|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. We have a group of journalists with the International Leadership Programme. They are supposed to attend the briefing today. Anyway, whenever they’ll come, they’ll know that I’m wishing them welcome.
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has provided more information on the aerial bombardments in North Darfur about which the Secretary-General had issued a statement earlier this week.
The High Commissioner for Human Rights, in the Geneva press briefing earlier today, reported that there were a series of attacks near El Fasher, North Darfur, carried out between 19 and 29 April. The bombardments appeared to have been indiscriminate and disproportionate, failing to distinguish between military and civilian targets.
The disproportionate use of force constitutes violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. The Office went on to say the attacks were reportedly carried out with helicopter gunships and Antonov aircraft. They resulted in numerous civilian casualties and destruction of property, school buildings and livestock.
In one incident that was cited by the Secretary-General in his statement, the school in the village of Um Rai was struck by rockets fired from a Government helicopter. Some of the 170 pupils in the school at the time were injured in that particular attack. Two civilians were killed in the attack on the village.
The Spokesman for the Human Rights Office identified four other villages attacked during that period and said more information was being gathered on those and their circumstances.
What we do know, he said, is that the attacks have contributed to an already critical humanitarian situation, causing renewed displacement and spreading terror among the civilian population.
The text is available in the Geneva briefing notes.
On a related note, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has announced that its Goodwill Ambassador, Angelina Jolie, and actor Brad Pitt have donated $1 million to provide humanitarian relief for those affected by the crisis in Darfur.
The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, François Lonseny Fall, is in Mogadishu today for a series of meetings with key leaders and a visit to peacekeeping troops from the African Union Mission.
Fall held consultations earlier today with President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed and Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi. He urged them to work toward an agreement on a cessation of hostilities and to preserve the independence of the National Governance and Reconciliation Committee in order to achieve genuine and inclusive reconciliation. Fall then met with the Chairman of the Reconciliation Committee to survey preparations for the delayed reconciliation congress.
In all his meetings, Fall stressed the Security Council’s concerns about the dire humanitarian situation. Later, he will travel to the Puntland and Somaliland regions and will seek, among others, to obtain the release of two aid workers abducted in Puntland.
Still on Somalia, the UN refugee agency, or UNHCR, reports that people displaced by the recent fighting are gradually returning to Mogadishu. Nevertheless, some have not been able to return to their homes because their houses were destroyed by mortar shelling, or because of insecurity.
Meanwhile, UNHCR is continuing to deliver relief supplies to the numerous families who remain in the town of Afgooye, 30 kilometres away from Mogadishu. In the past weeks, it has handed out plastic sheeting, mattresses, blankets and jerry cans to some 50,000 people there.
We have more on that in my office.
High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour today urged the Government of Uganda and the LRA [Lord’s Resistance Army] to reject impunity and uphold international standards during talks expected to resume tomorrow in Juba, the capital of southern Sudan. She recalled that the International Criminal Court has issued warrants for the arrest of five leaders of the Lord’s Resistance Army for crimes against humanity and war crimes.
The High Commissioner also appealed to the parties to commit to what she called a “victim-centred consultative process”. That process would help to collect the opinions of all concerned on the best way of delivering justice, and on an appropriate mechanism for reconciliation.
We have more on this upstairs.
**Children and Armed Conflict
The Secretary-General’s reports on children and armed conflict in Somalia and Uganda are out on the racks today. In the Somalia report, he says the recruitment and use of child soldiers by Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government and other armed groups is a significant concern. In the Uganda report, he urges the leaders of the Lord’s Resistance Army to take immediate steps to end child recruitment and the use of child soldiers, and to immediately release all children to child protection agencies.
Meanwhile, Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, briefed the Security Council’s working group on that topic yesterday afternoon. She discussed her recent trip to the Middle East and welcomed the group’s recommendations on Sri Lanka and Nepal.
We have more information on that in my office.
The Security Council today held consultations on Sierra Leone, in which it heard from the Executive Representative for the UN Integrated Office in that country, Victor Angelo. He briefed on the Secretary-General’s latest report on the Office, which we flagged for you yesterday.
Under other matters, Council members received a new draft resolution concerning the mandate of the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which was circulated by France.
Meanwhile, the Security Council President, US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, announced to the press that a draft resolution on Kosovo -- sponsored by several European members of the Council, Germany and the US -- will be circulated this afternoon.
On Chad, the UN today launched a $23 million supplementary appeal to enhance international aid to internally displaced persons in eastern Chad.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports that, over the past six months, the number of internally displaced persons in that area has more than doubled -- from less than 50,000 last November to some 140,000 today. That’s mainly due to the growing insecurity in eastern Chad, which has been caused by increasing violence and military activities.
This latest appeal will cover the next three months.
We have a press release on that upstairs.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is mobilizing a disaster assessment and coordination team for deployment to Uruguay early next week.
The worst flooding to hit the country in half a century has driven some 12,000 people from their homes. The situation is expected to worsen when the flood waters reach low-lying areas.
We have more information on that upstairs.
**Israeli Settlement Activity
In answer to a question on Israeli settlement activity, the Secretary-General is concerned about the media reports of plans for new settlement construction in East Jerusalem. He and his senior advisers will discuss these reports with the appropriate Israeli officials, and with Quartet members. A halt to settlement expansion is one of the basic obligations in phase I of the Quartet’s Road Map.
Furthermore, East Jerusalem is occupied territory, and its ultimate status is subject to negotiations between the parties.
At 1:15 p.m. on Monday, there will be a press conference by Ms. Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, Chairperson of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, and Ms. Ida Nicolaisen and Mr. Hassan Id Balkassm, members of the Permanent Forum, on the opening of the Forum.
And we also have upstairs the Week Ahead at the United Nations.
And from Monday until 24 May at Headquarters you have the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.
Okay. That’s all I have for you. Any questions? Yes?
**Questions and Answers
Question: The Secretary-General has spoken out strongly against aerial attacks in Darfur, but what about American bombing in Afghanistan, where the civilian deaths continue to grow? Even the President of Afghanistan has condemned the aerial bombardment of civilians. What is preventing the Secretary-General from speaking out to spare the lives of innocent civilians?
Spokesperson: Nothing is preventing him. He has been following the issue very closely.
Question: But what...
Spokesperson: I don’t have a statement on that yet.
[The Spokesperson later added that, in the Secretary-General’s statement on Afghanistan from 17 April, he said he was deeply concerned at the security situation throughout Afghanistan, which results in increasing numbers of civilian casualties.]
Question: The Secretary-General will be meeting today at 5 p.m. or so with envoys of three permanent [Security Council] members -- France, United States and Britain. Do you have any take on what they’re going to be discussing? Is it Iran? Any of the reforms?
Spokesperson: The meeting was requested by the three Permanent Representatives. We don’t know what the exact agenda will be. I do know that they will be talking about Lebanon and other issues in the Middle East, but I don’t have any other information on that. As soon as the meeting takes place, if we have any readout on it, we’ll let you know.
Question: The Iraqi Parliament yesterday signed a draft bill that required a timetable for US withdrawal from Iraq and freezing the level of US troops. What’s the position of the Secretary-General, and does he feel this is a positive step towards building up a new Iraq?
Spokesperson: For the time being, as you know, the Parliament is examining the question. It’s something that has to do with Iraq itself, and the Secretary-General will not intervene in this process.
Question: There’s a report from Zimbabwe that the Assistant Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, Larry Johnson, has written a letter confirming that there’s an investigation into UNDP [United Nations Development Programme] being involved in the smuggling of diamonds from Zimbabwe. It’s a Secretariat question -- because Larry Johnson -- he was written to, or the OLA [Office of Legal Affairs] was, and he wrote back and said there’s an investigation and told people to calm down. This is what the Zimbabwean press reports. So I’d like to know: one, if it’s true; and, two, what the Secretariat’s role will be in determining the facts of the case.
Spokesperson: If there is an investigation, the Secretariat won’t be directly involved. But, I can verify the facts that you mentioned.
Question: Okay. Thanks a lot. You also mentioned Lonseny Fall being in Mogadishu. The conference -- is the UN going to have any role in actually funding the conference, because I think that the TFG [Transitional Federal Government] is on record as saying they don’t have funds for it. It’s not only safety but there’s a funding problem. So I’m wondering, what role will the UN have in funding the reconciliation conference?
Spokesperson: I’ll check that.
[The Spokesperson later added that the conference would essentially be funded by members of the international community on a voluntary and bilateral basis. The UN is providing a consultation mechanism to that end.]
Question: Just to follow-up on what Matthew was just raising about this diamond scandal, or whatever, investigation I should say. Who’s heading the investigation? Is it OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services] or is it an internal UNDP thing?
Spokesperson: I have to check on who is doing that.
Question: And who called for it in the first place? Is the Secretary-General getting involved?
Spokesperson: If it’s concerning -- I can check for you -- but if it’s concerning diamonds it’s most probably come from -- as you know, the Security Council has taken measures about diamonds, so we have to find out where it came from. I’ll find out for you.
Question: And a little more of the nature and the terms of reference. Again, is this going to be another case of an investigation in which UN officials are not going to be allowed into Zimbabwe to investigate the issue? Like what we’ve seen in North Korea. If we can just know a little bit more about the terms of reference -- who did what and how? What about the fellow who’s implicated in this? Has he been suspended? Do we know?
Spokesperson: I don’t know at this point. As I said to Matthew, I will be looking into this for you and find out.
Question: Okay. Just a couple of UNDP follow-up questions. It’s quite interesting that we learned as journalists rather late in the game in fact, just hearing inklings about this, that the UN team investigating, the auditors, were not allowed into North Korea in the end.
Spokesperson: I didn’t say that they were not allowed. I said they did not go. They did not request.
Question: The North Koreans denied them. Isn’t that what happened?
Spokesperson: No, it’s not what happened. They have not requested yet. They have not requested.
Question: No, I mean the audit itself that was conducted.
Spokesperson: The audit is not finished, Jonathan.
Question: It went to the AB --?
Spokesperson: ACABQ [Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions]. But, you know, it is a first phase, and we’ll know more about it. In fact, because of your request, I have once more asked that the investigators come here and explain the process to you, how it works. How an audit works and who they are and what they do. And I think it’s a good thing for you to get at least the basics on how those audits are carried through.
Question: So, am I misunderstanding you then? The North Koreans did not deny them access?
Spokesperson: There was no formal request for visas.
Question: By the actual auditing team?
Question: So they never set foot in North Korea on their own volition?
Spokesperson: Not yet.
Question: And whose decision was that?
Spokesperson: Well, you know, I mean, usually the process is for a trip like this, the trip has to be funded. The person who can fund that trip, is the ACABQ, the Committee itself. So, you know, we are not in that part of it yet.
Question: Is it Ban’s desire and let’s say some of the people within UNDP to actually send the auditors themselves to the problem place?
Spokesperson: Well, at this point, the whole thing is in the hands of the auditors. Okay? So, what the Secretary-General asked for was approved. That would cover all the activities in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Question: Just one other thing. How does the Secretary-General feel about cooperation or lack thereof by Pyongyang in the investigation into the UNDP issues?
Spokesperson: Well, he doesn’t have –- at this point, he’s just relying on what the auditors are doing. The work is not finished because right now it is in the process of going through the ACABQ and we’ll know more about it. As I told you, and I said that two days ago, as soon as it is submitted you’ll get a chance to discuss with someone who knows about the audit on the audit itself. As soon as it is submitted to the ACABQ.
Question: And Secretary Ban received assurances from the North Koreans of cooperation or where does that all stand?
Spokesperson: Well, I don’t think he intervened in that. At this point, he has not intervened in that. Yes, George?
Question: Let me try to get this clarified if I may, if you know. Do normal established, I would assume written, ACABQ procedures for this type of audit include visits and on-site investigation? And are we, therefore, to assume that that phase of said audit has not yet been undertaken?
Spokesperson: It is true that that phase has not been undertaken yet. And it is also, you can ask the ACABQ directly. I will try to have someone from the ACABQ talk to you. But this is standard procedure. They –-
Question: Standard procedure is that they do visit on-site routinely –-
Spokesperson: They are the ones to require the auditors to go on-site and do it.
Correspondent: Thank you.
Question: One follow-up to that. I did speak to the Chairman of the ACABQ and he said it would be up to the management, which I assume to mean the Secretariat, to actually request additional funds to conduct the audit. And he said there was no request made. So could you find out, I guess, if that is the case? He said he’s still waiting for a request for funding. So you just said they could only go if they had funding to go to North Korea. So has there been a request by management, i.e. the Secretariat, to the ACABQ for funding for this audit to be conducted?
Spokesperson: Well, at this point we are not at this stage yet, you know, of the requests for funding.
Question: During the last conference regarding aid for Lebanon in Paris -- the Secretary-General took part in it -– there were pledges and there were donations made to Lebanon. Now we learn that the so-called legitimate Government of Lebanon has not distributed that aid or it had not reached the people who are in need or affected by the war. Is there any follow-up from the United Nations to make sure that this money is really reaching the people who are affected by last July’s war?
Spokesperson: The Secretary-General did not organize that conference. He participated in that conference, but he has absolutely no control over the funds that were pledged at that conference.
Question: We have a situation now where this legitimate Government, which is supported by the United Nations and by many members, is stealing the money as it has been revealed by many media, and Mr. Siniora’s figures did not add up when he presented them at a recent conference. Well, there must be something. If a Government steals the money of the people, how can it be a legitimate Government? Why does the United Nations keep calling it the constitutional and legitimate Government?
Spokesperson: Because it was an elected.
Question: But this is –-
Spokesperson: We have no information on what you are saying, you know, and we have [talkover] -- as I said I do not comment on press reports.
Correspondent: The paradox is that it is deriving its legitimacy from the United Nations more than from its people.
Spokesperson: Is that a question?
Correspondent: It is a question.
Spokesperson: Just get to the question, please.
Correspondent: This is regards to the Secretary-General. How long will they keep calling it a legitimate Government when this Government is not legitimate any more because it has broken the constitution by stealing the money of the people?
Spokesperson: Well, I appreciate your comments on that.
Correspondent: They are not comments, it is a question.
Question: Has the Secretary-General made any more announcements about new appointments at the top level?
Spokesperson: Not yet.
Question: When, can give us some idea?
Spokesperson: I don’t have an agenda. As I said, as the appointments are made, I announce them. But I don’t have any timeframe. Thank you very much.
Question: One last question. If you go to Chapter VII regarding the tribunal, who is going to bear the cost in billions of dollars for that tribunal?
Spokesperson: We’re not at that stage yet and that stage is in the camp of the Security Council.
Question: So they will foot the bill?
Spokesperson: I have no idea. You ask them. Thank you very much.
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