|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
And the 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, the Spokeswoman for the General Assembly President.
Briefing by Spokesman of Secretary-General
**Secretary-General in Addis Ababa
Good afternoon. In Addis Ababa today, the Secretary-General has been co-chairing a series of high-level meetings with the Chairman of the African Union Commission, Alpha Oumar Konaré, to move the international community and Sudan forward on ways to protect the people of Darfur. Those meetings were suspended for a few hours, a bit earlier today, and are about to resume about right now in Addis.
Prior to the start of the high-level meeting on Darfur, the Secretary-General also had meetings, first with representatives of the five permanent members of the Security Council, and then representatives of the African Union.
The Secretary-General told reporters, earlier today, that everyone in attendance at these meetings realizes that they need to come out with something concrete that will help put a credible force on the ground that can help displaced persons, assist in implementing the Abuja agreement and allow the humanitarian workers to do their work. He added that, even if you can deploy troops, the solution lies in a political agreement.
And earlier today, the Secretary-General also signed, with Chairman Konaré, a declaration on enhancing AU-UN cooperation, and also held a bilateral meeting with the Prime Minister of Ethiopia.
Meanwhile, earlier today in Addis, the Secretary-General attended the Fifth African Development Forum, concerning youth and leadership in the 21st century.
He said that today, thanks largely to the vision and political will that emerged from four United Nations summits over the past six years, official development assistance is breaking through the $100 billion barrier; and a set of agreed goals –- the Millennium Development Goals -– is supported by all major development actors.
The Secretary-General urged African leaders to do more to achieve key development targets, saying that Africa now understands that development is first and foremost an African priority. But, he added, “I'm afraid that countries actually walking the walk, and not just talking the talk, are still the exception, rather than the rule.” And we have the full text of his speech upstairs, and we will update you, of course, throughout the day, with any press statements or developments out of Addis and the Darfur meetings.
**Jan Egeland in Sudan
On a related note, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Jan Egeland, today travelled to El Geneina, the capital of West Darfur, where he met with representatives of internally displaced persons from local camps. They told him that they had come to meet him in the capital, because it would be too dangerous for him to enter the camps and too dangerous for them to be seen with him.
Egeland noted that this was his fourth visit to Darfur and that he had never before seen such a bad security situation. He deplored the fact that the violence being committed by various groups had seriously interrupted aid work.
Egeland also met with internally displaced women who told him that violence against women, particularly rape, is worse than it has ever been. They said they cannot leave the camps and are even now being attacked inside the camps. Egeland is expected to also visit North Darfur before returning to Khartoum on Saturday. And we do have more upstairs on his visit.
Meanwhile, back here, the Security Council, this morning, discussed a draft presidential statement concerning the talks that are taking place in Juba, in southern Sudan, between the Government of Uganda and the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army. Council members, I understand, have now just gone into a formal meeting to adopt that presidential statement.
The Council also heard a briefing from Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jane Holl Lute, on the local and municipal elections that are scheduled to take place in Haiti on 3 December. The Council President has already read out a press statement from the Council on the situation in Haiti.
Today’s consultations include as observers, for the first time, the five elected members who will join the Council starting next January. Those, as you know, are Belgium, Indonesia, Italy, Panama and South Africa.
** Democratic Republic of the Congo
Back in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, last night, we issued a statement on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), in which the Secretary-General welcomed yesterday’s announcement, by the Independent Electoral Commission, of the provisional results of the second round of the presidential elections.
The Secretary-General also reiterated that any challenges to the provisional results must be pursued in accordance with the existing electoral law. He urged all political leaders and the Congolese people to receive the results calmly and responsibly, to refrain from any recourse to violence, and to avoid statements that could threaten the peaceful completion of the national elections. And that statement is upstairs.
And one note from the Mission in Timor-Leste, Eric Tan Huck Gim has been appointed as Deputy Special-Representative for the UN for the Security Sector and the rule of law in Timor-Leste. Mr. Tan is a retired Brigadier General from the Singapore Armed Forces. And for more information, we have a press release upstairs.
And, today is also the International Day for Tolerance.
In a message to mark the day, the Secretary-General says that recent years have witnessed a sharp rise in intolerance, extremism and violence across the world. This disturbing trend is troubling and we must each strive to uphold the principles of tolerance, pluralism, mutual respect and peaceful coexistence, he said in the message.
And, just one note for you this afternoon, a press conference, Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, Jomo Kwame Sundaram, will host a press conference in this room by Professor Nicholas Negroponte, the Chairman of the One Laptop per Child. Also joining in will be Iqbal Quadir, co-founder of Grameen Phone, as well as Professor Pedro Sanchez, Director of the Columbia University Earth Institute’s Millennium Villages Project. And they’ll be talking about novel ways to combat poverty.
That is it for me, I will now take your questions.
**Questions and Answers
Question: As regards the sighting of Somalians in Lebanon, I was given to understand, that the UN Mission, themselves, did not sight the Somalians. I was given to understand that it was by certain intelligence officials that came across the Somalians. Is that right? Am I correct?
Spokesman: I can’t speak to this report, which will now be discussed in the Somali Sanctions Committee on Friday, I believe. You should know that I have spoken to people in the Security Council’s Secretariat branch, and we are trying to arrange for a briefing by the authors of this report, who I think are not only best placed, but the only ones who can speak to what is in the report, so I will keep you updated on that front.
Question: So has anybody contacted the authors yet, or has nobody talked to them?
Spokesman: The Council will be discussing the report on Friday, the Sanctions Committee, and I’m trying to get these authors to come down and brief you as soon as possible.
Question: How do you vet the independence of the writers of this report?
Spokesman: They are impartial, independent experts named by the Secretary-General at the request of the Security Council, and they report to the Security-Council.
Question: But did you vet their independence?
Spokesman: They are independent experts, working as UN officials, and they’ve been hired for their competence in various areas, and not in line with their national, whatever their nationality may be.
Question: Just to follow up on Somalia and then a quick…as well as a briefing, which may or may not happen by the authors, it would be great if you achieved that, would it be possible, also, to have someone from the UN Secretariat address us on this situation, because it is of the utmost gravity, and to say that someone in the Secretariat cannot speak to this stuff, well, the allegations, if they are true, are remarkably important, so it would be helpful.
Question: A quick couple of other things, it would also be great if, at some stage, we could have an update on UNIFIL. Everyday we are hearing more claims that Hezbollah is rebuilding the infrastructure in the area under their control, so it would be great if someone could speak to us and update us on that. Also, I don’t know what the latest is on the tribunal. Has President Lahoud’s letter, last time you said it would be translated, it would be helpful just to get a sense of…
Spokesman: On the tribunal, what I can tell you is that late last night, the Secretary-General forwarded to the Security Council his report on the tribunal, which includes, the framework, the architecture of this tribunal of an international character. This followed his consultations with the Lebanese Prime Minister, and the letter from Prime Minister Siniora. The next step now is for the Council to rule and give its green light to the tribunal, at which point the proposal for the tribunal will go back to the Lebanese authorities for formal agreement, and at that point it will be up to the Lebanese authorities to follow what procedure, constitutional procedure they need to follow.
Question: But as far as the UN is aware, what’s the relevant authority here? Is it the Prime Minster or the President?
Spokesman: As I said, we received a letter from the Prime Minister, following consultations, basically giving his approval for us to send this to the Council. This is not a formal agreement between the UN and the Lebanese Government. That will come later, once the Council has given its green light.
Question: That does not answer that question.
Spokesman: We have moved forward on the basis of the letter we received from the Prime Minister.
Question: On a slightly different topic, is it possible to get a joint briefing with you and whoever might be able to speak for the new administration, regarding the transition period, which I understand is taking place now? Secondly, do you have a date of departure for the DSG?
Spokesman: As far as I understand, the Deputy-Secretary-General will leave at the end of December, on December 31st. I don’t have any other information. We have to let the transition period continue a little bit. The Secretary-General-designate arrived yesterday in New York. Maybe in the next ten days or so, we can revisit his, and I can talk to his team and see how they want to proceed in terms of briefing the press.
Question: It would be very helpful, because right now, there is a lot of guesswork being done and…
Spokesman: Not only by you.
Question: I never guess, but so far all we hear is from you, and you say you only speak for one Secretary-General at a time, fair enough, but there is an incoming one, and we would like…
Spokesman: The Secretary-General-designate, I expect, will have a press officer who will be sitting in my office, probably starting Monday, and once he arrives you can address the question. Let me try that again. Once that person arrives, you can address those questions regarding the activities of the Secretary-General-designate to her.
Question: On the international tribunal, the Speaker of the Parliament of Lebanon declared bluntly yesterday that the current Government is illegitimate and unconstitutional. However, you continue to say that we have received from Mr. Siniora,and to us that’s the last reference. And you also have not mentioned anything about Mr. Lahoud’s letter, has it been forwarded to the Security Council to discuss, and has it been taken into consideration or not?
Spokesman: This is an ongoing process. What we just completed is an important phase where we’ve had consultations with the Lebanese Government. The person who has been our main interlocutor, the Prime Minister, has written to us and has said there has been an official decision by the Government, which allows us to now go to the Security Council. Once the tribunal basically comes out of the Council and the Council gives us a green light, there will be a more formal process that the Lebanese Government will have to follow. It is obviously within its constitutional framework. We have to take this one step at a time. Obviously, there are constitutional realities in Lebanon which the Lebanese authorities will have to deal with, but that is up to them, once the Security Council has given its green light and the tribunal framework has gone back to Beirut.
Question: But, Lahoud’s letter is not being considered in this process?
Spokesman: We have informed the Security Council that we received that letter. And that letter, if I’m correct, has also gone directly to the Security Council from the Lebanese authorities.
[The Spokesman later corrected himself, saying that the Lahoud letter has not gone directly to the Security Council.]
Question: All of the correspondents that I know have been harping on this. All of this correspondence back and forth between Siniora or Lahoud, is any of this available to us yet, or may it be sometime?
Spokesman: Most of it, some of this will be mentioned in the Secretary-General’s report on the tribunal, which will soon be a public document.
Question: When is that being presented?
Spokesman: That will likely be discussed in the coming days or early next week, but you’d have to check with the Council as to when they will take that up.
Question: Is there anything new or special in the Declaration signed by the Secretary-General, regarding cooperation between the UN and the African Union?
Spokesman: It is a formalizing of the kind of cooperation, whether it is in the political arena or good governance. It is on issues of global interest, development, capacity-building, areas in which we can learn from the AU, and the AU can benefit from the UN.
Question: Do you have any idea when the OIOS audit of the Thessaloniki Center is about to be completed, and do you have any date on that?
Spokesman: No, I do not. I know it has not yet been completed.
Question: Yesterday, the outgoing head of management, Mr. Burnham, suggested that we ask miscellaneous, all sorts of questions. Of course, they still haven’t been down here. Can you give us an update?
Spokesman: I don’t know if you weren’t here when I gave an answer on this, but OIOS has agreed to come down and brief, once the General Assembly has passed its annual resolution on OIOS. I don’t know, maybe if Gail has that, but basically they have given me a commitment that they will come down, in the next couple of weeks, once the GA has completed its consideration of OIOS.
Question: Just one other question, and I don’t know whether it is for you or for Gail, but in England two Jedi Knights have appealed for recognition of what they call Britain’s fourth largest religion from the United Nations. I was wondering what the procedure was whereby the UN or the General Assembly would decide whether to recognize Jedi Knights as a religion.
Spokesman: As much of a geek that I may have been as a teenager, where I saw Star Wars way too many times, unfortunately we are not in a position to recognize a religion officially. The UN is not in the business of officially recognizing religions.
Question: I’m interested, does the UN recognize any religions?
Spokesman: The UN is not in the business of certifying religions, with or without light sabres.
Question: What they tried to do is say that their concerns should be recognized, turning an international day of tolerance into an interstellar day of tolerance, and I was wondering if the UN had any…
Spokesman: Mark, if I could be transported to another planet right now, I would. On that note, Gail…
Question: Wait, you’ll like it, it’s related, it’s about a request by opposition groups in Bahrain made to Kofi Annan, to look into a Government minister fuelling sectarian division in Bahrain, and to diminish the Shiite population. They say they’ve delivered it to Kofi Annan.
Spokesman: If it has been delivered, I will check, and I will look. Thank you.
Question: And to follow up, yesterday I asked about the letter to Kofi Annan about Burma prisoners. Have you received anything?
Spokesman: I do not have an update. That’s two letters I need to check on. Thank you.
Briefing by Spokeswoman for President of General Assembly
Thank you, I will have to check on OIOS, but I am almost sure that OIOS has not come up as a report as yet.
Good afternoon everyone. As I mentioned yesterday, the plenary is meeting this morning to appoint members to a number of its subsidiary organs. At this stage, the Assembly has already appointed for a three year term beginning in January 2007 five members to the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions [ACABQ], and seven members of the Committee on Contributions. It also confirmed the appointment of three members and reappointed two ad hoc members of the Investments Committee. Votes are now being counted for elections of members of the International Law Commission.
The League of Arab States has officially requested a resumption of the “Tenth Emergency Special Session of the General Assembly to consider the Illegal Israeli actions in occupied East Jerusalem and the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territory”, especially the Israel attacks in the Gaza Strip, in particular the killing of Palestinian civilians in Beit Hanoun on 8 November. The President of the General Assembly Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa has written to Member States informing them of the request from the League of Arab States and announcing that the meeting is scheduled to be convened tomorrow, 17 November, at 10 a.m. There is just one proviso. This is subject to approval by the ACABQ and the Fifth Committee of the programme budget implications of the draft resolution, which will be considered at the meeting.
The Third Committee is scheduled to meet today to introduce or take action on a number of resolutions. Among the resolutions to be acted on is one on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea [A/C.3/61/L.37],which I was asked about yesterday, and another on country-specific human rights resolutions in general, sponsored by Belarus and Uzbekistan, [A/C.3/61/L.31/Rev.1]. I can give you the numbers for those resolutions as well.
Meanwhile, President Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa met this morning with Secretary-General-designate Ban Ki-moon at 11 a.m. This evening, the President will participate in the International Forum on the Eradication of Poverty. In her statement, she will flag her first informal thematic debate on 27 November involving donors, partner countries, the private sector and civil society. She will also express her hope that many of the discussions and ideas generated during today’s Forum will provide helpful input into the 27 November debate. “We all bring different expertise and perspectives from our own fields,” she states. “If cultivated effectively, we can all work together towards achieving our common goal of reducing poverty.”
That’s my report for today. I can now further answer your questions.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Just to return to the question I asked yesterday; since you are talking already about the budget with us, is there any rule regarding redundancies? I mean, since we are going to most likely send two different fact-finding missions to basically find facts on the same event, is there any rule that would save the UN a few bucks by having only one fact-finding mission?
Spokeswoman: I think, if you look at the resolutions, the resolutions say slightly different things, and one is coming from the Human Rights Council, the other is going to come from this Emergency Special Session meeting. So, I think, for the Assembly anyway, the one they will be most concerned with is of course the one that will come out of the Special Session.
Question: So basically, you are saying there will be two separate fact-finding missions to find facts about the same event, which is, by the way, also fact found by Israel as well. That’s three already.
Spokeswoman: I wouldn’t put it in those terms. I do know that there is a resolution in which the Human Rights Council has said, yesterday, that it will undertake a fact-finding mission, as opposed to this one…
Question: Which calls on the Secretary-General to establish a fact-finding mission? If it calls on the Secretary-General, I assume the Secretary-General has to do that, that’s usually the way it goes.
Spokeswoman: What I can find out is whether, from the view of the General Assembly, whether as you ask, whether there can be overlapping resolutions. I know as far as the General Assembly is concerned, they are only dealing with what is coming out of the Special Session.
Question: So, let me send you on a fact-finding mission for that?
Spokeswoman: Thank you.
Question: How much did the report on Somalia cost the United Nations?
Spokeswoman: I think that you would have to speak to Stéphane about that because I deal strictly with what happens within the General Assembly, that report did not come from the General Assembly.
Question: You indicated that the President of the General Assembly met with the Secretary-General-designate. What were the subjects in this discussion?
Spokeswoman: I do not have a readout at this time, but I will try to get one for you.
Question: Tell me about this meeting that has been asked for by the Arab States on Palestine, why is it subject to approval by the ACABQ?
Spokeswoman: My understanding is whenever you have a resolution that calls for something that will cost money -- for example, a fact-finding mission -- it has to have the approval of the ACABQ and the Fifth Committee because it has budgetary implications.
Question: So basically, what you’re saying is, the approval is for this fact-finding. Why is this meeting subject to that? Is it already anticipated that it will pass a resolution asking for a fact-finding mission?
Spokeswoman: From what I understand, this is the normal procedure required when there are recommendations in the resolutions that could have budgetary implications.
Question: Okay, you had said earlier that the Assembly is voting on appointments for subsidiary organization. Is this independent of any advice of the GA?
Spokeswoman: You mean these elections?
Spokeswoman: These people are, most of them, nominated by their countries, and they serve in their individual capacities.
Question: This resolution sponsored by Belarus and Uzbekistan, it is the first item on the agenda for this afternoon. After that, they are supposed to adopt specific country resolutions on [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] North Korea and Myanmar. Does that mean that the resolutions on North Korea and Myanmar, are they like actually dismissed?
Spokeswoman: Not from my understanding, I will check on that, but they will all pass as individual resolutions, as they were all put forward as individual resolutions, so, I don’t think one has any effect on the other.
Question: This is something I asked Stéphane about -- this request, by a Bahraini opposition group, to Kofi Annan to look into the current Government’s attempt to diminish the Shiite minority by selective citizenship thing. I guess, I’m asking you because there is a report on it because of the upcoming elections, between the Al Khalifa family and the Shiite majority that impacts that. So, I wanted to know if you can get a comment on this from the President of the GA, particularly because it’s a request to the UN system, what her position is on that request, whether the UN should grant it and look into that. It’s sort of a unique situation in which her colleague, Kofi Annan, is being asked to investigate something in her country, of her own family, so, if you can get a comment on it, it would be very important.
Spokeswoman: I know that the President feels very much that she is here in her capacity as the President of the General Assembly, and that things that are happening in her own country, there are legal systems in place that will take care of that. But, I will certainly raise the issue…
Question: But, this is her family. It may be something more elaborate than that, and it would seem to call for comment.
Spokeswoman: I can certainly raise it.
Question: It’s almost like a conflict. They obviously work together. Is Kofi Annan going to grant this request, and should he grant it? What’s her position on whether the UN system should grant this request to look into this situation in Bahrain?
Spokeswoman: I’m not sure that she would or could answer that in her capacity as the President of the General Assembly.
Question: Is there a way to get a comment from her in another capacity?
Spokeswoman: That’s a little difficult.
Question: When will the results of the LawCommission elections be announced?
Spokeswoman: I’m sure as soon as it’s completed, they will be announced. I wouldn’t be surprised if they had already been announced because they were counting the votes by the time we came here.
Question: But, that would be in the conference room. When will it be announced to the press?
Spokeswoman: No, but by the time the press release comes out, you will have the results. If you have a particular interest in a particular country, I’m sure you can call that mission and they will give you the answer.
Question: When will the different human rights resolutions go to the GA? Is there a schedule?
Spokeswoman: Once the Third Committee completes its work, then it will send a report with all its resolutions to the Assembly.
Question: When will that be, do you know?
Spokeswoman: That’s difficult to say. At the moment I know that there is a deadline, and in brackets I will say a “tentative” deadline for the Assembly to finish its work by 12 December, so it means in order to do that lots of resolutions and reports will have to be sent to the Assembly in time, and this is why it’s tentative, because, at the moment, only two of our Committees so far have completed their work.
Question: Are elections by simple majority or is there a certain percentage they have to get?
Spokeswoman: I think it’s by a majority of those present and voting.
* *** *