20 October 2006


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




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 Spokesman for the Secretary-General

**Guest at Noon

Good afternoon, our guest, today, will be Rogelio Pfirter, the Director-General of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, and he will be joining us, shortly, to provide an update on the non-proliferation and destruction of chemical weapons and on the organization’s membership.  He will speak to you, following the intervention of Gail, on behalf of the General Assembly President.

**Security Council

The Security Council held consultations, this morning, on Liberia.

Ambassador Ellen Løj of Denmark, who chairs the Council’s Sanctions Committee for that country, briefed Council members about the status of the diamond and timber sanctions imposed on Liberia.

Afterwards, the Council President, Ambassador Kenzo Oshima of Japan, told reporters that the Council members commended the Liberian legislature for passing legislation to ensure a transparent, accountable and Government-controlled forestry sector.

Council members were also encouraged by the steps Liberia has taken towards meeting the requirements for the lifting of the measures on diamonds.  A press release is available upstairs on that issue.

** Eritrea

The United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea says that the military situation, in the Temporary Security Zone between the two countries, is volatile and tense.  The Mission says that in addition to routine troop movements, on both sides of the border, there has been a large-scale induction of Eritrean troops inside the Temporary Security Zone, which we had already briefed you on.

Meanwhile, the ban imposed by the Eritrean Government on the Mission’s helicopter flights remains in place.  And restrictions also remain on the movement of the Mission’s patrols, in the central and western sectors of the security zone, and United Nations peacekeepers night time movement is also curtailed, in certain areas.

Even so, peacekeepers were able to conduct a total of 711 ground patrols throughout their area of responsibility.  United Nations troops, also, continued to provide medical assistance to the local population in the Temporary Security Zone and adjacent areas.  They also provided some 21,000 litres of water to local communities in the past week.

** Iraq

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), today, said that its Iraq unit estimates that some 754,000 Iraqis have been internally displaced, since the start of the conflict in 2003.  Of that number, some 365,000 have been displaced just since the recent sectarian violence began, after the Samara bombings in February.

Meanwhile, UNHCR adds that some 40,000 Iraqis are now arriving in Syria from Iraq each month.

The refugee agency also reiterated its concern about the threats faced by Palestinian refugees living in Baghdad and near the borders with Syria and Lebanon.  Last night, UNHCR says, a mortar attack in a Palestinian neighbourhood left four Palestinians dead and a dozen wounded.  There are more details from the UNHCR note in Geneva.

** Sudan

And, the United Nations refugee agency has temporarily suspended convoys returning people to South Sudan, from Uganda, following reports yesterday that gunmen killed at least 38 civilians in a series of attacks in southern Sudan.

The agency will be monitoring the security situation closely, before deciding to resume the repatriation convoys.

** Indonesia

As many as 50,000 families who lost their homes, in last spring’s Yogyakarta earthquake, in Indonesia, do not have sufficient shelter for the approaching rainy season, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

To address these families needs, the Government of Indonesia, United Nations agencies and other humanitarian partners have developed a joint “roof first” strategy.  To date, 23,000 roof structures have been constructed and tens of thousands of additional roofs are planned to be delivered by early next year.

**International Labour Organization

The International Labour Organization (ILO), in a new report, says that truckers and other road transport workers face problems with excessive border delays, corruption by border officials and sexually transmitted diseases like AIDS.  ILO will hold a meeting, next Monday, in Geneva, on those challenges.  We have a press release on that upstairs.

**Press Conferences

A couple of press conferences:  one to flag for you today, immediately following the noon briefing, the Defence Minister of France, Michele Alliot-Marie, will be in this room for a press conference.

Then on Monday, at 1 p.m., Vitit Muntabhorn, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, will hold a press conference in this room.

And at 3 p.m., Manfred Nowak, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment, will hold a press briefing.  We do, of course, have The Week Ahead for you, since it is Friday.  And, as a reminder, the United Nations is closed on Tuesday, in observance of the end of Ramadan.  Before we turn to our guests, I will take some of your questions.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Is Jan Pronk, persona non grata?  If so, where is he and what is going on?  Is he no longer in the country? What’s going on?

Spokesman:  No, we keep seeing these media reports, claiming that he had been declared persona non grata.  As far as we and the Mission know he is not persona non grata.  So, he continues to operate as the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for the Sudan.  He is in Khartoum, as far as I know.

Question:  This Jan Pronk thing comes up because of his, always entertaining, blog.  Sudan has said that he reported, in his blog, on the Sudanese army’s two losses.  This blog is very interesting -- what the United Nations policy has been toward it, given that other United Nations employees have been terminated for doing personal writings.  What’s up with that blog?

Spokesman:  There are no specific staff regulations on the use of personal blogs by United Nations staff members.  But, we do expect United Nations staff members to exercise proper judgment in what they include.  There are specific regulations on publication and public speaking, which are properly available in the staff regulations, but obviously, the staff regulations have not kept up with technology, so there is nothing specific on blogs.  But, we do have certain expectations of the judgment people should exercise in doing those blogs.  In his personal blog, those are his personal views.

Question:  Do you think he has exercised proper judgment?

Spokesman:  There have been a number of discussions, with Mr. Pronk, on the content of his blog.  I’ll leave it at that.

Question:  Just to follow up, there has been an official statement from the Sudanese Government that he is openly intruding in armed forces affairs and he is officially persona non grata.

Spokesman:  As I’ve said, we’ve seen the press statements.  The views of the Government of Sudan are expressed, to us, through normal official channels.  In that regard, we have not received anything on Mr. Pronk.  And also, furthermore, the communications that we have with the President of Sudan have been clear, in terms of our joint efforts to support the African Union/United Nations initiative in Darfur, and the Government has been supportive of our work, in that regard.

Question:  In regards to those statements…

Spokesman:  The official communications go through official means, not through press statements.

Question:  A few questions, the first on this Washington Post report that appeared, this morning, on this cable, that the Iraqi Prime Minister sent to Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, saying they are not going to release mortality figures.  What is the United Nations comment on this?

Spokesman:  We don’t.  As a matter of rule, we try not to comment on leaked internal cables or intra-governmental communications.  The United Nations has enjoyed excellent cooperation with the Iraqi Ministry of Health and the Medical Legal Institute in Baghdad and we very much hope that that cooperation will continue.  And our folks in Iraq are in touch with them.

Question:  Let me paraphrase that.  I understand you don’t want to talk about leaked information.  How would the United Nations feel about a Government suppressing information that is potentially embarrassing to it?

Spokesman:  The United Nations Mission in Iraq has a very specific mandate.  Part of it is a reporting mandate, which we fulfil in our regular reports to the Security Council.  We obviously rely on the Government of Iraq for these figures.  As I say, our cooperation has been good with them.  I hope it will continue, but Iraq, as the other 192 States, is a sovereign Government and, as I say, these discussions are ongoing with the Government of Iraq.

Question:  A question I asked yesterday on this North Korea report.  Just looking at it, the human rights report that looks at rounding up people with disabilities, and putting them in special camps where they face subhuman conditions -- this is like Holocaust stuff.  Is there anything that the Secretary-General could do?  If this were happening somewhere in Europe, we would be looking at a World War II type situation.  This is crazy stuff.  Aside from that statement that you gave yesterday, which was a little bit bland, not to be critical, can you give me another crack at that?

Spokesman:  These are obviously extremely condemnable practices.  Part of the problem is the reporting.  We will take a look at the report done by the Special Rapporteur, but the Secretary-General’s position on these things has always been clear.  His call is for everyone not only, obviously, to respect human rights, but to respect the dignity of people.

Question:  One last follow-up.  Can you kick a Member State, out of the United Nations, if they are so blatantly violating…?

Spokesman:  The Charter is very clear on the membership of the United Nations and what the procedures are, and that is in the hands of the Member States.

Question:  Newspapers in Nicosia are reporting that the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) gave money, directly, for bicommunal projects in Cyprus, up to $4 million.  Can you tell me if Mr. Kofi Annan knew or approved of the transfer of this money?

Spokesman:  The UNDP has been in touch with the Cypriot authorities, through the Mission of Cyprus, here in New York.  They are addressing all their concerns.  They are answering all their concerns, and as for the Secretary-General, he is leaving this matter to UNDP to handle.

Question:  Can UNDP give us the list?

Spokesman:  UNDP would be happy to.  You can call Bill Orme in their office.  They will answer your questions.

Question:  On Iraq, about the suppression of people being killed.  The United Nations has a document, today, on Palestinians in Iraq being attacked.  There was also a report yesterday about 25 Palestinians killed last week.  Does the United Nations have any response to that?

Spokesman:  Are you talking about Iraq or Palestine?

Question:  Palestinians.

Spokesman:  On the Palestinian refugees in Iraq, the UNHCR has repeatedly worked with them, to ensure part of their safety.  In terms of Gaza and the West Bank, Mr. [Alvaro] de Soto [Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and Personal Representative of the Secretary-General to the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority], gave an extensive report yesterday, calling for cessation of the violence and expressing his continuing concern at the on-going violence. I have nothing newer to add to Mr. de Soto’s.

Question:  How many people have been killed?

Spokesman:  On Iraq, I think I will refer you to the last report that was put out very recently, by the United Nations Mission, which has mortality figures.

Question:  On DPRK, now that there are reports that President Kim Jong Il is relenting, does the Secretary-General have an opinion on that, now that sanctions that have been imposed, can…

Spokesman:  The Security Council passed that resolution.  They are the masters of that domain.  Obviously, if it were true that there was a commitment from North Korea not to conduct further tests, that would be extremely welcomed, and the Secretary-General would encourage them to resume discussions in the six-party talks.

Question:  On the Jan Pronk thing.  I don’t know what you are trying to say with that.  But let me try to clarify.  Does the status of Jan Pronk’s blog constitute a United Nations position?

Spokesman:  Maybe you came in late, but I think I answered that.

Question:  You said there were talks.

Spokesman:  No, I said, very clearly, that the views expressed by Mr. Pronk, in his blog, are his personal views.  The Secretary-General’s and UNIS views on Darfur are clear.

Question:  Does that mean that the United Nations does not recognize the views expressed by its envoy, in his blog?

Spokesman:  The views expressed by the United Nations envoy in his blog are his personal views.  He is in constant contact with Headquarters, expressing the Mission’s position, the Mission’s view, through telephone conversations and cables.  A personal blog is not considered an official means of communication between the field and Headquarters.

Question:  I really need to get this clear, because it is a fundamental question.  You are saying that the United Nations envoy’s views do not reflect the United Nations views.  Is that correct?

Spokesman:  No, I said the views expressed by Mr. Pronk are his personal views.

Question:  Do you endorse those views or not?

Spokesman:  Those views are expressed by Pronk, are his personal views.

Question:  You are not answering.

Spokesman:  I am answering your question.  I don’t know how clearer to say this.  The views expressed, in his blog, are his personal views.  The views of the Secretary-General and the United Nations are well known and have been published in reports, and public statements.

Question:  You have an envoy.  The envoy, from his position, using the information he has access to, gained through his position, is expressing his position in very clear terms, on a very public place.  Now the United Nations is not willing to say it backs his envoy or not?

Spokesman:  You have clearly outlined the problem.  What I am telling you is that his blog is his own personal blog and a reflection of his personal views.

Question:  Forgive me for jumping in on this, but I understand that anything expressed, by anyone in a blog, is a public statement.  Does the United Nations not have some kind of regulation about its employees making public statements about anything that is related to their United Nations employed work in a public place, or in public statements?

Spokesman:  There are staff rules relating to people publishing articles, writing, giving interviews.  Those are clear.  There are no specific regulations regarding the use of blogs and hopefully there will be some soon.

Question:  I recall an employee from UNICEF, who was asked to stop a personal blog, in which she hardly even mentioned that she was an employee of UNICEF.  Has anybody asked Mr. Pronk to stop blogging?

Spokesman:  There have been a number of discussions with Mr. Pronk, regarding his blog, and the expectation of all staff members to exercise proper judgment in what they write in their blogs.  I have run out of words on Mr. Pronk.

Question:  Does a person who works with the United Nations have personal views and then, when he goes and talks to the Sudanese Government, has some other views?  How are we supposed to believe this?

Spokesman:  He continues to be the Representative of the Secretary-General.  He expresses the views of the Mission and of the United Nations in his contacts with the Sudanese authorities and in his official correspondence.

Question:  I know you don’t have anything more to say on this thing right now.  But you have not made the United Nations position clear.  You have made it unclear, probably deliberately.  Could we please have a follow-up?  Could you please go back to the Mission on the thirty-eighth floor and get a clear position from the United Nations, on whether it endorses Mr. Pronk’s statements, or distances itself from Mr. Pronk’s statements?

Spokesman:  Our views on the content of his blog have been made clear; they are his personal views.

Question:  You’ve probably discussed this already.  All of the Secretary-General’s appointments and special representatives, when do their terms end?  Do they end when Annan leaves -- 31 December? I know you have said you only speak for one Secretary-General, but we have never had a Secretary-General elect come in this early.  Will there be someone here, like on the day the new Deputy Secretary-General is announced, who will be here to take questions on the moves of Ban


Spokesman:  Those are all valid questions, which I think would need to be addressed when the transition goes on.  Right now, we are still in the early days.  As far as the Under-Secretaries-General, the majority have their contracts ending in February.  It would be up to the new Secretary-General to decide on his staff, on his Special Envoys.  Whether he asks for the resignation of all, that would be his decision.

Question:  On the Cyprus thing, I know you said just to ask UNDP.  I just want to say, I have had a question pending there, for two months, on Uganda, very straightforward question.  So, I am wondering, even on the Cyprus question, if you can deliver UNDP’s response, as to whether it funded this programme to get the Annan plan out there.  Also, UNDP has written to the Government of Cyprus, saying to retract statements, I wonder why they haven’t written to the Governments of Turkmenistan and other places where they work?

Spokesman:  I think these are two separate issues.  We will get the answer on Cyprus.  You and UNDP have a special relationship, which we are trying to iron out.

Question:  I have no special relationship; the only issue, between myself, Inner City Press and UNDP, is that they answer questions.

Other Correspondent:  They never answer questions?

Question:  They never do.  I think, either you need to answer questions, or Mr. Derviş should come and everything is clean.  It is not a special problem.

Spokesman:  I didn’t say it was a special problem, I said it was a special relationship.  On that note, I will ask Gail to come up and brief on the General Assembly, and we will move to our guests.

Briefing by Spokeswoman for General Assembly President

The General Assembly, on Thursday, ended 13 more rounds of inconclusive secret balloting, as they attempted to elect a candidate from the Latin American and Caribbean region, for a non-permanent seat on the 2007 Security Council.  The final vote -- round 35 -- ended with 103 votes cast for Guatemala, 81 for Venezuela and 7 abstentions.  The tally fluctuated very little, as has been the pattern over the past three days, with neither country getting the required two-thirds majority necessary.  In the unrestricted balloting, Costa Rica received one vote during one round, while Bolivia received one vote in two consecutive rounds.  Voting will resume on Wednesday, 25 October, at a venue to be announced.

Today, the Assembly will take up the matter of cooperation between the United Nations and regional and other organizations.  Among the organizations presenting reports are the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty Organization and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.  Four draft resolutions are also expected to be introduced, on cooperation between the United Nations and four organizations, namely, the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the International Organization of La Francophonie, the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization and the Asian-African Legal Consultative Organization.

In the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security), three additional draft resolutions were introduced, two addressing the establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East and the risk of nuclear proliferation in the region.  The third resolution addressed the question of information on confidence building measures, in the field of conventional arms.  The Committee will meet, today, to begin a thematic discussion on other disarmament measures and international security, regional disarmament and security and the disarmament machinery.

Finally, in the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization), the Member States were told, by the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, that a collective approach to peacekeeping must be implemented in a way that was targeted to the specific conditions on the ground.  He noted that, over the past decade, United Nations peacekeeping had demonstrated its capacity to respond flexibly to diverse environments and the latest surge in operations had been no exception.  The Under-Secretary-General was addressing the Committee, as it began its comprehensive review of the whole question of peacekeeping operations, in all its aspects.

Yesterday, someone asked about why was you had two countries in 1956, from two completely different regions, competing for a seat.  That was because, in 1953, there was no pattern of geographical distribution of the seats in the Security Council.  That happened after 1963.  A question was asked about whether we could give the number of votes just before the thirty-fifth round in 1960.  At the moment, we still have someone doing the research on that.  I think they are having some difficulty locating the records.  They will also check on 2003, and it might be easier to get those results for you.  Any questions?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I had asked about precedents from before?

Spokeswoman:  I did have them, you were not here yesterday.  But, you were right.  There was a precedent, there were several precedents.  One in 1960, the one you talked about, when they shared a seat, and the countries involved were Poland and Turkey.

Question:  Do you have any idea if these regional groups would try again, over the weekend to bring about a compromise with these two countries, over the seat?

Spokeswoman:  The seat is in Latin America and the Caribbean, and it is in their hands to find a solution.

Question:  (Inaudible)

Spokeswoman:  What the President has said is that this is an election which is covered by rules of procedure.  Therefore, the President cannot simply intervene.  At the moment, what she has done is to leave it to the regional group itself, to see if they can come up with their own solution.  And, of course, she will try to facilitate a way forward with Member States, at an appropriate time, that would lead to a solution.

Question:  Not the rules of procedure.  But there must be something that the President can do, and say that enough is enough.  I know there is no such rule in the Assembly.  But something has to be done.  The way it is set up, it could go on for months.

Spokeswoman:  The artificial deadline is 31 December.  So, bear that in mind.  I know that people are impatient.  But, it is not in our hands, it is in the hands of Member States and the two countries that are part of that region.  The hope is that there is the weekend to discuss.  I am sure they are discussing, among themselves, what to do next.  Some of them have made public statements, others have not, and next week we will see where we are.  Egypt, yesterday, also talked about how to proceed and the fact that the Assembly has other matters on its agenda that need to be considered.  And that we need to look at perhaps not meeting every day on this matter, and I think that will be taken seriously.

* *** *

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