would be to be taken up by the Host Country Committee, which is currently being chaired by the Ambassador of Cyprus.  But, to my knowledge, no one has seized that Committee and the Venezuelans have not asked it to meet.  We are trying to work with both the Americans and the Venezuelans, so we can get past this incident as quickly as possible.

Question:  Have you got the findings of the UN investigation into the killing of those four UNIFIL observers?

Spokesman:  No, that report is in the process of being finalized and we are talking to DPKO to have someone to come down and brief you, probably midweek, on the findings of the report.

Question:  Finalized?  What does that mean?  Because I understand it was done, ready and written.

Spokesman:  It’s not done, ready and written.

Question:  But is it with the SG now?

Spokesman:  It is in the Secretariat.  It is being finalized.  It is being looked at by various departments and it is not yet ready.

Question:  Could you confirm that Somalia’s Interim Prime Minister did speak to the Secretary-General and ask him to partially lift the arms embargo on Somalia?  And, secondly, is the Secretary-General going to be speaking to the Security Council or make any appeal to them to lift this embargo?

Spokesman:  No, I don’t believe the Prime Minister has spoken with the Secretary-General, though I will check, and that, obviously, is a decision for the Security Council to take a long hard look at.

Question:  Has there been any sort of contact between the Somali… (inaudible)?

Spokesman:  Not that I am aware of.  But I can check.

Question:  On the UNIFIL report, who will sign it?  Will UNIFIL sign it?  Will the SG sign it?

Spokesman:  It is a DPKO report.  It’s a standard operating report.  It’s a board of inquiry, which DPKO routinely does when there is a death of a peacekeeper.

Question:  This whole issue that Evelyn brought up, I mean, that came up during the formation of the Force.  At that time, at least from the briefing we got from Mark Malloch Brown, it seemed that everybody knows exactly what they do and how they do it.  Now, on the ground, it seems that they don’t.

Spokesman:  Look, I’ve told you what our position is from here.  We also have on the ground currently the UN’s Chief Military Adviser, General Metha, as well as the head of the strategic cell, which is being set up here at Headquarters, led by an Italian general.  They are all on the ground talking to General Pellegrini, going over the procedures and exactly how they ought to be implemented.  It is clear that UNIFIL has the authority to intervene if the Lebanese army is not in a position to do so when there are violations of the resolution.  The resolution’s aim is to help and assist the Government of Lebanon to strengthen its authority and to create a zone in the South where the only guns are those of the Lebanese army and the UN.

Question:  By adding another layer, Headquarters will add clarity to the mission?

Spokesman:  It is not adding another layer, it is enhancing the capacity of UNIFIL to do its work and it is a cell that will look at strategic issues.  This is a very big force we will have on the ground, in a very complex operation, and it will now have the support of a strategic cell.  That cell will not be a filter between the ground and UN Headquarters.

Question:  On Venezuela again -- the US Ambassador claims there was no incident at the airport and this whole situation is a result of Venezuelan spin.  Are you concerned that the UN is getting caught in the middle of this?

Spokesman:  We are trying to help both parties get past this incident.  It is a very unfortunate thing that happened.  Mr. Michel is trying to get the facts and trying to move on as quickly as possible.  I don’t think anybody wants to escalate this, and give it any more importance.

Question:  Regarding the size and robustness of the new UNIFIL force, I may be a little behind this, but the last figure I got for total troops deployed was in the vicinity of 5,000.  Is it still the intention of General Pelligrini and all others concerned to deploy up to the full authorized amount of 15,000?

Spokesman:  I think the next big deployment will come in about three weeks with the second phase.  We will also have the deployment of the German naval units, which will bring quite a lot of troops and we will be closer to 12,000.  Obviously these are operational decisions that will have to be looked at as the process goes on.  But UNIFIL is already quite operational, having overseen the handover of about 85 per cent of the Israeli positions from the IDF to the Lebanese Armed Forces.

Question:  Do I infer correctly from your various comments that the Venezuelan Foreign Minister has, in fact, not yet departed from Caracas and is still waiting for his authorization to depart to be sorted out?

Spokesman:  No, first of all, departing from New York.  I’m not aware of where he physically is. It is not an issue of authorize, people are free to come and go as they please.  It is not an issue of anyone having to authorize any foreign minister to leave this country.  It is up to him when he decides to leave.  We are just trying to clarify the facts of what happened on Saturday evening at John F. Kennedy Airport.

Question:  It is my understanding that he was told he couldn’t leave.

Spokesman:  Not at all.

Question:  Could you tell us anything about the Hariri report?  Did the Secretary-General have a meeting this morning?

Spokesman:  Yes, the Secretary-General met with Serge Brammertz this morning.  The report is in the process of getting to the Security Council ambassadors, a process which we are trying to quicken.  The Council ambassadors will get it, we hope, very shortly.

Question:  What does the process consist of?  Does it consist of any reading and editing?

Spokesman:  There is no editing.  It consists of us receiving the report and the Secretary-General writing a standard cover page, and someone actually carrying it from the 38th floor, down to the Security Council and then giving it to the Security Council ambassadors.

Question:  Will we see him?

Spokesman:  I don’t think you will see him before Friday when he is scheduled to brief the Council.

Question:  Does he plan to hold a briefing then?

Spokesman:  We will try to convince him.

Question:  Will the SG say anything on the report?

Spokesman:  No, he will not.  This is an update report to the Security Council.

Question:  Pope Benedict XVI today called for a genuine dialogue -- cultural and religious -- among Muslims and Christians in particular.  Does the SG have any reaction to this important statement?  And also, will the Alliance of Civilizations take part in the dialogue?

Spokesman:  As a general statement we would obviously encourage any sort of dialogue along those lines.  And that is exactly what the Alliance of Civilizations is trying to do.  What links there may be between any Vatican initiative and the Alliance I don’t know but I’d be happy to check for you.

Question:  Back to the question of the airport, a more basic question:  in light of the present conditions on international aviation and security problems, is there not a place for the UN and any host country to redefine the obligations of UN personnel and visiting dignitaries on how to be processed at airports?  I think this is the real question.

Spokesman:  The rules and regulations of what it is expected of any host country is clearly defined in the host country agreements, which you are welcome to read as it is a public document.  The details of this particular incident you are referring to, we are still trying to get more information, but, as I have said a number of times this morning, we just want both sides to clear this up as quickly as possible and move on.  There are agreements that regulate lots of things and sometimes there are problems, and we just want to try to solve them and move on.

Question:  But my question is, if there is not a need for actual redefinition, in light of the new reality, what the responsibilities are?

Spokesman:  There is no new reality.  The agreements exist.  Everyone knows them.  As always, as with any procedure, sometimes there are problems.  When a problem arises, we try to solve it and move on.

Question:  On the appointment of the South Korean Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, does it seem right that, weeks before ending his term, there are appointments being made?  It seems like there’s something wrong about that.

Spokesman:  I read your column, as always, with great interest.  This place needs to be staffed, appointments need to be made.  This is an organization that goes on.  There is no link between, contrary to what some have implied, to the appointment of Kyung-wha Kang and the selection of the next Secretary-General.  She went through a very tough process. The post was advertised in a number of major publications.  We sought input from NGOs, Missions.  It was a competitive process.  Five candidates were shortlisted.  And, in the end, in a panel chaired by the High Commissioner herself, she came out as the strongest candidate.

Question:  (inaudible) in January?

Spokesman:  I’d have to check exactly those dates, but the point is that posts come up and they are vacated and that people need to be replaced.

Question:  Who asked the UN to get involved in the Venezuelan airport incident?

Spokesman:  The Venezuelans contacted us.  And we then contacted the US authorities and we asked for details from the Venezuelans.  But this is a matter that needs to be taken up by the Host Country Committee.  We are just trying to facilitate between both parties, those being the Venezuelan Government and the US Government, on this specific issue only.

We will go to the GA Spokeswoman and then return to Mr. Alan Doss, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Liberia.

Briefing by the Spokeswoman for the General Assembly President

Thank you very much, and good afternoon to you.  The general debate continues this morning with some 27 speakers expected to address the Assembly, including the Minister of State and Foreign Affairs of Gabon, Former President of the General Assembly, His Excellency, Mr. Jean Ping.  He has, in fact, already addressed the Assembly.

The President of the Assembly, Sheikha Haya Rashed al Khalifa, is scheduled to hold a number of bilateral meetings today with the Prime Ministers of Gabon, Morocco, Slovenia, Guinea-Bissau, Malta, Guatemala, Iran, Syria and South Africa; the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Integration of the Republic of Moldova; the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Nepal; the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade of the Republic of Korea; and the Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Viet Nam.

Those are the meetings for today.

* *** *

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