|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 Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon. There’s a lot of activity going on so I will try to get through these notes quickly.
**New General Assembly President
At 12:30 p.m. Dr. Srgjan Kerim of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia will brief you in his capacity as the President Elect of the sixty-second session of the General Assembly. So he will be here very shortly.
The Secretary-General has offered his warm congratulations to Dr. Kerim, noting that, as a seasoned diplomat, prolific scholar and successful businessman, he brings a wealth of experience and talent to the job of leading the Assembly. The Secretary-General assured Dr. Kerim of his full support and cooperation during the transition period and throughout his tenure. He also stressed the need for all of the UN’s principal organs to work closely together to complete the reforms that are currently underway and address the challenges ahead.
We have copies of the Secretary-General’s statement upstairs.
And on to the Security Council, the Secretary-General has sent to the Security Council President, following close consultations with the Chairman of the African Union (AU) Commission, Alpha Oumar Konaré, the joint AU-UN report on the proposed hybrid operation in Darfur. The proposal is being sent also to the African Union Peace and Security Council. The next step is for the joint proposal to be presented to the Sudanese Government.
And also on the Darfur topic, a statement attributable to the Spokesperson:
Yesterday, that is 23 May, the Chairperson of the AU Commission, in consultation with the Secretary-General, appointed General Martin L. Agwai of Nigeria as Force Commander of the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS). The Secretary-General welcomes this decision and looks forward to General Agwai’s close cooperation with the United Nations to facilitate the deployment of the Heavy Support Package for AMIS and to eventually command the hybrid AU-UN operation in Darfur. General Agwai has been Chief of Defence Staff of the Nigerian Armed Services since June 2006 and was Chief of Army Staff from 2003 to 2006.
And you can read more about him upstairs in the full statement with some more background on his experiences.
From the Mission itself today, the World Bank and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) have signed a $5.3 million grant to increase the police capacity and improve the delivery of penitentiary services across southern Sudan. And you can read all about that in the UNMIS bulletin that is available upstairs.
The Secretary-General has written this week to the Heads of State and Government of the “Group of Eight”, who will be gathering in Germany next month. In the letter, he draws attention to two key areas -- achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and efforts to address climate change, where he says the G-8 leadership will be critical.
On the MDGs, which are designed to meet the needs of the world's poorest, the Secretary-General notes that progress is mixed and announces the launching of an MDG Africa Working Group to mobilize full support for African Governments and their partners to achieve them. He voices concern over the drop in OFFICIAL DEVELOPMENT ASSISTANCE (ODA) and stresses the need to successfully conclude the Doha trade talks.
On climate change, he urges world leaders to be ready to discuss its critical dimensions and warns that the cost of inaction will exceed the cost of taking early action. A special effort is needed to devise and implement a long-term global framework to tackle climate change that addresses the needs of all countries, he says in that letter. And he urges each G-8 leader to support developing countries to achieve economic growth while contributing to lasting solutions to climate change. Copies of the letter in full are available upstairs for you.
And, in this connection, the Secretary-General will be participating in the G-8 summit in Germany. And on his way there, he is scheduled to make an official visit to Spain and to participate in the Organization of American States’ General Assembly in Panama.
The Security Council today had an open meeting on the Middle East with a briefing by Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe. Mr. Pascoe said recent events starkly illustrate just how volatile the Middle East conflict remains and how sizeable the obstacles are to progress towards peace. One immediate concern must be ending the violence that has erupted in Gaza and extended to southern Israel, he said. The longer it continues, the greater the risk of escalation and greater the threat to both the survival of the National Unity Government and to the prospects for any fruitful Israeli-Palestinian dialogue. He added that leaders on all sides have a responsibility to do their utmost to rein in the violence.
On Lebanon, where he noted that the security situation has deteriorated drastically, Pascoe said that recent armed clashes have added a new and explosive element to an already tense situation. He also expressed concern that the instability there may spread to other camps. And we have Mr. Pascoe’s full remarks. And after the open meeting ended, the Security Council went into closed consultations on the Middle East. And following that, Mr. Pascoe will go to the stakeout microphone to speak to you on this subject. And hopefully we’ll get a note when he goes down there so you won’t miss him.
And on Lebanon, UNRWA says that it has successfully located 2,353 Palestinian families displaced from the Nahr el-Bared camp, most of them now in another camp in Tripoli while the rest have moved to Beirut, Saida and Tyre. UNRWA has opened its seven schools and other installations in the Baddawi camp to accommodate the displaced. The agency has also provided mattresses and basic food supplies and an emergency team has begun a needs assessment to find out how much water, food, sanitation and shelter supplies are required to accommodate the newly displaced refugees. There’s more in a press release from UNRWA upstairs on this subject.
And on Timor-Leste, just to flag this for those of you who might have missed it, the President of the Security Council in a statement yesterday welcomed the results of the presidential elections in Timor-Leste and congratulated its new leader Jose Ramos-Horta. You can read that statement upstairs.
And turning to Liberia, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Liberia, Alan Doss, has commended the role played by UN Volunteers in the UN’s contribution to Liberia’s recovery from a decade-long civil war. Speaking at an event held in Monrovia to honour more than 250 Volunteers from 69 countries, Doss said the dedicated work of UNVs was “absolutely crucial” to the successes of the UN Mission. And there’s a press release on this upstairs.
And turning to Burundi, a donor roundtable conference on Burundi opened this morning in Bujumbura and the Secretary-General sent a message to the gathering in which he congratulated the Government and people of Burundi on the country’s progress towards consolidating peace. He said that much remains to be achieved in the areas of youth employment and political reforms. The security situation and judicial reforms, good governance, transparency and human rights also remain challenging. He urged Burundi’s development partners to sustain their engagement as it is critical in realizing the Priority Action Programme prepared by the Government. And there are copies of his message upstairs.
And on Nepal, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, has wrapped up his mission there. And he is now in Bhutan to discuss the plight of 100,000 refugees who fled to Nepal in the early 1990s. At a refugee camp in Nepal yesterday, Guterres stressed that there was no one solution. He expressed hope that refugees who wish to return to Bhutan should be able to do so. But he noted that some of them do not want to return home and said they should be able to choose resettlement in a third country. UNHCR has started a mass information campaign for refugees in the camps on resettlement procedures and their rights. And there’s a press release on that.
And I have two responses to questions that were asked yesterday, I believe. Somebody asked the Spokesperson for a readout on a meeting in Iraq. Ashraf Qazi, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq, met yesterday with Iraqi official Massoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdistan Region, north of Erbil and they discussed issues including national reconciliation, the constitutional review process, human rights and the needs of internally displaced Iraqis as well as public services in northern Iraq. Mr. Qazi expressed his satisfaction over his wide-ranging discussions with Mr. Barzani and other senior officials of the Kurdistan Regional Government. Qazi also reiterated the UN’s commitment to assisting Iraq in political reconciliation and reconstruction.
And there’s a question on DESA, I believe. A formal complaint by the Permanent Mission of Viet Nam to the United Nations was received on 18 May by the Chairperson of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues regarding the scheduled screening of two films on UN premises on 22 and 23 May. The Ambassador of Viet Nam expressed in his letter to the Chairperson of the Permanent Forum grave concerns about the contents of the films as being alarmingly biased against the State of Viet Nam. Given that the United Nations is an organization of Member States, and in light of the formal protest of a Member State, DESA was of the view that screening these films on UN premises would be inappropriate and that the films could be screened off the UN premises. The Permanent Forum continues to be an important place where indigenous peoples voice their concerns and indeed in the presence of Member States and have a dialogue with States.
And on this, just to flag to you, at 1:30, here again in room 226, we have the Chairperson and a member of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, who will be briefing you on the outcome and recommendations of the Forum’s current session, to which you can address further questions.
I think that door opened because the General Assembly President Elect is probably waiting to come in here. So I will take as many questions as I can in the time allotted. Yes?
**Questions and Answers
Question: On Iran and the question I’ve been asking, the same as everybody else has, does the Secretary-General intend to use his offices to encourage both the United States and the rest of the world and Iran to come to some sort of a compromise before more sanctions are imposed on Iran and the harder positions set in?
Spokesperson: Going backwards from your question, as you know, the matter is in the Security Council so I don’t think the Secretary-General will comment on the measures being contemplated there. However, his good offices are always available should they be needed and I can confirm that he did speak with the Iranian Foreign Minister yesterday. And one of the subjects that came up, obviously, was in the context of this issue.
I have to tell you, for those of you who are interested, Mr. Pascoe is on his way to the Security Council stakeout for those of you who need to ask questions on the Middle East and his briefing on it.
Question: Marie, you just announced the creation of the Africa Working Group. Do you know who are the members of this Africa Working Group?
Deputy Spokesperson: This is a letter hot off the presses, so to speak, so I’ll have to look into that for you.
Question: He hasn’t appointed any Member States to it yet?
Deputy Spokesperson: No, no appointments yet, as far as I know. This is an initiative that he is informing them of his intention to launch.
[It was later announced that the Secretary-General’s Africa MDG Working Group would be led by the Secretary-General with the Deputy Secretary-General chairing the senior action-oriented meetings.]
Question: Two days ago, we had two members of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina. One of them, Mr. Haris Silajdžić, somehow complained that there’s a silence at the United Nations after the verdict of the International Court of Justice regarding the charges against Serbia for genocide and aggression. Now, I wonder if the Secretary-General is ready or would like to pursue, or to push, or to motivate more, Serbia to comply with that verdict and to push for apprehending and transferring the accused war criminals.
Deputy Spokesperson: On this subject, I have the following for you:
Regarding the 26 February judgment rendered by the International Court of Justice, the Secretary-General noted that the Court found Serbia to be in violation of its obligation under the Genocide Convention to prevent genocide in Srebrenica.
The Secretary-General also noted the decision of the Court that Serbia shall immediately take effective steps to ensure full compliance with its obligation under the Genocide Convention to punish acts of genocide under the Convention and to transfer individuals accused of genocide for trial by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). The Secretary-General sincerely hopes that Serbia will cooperate fully with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
Question: Will he follow up on that?
Deputy Spokesperson: This is all I have for you. Let’s go back there and we’ll work our way up.
Question: The Charter of the United Nations begins with the words “We the Peoples” or “We the Governments”?
Deputy Spokesperson: Are you asking me that question?
Deputy Spokesperson: Okay, I think you know the answer to the question.
Correspondent: Well, you said before this is an organization of Member States.
Deputy Spokesperson: What is your question?
Question: Is it an organization of Member States or the peoples of the World?
Deputy Spokesperson: Obviously, that’s not your question.
Question: Yes there is a question here about these people from Viet Nam who wanted to show a film. Once again we see an incidence of a Member State exercising what amounts to censorship. And the Secretariat agrees with this without any problem when the Charter says it’s “We the peoples”.
Deputy Spokesperson: I think the statement addresses your concern as well. I have this from DESA. My understanding is that they discussed a number of options and this is the decision they came to. As far as any more statements, as I said, the people from the Forum are here and will be here shortly and maybe we can discuss this further with them as well.
Question: Just to understand, did DESA accept the Member State’s complaint and move the event out of the building or did DESA evaluate it? Did DESA view the movie, find it to be somehow unfair to Viet Nam and then move it out of the building, because one of the two movies isn’t even about Viet Nam, it’s about Cambodia.
Deputy Spokesperson: As you know, I’m not a spokesman for DESA so this is really all I have from them.
Question: What’s DESA?
Deputy Spokesperson: I’m sorry, it’s the Department of Economic and Social Affairs. Yes.
Question: I wonder if we could follow up on a previous discussion on the attitude of the Secretary-General to the election of the new Nigerian President. The other time we talked about it and he was to send a congratulatory message about the time of the inauguration, which is coming up on Tuesday. So, number one, I’d like to know if the message has been sent and second, I’d like to know what is going to be the level of United Nations representation at the inauguration on Tuesday.
Deputy Spokesperson: I’ll find that out for you.
Question: First, thanks for the statement on DESA. Who has Ban Ki-moon met with during the Permanent Forum on Indigenous issues? Has he met with the proponents of the draft resolution on rights? Since they’ve been here about 10 days now.
Deputy Spokesperson: I’d have to check that for you. I don’t know off the top of my head.
[The Deputy Spokesperson later conveyed the following to the correspondent:
The Secretary-General had been invited to attend the opening of the Permanent Forum and would have liked to have attended but could not due to a scheduling conflict. The Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, José Antonio Ocampo, was present at the opening and welcomed the participants on the Secretary-General’s behalf.
The fact that he was not present should not be interpreted as a sign of lack of support of the ideals and goals of the Forum.]
Question: And yesterday I was informed by your office that the Secretary-General had placed a man called Kweon Ki-hwan in the Department of Management, so I just have a question I’d like to know. What was the post? What post is he in and what was the process for placing him in the post? Do you have that?
Deputy Spokesperson: I thought I had something specific for you on that. I think, I may be going beyond my mandate here, but I think in terms of answering questions on the rank-and-file of staff members who are not senior appointees, I’d rather give you the answer to these questions out of the briefing.
Question: In this case, it was a person the Secretary-General personally brought in and put in a senior post.
Deputy Spokesperson: I have nothing more on this.
Question: I just wanted to find out from you because of a United Nations report that was issued last month on Iraqi killings, which suggested you had not been able to compile figures on the number of Iraqis who had died since the US-initiated war over there. Do you have those figures now, at all? Have the figures been compiled and given to the United Nations?
Deputy Spokesperson: No, I don’t have anything beyond what we had. You’re talking about the last Secretary-General’s report on Iraq? No, I have no updates on that beyond what we had in that report. Okay? If there are no other questions, we’ll get to the newly-elected General Assembly President.
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