DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL

26 April 2007

DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL

26 April 2007
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing
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.

Good afternoon all.  Our guest at the briefing today is Mr. David Morrison, Communications Director of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).  He will brief journalists on the Programme's operations in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

** Alliance of Civilizations

Following consultations with the Heads of Government of Spain and Turkey, the co-sponsors of the Alliance of Civilizations, the Secretary-General has designated Jorge Sampaio, the former President of Portugal, as High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations. 

The High Representative will provide the vision and leadership required, especially to promote the Alliance of Civilizations as a credible and viable attempt to diminish the dangerous tensions between diverse societies and their threat to international stability.  We have Mr. Sampaio’s biodata upstairs.

**Deputy Secretary-General

The Deputy Secretary-General today met with the President of the Republic of Congo, Denis Sassou Nguesso, in Brazzaville, before departing for Kinshasa en route back to New York.

While in Brazzaville, the Deputy Secretary-General had met with the Congolese Prime Minister and addressed an annual UN Development Programme meeting of its African Regional Management team, as well as chaired a panel on the Millennium Development Goals at a conference on African development priorities.

** Darfur

On Darfur, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres has visited thousands of Chadian refugees who fled to strife-torn Darfur.  He then met with African Union officials in West Darfur and stressed that security was a key component for humanitarian workers trying to help the displaced.

He acknowledged the vital importance of water for everybody living in the region, and promised the refugee community that UNHCR and its partners would try to find the best solution for all.

Today, Guterres was to travel to Kassala State in eastern Sudan and visit two refugee camps hosting Eritrean and Ethiopian refugees.  The camps were established almost four decades ago.

Meanwhile, the World Food Programme’s (WFP) Executive Director, Josette Sheeran, is in North Darfur, where she visited a camp for displaced people, during which she met women residents and distributed hand mills for grinding cereals.  WFP fed more than 2 million displaced people in Darfur last month.

The UN Mission in Sudan reports a number of security incidents in today’s bulletin, including an attempted rape of a female staff member of a compound housing a non-governmental organization in Nyala, South Darfur.

** Somalia

Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes briefed journalists in Geneva today on the dangerous humanitarian situation in Somalia.  He told them that international humanitarian law is being flouted by all sides in Mogadishu.

Mr. Holmes noted that the recent fighting in Mogadishu is the worst the city has seen in the last 15 years, with even hospitals being shelled.  He also pointed out that roughly 350,000 people, or a third of the city’s population, are now displaced, making this the largest displacement of people in the world this year.  Since you had the opportunity to listen to Mr. Holmes two days ago here and in Geneva, I won’t give any more details.

**Security Council

Here at Headquarters there are no scheduled Security Council meetings or consultations.

But the Council’s mission to the Balkans is still continuing its work.  Today the mission was in Belgrade, where it met with Serbian President Boris Tadić and Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Koštunica.

This evening, the mission will head to Pristina in Kosovo.

**UNCTAD

The UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) announced that its Deputy Secretary-General, Dirk Jan Bruinsma, passed away in The Hague on Sunday, following a brief illness.  He was 56 years old.

Mr. Bruinsma had served as Deputy Secretary-General of UNCTAD since January 2006, after a long and distinguished career working for the Dutch Government.

Here at Headquarters, the Secretary-General was deeply saddened to learn of the death of Mr. Bruinsma.  He extends his condolences to Mr. Bruinsma’s family, friends and colleagues.

** Haiti

Brazilian peacekeepers with the UN Mission in Haiti have handed over to the local authorities a school that was seized from drug gangs earlier this year.

The École Nationale de Cité Soleil will now be rehabilitated with funds from the International Organization for Migration.

Also yesterday, elected officials returned to the bullet-scarred Town Hall of Cité Soleil, which is now, once again, operational.

**Press Encounters

As you may know, the Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the United States, H.E. Mr. Adel al-Jubair, is meeting the Secretary-General today, at 3 p.m.  He has agreed to speak to you after the meeting, at the Security Council stakeout.

And, at 11:30 a.m. tomorrow, there will be a press conference with the President of the European Commission, H.E. José Manuel Barroso.  He will be briefing you on topics such as EU-UN relations, climate change, the Middle East and Africa, including Darfur.

Thank you.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Before the former Portuguese President was chosen as the High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations, were there other candidates?  Was there a short list?  And second, where would he operate from?  From Portugal?  From New York?  Or somewhere else?

Spokesperson:  How was he selected?  Well, there was a list, of course, of candidates.  And they consulted with the two co-sponsoring countries of the Alliance of Civilizations, Spain and Turkey.  So there were consultations before on several names.  

Question:  Where will he operate from?

Spokesperson:  I do not know at this point.  I will find out for you.

[The correspondent was later informed that Mr. Sampaio would not have a permanent base, given that he would be contracted on a “when-actually-employed” basis.  He would, however, occasionally work in New York, where the Alliance has a small secretariat.]

Question:  On the Iraq report, what is the difficulty in getting the figures from the Iraqi Government?  And have you still been able to secure the figures and to convey whatever sentiments the United Nations has about the constant killing over there?

Spokesperson:  Well, this was expressed, including the regret that we could not have the numbers available every year for the report, because we could not get them from Government ministries.

Question:  Did you get any ballpark figure or anything like that?  100,000?  200,000?

Spokesperson:  No.  We did not.  We always based our reports on what we get from the different ministries on the ground.

Question:  You must have some idea?

Spokesperson:  It’s not for me to say.

Question:  An OIOS-related question.  It was about three months ago I think that Ms. Ahlenius said that she would talk to the new Secretary-General at the time about the case of the WMO auditor who reported on wrongdoing, the $3 million scandal within that department.  Has the Secretary-General in fact spoken with the auditor?  And, if not, when will he be speaking with the auditor?  And where are we with that whole investigation?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have that information at this point.

Question:  Will you please get it?

Spokesperson:  We will try to find it.

Question:  Today, Russia, together with six other countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States, expressed deep concern over the plans of the Government of Estonia to remove the bronze soldier monument in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia.  This monument commemorates Soviet Union soldiers fallen in battle during the liberation of the city from the Nazi occupation during the Second World War.  These countries regard this decision as an attempt to rewrite the history during the Second World War.  As the head of the Organization that emerged as a result of this victory over Nazism, doesn’t the Secretary-General think that this decision by the Estonian Government contradicts not only the principles of humanism, but also relevant resolutions of the United Nations General Assembly, including the one on the denial of the Holocaust?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything on that at this point.  We discussed it.  I’m aware of the situation. 

Question:  To follow up Masood’s question, the Iraqi numbers were collected from a variety of sources by the UN.  Can you check if they will try doing it anyway through another means, and what the US position is on that?  Is the US going to help, or are they behind this Iraqi decision?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have the position.  I cannot give you the position of the US.  All I can say is that the UN…

Question:  Did the US try to help?  Let’s put it that way.  Did the US help persuade the Iraqis?

Spokesperson:  I can try to get you more on that.  But I can tell you that this time around they went over to the same ministries that were giving them the numbers before.  And this time around they did not get the numbers.  That’s all I can say at this point.  Was there a process initiated to get numbers from other sources?  That was the most reliable source they could find. 

Question:  NGO, doctors, nothing?  Because that was the one official thing that everyone relied on that the UN was doing.  And, unfortunately, the Secretary-General avoided all answers to questions on that.

Spokesperson:  On this issue, there is no doubt that the human rights report was a very strong one, as you can tell.  And what was missing were those numbers.  And you had their regrets that they could not get them.  And there was no way that they can force the Iraqis to give the numbers.

Question:  Two quick questions.  One, it’s reported that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights either was barred from entering Uzbekistan or that the officials there would not meet with her during this trip that you announced that she’s making.  Is that the case, and does the United Nations system or the Secretary-General have any comment on a Member State refusing to meet with the Human Rights Commissioner?

Spokesperson:  What she said is not that she was barred from getting into the country.  What she said was that essentially, from what I heard from them, that they were not ready to receive her at the time.  That’s the official answer that she got.

Question:  Yesterday, the Staff Council passed a resolution calling on Mr. Ban to immediately suspend his plan for mandatory mobility of staff.  I’m wondering, is the Secretary-General aware of that?  Does he have a response?  It was a pretty overwhelming vote.

Spokesperson:  He’s aware of it.  As you know, mobility was decided by the General Assembly in 2002.  And it will be implemented gradually and comprehensively.  I understand that there is a town hall meeting tomorrow with the staff, specifically on the issue of mobility.  So I’m sure that this issue is not over now.  It is continuing.  And the Secretary-General’s view, he has expressed it, is that management mobility is a necessity for a strong and efficient UN.  The programme, as far as I know, is starting next month, with about a little more than 130 staff members: 60 at the P-3 level and some 90 staff at the G-7 level.  These staff have been in their posts for a minimum of five years.  So, that’s what I understand is happening.  But I will be happy to get more for you from someone in management, after of course, they have met the staff here.  But you have had some very mixed reactions about this.  There’s the staff in New York and Geneva expressing reservations.  And you have staff from other duty stations, the most difficult ones, actually welcoming the mobility measures.  So you have different points of view.

Question:  Just one follow-up.  One thing that was said in the meeting yesterday was that, why did the mobility start at the relatively lower levels and not at the top?  That was something that people said.  It got a lot of laughter, but is there some thought of D-1, D-2 [inaudible]?

Spokesperson:  The process is going to go up to the D-2 level.  This is what is envisioned, yes.

Question:  Secretary-General Ban mentioned that he will be meeting Khalilzad on Monday.  Is that going to be just to receive credentials, or is there going to be also a substantial discussion, do you think?  Is time being allotted for that?

Spokesperson:  As far as I know, he’s just going to receive credentials. 

Question:  So, it’s not like an hour allotted in his schedule or something like that.

Spokesperson:  At this point, no, not really.  And maybe we’ll find out more.  Maybe there will be more.

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