|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 Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.
Our guest at the briefing today is Ambassador John McNee, Permanent Representative of Canada to the United Nations and head of the Economic and Social Council’s Ad Hoc Advisory Group’s four-day mission to Haiti. Ambassador McNee will brief you on the group’s evaluation of the current situation in Haiti and its assessment of the post-conflict reconstruction challenges the country faces.
Also present at the briefing will be the Permanent Representative of Haiti to the United Nations, Ambassador Leo Merores, and the Permanent Representative of Trinidad and Tobago to the United Nations, Ambassador Philip Sealy, who were on the mission.
On Iraq, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) has issued its tenth report on the human rights situation in that country, which notes, despite some progress, frequent failures of the Iraqi institutions to protect the life and dignity of all Iraqis in a manner that conforms to international humanitarian and human rights laws.
With regard to the ongoing Baghdad Security Plan, UNAMI is concerned that large numbers of Iraqis, among them professional groups and law enforcement personnel, continued to experience intimidation and killings. It also notes continued political interference in the affairs of the judiciary, a matter in need of urgent attention.
Unlike previous reports, the Mission’s now quarterly human rights report does not contain official statistics of violent deaths, regularly gathered by the Ministry of Health and the Medico-Legal Institute in Baghdad. This is because the Iraqi Government decided not to make such data available to UNAMI. This is a matter of regret because UNAMI reports have been regarded as a credible source of information regarding developments in the human rights situation in Iraq.
The Mission will continue to speak with the Iraqi authorities and urge them to provide the necessary information.
The Secretary-General is on his way back to New York, ending his week-long trip to Italy, Switzerland, Qatar and Syria. Speaking to reporters yesterday as he was leaving Damascus, the Secretary-General said that he was delighted with his first visit to Syria, adding: “It was short but productive.”
He said that, during his discussions with President Bashar al-Assad, he had encouraged the President to reach a border agreement with Lebanon, and Assad had agreed to reactivate the Border Committee with Lebanon. The Secretary-General warmly welcomed this positive step.
The Secretary-General told reporters that he had discussed the issue of a tribunal for Lebanon with President Assad. The Secretary-General said that the most desirable path is that the Lebanese people should find their own way, in accordance with their own constitutional procedure.
On the Security Council, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, B. Lynn Pascoe, this morning briefed the Security Council in its open meeting on the Middle East, telling them that the political and diplomatic initiatives aimed at rejuvenating peacemaking in that region have continued to evolve in a mostly positive fashion. However, Pascoe said, the forward momentum we are witnessing on the political and diplomatic level is threatened by the deteriorating security situation on the ground, especially the continuing violence experienced by both Israelis and Palestinians. Leaders on all sides must do their utmost to prevent this latest upsurge of violence from escalating any further.
Pascoe added that the United Nations continues to be deeply concerned about the fate of kidnapped BBC journalist Alan Johnston, and reiterates the Secretary-General’s call for his safety and immediate release. We have his statement to the Council upstairs. Pascoe has informed us that he will talk to reporters at the stakeout after the open debate on the Middle East.
**Security Council Mission
The Security Council mission to Kosovo arrived in Brussels today, where it was received by Belgium’s Foreign Minister, Karel de Gucht. Mission participants met with Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, the Secretary-General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), as well as a representative of Javier Solana, the European Union’s High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy. The mission also held a working lunch with the European Union’s Commissioner for Enlargement, Olli Rehn. This evening the mission heads to Belgrade.
On the Sudan, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres arrived in West Darfur yesterday, where he urged local officials to improve security, on the start of a four-day mission to Sudan. He announced that Sudan had agreed to an expansion of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) work in West Darfur. We have details in a press release upstairs.
The United Nations Mission in Sudan reports that the cooperation between the United Nations, the Sudanese Government of National Unity and the Government of Southern Sudan to implement the joint plan for returns continues. Since road convoys started in February 2007, more than 26,000 internally displaced persons have been assisted to return to their homes. The United Nations Mission in Sudan’s daily bulletin is also out today, and it includes information about the recent reports of the Mission’s work.
** Central African Republic
On the Central African Republic, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Programme (WFP) have sent a seven-truck convoy from the capital, Bangui, to a north-eastern area of the country, near the border with Darfur. That humanitarian convoy carried seeds from FAO, food from WFP and educational materials from UNICEF. This year the United Nations and its humanitarian partners have asked for nearly $55 million in aid for the Central African Republic. Only 32 per cent of those funds have been received so far.
**Democratic Republic of Congo
The Deputy Secretary-General has wrapped up her visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and is now in Brazzaville to attend a meeting of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) country directors for Africa. During her stay in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Deputy Secretary-General met with President Joseph Kabila and various political leaders, including members of the opposition. Her message to all her interlocutors was that the United Nations is prepared to continue working with the Congolese authorities and Congolese people to promote reconciliation and reconstruction.
Meanwhile, the head of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is calling for greater protection of endangered animals in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. We have a press release on that in my Office.
In its latest report, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) finds that living conditions in the Occupied Palestinian Territory continued to decline during the second half of 2006. Israel’s impounding of customs revenues and the freeze in donor support has left the Palestinian Authority starved of resources and unable to provide basic services, UNRWA said. It found especially dire conditions in Gaza, where 80 per cent of households were living on less than a dollar a day, and unemployment stood at 40 per cent. The full report is available on UNRWA’s website.
**Humanitarian Response Capacity
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) today launched a $62.5 million inter-agency appeal for building global humanitarian response capacity. The appeal seeks funding for 11 sectors to strengthen global humanitarian response capacity. These areas include agriculture, camp coordination and management, early recovery, education, emergency shelter, emergency telecommunications, health, logistics, nutrition, protection, water, sanitation and hygiene.
Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes stressed that the aim of the appeal is to reinforce United Nations support to Governments in providing relief and protection to people affected by emergencies. The press release is available upstairs.
High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour today wrapped up a two-day visit to Kyrgyzstan. She met with a variety of officials, including the country’s President and Foreign Minister. Ms. Arbour said she was pleased by Kyrgyzstan’s efforts to develop a strong civil society. But, at the same time, she raised concerns about domestic violence in the country and reports of ill-treatment and torture of detainees. Ms. Arbour is now in Tajikistan, where she will stay for several days before heading to Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan.
And, while on the topic of Central Asia, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific says it will hold its next session in Kazakhstan in late May. It will be the first time the Commission’s highest decision-making body is meeting in Central Asia.
We have more on those items in my office.
** Africa Malaria Day
And finally, today is Africa Malaria Day. This year’s focus is on fighting the disease in countries where it is endemic. Each year, one million people die from malaria. More than 80 per cent of those deaths are in sub-Saharan Africa, and malaria is responsible for almost one in five deaths of African children, according to UNICEF. The agency’s Executive Director, Ann Venemen, is calling for greater use of insecticide-treated bed nets, which cost just $10 each and have been shown to significantly reduce malaria deaths. We have more information upstairs.
I will take a few questions. Then we’ll have our guest for you. Any questions?
**Questions and Answers
Question: In the New York Sun, actually Benny had an article about the United Nations Development Programme and North Korea. I was just wondering: did the Secretary-General know about this decision to follow through with North Korea’s demands for the remaining two United Nations employees to leave the country? And also for the transfer of the equipment and other things to North Korea, worth about two million dollars?
Spokesperson: As far as I know, and what I’ve said in this briefing about two days ago, is that this was being left to the care of the World Food Programme, still staying on the ground. I did not say that these assets were transferred to the North Korean Government. So, I just want to get that fact straight.
[The Spokesperson was referring to equipment owned by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).]
The second aspect of this: the Secretary-General knew about, he has been following very closely, what is happening there.
Question: And where does this leave the audit? Are the auditors now going to go to… I guess, these two gentlemen went off to Beijing -- is that where they’ve gone? Are the others going to meet up with them in Beijing, or are they going to go to North Korea? Has Ban Ki-moon requested that the auditors go to North Korea? Where does this whole investigation stand?
Spokesperson: Well, the whole investigation is being pursued, as you know, and, as I said yesterday, in no way will the audit be, in any way, blocked. All the information will be made available to the auditors. And the United Nations Development Programme made sure that they will have access. For instance, the accounts that they had are still open. They have a minimal amount of money in those accounts, and the reason is so the auditors will have access to those accounts.
Question: One other follow-up. Who’s calling the shots here? Are the North Koreans dictating what the United Nations needs to do? And also, where’s the guarantee that this equipment, which I understand has some -- you know, there’s some specialized equipment here -- that that’s not going to go to the North Korean military, for instance?
Spokesperson: Well, for the time being, it’s in the care of the World Food Programme. I can get more information for you on what guarantees they have -- that this will stay with the World Food Programme. But, as far as I know, that is the situation.
Question: Just a couple of questions. On Syria, was the Lebanon tribunal discussed at all? Because I’m not sure you talked about that. Was there an agreement? Did Syria basically give its agreement to the tribunal?
Spokesperson: Well Syria said they accepted to... Let’s say they would encourage the Lebanese to implement the tribunal.
Question: But did Syria accept the tribunal as designed with its current statute, and agreed to that? Because there’s been a lot of negotiation going on between Syria and various people trying to change the status, and the nature, and guarantees, and all the rest of it. It would be helpful to actually get a little more sense of what Syria asked for, and what the United Nations agreed to or didn’t agree to with regards to the tribunal.
Spokesperson: The Secretary-General is coming back today. I should get more about it. As you know, he had a tête-à-tête with President Assad and these issues were discussed. So I should get more for you on that, on specifics.
Question: One other thing, the Staff Union is basically handing out leaflets at the entrances to all the United Nations staff, basically asking for a freeze on the Secretary-General’s mobility package. In talking to some of the representatives, the concerns are that, basically, the Secretary-General is pushing through a mobility package that, first of all, changes the terms and conditions and understanding upon which a lot of the staff joined this Organization, and that it didn’t address fundamental issues of family, visa issues, security tenure and all the rest of it. How does the Secretary-General and his team respond to this request to freeze that mobility until there’s more of an agreement with the staff?
Spokesperson: Well, for the time being, as you know, the Staff Union is asking for a meeting with staff on the issue and to discuss the issue. As far as I know, the mobility package has been extensively discussed with them. I realize they are not fully satisfied with the answers they got, and I think this issue is being discussed.
Spokesperson: With the management services. With the Office of Ms. Bárcena [Department of Management].
Question: In light of Jonathan’s previous question, is there a formal list of other countries, besides North Korea, somehow produced at the United Nations, which is available to be seen? Other countries that may be under the investigation triggered by this investigation in North Korea of the United Nations Development Programme?
Spokesperson: Okay, I will try to get that information for you.
I have got some additional information from the United Nations Development Programme right this minute. I’ve got some information about the number of projects, because I had that question earlier today.
UNDP had 24 active projects at the time of its suspension and 6 projects that were operationally complete. Where it was complete, standard UNDP procedures came into play, including transfer of ownership of project assets to Government counterparts. The projects were halted pending decisions upon UNDP’s future in the country. Though Democratic Republic of Korea (DPRK) authorities have signed for custody of project assets, the formal title transfer has not taken place. A full inventory of all items of value will be completed before the staff leave the country. This is the information I just got from UNDP.
It is important to keep in mind that, in all cases, the DPRK authorities were already in possession of the assets, in some cases for several years. Nothing new has been given or physically transferred to the DPRK authorities. This is what I just got from UNDP.
Question: So it sounds to me like the assets were transferred to North Korean authorities and counterparts.
Question: What counterparts?
Spokesperson: Well, this was for the projects that were completed.
Question: Didn’t you say they are in possession of the other assets?
Spokesperson: I can get you the information on that from UNDP…
Question: This is a question of the other assets?
Spokesperson: In some cases, yes.
Question: Does it say in some cases or does it say [inaudible]?
Spokesperson: It says, in all cases, the DPRK authorities were already in possession of the assets. In some cases for several years, it says. Nothing new has been given or physically transferred.
Question: So all the assets are in the possession of DPRK -- is that correct?
Spokesperson: That’s what they’re saying here, yes.
Question: Didn’t you say that the development programmes [inaudible]?
Spokesperson: I’m talking about the equipment that the United Nations Development Programme had before it was halted. I’m talking about… I’m not talking about projects. I’m talking about assets -- like computers, like equipment. These were transferred to the care of the World Food Programme.
Question: But you said that all assets are in possession of the DPRK. Is that all assets except for computers, hard drives, memory parts?
Spokesperson: If you want more information, I will get someone from the United Nations Development Programme to come and explain this to you.
Question: Can someone from the United Nations Development Programme come tomorrow to explain all of this to us?
Spokesperson: Tomorrow I’m afraid we have another guest, but I’ll try to get someone to come, not at the noon briefing but later on during the day.
Question: Just one follow-up on this -- on the record, in the briefing room, and not in the hallway. There seems to be a lot of these questions, like why they didn’t announce that they were being put out of North Korea instead of waiting for it, for the letter, to leak out?
Spokesperson: Okay, we’ll try to get a briefing for you, on the record.
Question: I just wanted to ask, one non-North Korea and one North Korea. Non-North Korea: what is the status of the Rwanda genocide exhibit that was supposed to have been reopened late last week, or early this week? When is it going to be opened?
Spokesperson: I have to say that, it is almost finalized right now. The equipment has to come from London and be brought here physically. We are hoping that it still will open by the end of the week as I had announced. If it cannot be opened on Friday, it will be on Monday.
Question: In that regard, is the Department of Public Information considering organizing any kind of exhibition on Srebrenica, since the United Nations somehow recognized its complicity and guilt in what happened in Srebrenica in 1995?
Spokesperson: I can ask that question for you, whether the exhibit... whether there’s any plans for exhibits on that issue.
[The Spokesperson later added no exhibit on Srebrenica was currently planned, but that there had been one in July 2005.]
Question: Does the Secretary-General have any reaction regarding the recent elections in Nigeria, which according to many observers were rigged, with irregularities, and were not conducted according to international norms?
Spokesperson: I stand by what I said yesterday, that the results of these elections, the people contesting the elections, have to go through the regular process -- which is the internal process -- and go through the electoral council there.
Question: With the United Nations Development Programme people being told to leave the country, who or which agency is going to be the Resident Coordinator -- that system where there’s always one agency in charge? How is that decided and which agency is it going to be?
Spokesperson: As far as I know, the World Food Programme.
Question: Also, we’ve heard that the previous Resident Coordinator, this guy Timo Pakkala, has now been sent back, sent home, essentially, on leave with full pay. He’s in Mozambique, he’s on leave. If he’s the person most knowledgeable, is he going to be involved in the audit? Why is the number one guy...?
Spokesperson: Of course he will be. Everyone who was involved with the project will be open to auditors’ questions, of course.
Question: Is Timo Pakkala on leave with pay or without pay?
Spokesperson: I can check that for you. That’s why I said, I’m going to get... I don’t have someone from the United Nations Development Programme here now with me, and I hope to have one with me tomorrow.
Question: We’ve passed the 90-day mark in which the audit should have been completed. The Secretary-General [inaudible] that a formal, official extension of the audit. Is there a timeline?
Spokesperson: The auditors are an independent body, as you know. It’s not up to the Secretary-General to dictate the terms.
Question: [inaudible] open-ended or let the audit, the board of auditors…?
Spokesperson: We’ll try to get more on the audit for you.
Question: Is there any sort of movement to get any United Nations staff at all to visit, to conduct site visits of, some of these projects to facilitate the audit?
Spokesperson: Well, the board of auditors is going there.
Question: Will North Korea let them in?
Spokesperson: Well, we are willing... We’ll find out.
Question: On the whole mobility thing, it might be helpful to have management come just to talk about this. I’m just interested in one issue. For example, moving people around as a United Nations servant is different to moving people around in a national administration, because of the constant issue of United States visas. Once you leave this country you don’t have the visa any more. So what happens to your wife, your children and so forth? I’m wondering, since the United Nations wants to create this new system, are there any talks between the United Nations and the United States immigration authorities about how they might coordinate with people going in and out of the country on a more permanent basis?
There are lots of questions, so it would be helpful to have more of a sense of what’s going on in all of this.
Spokesperson: Okay, sure.
Question: On this Rwanda exhibit lag, it seems to me this whole thing blew up a week or 10 days ago, and there is some question, as I understand it, that some photographs may be added or removed, and some captions may be changed. Meanwhile, the thing is still sitting... All the packages are sitting in London in some custom house or Heathrow Airport or something like that. Why was it not shipped into New York some days ago?
Spokesperson: Because the text has been changed in the meantime.
Question: I understand that. But why can’t they bring the things here? And they’ve got to change some of the texts or add or remove photographs, fine. But, this way, it’s still 3,500 miles away.
Spokesperson: Well, technically it had to be done there because the panels were done there, printed there.
I’m going to invite our guest to come to the podium.
* *** *