|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Michele Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon all. I’ll start with the appointments.
The Secretary-General has decided to appoint Alicia Bárcena of Mexico as the Under-Secretary-General for Management. Ms. Bárcena has wide experience in the United Nations, serving most recently as Chef de Cabinet to Secretary-General Kofi Annan and, prior to that, as Deputy Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). She has also served as the Mexican Vice-Minister of Environment.
Mr. Ban highly values her leadership and managerial skills and has confidence that she shares his vision and philosophy to strengthen and revitalize this Organization.
The Secretary-General has also decided to appoint John Holmes of the United Kingdom as his Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator. Mr. Holmes’ most recent position was as British Ambassador to France and his experience of both multilateral and bilateral diplomacy has been wide and varied.
Throughout his diplomatic career, Mr. Holmes has offered a proven record of strategic vision, crisis management, multilateral negotiation, dedication and hard work. The Secretary-General is confident that the international community will benefit both from his leadership and expertise.
We have more information on both Ms. Bárcena and Mr. Holmes in their bios upstairs on the third floor.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights -– this is now about Iraq -- Louise Arbour, today renewed her call for restraint by the Government of Iraq in the execution of death sentences that have been imposed by the Iraqi High Tribunal. Last week, the death sentences of two of Saddam Hussein’s co-defendants, Awad Hamad Al-Bandar and Barzan Ibrahim Al-Hassan, were upheld on appeal.
Arbour underlined that international law, as it currently stands, only allows the imposition of the death penalty as an exceptional measure within rigorous legal constraints. Given that her concerns about the fairness and impartiality of Saddam Hussein’s trial apply also to the other two defendants, the High Commissioner today directly appealed to the Iraqi President to refrain from carrying out these sentences.
We have her full statement upstairs.
I was asked several questions yesterday, questions about the Secretary-General’s view on capital punishment, and I have since spoken with him this morning about that topic, and I have a few things to add.
The Secretary-General is, of course, aware of the ongoing debate in the General Assembly concerning a total ban of the death penalty. Until the matter is resolved, he respects the right of Member States to have their own positions on it.
However, the Secretary-General strongly believes in the wisdom of article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states, “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.”
In that context, he fully endorses the call made today by Louise Arbour for restraint by the Government of Iraq in the execution of the death sentences imposed by the Iraqi High Tribunal.
** Sudan Statement
About the sexual exploitation case that a lot of you have been calling about, we have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.
“We are deeply concerned by press reports of allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by United Nations personnel in Juba. The UN standard on this issue is clear -- zero tolerance, meaning zero complacency and zero impunity. In cooperation with the UN Mission in the Sudan (UNMIS), we are looking into the substance of the press reports to determine if the allegations are new or are existing cases already under investigation.
“It is the UN’s policy to treat credible allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse as serious offences to be investigated by the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS). OIOS has a team permanently based in the Sudan that investigates all allegations of abuse. Over the past year, as a result of UN investigations, four UNMIS peacekeepers have already been repatriated.
“The UN is working closely with local authorities and all operational partners, including our troop-contributing countries, to ensure that UN personnel adhere to the highest standards of accountability. When necessary, strong disciplinary action will be taken.”
This is the statement on this issue.
Another statement, also attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.
“The Secretary-General expresses his condolences for the death of Foreign Minister Paek Nam Sun of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), with whom he worked for peace and prosperity on the Korean peninsula over the years.
“The Secretary-General hopes that the death of Foreign Minister Paek does not, in any way, hinder the ongoing six-party process or the way for the DPRK’s foreign policy to open up to the international community.”
On the question of refugees in Somalia, the UN refugee agency today expressed concern over reports that Kenyan authorities were forcibly returning Somali refugees back to Somalia.
High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said that border security measures should not prevent deserving Somali civilians from seeking safety and protection in Kenya. And he reiterated his agency’s offer to provide expertise and support to Kenya, to help it deal with new arrivals.
We have a press release on that in my office.
And then, you were here earlier, the Security Council met for the first time this year, and, following brief consultations, it adopted its programme of work for January.
The Council President for January, Ambassador Vitaly Churkin of Russia, just spoke in this room about the Council’s work over the coming month, mentioning, among other things, that the Council will hold its first public debate with the new Secretary-General next Monday, on threats to international peace and security.
On Burundi, in a statement yesterday, the Secretary-General congratulated the people and Government of Burundi on the successful implementation of the mandate of the UN Operation in Burundi, which concluded its activities on 31 December.
The Secretary-General noted that with the support of the UN and other partners, elections were held in Burundi, new integrated national defence and police forces were established, and a ceasefire agreement was concluded between the parties. He warmly thanked all UN personnel who helped discharge that mandate and welcomed the establishment of the UN Integrated Office as well as the African Union Special Task Force in Burundi.
We have copies of that statement upstairs.
Finally, I noticed I’m not the only new person at these briefings. I didn’t do it yesterday, but the UN Correspondents Association (UNCA), following its elections at the end of last month, has a new President, J. Tuyet Nguyen.
Congratulations. I look forward to working with you and I’d also like to thank Masood Haider for his great job leading UNCA last year.
**Questions and Answers
Question: As far as the execution -- the question of execution -- the Secretary-General just issued a statement. Does that mean that the Secretary-General has in fact corrected his position by supporting what is mentioned in the Geneva Convention? And does he still stick by the fact that it is up to the Member States to decide who to hang, who not to hang?
Spokesperson: I think yesterday he was acknowledging the fact that, as you know, there is no consensus at the United Nations over the issue of the death penalty. There was a debate at the General Assembly a few years ago and it ended up with the majority of Member States opting for –- refusing to condemn the death penalty.
He recognizes the fact that we are trying to work towards the abolition of that practice. However, he acknowledges also the fact that Member States have their positions on the issue.
Question: Yes, Michele. Just two things, one briefly a follow-up on that, Louise Arbour’s statement, questions of fairness of the process. It sounded like the Secretary-General yesterday was, to a certain degree, defending the process and saying that Iraq was dealing –- the Iraqis were dealing with their past. Is he essentially –- is it his position that this process by which Saddam Hussein has been tried and executed is not there?
And then also on a separate issue, on the Sudan, you mentioned that there was an OIOS investigator working full time on sexual abuse cases in the Sudan. Why, what triggered that investigation? I mean, is this the result of internal investigations that showed that there was a big problem there some time ago? I mean, it seems sort of extraordinary that you would have a full-time person working on investigating sexual abuse claims unless there was a big problem there already.
Spokesperson: Well, I think there have been allegations for some time and I think the purpose was to go beyond that and pursue these allegations and investigate those allegations. So that’s, I think, the issue. I think the UN is very concerned about this issue and has over and over again repeated its determination to end sexual abuses by UN peacekeepers.
I think in the case of the Sudan, the fact that they have a full-time person there is an indication -- more than the amount or the number of cases, I think it is an indication of the determination to just end this practice.
And you had another question before…
Correspondent: Does the Secretary-General, it’s his view, are you saying, that he does not view the process that led to the trial and execution of Saddam Hussein, that it was essentially questions about its fairness?
Spokesperson: Well, we discussed this with him. He was talking simply about the executions. He was not talking about whether the trial was fair or not. I think in this specific case, he already supported this morning the statement made by Louise Arbour. And as you know, Louise Arbour also mentioned the fact that there are practices in the international courts condemning executions. But she also acknowledges that there are differences within Member States about this situation.
Question: One question, one appeal. With regard to important announcements like appointments or any policy announcements or so forth. I’m sure I don’t only speak for myself, but I have my first deadlines at 12:00 to try and get into my Asia edition. I also have deadlines about 12:00, 12:15, 12:30 to get into my European editions. And I know press who work in those time frames, rather than just the United States, would like advance notice of these kinds of things, so we can have time to write intelligent articles, reflecting these announcements. So I would make an appeal that when an important announcement comes like this, please put it out early in the morning, on an embargoed basis if necessary -– however you want to handle it.
But, as it stands, what traditionally happened is day in, day out, I get information from this podium too late for my newspaper. And by the next day, it’s old news. So I will be very grateful that as you start this job, if you address the fact that we don’t all have US newspaper deadlines.
Spokesperson: I understand that and I agree with you and I think we’ll try to do something about it.
Question: Now I just had a question. Ban Ki-moon came in talking about new working methods, basically a new [inaudible] in management to the UN, and yet today, we have an appointment very much business as usual –- one political appointee of a permanent member of the Security Council and one [inaudible] regime figure. I wonder how this tallies with Ban Ki-moon’s call for reform and change at the UN.
Spokesperson: Well, don’t forget that right now he’s reviewing the case of every single senior manager in this Organization. And right now, they are having consultations about a Deputy Secretary-General and we should have shortly a decision on that matter.
I think this is an ongoing process and I think you are going to be able to assess the whole process when, you know, maybe at the end of the month.
Question: On the Sudan sexual abuse scandal, has the Secretary-General contacted UNICEF? Apparently this was in a UNICEF report from 2005. Now I understand he just arrived here, so he can’t be expected to have known about that, but yet, he can just take a phone call or cross the street and ask them…
Spokesperson: I do know that the UNICEF report did not talk about sexual abuses from the UN peacekeepers. They spoke about sexual abuses on the part of the Sudanese military.
Question: So the Telegraph report is incorrect in citing the UNICEF report as the source…
Spokesperson: [Talkover] about the UN peacekeepers.
Question: You were saying before, you were talking about zero tolerance and all those things that have been [inaudible] as UN policy ever since the first appearances of sexual abuse started to appear in the press and were actually substantiated later. My question is, after three or four years of this, when he makes his assessment of the general top managers of the UN, will the Secretary-General look into the specific command and control at DPKO where these -- despite the current policy of zero tolerance -- things seem to continue? So could that be addressed when he’s thinking specifically whether to reappoint Guéhenno to DPKO?
Spokesperson: Well, I can say one thing that he also said “accountability”, which means that people responsible should be accountable for what is happening once they have actually established the facts.
Question: This afternoon, human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch have criticized the Secretary-General’s statement on the execution of Saddam Hussein. Does he have any response to those statements?
Spokesperson: Well, I already gave his statement on the issue.
Question: But what are his views on the trial of Saddam Hussein?
Spokesperson: He has not expressed his view on the trials. He has supported today the call that Ms. Arbour sent to the Iraqi Government and that he was very strongly behind Ms. Arbour on this. His opinion is that we should press for the abolition of capital punishment, but it should be a slow process, as you know.
Question: But what are his views? Ms. Arbour has given her views, but what are his views?
Spokesperson: On the actual trial?
Question: On the actual trial and execution.
Spokesperson: He said what he thought in terms of the executions. In terms of the trial, he has not expressed his views on it yet.
Question: Just to follow up on that. The Secretary-General was speaking yesterday at a time many world countries were issuing statements condemning even the process that Saddam went through. So did it come across his mind that when he made his statements he undermines his position as an objective Secretary-General for this Organization? And considering the statement that came from Iraq, from Mr. Ashraf Qazi who probably what we stated more, you know, what we know about the UN position.
Spokesperson: Well, I think he…
Question: When you spoke to him this morning what did he tell you? Isn’t he worried now that people think he’s not really an objective Secretary-General, he’s more [inaudible]?
Spokesperson: I think his statement here was clear. I think it should be taken –- yesterday there was -- the complete statement does talk about, you know, the usual practice in humanitarian law and it does mention the larger picture. I don’t think it’s fair to say that he’s changing his views or anything of that sort. I think he’s clarified. You had asked me to ask him to clarify his views and I think he did.
Question: So what does he think of the Saddam, like versus this -– the Vatican issued a statement about last minute procedures. What does he think?
Spokesperson: [Inaudible] specifics in terms of the trial itself and what led to the execution, the times preceding the immediate execution.
Question: Back to the Sudan, I just wonder, is the Secretary-General concerned specifically that these new allegations of abuse could complicate the efforts of trying to get a new UN force into Darfur?
Spokesperson: Well, I think it’s an underlying concern, of course.
Question: I have a question; it’s obviously a period of transition here at the UN. I’m just curious about the future of Louise Arbour and her job. Where do things stand with the new Secretary-General?
Spokesperson: Well, we don’t know yet. As I said yesterday and I will say it again today, there is going to be a review process –- all senior managers in their different positions -– and you should know more about this in a few weeks.
[The Spokesperson’s Office later clarified that Ms. Arbour’s current tenure is a four-year tenure, which was approved by the General Assembly and which ends in July 2008.]
Question: How confident is he of Louise Arbour’s performance?
Spokesperson: You heard him support Louise Arbour’s position today.
Question: Two things. First, could you give us a readout on the Secretary-General’s meeting this morning with Jan Eliasson, and do you know when he’s going to talk to us?
And second, I note that all of the statements are issued in the name of the Spokesman. But you are actually a Spokesperson or a Spokeswoman.
Spokesperson: We are changing this. We are changing this. A new culture. It will say Spokesperson, so it will be more inclusive.
Correspondent: You didn’t answer me on Jan Eliasson.
Spokesperson: We have contacted him and we should have an answer from him very soon. He’s willing to meet the press and he will do it as soon as his process of consultation with the Secretary-General takes place. They spoke at 11 a.m. and I know the conversation was still going on. They are supposed to talk again, so I would wait until we find out a little more about this, and I promise to let you know immediately.
[The Spokesperson later added that the Secretary-General, in his meeting with Jan Eliasson, had thanked him for accepting the assignment as Special Envoy for the Darfur crisis. He told Eliasson that he had been in touch with a number of actors, including African Union Commission Chairman Alpha Oumar Konare and African Union Envoy Salim Ahmed Salim. The Secretary-General suggested a meeting of Salim Ahmed Salim, Eliasson and himself, possibly as early as this Friday. They also discussed the objectives of Eliasson’s work ahead.]
Question: Could you please tell me more whether there is any cooperation between the United Nations and Israel on monitoring testing of any possession of nuclear weapons in Iran? Any cooperation yesterday, in particular.
Spokesperson: I’m not aware of it, but I will inquire for you.
Question: Yesterday, the representative of the Staff Union in New York made a very strong speech to Mr. Ban at his welcoming ceremony, in which he said there was a fundamental change required in mindset of senior management from one of dominance, disregard and fear to one of partnership. I wonder first of all, what the Secretary-General’s response to that speech was.
And secondly, how does he hope to restore trust with his staff when he appointed the existing chief of staff, i.e., the person who is running that management, as his new management head?
Spokesperson: Well, his appointments are just two appointments among many. I think he was very open yesterday about what the staff said. And he listened very carefully and I think he sent all the signals throughout the day that the staff was important to him. As you know, he went to eat in the cafeteria yesterday and he tried to speak to as many people as he could possibly speak to. So I think he listened to what the Staff Union had to say and I am sure he will act on it.
Question: Has Ms. Bárcena committed herself to having a fundamental change of mindset. And also, where is she? I mean, why is she not here to take our questions when this announcement is made?
Spokesperson: Well, she can come in to -- certainly she will come in to take your questions. We will request this from her.
Spokesperson: OK, very well. I will ask her to come.
Question: Has she committed herself to this fundamental change of mindset that the staff is pushing for?
Spokesman: I think she has.
Question: Just two things. You spoke with the new Secretary-General. We don’t have that access following yesterday. But it’s not exactly Clinton and gays in the military, but did he… what was his view? Did he think he was portrayed wrongly? That he had not, as various wire services, newspapers, TV, that he had not stepped into trouble on his first day, made a slip, screwed up? Does he think that was an accurate portrayal of what he said, forgetting the comments about what were quoted?
And two, does he understand the need for new blood -– that people would be asking to have someone be the head of management [inaudible]? I know James brought this up, but they are the top positions. He can eat in the cafeteria. Kofi Annan ate in the cafeteria and wasn’t seen there for ten years. And we eat there -- I wouldn’t advise anyone eating there. I mean, you can talk about all the rankings and the other positions, but it is a big deal who is at the top.
Spokesperson: We’re talking about the top here. I mean, we have a number of senior appointments that are to be coming up in the next few days. That’s what we’re talking about. Top management.
Question: What was his view on the, how his death penalty quote…
Spokesperson: …was received? That’s why he wanted this morning to make, you know, to stress the fact that he supports definitely what we have in the Covenant of Human Rights, and he supports what has been the, let’s say, the tradition in the human rights bodies of the United Nations and the international courts.
Question: …he made a mistake?
Spokesperson: No, he didn’t say he made a mistake. He said that, you know, he is a representative of 192 countries and there are 192 countries who disagree on the death penalty. That was all, I think. I think it was maybe, might have been blown a little bit out of the proportion he meant.
Question: Michele, the New York’s Spokesman’s office the daily [talkover], Spokeswoman’s Office this week stopped producing the daily summary of news headlines concerning UN news -– news that affects the United Nations around the world and news that comes out of the UN, and it seems curious that the UN officials would not want to draw on such a tool to make sure they knew what was going on around the world in the United Nations. What was the basis for that decision?
Spokesperson: I don’t think it was a deliberate decision. We’ll look into it. I’ll find out why there was a change and we’ll try to see whether we could reinstate that.
Question: Michele, you just sort of referred in passing to the fact that Ban Ki-moon supports the abolition of the death penalty, which sounds like an extremely strong position. Did he say that this morning to you? I mean, where does that come, where did he express support for the abolition of the death penalty?
Spokesperson: Well, I think he did express it in his comments this morning when he spoke to me, and his comments when he mentioned the fact that Ms. Arbour spoke about those two executions to be taking place shortly. I think he did, to me, it was important to him to stress that he was going along with what humanitarian law says. And, he was going along with what have been traditional UN practices pushing towards the abolition…
Question: So, he made it clear that he believes that we should, the UN should move towards the abolition of capital punishment?
Spokesperson: Well, we have the Covenant on Human Rights…
Question: Well, the Covenant on Human Rights actually says, actually states where the death penalty is legal, it should happen only in the worst cases and he cited specifically that this, that Saddam’s were the most heinous crimes, so that sounds like, to me, like one of the worst cases, so I don’t understand. Where… [talkover]…
Spokesperson: You mentioned yourself that there are cases where…
Question: It seems to me that according to that Covenant it allows executions only in the worst cases, but it allows executions [talkover]…
Spokesperson: You have also the individual laws of countries. Let’s face it -- we have 192 Member States in this Organization.
Question: Excuse me ma’am, Ms. Arbour issued that [inaudible] statement before Saddam’s execution, and I am sure Mr. Secretary-General had enough time to do his research before taking his position. Why didn’t he call for similar restraint yesterday, instead of openly supporting the execution of Saddam?
Spokesperson: You know, Ms. Arbour is the High Commissioner for Human Rights. It is her job.
Question: You are the UN position. This is not something new…
Spokesperson: But he acknowledged simply that there were Member States who had different practices and different laws.
Question: I missed yesterday’s briefing. What is the new Secretary-General’s position on Kosovo? Did he take everything for granted from the previous administration or does he have some new ideas on that, and whether he already contacted his Special Envoy, Martti Ahtisaari, from Kosovo?
Spokesperson: I do know that he has been contacting different people. I don’t think he has contacted Mr. Ahtisaari yet, but I think it should be coming shortly?
Question: Does he have the same ideas as the previous Secretary-General on that?
Spokesperson: I will ask him and we will have a statement on that.
[The correspondent was later informed that UN policy towards Kosovo has not changed, and that Ban Ki-moon and Martti Ahtisaari met at the end of the year for an initial change of views.]
Question: What is his position –- I understand he supports the abolition of the death penalty -- but what is his position on a moratorium of the death penalty? Does he think that it is feasible that the General Assembly, for instance, passes a resolution on a moratorium?
Spokesperson: Well, this is a prerogative of the General Assembly. Once the General Assembly sets such a decision, takes such a decision, I think the Secretary-General will certainly carry it forward and push it forward.
Question: Returning to the management issue. I’m trying to parse what you said here. First of all, what qualifications or characteristics does the Secretary-General see in Ms. Bárcena that leads him to bestow on her the job of carrying out this mandate of sweeping change that he described yesterday? And, are you suggesting that there may be another post that may take on some of that responsibility?
Spokesperson: Oh I think he has discussed with Ms. Bárcena what the changes he wants to be pushed forward. He has set his agenda and I assume that Ms. Bárcena -– I am sure that Ms. Bárcena -– agrees with that agenda. And, that was clearly outlined, and Ms. Bárcena has been working during the transition period with the Secretary-General and they certainly discussed a number of issues, and before he appointed her, he has certainly made sure that they had concurring views on the subject.
Question: May I just on a similar issue ask what specific qualifications in humanitarian affairs and what history and track record in humanitarian affairs the Secretary-General saw in Mr. Holmes that he saw fit to appoint him as Head of Humanitarian Affairs?
Spokesperson: Well, I think you could go and peruse his CV…
Question: I don’t see much humanitarian affairs on that.
Spokesperson: Well, I think this appointment is a decision which I think has been the subject of consultations and the subject of discussions beforehand; those are the first two appointments he announced, no the second series of two appointments he announced. And I think it is because he has discussed the issues concerning humanitarian affairs with Mr. Holmes, that’s why this decision was taken.
Question: The British, John Holmes is sort of a distinguished diplomat who has served as a political adviser to two Prime Ministers, but he has no humanitarian operational experience, and the British are usually put forward for the job of political affairs. Why was it that the Secretary-General didn’t either give him the job of political affairs, which is the one he’s suited to, or ask the British if he wanted to give the British humanitarian affairs, a candidate with more humanitarian experience?
Spokesperson: I don’t know what brought about that specific decision, but I’m sure it was taken and it was with due consideration of what Mr. Holmes could do as the person responsible for OCHA.
Question: I have a question about Mr. Holmes’ mandate.
Spokesperson: Let’s go to Betsy first.
Question: Do you know of a starting date for Ms. Bárcena and Mr. Holmes? Have they already begun or when will they begin?
Spokesperson: I have to check on that.
Question: Secondly, on the Sudan. When do you expect to have a mission report or some kind of findings from OIOS?
Spokesperson: I know DPKO has been doing a number of further investigations, and I think today we had a number of exchanges over the issue, and I’m sure Ms. [Jane Holl] Lute would probably come down if you need to speak to her to discuss these issues further. If you request it, I could ask her if she could come down.
Question: I might also request that it happen today because the story is today and not another day.
Spokesperson: I will ask whether she is able to do it.
Question: One last question in addition to that. Just back to the death penalty: is it correct that the United Nations defers to national law on internal matters, especially when there is no global treaty or convention? I mean, is it not up to individual States to set their own laws?
Spokesperson: Yes, it is the case, and this is what was referred to yesterday by the Secretary-General.
Question: It sounds that perhaps Mr. Ban is stepping away from that?
Spokesperson: I don’t think he’s stepping away from that. I think it is a common position here. I am sorry. We are going to have to cut this short because they are signalling me that I am short of time. Okay, can we…?
Question: Did the Secretary-General take into account, and how does he maybe allay some concerns that Ms. Bárcena is closely aligned with Maurice Strong, who is tainted by the oil-for-food scandal, and also concerns that there were very strong candidates for the post of management who had tremendous financial background and budgetary understanding and management experience other than, in addition to, or greater experience than Ms. Bárcena herself has?
Spokesperson: Well, I think he did choose after considering all the different candidatures that were presented to him. And so we have to close this. It was good to see you again, today.
* *** *