|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICEs OF THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
And the spokesperson for the General Assembly president
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly, Ashraf Kamal.
Briefing by Associate Spokesperson
Good afternoon everyone.
**Guest at Noon
Joining us at the briefing today is Mr. Warren Sach, Assistant Secretary-General and UN Controller. Mr. Sach will brief you shortly on the external auditing of UN agencies, funds and programmes. I know you’ve been asking quite a bit about that. So after I and the Spokesman for the General Assembly President, Ashraf Kamal, give our briefings, then you will have Mr. Sach to deal with those questions.
As you know, just a few minutes ago, the General Assembly adopted a resolution on Holocaust denial.
The Secretary-General welcomes the adoption by the General Assembly today of a resolution unequivocally condemning any denial of the Holocaust. This reflects the prevailing view of the international community. The Secretary-General reiterates his conviction that the denial of historical facts such as the Holocaust is unacceptable. He expresses his strong desire to see this fundamental principle respected both in rhetoric and in practice.
And while on the topic of the Holocaust, tomorrow is the International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust.
To mark the occasion, there will be a number of events at UN Headquarters next week. For example, a ceremony will be held on Monday in the General Assembly Hall, from 10:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. In addition to a video message from the Secretary-General, there will be statements by Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information Shashi Tharoor, General Assembly President Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa, and Israeli Ambassador Dan Gillerman. We have more details in a flyer upstairs.
** Sudan Statement
I have the following statement attributable to the Spokesperson concerning the death of a peacekeeper in Sudan.
“The Secretary-General condemns the killing earlier today of a UN Mission in Sudan Indian peacekeeper, who was shot dead by unidentified attackers when the demining team he was escorting came under fire near Magwe in Southern Sudan. Two other UNMIS Indian peacekeepers were injured in the incident.
“The Secretary-General extends his condolences to the Government of India and to the family of the deceased soldier and wishes a speedy recovery to the injured. He demands a swift investigation into this incident and calls on all Sudanese parties to fully cooperate with the United Nations.”
** Sudan – Human Rights
The President of the Human Rights Council, Ambassador Luis Alfonso de Alba, today announced that the Human Rights Council’s High-Level Mission to Darfur will be led by Jody Williams, the recipient of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize. She will be joined by Sima Samar, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Sudan.
The President has also invited the participation of the following individuals in their personal capacities: Mart Nutt of the Council of Europe’s European Commission against Racism and Intolerance; Bertrand Ramcharan, former Acting UN High Commissioner for Human Rights; Gabonese Ambassador Patrice Tonda; and Makarim Wibisono, President of the sixty-first session of the Commission on Human Rights.
The members of the Mission will arrive in Geneva within the following days to begin their preparatory work. They will depart for Sudan in early February. You’ll recall that the Human Rights Council decided last month to send this Mission, which will assess the human rights situation in Darfur.
I also have another statement attributable to the Spokesperson concerning the Secretary-General’s financial disclosure.
“The Secretary-General’s financial disclosure statement for the period 1 January–31 December 2006 was submitted to PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), the external financial firm hired by the United Nations to confidentially review the financial disclosure statements submitted by staff. PwC, in reviewing the Secretary-General’s financial disclosure form, has determined that no further action is required of him with respect to his compliance with the requirements of the financial disclosure programme.
“Now that the review is complete, the Secretary-General is honouring his promise to make the statement public. In this connection, the disclosure form has been posted on the Secretary-General’s website. Certain personal details have been removed for security purposes. And if you go the Secretary-General’s page on the website shortly, you will be able to link to the financial disclosure there.”
In Paris this morning, the Secretary-General and French President Jacques Chirac held a meeting at which they discussed the situation in Lebanon, and the results of yesterday’s reconstruction conference. They also talked about the difficult political situation in that country.
In addition, they discussed an international conference on the environment which will be held next week in Paris. Other topics included Côte d’Ivoire, Darfur, and the security situation on the border between Chad, the Central African Republic and Sudan.
The Secretary-General is now on his way to Africa, where he will visit the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia and Kenya in the coming days.
The UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) reports that the military situation in the Temporary Security Zone and Adjacent Areas, which UNMEE continues to monitor from existing posts, remains volatile and tense.
Routine troop movements are still observed on both sides in Sector West, Sector Centre and Sub-Sector East, the Mission says. And we have more details in the Mission’s press briefing notes.
** Central African Republic
According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), civilians in the northern and north-eastern parts of the Central African Republic are getting displaced as a result of the ongoing conflict between Government Security Forces and the armed opposition.
Amid reports of villages being torched and summary executions, Margareta Wahlström, the UN’s Acting Emergency Relief Coordinator, has said that the human suffering resulting from these egregious violations of human rights is appalling. And we have more details upstairs.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reports that the general strike that has been paralysing Guinea over the last two weeks has limited UNHCR’s access to camps hosting Liberian refugees.
But despite that, UNHCR plans to go ahead with a voluntary repatriation convoy tomorrow. That will bring to 46,000 the number of refugees helped by UNHCR to return to Liberia from Guinea since the repatriation programme started in October 2004. And we have more on that in my office.
Timor-Leste, Australia and the UN Mission in Timor-Leste have established a Trilateral Coordination Forum to discuss security concerns.
Meanwhile, senior UN officials met yesterday with Timorese police and political officials to discuss ways of curbing the continued violence in Dili.
Officials from the UN Mission have also met with martial arts gangs to stress that the cycle of violence and revenge must stop. And more information is available in a press release upstairs.
The Review Committee for the Extraordinary Chambers to try Khmer Rouge crimes in Cambodia today concluded a two-week session in Phnom Penh on the draft Internal Rules for the court.
Solid progress was made during the two-week session of the Review Committee, significantly narrowing differences on a number of issues. Nevertheless, there remain several major issues to be fully resolved, including ensuring a transparent and fair registration process and full rights of audience for foreign defence counsel.
A further meeting of the Review Committee will be convened in March and we have a statement from the Extraordinary Chambers upstairs.
Also earlier today, we put out a statement saying that the Secretary-General mourns the passing of Oliver Jackman, the distinguished diplomat and jurist from Barbados, who has been serving the United Nations since 1999 in efforts to resolve the border controversy between Guyana and Venezuela. His contributions to the United Nations will always be remembered and we have the full statement upstairs.
**Press Conferences on Monday
At 1:30 p.m., in conjunction with a DPI-sponsored exhibit entitled, “The Holocaust of the Roma and Sinti and Present Day Racism in Europe”, members of Roma and Sinti organizations will be here to brief you.
At 2:30 p.m., Edmond Mulet, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti will be here to talk to you.
And we will have Mr. Sach and the General Assembly Spokesperson after me. But are there any questions first?
**Questions and Answers
Question: It’s now the first draft I would say of the final proposal on Kosovo has been delivered to the interested parties. And once that Mr. Secretary-General met with Martti Ahtisaari. Are there any reactions from him that would go to through the Spokesperson’s office?
Associate Spokesperson: The Secretary-General has made it clear that, yes, he did meet with Mr. Ahtisaari in Paris but he will not be disclosing any of the details of this plan or commenting on it until the plan has gone directly to the involved parties. That is expected to be on 2 February. Today, it was presented, as you know, to the international Contact Group but Mr. Ahtisaari has a schedule by which he will inform different people: first, the parties and then down the line, he will also be informing the members of the Security Council. At this stage, we’re not commenting on the proposals while that process goes on. Yes, please.
Question: Is it true that the aid which will be given to Lebanon will be conditional? That the Siniora Government will remain in power as has been stated by the Italians?
Associate Spokesperson: I don’t speak on behalf of the Italian Government. Different Governments may have their own concerns but I don’t speak on their behalf. Yes?
Question: Was it possible to get somebody from the AU [African Union] to come to us?
Associate Spokesperson: That’s their choice. I’ll keep trying to be in touch with them to see whether they can do something over the coming week.
Question: Because it would be interesting to have them before the meeting in Addis Ababa so they can actually say what they want in Addis Ababa.
Associate Spokesperson: We’ll see whether sometime over the course of the week they’ll be willing to. That’s of course their choice.
Question: On Somalia, I think the Government of South Africa said that it’s not going to be contributing troops, or it’s unable to contribute troops. What is the status of trying to get an IGAD [Intergovernmental Authority for Development]/AU force to replace the retreating (inaudible) returning?
Associate Spokesperson: It’s clear that a number of countries have also been expressing publicly in recent days their intention to submit troops. We, as you know in our recent statements, have welcomed and encouraged Governments to do that. And the Secretary-General, when he is at the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, one of the things he has made clear that he is going to do is talk to a number of Governments trying to encourage that -- to make sure that there is an adequate presence of African troops in Somalia.
Question: Did Mr. Chirac and Mr. Ban Ki-moon discuss the Lebanon issue in their meeting?
Associate Spokesperson: As I said, I gave you a readout. They did discuss the political situation in Lebanon. I don’t have any further details to give beyond that.
Question: A few quick questions on the restructuring plan. First of all, is there any update on how much longer it’s going to take the Secretary-General to come up with the remainder of the restructuring and appointments?
Associate Spokesperson: It’s moving along and hopefully in the next few days you might see a letter to the Members of the General Assembly concerning a proposal about restructuring. We’ll see when it goes there. And you had a second…?
Question: Yeah, a couple more. Just a follow-up on that, you said on the restructuring, you mean the entire package rather than one or two pieces, like peacekeeping or…?
Associate Spokesperson: It’ll concern restructuring proposals, and so there is a communication under way to the President of the General Assembly and thenceforth to the other Members.
Associate Spokesperson: I expect that to be coming about fairly soon.
Question: Continuing, the point here -- in some of the discussions, we understand, I’m referring only to disarmament affairs at the moment, that there could be the replacement of the USG [Under-Secretary-General] with an SRSG [Special Representative of the Secretary-General] for disarmament. I was under the impression, and believe I’m wrong that the SRSG is the same diplomatic rank as the USG but could you clarify what the status is of the SRSGs?
Associate Spokesperson: Most of the Special Representatives of the Secretary-General are employed at the rank of Under-Secretary-General. That’s not always the case. There have been a few, I think about a year or so, for example, there had been 30 SRSGs who were at the Under-Secretary-General level and another I think four or five who were at the Assistant Secretary-General level. It depends upon circumstance but, in most cases, you’re right those titles are equivalent. That’s not always the case.
Question: So then if it were to be an SRSG, there’s no guarantee that this would in fact be…
Associate Spokesperson: I have no comment about any specific proposals such as the disarmament (inaudible).
Question: One very quick thing…very quick… Is it your understanding that an “office” is a downgrading from a “department”? Or is an “office” the same as a “department”…
Associate Spokesperson: I think that this is one of the topics on which Member States will continue to be discussing, so I don’t want to get in front of that.
Question: Can you update us about Benon Sevan in Cyprus? Is he considered by the UN as a fugitive? Is there any lawsuit against him? As far as I know, he cannot leave Cyprus -- is there any (inaudible)?
Associate Spokesperson: Benon Sevan no longer works for the United Nations and I have no information on where he is. As far as that goes, I am aware that the Office of the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York does have an indictment against him. And I would like to remind you that we did waive Mr. Sevan’s immunity upon request from the US Attorney last month.
Question: I wanted to get some more details about this Review Committee for Khmer Rouge crimes of Cambodia. What the UN role is in that -- if it’s just advisory, if the UN is kind of spearheading it. And also, when this March report comes up, is it sort of going to be the start of what could morph into a war crimes tribunal in Cambodia? Is that what the aim is?
Associate Spokesperson: Well, the point of the tribunal is to try crimes that occurred during the period of the Khmer Rouge rule. So, yes, various types of war crimes, crimes against humanity, could come before the court. That’s been established. This March discussion has to do with the rules by which the procedures of the court will be conducted. This court was set up as part of an agreement between the United Nations and the Government of Cambodia and it includes a mix of Cambodian and international officials in all of the various bodies -- in the prosecution, in the registry, in the trial chambers, and so forth.
Question: (Inaudible) …that tribunal might be set up for Lebanon?
Associate Spokesperson: I wouldn’t want to prejudge what that would be. There have been a number of mixed courts. There was also a mixed court, by the way, in Sierra Leone.
Question: Will they meet in March and issue whatever their findings are or establish the rules? Is the court going to be set up (inaudible) start operating subsequently?
Associate Spokesperson: The court’s operations have started, but at this stage they’re still trying to deal with procedural rules that all of the officials can agree to. So, that procedure is still going.
Question: Mr. [Terje Roed-] Larsen spoke about the implication of the weapons from Syria into Lebanon. He did not report about any (inaudible) weapons coming from the Government militias. Do you expect in the next report by Larsen that he will mention that since these militias are very active in (inaudible) Lebanon?
Associate Spokesperson: Well, we’ll see when it comes out what the next report says. But, obviously, all arms that are going to all forces aside from the duly-constituted Government are a matter of concern.
Question: In a run-up to the AU summit, the organization Reporters Without Borders says that it has called upon Ban Ki-moon to raise, at the Summit, to Eritrea, the issue of press freedom and the disappearance of journalists in Eritrea. They put out a… (inaudible) saying they’d called upon Ban Ki-moon. I don’t know if they had written to him -- from the Secretariat what is your response to that type of request, or to this particular request?
Associate Spokesperson: Well, I would have to see first of all whether we’ve received the request. But as you know Ban Ki-moon will be meeting with a number of leaders and dealing with a number of issues, including his concerns on human rights.
Question: Can you just clarify on the letter -- that I think you mentioned yesterday he was preparing to send to General Assembly members -- that that letter hasn’t already gone out? And also, is there a separate letter that he wrote to heads of regional groups about this restructuring plan or appointments?
Associate Spokesperson: In terms of this, all I was referring to is that it is expected soon that you’ll have a letter going to the President of the General Assembly. Once it becomes a document, you’ll all have it.
Question: Forgive me, I came in late; forgive me if you covered this earlier. It is my understanding that the Secretary-General is still in Paris and will be in Paris until tomorrow night.
Associate Spokesperson: No, no, no. He’s en route. As we speak, he’s on a plane somewhere.
Question: To Africa?
Associate Spokesperson: Yes, and over the weekend, he will be in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Question: So he’s on his way from Paris to Kinshasa and then on to Kisangani and Addis, et cetera, et cetera and then Amsterdam?
Associate Spokesperson: Yes.
Comment: Thank you very much.
Associate Spokesperson: And with that, we’ll quickly have Ashraf Kamal, the Spokesman for the President of the General Assembly and then after that, please stick around, we will have Warren Sach, the UN Controller. Mr. Kamal.
Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President
The General Assembly met in plenary this morning and adopted a resolution condemning any denial of the Holocaust. The resolution was sponsored by 103 Member States, and it was adopted by consensus.
The President of the Assembly Sheikha Haya Al Khalifa said: “This is a strong reminder to all that the international community is united in opposing all crimes against humanity.”
The President sent a letter yesterday to all permanent representatives and observers to the UN stating her intention to schedule a plenary meeting for February the 6th to discuss progress achieved in the work of the Peacebuilding Commission. The letter was in response to a request by Cuba as the Chair of the Non-Aligned Movement to hold such a meeting.
An update on a question raised recently regarding the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: Consultations on the subject never stopped even when the President was away. She gave instructions to her office to follow up with all interested parties, with a view to achieving more convergence and getting closer to a consensus.
That’s all I have for you. Thank you.
* *** *