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

8 March 2007

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

8 March 2007
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing
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 Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General and Frehiwot Bekele, Special Assistant to the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Good afternoon all.

**International Women’s Day

Today is, of course, as you know, International Women’s Day. And here at Headquarters, all across the UN system and around the world, we are celebrating this important occasion with various events and activities. You’ll find upstairs in my office copies of key speeches by UN officials and press releases on most of these events.

To flag just a few, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon earlier today spoke here at Headquarters at an inter-agency event on ending impunity for violence against women and girls. He said that International Women’s Day is an occasion for all of us -- men and women alike -- to unite in defence of women and girls who live with violence, or the threat of violence. “Violence against women and girls,” he said, “makes its hideous imprint on every continent, country and culture. It doesn’t care about your income, class, race or ethnic background.” 

Echoing the Secretary-General, Louise Arbour, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that violence against women is the most common but least punished crime in the world. She noted that less than 5 per cent of rape prosecutions lead to convictions globally and that 130 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation.

A little later today, Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro will be delivering a speech shortly here at Headquarters at an event titled “Breaking Barriers: Achieving Balance in Numbers and Work-Life.” In her remarks, the Deputy-Secretary-General is expected to say that “resolution after resolution of the General Assembly has called for 50-50 gender balance in the staff of the United Nations system. But so far, we have failed to make it a reality.”

On the same theme, the International Labour Organization (ILO) says in a report released today that more women than ever before hold jobs, but a persistent gap in status, job security, wages and education between women and men is contributing to what the ILO calls the “feminization of working poverty.” We have more on all of that upstairs.

** Iran

The Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) earlier today singled out 22 technical assistance projects in Iran and decided by consensus to suspend them in order to meet the requirements of Security Council resolution 1737.

As you’ll recall, that resolution required, among others, that Iran suspend all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities and discontinue work on all heavy water-related projects. The resolution also required Iran to allow the IAEA to verify that it had complied, something the IAEA Director-General recently reported that Iran has not done.

**Kosovo

A quick update on the Kosovo status process. The parties are currently considering Special Envoy Marti Ahtisaari’s revised status proposal. The next step will be a high-level meeting in Vienna this Saturday, to which Ahtisaari has invited representatives from both parties, the Kosovo Contact Group, the EU, NATO and the UN Mission in Kosovo.

Currently, there are no plans for any further meetings following the one on Saturday. As you know, Ahtisaari has already made it clear that his intention, after the Saturday meeting, is to finalize his proposal and send it to New York in order for the Security Council to receive it before the end of March.

** Sudan

The UN Mission in Sudan reports fighting between tribes in South Darfur and an attack by militiamen in West Darfur that forced the temporary suspension of humanitarian operations in that area.

The Mission also says that is has been facilitating in Wau, in southern Sudan, a 10-day Peace, Reconciliation and Justice Conference aimed at diffusing tensions between the communities arising from militia activity and a high influx of refugees coming from Darfur.

Meanwhile, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports that food security in southern Sudan will improve in 2007.

But the World Food Programme (WFP) estimates that more than 100,000 tons of food aid will be required by 1.3 million people this year, including displaced persons and refugees returning home.

**WFP –- Southern Africa

The World Food Programme (WFP) has expressed deep concern over erratic weather patterns in Southern Africa, which have devastated harvest prospects for millions of people and could mean yet another year of widespread food shortages.

Even without these additional challenges, WFP already faces a funding shortfall of nearly $100 million for its current operations in that region.  We have a press release on that upstairs.

** Mozambique

Turning now to Mozambique specifically, which has recently been hit by floods and a cyclone, the World Food Programme has distributed 520 tons of food to more than 95,000 flood survivors. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) has made bed nets available, and the UN Population Fund has locally procured the contents for 4,000 hygiene kits.

For its part, UNICEF is helping to immunize children against measles and has been working to distribute kits for students, teachers and schools, as well as school tents.

Regarding the cyclone, WFP has provided over 120 tons of food to more than 15,000 survivors with the help of two helicopters. And UNICEF has supported more than 30,000 people with roofing materials. This is our update on Mozambique.

** Cambodia

In Cambodia this week, a Review Committee of international and national judges of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) are meeting to discuss the outstanding issues which have so far held up the adoption of the Internal Rules for the conduct of the Khmer Rouge Trials.

The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia is part of the Cambodian court system, using both Cambodian and international law. The ECCC is supported by the United Nations Assistance to the Khmer Rouge Trials.

**Democracy Fund

The UN Democracy Fund received a $10 million contribution from the Government of Japan yesterday. That makes Japan one of the largest contributors to the Fund, along with the United States, India and Qatar.

The UN Democracy Fund is currently financing more than 100 projects around the world aimed at strengthening democratic institutions and supporting democratic civil society organizations. 

Japan’s donation adds to the Fund's current capacity of $65 million, and will be used to finance a new round of projects, expected to be advertised in the spring.

**ESCAP

The Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP), Kim Hak-su, today stressed that sustainable development strategy was critical to the long-term well-being of the Asian region.

Speaking at the opening of a Workshop on Developing Sustainability Strategies in Asia in Bangkok, Kim said it is a shared challenge for Governments, and sustainable development strategy must be the core of every country’s economic growth plan.  We have a press release on that upstairs.

**Press Conferences

Then finally, we started with women, we end with women.  The Commission on the Status of Women will conclude its 51st session tomorrow.  The Chair of the Commission, Ambassador Carmen Maria Gallardo Hernandez of El Salvador, will be here tomorrow at 11:15 a.m. to give you a wrap-up briefing.

This is all I have for you.  Thank you.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  About this suspension of the Atomic Agency for work or aid to Iran.  We know that the Atomic Agency has been dealing with Israel, which is a nuclear-proliferator, it’s a nuclear Power, and now they are denying Iran this peaceful facility aid. What is the criterion here used in dealing with nations? Israel is not an NPT signatory.   

Spokesperson:  Well, I think you should be directing your questions to the IAEA.

Question:  But it’s part of the United Nations, isn’t it?

Spokesperson:  But it’s a separate agency. 

Question:  On that same issue, if I may, you say that the IAEA has suspended these 22 projects in Iran. I’m not sure I understand what that means. You mean they’ve called upon Iran to suspend the 22 programmes?

Spokesperson:  Well, those are projects.  They are technical assistance projects, so the UN is involved. 

Question:  In other words..

Spokesperson:  The IAEA is involved. 

Question:  The IAEA has told those 22 projects to…?

Spokesperson:  That it will stop…

Question:  …to terminate themselves and pull out their people? 

Spokesperson:  It will stop providing technical assistance to those projects.

Question:  The same issue, it seems there are some differences among the Security Council States regarding a new resolution against Iran. I wonder about the position of the Secretary-General – does he prefer a tougher resolution or gradual sanctions to be imposed on Iran? 

Spokesperson:  Well, the issue is now in front of the Security Council. It is for the Security Council to decide.

Question:  How the Secretary-General sees the issue?

Spokesperson:  Well, on the issue, he has said from the start that Iran should comply and be more transparent on its projects. And this was a public position.

Correspondent:  But Iran’s already [inaudible] and allowed every inspector to go into its facility.

Spokesperson:  This is a point of view.

Question:  Two questions – Cambodia and North Korea. You talk about the Cambodian courts and the UN’s involvement trying to get it started.  It’s reported that Cambodia wants to charge $2,000 for every international lawyer that comes to represent either defendants or participate in it – that’s one of the sticking points. It hasn’t really -- it’s been said, but it hasn’t been written -- what are the sticking points that the UN is trying to resolve?

Spokesperson:  We can ask the Legal Office for you what the major points are.

Question:  That would be great. And if this fee would result in there not being enough UN or international participation in the tribunal?  Then, on North Korea or DPRK, I heard yesterday late from Security Council diplomats that North Korea has denied or has indicated it will deny visas to auditors, so I’m wondering, it’s unclear to me if the letter was written, the letter that you spoke about was dated 28 February, and it was announced here 6 March. Was this after a denial of visas? Was this in anticipation of this coming up? Have visas been denied?  What’s the status of the auditors getting in?

Spokesperson:  As far as I know, the UN has not been officially informed of any visa being denied.

Question:  Not to say there’s anything behind it, but what was this gap in the letter being dated 28 February and the decision to announce it here 6 March? What was the thinking behind that?

Spokesperson:  There was nothing particular behind it.  Just a second, we have… yes, Vladimir.

Question:  Would you please have any comment on yesterday’s guilty verdict by a jury in the courthouse in Manhattan on Vladimir Kuznetsov’s case?

Spokesperson:  Well, the only thing I can say is that the United Nations had waived Mr. Kuznetsov’s immunity as a UN official.  And his arrest came as a result of an OIOS investigation of former procurement official Alexander Yakovlev, as you know, and has cooperated with the US Attorney’s office. There has been continued cooperation between the UN and the US Attorney’s office.  My understanding is that, as Chair of the ACABQ, Kuznetsov was proposed by his Government and elected by the General Assembly. He was not an SG-appointed UN staff member. And you can have more on this with my colleague Ashraf, who will be coming to brief you for the General Assembly.  It will be Freh, who will be briefing you in a few minutes.

Question: Israel has been recently carrying on more raids on southern Lebanon, and in defiance of 1701, with the approach of review of 1701. Have you been making any newer presentations to Israel on why they are violating 1701 so regularly?

Spokesperson:  This is a Security Council matter, as you know. 

Question:  Did you establish the reason… how the two UNIFIL soldiers died in south Lebanon yesterday?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think the details were given.  We gave them yesterday.

Question:  But it was an accident?  Or nothing to…[inaudible]?

Spokesperson:  Thank you very much.  Freh.

Briefing by the Special Assistant to the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly

Good afternoon.

**Informal Thematic Debate

The General Assembly concluded this morning its Informal Thematic Debate on gender equality and the empowerment of women.  In adjourning the debate, Assembly President Haya Al Khalifa noted that the discussions over the last two days had “highlighted the importance of a two-track approach to achieve gender equality and women’s economic and political empowerment.  First, gender equality needs to be mainstreamed in legislation, national budgets and in macroeconomic and social policies. And second, targeted interventions, such as quotas for political representation are needed to support women”.

The President also observed:  “Though we have made progress in many areas, we must not forget the scale of the challenges that lie ahead. However much we can learn from best practices and the challenges that have been overcome, the real issue lies in the area of implementation. The promises that Governments have so far made to eliminate all discrimination against women need to be realized.”

**International Women’s Day

The Assembly President also addressed this morning a panel discussion on the occasion of International Women’s Day, with the theme “Ending Impunity for violence against women and girls.”  She emphasized:  “In order to allow women to enjoy their full human rights and uphold their dignity, we need strong interventions now, to immediately prohibit and delegitimize acts of violence against women and girls…Criminal impunity must end. Every crime must be prosecuted.”

**Secretariat Restructuring Proposals

Finally, informal consultations of the General Assembly plenary on the Secretary-General's proposal to realign the Department of Disarmament Affairs are scheduled for tomorrow afternoon. Consultations on the realignment of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations are scheduled for Monday afternoon.

I’ll take questions now.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  In terms of these restructuring talks, is there an end date envisioned? There have been consultations almost every week. Do you know about..?

Special Assistant:  No, we just have to see how things go, how things unfold. I know that on the Department of Disarmament Affairs meeting, last week or the week before, a first draft framework resolution was presented and they’re coming back with a revised version. That’s what they’re going to discuss in their consultations tomorrow. And on DPKO, they’re just going to begin discussions on elements for a draft framework resolution.

Question:  How about the facilitators’ process on the Security Council – are they doing anything or do you know…?

Special Assistant:  As you know, they had meetings. Each facilitator had plenary consultations. They were also supposed to continue consultations in different kinds of configurations; they’re still doing that. And at the end of the month, they’re all expected to present reports to the President.

Question:  And will there be a final meeting of the full Group?

Special Assistant:  There will be a consolidated report to be presented to all Member States after that.

Question:  There has been in the Fifth Committee this week a discussion of OIOS reports.  One was on the tsunami, on the OIOS’ attempt to audit the spending of money in the tsunami. And OIOS said that various funds and programmes were unwilling to cooperate with OIOS and its audit. So I’m wondering, from the release that they wrote about the meeting, it doesn’t say which funds and programmes didn’t cooperate with the OIOS.

Special Assistant:  I have no idea, Matthew. I’ll have to find out. Let’s talk later.

Question:  Talking about Kuznetsov. He was a Chair of the General Assembly body?

Special Assistant:  Yes.

Question:  But his immunity was lifted by the Secretary-General without any consultations with the General Assembly and in a very hasty manner.  So, the Russian Foreign Minister today calls it “groundless” –- the decision of the former Secretary-General on the question of lifting immunity of Kuznetsov. Would you have any comment on this?

Special Assistant:  The comment I have regarding this case is that the President has been informed of the latest developments.  What is important to note in this instance is that the Organization acted promptly, and fully cooperated with the authorities in the investigation of the case.  We should also acknowledge that measures are being taken currently by the Secretariat -– such as the establishment of an Ethics Office, financial disclosure procedures and tightening of procurement rules -- to ensure greater compliance with rules and regulations and to uphold stronger accountability and ethical standards.

That’s all I have to say. Thank you.

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