16 March 2007


16 March 2007
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York




The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly, Ashraf Kamal.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Good afternoon all.

**Guest at the briefing

Our guest at the briefing today is Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict.  Ms. Coomaraswamy will brief you on her recent visit to Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

**UNRWA Attack

The UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) said in a statement just released that a three-car UN convoy travelling earlier today between the Erez Crossing and Gaza City was attacked and fired upon by masked men.  All three cars were clearly marked as UN vehicles.

UNRWA says that the attack occurred about one kilometre south of the Erez Crossing when a vehicle blocked the convoy and three men jumped out and attempted to open the doors of one of the UN vehicles.  When they realized that the doors were locked, they opened fire directly on the car, leaving 11 bullet holes on the vehicle’s side.

The UN convoy was transporting UNRWA Gaza Field Office Director, John Ging, and other local and international staff, all of whom escaped without injuries.  UNRWA’s chief, Karen Koning AbuZayd, condemned in the strongest term this unprecedented assault on UN staff in Gaza, and appealed to the authorities to bring to justice the attackers.  We have a statement from UNRWA upstairs.

** Iraq Compact

The Secretary-General this morning opened the meeting on the International Compact with Iraq aimed at developing a mechanism that would help Iraq realize its national vision.

Saying that it is “heart-wrenching to see almost daily attacks on innocent civilians”, the Secretary-General said a framework for normalization is required now more than ever.

He outlined the Compact’s objectives -- the need for a “national” compact among Iraqis on the necessary security and political steps, and an “international” compact between Iraq and its partners that would set out the Government of Iraq’s agenda for the next five years.

Noting that the challenges ahead are immense, he told the delegates from nearly 100 delegations: “We cannot leave Iraq on its own to cope with them.”

The Vice-President of Iraq, Adil Abdal Mahdi, and the Secretary-General’s Special Advisor on the International Compact with Iraq, Ibrahim Gambari, will speak to reporters at the Security Council stakeout following the meeting, expected to be around 12:30 p.m.  The Secretary-General’s remarks are available, as are the Iraq Compact documents.

**Security Council on Iraq

Also yesterday afternoon, Ashraf Qazi, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, briefed the Security Council in an open meeting.  To re-establish an acceptable level of security in Baghdad and the rest of Iraq, there must be simultaneous progress on the political front, he stressed.  The Government of Iraq must take all necessary measures to ensure that all its citizens perceived its actions to be on their behalf and in their interest.  Only then would security operations help bring the Iraqi people together. 

Asked later about today’s Iraq Compact meeting, Mr. Qazi said that he hoped there will be agreement on a venue and date for the formal launch of the process.

**UN Reform

The General Assembly yesterday adopted by consensus two landmark resolutions endorsing Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s reform proposals for the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) and the Department of Disarmament Affairs.

The realignment of DPKO, which includes the establishment of a Department of Field Support, is aimed at providing better planning, faster deployment and a more responsive process.  The Department of Disarmament Affairs, meanwhile, will be reformed into the Office for Disarmament Affairs, the incumbent of which will be appointed at the Under-Secretary-General level.

Addressing the General Assembly after the adoption of the resolutions, the Secretary-General said: “Now, we can embark on a reform initiative with one voice – a collaboration based on mutual trust”, and pledged to continue to consult Member States “in a spirit of openness and transparency”.

He added: “The road ahead will not be without its challenges.  But I look forward to working hand in hand with you as we advance together.  I look with confidence to our collective journey, and I promise, for my part, to make it as free as possible of unnecessary obstacles and detours.”

And both resolutions requested the Secretary-General to provide details on the practical application of his reform proposal in reports to be submitted to the General Assembly as soon as possible.

**Security Council

The Security Council is holding consultations this morning on cross-border issues in West Africa, as well as other matters.

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for West Africa, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, is briefing on the Secretary-General’s latest report on that region, which we flagged to you yesterday.

** Somalia

On Somalia, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, and the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, Eric Laroche, have both strongly condemned the killing of Somali human rights activist Isse Abdi Isse.

Attacks on human rights defenders and threats to journalists and the media are far too common in many parts of Somalia, Arbour’s office said today.  We have more on this story in my office.

**Human Rights Council

From Geneva, the Human Rights Council today discussed the report of its high-level mission on the human rights situation in Darfur.  Jody Williams, the mission’s head, presented the report, which says the Government of Sudan has worked together with the Janjaweed militia in counter-insurgency efforts.  The report also notes that rebel forces are guilty of human rights abuses and violations of humanitarian law. 

Williams said that civilians are victims of war crimes and crimes against humanity, which continue across the region.  She added that killing, rape, torture, arbitrary arrest, political repression and abuses of political freedoms occur with chilling frequency.  Furthermore, ineffective mechanisms of justice, the free flow of weapons, the absence of meaningful disarmament and a climate of impunity have left the region a stranger to the rule of law.

At present, the Council is continuing with a list of speakers in the follow-up discussion to the report.  We’ll have more for you in a press release later this afternoon.

** Liberia

On Liberia, available as a document is the Secretary-General’s latest report on Liberia, in which he notes that the country has remained relatively stable in recent months, despite some divisions among members of the legislature.

The training and reform of the Liberian National Police continues to make steady progress.  The Secretary-General also writes that the reintegration of the remaining former combatants will be a key factor in the exit strategy of the UN Mission in Liberia.  And he welcomes continued human rights promotion by the Mission, as the overall weakness of Liberian legal institutions impede the administration of justice.

The Secretary-General also appeals to the international donor community to remain steady at Liberia’s side and generous in supporting the country’s economic recovery.

** Uganda

Turning to Uganda, the World Food Programme (WFP) says it will be forced to cut food rations in half for nearly 1.5 million displaced people and refugees starting 1 April due to a critical lack of funds.

WFP has received less than one third of the $127 million it is seeking from donors for Ugandan relief efforts this year.

The agency says more than 1 million people remain in squalid camps, unable to provide enough food for their families.  Ninety per cent of the displaced, mostly women and children, depend on WFP for their survival.  We have a press release upstairs.

** Madagascar

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) today launched a $10 million flash appeal for Madagascar, in the wake of recent flooding and storm damage there.

The island nation is experiencing an unusually heavy rainy season and has been hit by six cyclones since December.

Up to 80 per cent of crops have been destroyed in some areas.  OCHA estimates that nearly 300,000 people will need assistance in the coming months.


The World Health Organization (WHO) is currently coordinating the response to meningitis outbreaks in four African countries: Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan and Uganda.

WHO and its partners have provided drugs for case management and emergency supplies for outbreak investigations, as well as technical guidance for outbreak control and management.  We have a press release on that.

**Press Conference on Monday

Just for planning, at 11 a.m. on Monday, there will be a press conference with Sri Lankan business leaders in the UN Global Compact.  They will brief you on the launching of a new advocacy and implementation programme to improve the living environment of about 10,000 families involved in the tea production in Sri Lanka’s Kelani Valley.

And we also have the “Week Ahead” for you in my office.

This is all I have for the moment.  Your questions?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Michèle, I’d like to get the SG’s reaction to the serious situation which is occurring in Pakistan against journalists.  Today, the security forces in Pakistan attacked newspaper offices and television offices, broke the furniture, beat up the editors and the journalists and everybody else.  And although we have personnel over there of our own, the Secretary-General of the United Nations must take notice of this.  This is not one isolated incident.  This is a pattern that is developing over the past couple of months.  The Secretary-General should take notice and the people in the office (inaudible) and whatever that is responsible, should take notice.  I’d like to have the reaction of the Secretary-General?

Spokesperson:  We will follow this up for you, certainly.

Question:  Michèle, on this Compact development, I would say in the meeting today… earlier this year, the Secretary-General said that he expected and he believed that the United Nations needs more involvement in Iraq.  Now, how could we put that in light of this meeting of the Compact?  Could you shed more light? And also, these 96 countries that are on this list, have they been invited to participate?  Have they just on their own wanted to participate?  What was the criteria?

Spokesperson: They’ve been invited to participate and they came.

Question:  By whom?

Spokesperson:  As you know, it’s an initiative of the UN.  It’s an initiative of the Government of Iraq and the UN, joint initiative.  And the invitation was a joint invitation.  But you certainly had more information on it.  You had a briefing on it last night, yesterday. 

Question:  I’m studying, to be honest with… but how can we connect, if we can, with the statement of the Secretary-General?  Was that rather political involvement of the United Nations, or more involvement economically or advisory or whatever?

Spokesperson:  As you know, this was an initiative that was launched a year ago.  And it’s an initiative that is continuing.  And they are going to have a formal launch pretty soon.  And this is what is developing as support to the people of Iraq.

Question:  And just one more please, what is the reading of, actually it’s happening right now probably, but why is Mr. Matthew Nimetz, Special Representative for The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), meeting with the Secretary-General?  Is there any development on the name of Macedonia?

Spokesperson:  We don’t have any readout on that yet. And I’ll let you know.

Question:  It’s related to the same question on Iraq, I’m asking about what political role can be played by the Secretary-General in Iraq? 

Spokesperson:  As you know, as he said, this Compact that we are having today, he expressed his hope yesterday, and he was at the stakeout… that it will be at least a strong message substantially and politically to the Iraqi people, so they would be encouraged to do their own to bring peace and security to their own country.  As you know, the Secretary-General has spoken several times about the issue, talking about the fact that there should be inclusion, you know, political consultations within the whole region.  A lot of suggestions have to come from the region.

Question:  On the same subject, I can’t see anyone giving money at this point.  I don’t understand what the meaning is, because “A”, there is a lot of violence, “B”, you have benchmarks set, as they were required to do, by the Iraqi Government, but the benchmarks have no dates.  Now, who the hell is going to give money if you don’t know when they’re going to do A, B and C? And I don’t know if they can say it because of the turmoil in the country.  So I’m not sure if this is more than Iraq and the United States wanting to get some money in there for reconstruction.

Spokesperson:  What I would suggest is that you would direct your questions to Mr. Gambari and the Vice President of Iraq who will be speaking to you at the stakeout in a few minutes.

Question:  Well, it’s the way it’s organized.  It’s not the Vice President (inaudible).  I don’t think he’s required to do. I mean there are a couple of dates in there.  Unless you have, by this date, A, B and C will happen, why would anyone give money?

Spokesperson:  I think it’s an excellent question which you should direct to the people who will be talking to you at the stakeout.  Mr. Gambari is the person who is leading this for the United Nations.  

Question:  On this whole Iraq Compact, the UN is playing a pretty significant.  And I was just wondering your understanding of how appointments are going to go forward from here.  Who’s going to appoint which officials, the decision-making for the board that’s going to oversee this process?  Is Mr. Gambari going to assume a role of some sort of co-chairmanship or something like that?  What can you share with us?

Spokesperson:  You can get more information, as I said, with Mr. Gambari himself.  He will be speaking to you in a few minutes. 

Question:  I wanted to know whether the United Nations is following events in Nigeria where the Vice-President has been disqualified on grounds of being indicted for corruption.  And the Vice-President says that he can’t be indicted because the (inaudible) grants him immunity.  And they also said that he has written to the Secretary-General of the United Nations to express his feelings, a petition essentially.  So, I want to know, is the UN following this event?  This is the first election in Nigeria that is going to be conducted where you can have a civilian-to-civilian transition.  So is the United Nations following this event?   Is the UN in receipt of the petition of the Nigerian Vice-President?

Spokesperson:  The UN is certainly following the situation.  The Department of Political Affairs is doing that.  And I’m sure you can get more from them on that.

Question:  Is the UN in receipt of the petition of the Vice-President of Nigeria?

Spokesperson:  I cannot confirm that information yet.

Question:  Michèle, on Iraq, how independent is this initiative of Washington?  Is the UN acting totally independent or is it acting with the US Government?

Spokesperson:  At this point, the UN is acting with the Iraqi Government.

Question:  On the criteria of the invited countries, I see for example there are from Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro, and Macedonia.  But, for example, there is not Bosnia.  Is that possible that only one country was excluded and not invited?  Or is it really that they showed interest, those countries?

Spokesperson:  Erol, I don’t have an answer to that question.  And you can direct it to the people in charge of the Compact.  Any other questions?

Question:  A question about (inaudible) and its suspension, I was just wondering if you might have any updates on that particular case, how long the suspension might go on for, whether any of the contracts that that organization had running are still running or has everything be suspended.

Spokesperson:  What I know, is that, on 14 March, which was two days ago, the United Nations considered several cases related to the conclusions of the internal investigation conducted by the Procurement Task Force, as you know, of the United Nations Office of Internal Oversight Services, between several vendors and a former United Nations official who has been indicted by, as you know, the Southern District Attorney’s Office.  In light of the conclusion reached, the United Nations has decided to remove two registered vendors from the vendor database -- namely Cogim SPA and Avicos Insurance Company -- and have prohibited the two companies from doing business with the UN as the result of inappropriate relationships between the above-mentioned companies and the former United Nations official.  And we have a related investigation by the PTF.  The UN has decided to suspend the register vendors Corimec Italia SPA, Volga-Dnepr Airlines and its subsidiary Volga-Dnepr ( Ireland) Ltd. in the vendor database in light of alleged inappropriate relationships between the above-mentioned companies and a former United Nations official.  We have asked the Chief of Procurement to be here in the room today.  He is right here.  And Mr. Paul Buades will answer your questions more specifically on this, Jonathan.

Question:  Do you have any update on the Iranian President, Mr. Ahmadinejad, to come to the United Nations?  Has he been given a visa by the US Government?

Spokesperson:  As you know, the UN has nothing to do with it.  You heard the Secretary-General saying that any Member State has the right to come and defend an issue in front of any organ of the United Nations.  So this is what the Secretary-General can say.  I don’t know, you can ask the US Mission further if he has been granted a visa.

Question:  But doesn’t the United Nations have a position that he should not be denied a visa?

Spokesperson:  We’re not talking about hypothetical things right now.  We don’t know at this point.

We first have the General Assembly.  Ashraf?

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly

**Secretariat Restructuring Proposals

The General Assembly yesterday adopted by consensus two resolutions on strengthening the capacity of the Organization in peacekeeping operations and in advancing the disarmament agenda.  The result of weeks of intensive consultations involving all Member States, the resolutions support the restructuring of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, including the establishment of a Department of Field Support; and the establishment of an Office for Disarmament Affairs, with the appointment of a High Representative to head the Office.  The two resolutions request the Secretary-General to submit to the Assembly as soon as possible detailed reports on implementation of these steps.

Upon the adoption of the resolutions, the President expressed her thanks to all Member States for their constructive approach and the spirit of cooperation and flexibility shown throughout the consultation process.

The President also particularly thanked the facilitators of the consultation process -- the Ambassadors of Norway, Sri Lanka, Portugal and Uruguay, respectively -- for assisting her “so effectively, in conducting a transparent, inclusive and productive process of consultations, which led us successfully to reach a balanced outcome, around which we can all rally.”

Emphasizing that a strong Secretary-General is an essential component of a stronger and more effective United Nations, the President said she was very pleased that throughout the consultation process the Membership was united in providing the Secretary-General with the necessary political support so that he can more effectively discharge the responsibilities and duties of his important Office. 

**Official Visits to Kuwait, Morocco and Saudi Arabia

The President is travelling this evening for a series of official visits to Kuwait, Morocco and Saudi Arabia.  During her visit to Saudi Arabia, she will address the League of Arab States summit.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  On the visit of the President of the GA to these three countries, is there any particular important thing (inaudible)?

Spokesperson:  Are you suggesting that any other visits by the President are not important?

Question:  I’m just asking.

Spokesperson:  Yes, she just follows on the questions that these countries hold very dear.  And it’s going to be, if I’m not mistaken, the first ever President of the General Assembly to address an Arab summit.

Question:  And the first woman?

Spokesperson:  And the first woman President of the General Assembly.

Thank you.

* *** *

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