|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.
At 12:45 p.m. today, Bruno Cathala, Registrar of the International Criminal Court (ICC), will brief you on the work of the Court. We have background information on the Court available for you in this room and in my office.
**Secretary-General’s Statement on death of Kurt Waldheim
The Secretary-General learned with sadness of the passing of Kurt Waldheim, the fourth Secretary-General of the United Nations and former President of Austria.
The Secretary-General notes that Mr. Waldheim served the United Nations at a crucial period in the history of the Organization, from 1972 to 1981. The Secretary-General extends his condolences to Mr. Waldheim’s family, as well as to the Austrian Government and people.
The Security Council held consultations on Somalia today. It heard from Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Lynn Pascoe about his recent visit to Somalia and the region.
Mr. Pascoe has wrapped up, and spoke to reporters at the stakeout. He said that the most important thing now was to ensure that the National Reconciliation Congress move things forward, saying this could be Somalia’s best chance for progress in more than a decade. Pascoe added that the Security Council had shown keen interest in Somalia and indicated that it would discuss that issue during their mission to Africa. And the Security Council is about to adopt a presidential statement on Somalia.
Also on Somalia, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative there, François Lonseny Fall, took note of the decision by the National Governance and Reconciliation Committee to postpone the National Reconciliation Congress until 15 July.
Fall emphasized that every effort now has to be made to ensure that the Reconciliation Congress will be inclusive, independent and transparent. The postponement gives additional time for necessary preparations, including consultations among the various Somali stakeholders on the reconciliation process. Fall encouraged all parties to lend further assistance to allow the Congress to achieve its objectives. We have a press release with more details upstairs.
**Security Council’s Wednesday Programme
The Security Council yesterday concluded its formal meeting on Iraq with a press statement, read out by Security Council President Johan Verbeke of Belgium, which thanked Special Representative Ashraf Qazi for his briefing and his work on behalf of Iraq.
The Council, Ambassador Verbeke added, also welcomed planning for the construction of a new compound in Baghdad for the UN Mission there. Council members also condemned in the strongest terms the attack yesterday on the holy shrines in the Iraqi city of Samarra.
The Security Council also adopted a presidential statement in which it unequivocally condemned the terrorist attack in Beirut which killed at least nine people, including Lebanese Member of Parliament Walid Eido.
In a statement issued yesterday afternoon, the Secretary-General condemned that attack and called upon the Lebanese authorities to find the perpetrators and bring them to justice. He urged all the Lebanese to unite in the face of acts of intimidation which attempt to divide them and encouraged Lebanese leaders to find a solution to the political issues facing the country. We have the full statement upstairs.
**Security Council Mission to Africa
A Security Council delegation is leaving New York later today for a week-long mission to Africa. On Saturday, under the joint leadership of Ambassadors Emyr Jones Parry of the United Kingdom and Dumisani Kumalo of South Africa, the delegation will meet in Addis Ababa with the African Union Peace and Security Council, AU (African Union) and Ethiopian officials.
On Sunday, the Council delegation will head to Khartoum, where meetings are planned with President Omar al-Bashir and other top Sudanese officials and with officials from the UN Mission in Sudan. On Monday, delegates will be in Accra, Ghana, to meet with President John Kufuor in his capacity as AU President. Then, on Tuesday, under the chairmanship of Ambassador Jorge Voto-Bernales of Peru, the Council delegation will be in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, for meetings with Ivorian leaders, including President Laurent Gbagbo and Prime Minister Guillaume Soro.
Later on Tuesday, the delegation will proceed to Kinshasa where, with Ambassador Jean-Marc de la Sablière of France leading, Council delegates will meet with President Joseph Kabila, key parliamentary leaders and officials from the UN peacekeeping mission. The Security Council delegation is expected back in New York on Thursday, 21 June.
**Democratic Republic of Congo
The Secretary-General’s Special Representative in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, William Lacy Swing, condemns in the strongest terms the killing of a Radio Okapi journalist.
Serge Maheshe was shot by two men on a street in Bukavu, in eastern DRC, last night, while he was about to get into a vehicle marked with the UN logo. The UN Mission in DRC and the Hirondelle Foundation are asking Congolese authorities to do their utmost to arrest and bring to justice those responsible for this crime.
Radio Okapi is a partnership between the UN Mission in DRC and the Hirondelle Foundation, a Swiss NGO. It is the largest francophone radio in sub-Saharan Africa.
** Sudan - Political/Humanitarian Update
The Secretary-General yesterday afternoon said he considered as a “milestone development” the agreement in Addis Ababa by the African Union, United Nations and Sudanese Government on the joint proposal on a hybrid operation in Darfur. And he said that he is working to implement it as soon as possible.
The Security Council members, in a press statement read out by the Council, called for its “timely and full implementation”. The Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) is planning a meeting of potential contributors to the hybrid operation shortly.
Also on Darfur-related news, the World Food Programme (WFP) has launched an emergency food airlift to more than 2,600 refugees from Darfur who recently crossed into the remote north-eastern corner of the Central African Republic. WFP says that airlifts are an expensive last resort, but it had no other option.
**Human Rights Council
Turning to Geneva, the Human Rights Council held consultations today on a revised president’s text outlining the various proposals on the institution-building measures which it must adopt by this coming Monday, the one-year anniversary of when the Council began its work.
Among the proposals being discussed and finalized for adoption are those concerning the Universal Periodic Review, the review of mandates of the special procedures, the agenda for the Council’s future sessions, a complaints procedure and an expert advice body.
It is expected that these consultations will continue tomorrow before the 47 members take action on the proposals on Monday.
**UN Humanitarian Efforts in Wake of Floods, Landslides in Bangladesh
UN agencies are assisting Bangladesh in the wake of a series of landslides triggered by torrential rains in the Chittagong District. The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) and the World Food Programme have sent four emergency assessment teams to the area and that the UN Development Programme (UNDP) has mobilized logistical support to reinforce rescue and relief operations. We have more on that upstairs.
**International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda Report
The President of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, Erik Mose, has issued a report to the Security Council on that court’s completion strategy. It is out on the racks today. In it, he says that it is estimated that the Tribunal would have completed trials involving 65 to 70 people by the end of 2008. So far, he writes, the Tribunal has issued judgements regarding 33 people, but 18 of the suspects who have been indicted remain at large.
**Ivory Trade Agreement
Today in The Hague, at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, African ministers reached a compromise on Ivory sales. Under the deal, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe will each be allowed to make a single sale of all their registered and verified government stocks to countries with approved controls on ivory sales. After that, there will be a “resting period” of nine years, during which no new proposals for sales from these countries will be considered. We have more information in a press release upstairs on the Ivory Trade Agreement.
**World Blood Donor Day
And then finally, today is World Blood Donor Day, which focuses this year on Safe Blood for Safe Motherhood. More than half a million women die each year during pregnancy, childbirth or in the post-partum period, and 25 per cent of those deaths are caused by severe bleeding. The World Health Organization has picked 14 June to promote universal access to safe blood through voluntary unpaid blood donations. We have more information on that upstairs.
**Press Conference Today
And then this afternoon at 3:20 p.m. today, Jorge Sampaio, High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations and former President of Portugal, will brief you following his meeting with the Secretary-General.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Just with regards to the death of Kurt Waldheim: Does the UN plan to hold a memorial service and do you plan to fly the flag at half mast or anything like that?
Spokesperson: We are following the precedent when a former Secretary-General dies. Tomorrow the flags of the 192 countries will not be flown, and the UN flag will be flown at half mast.
Question: That’s tomorrow?
Spokesperson: Yes, that’s tomorrow.
Question: Will there be a memorial service with people giving testimonials to him?
Spokesperson: No. Not that I know of. And we have not been officially notified as yet about the funeral arrangements in Austria. [The General Assembly Spokesperson later announced that the General Assembly will pay tribute to the former Secretary-General on Friday morning.]
Question: Also a question related to the passing of Kurt Waldheim: I was just wondering, can you arrange for perhaps some retired UN officials to try and speak to… I was trying for maybe two hours to speak to somebody in the Secretariat but obviously maybe nobody works from that time, or very few people. So if you can, I would appreciate it very much.
Spokesperson: Yes, we can try to find out for you.
Question: Two questions: First, did Mr. Ban Ki-moon receive any letters from (Lebanese Prime Minister) Siniora asking to add this latest killing to the [Special Tribunal]? That’s my first question. And the second question concerns the coverage of the Western Sahara talks. How are we gonna do this? Are we going to be allowed any kind of coverage?
Spokesperson: Well, about Siniora: he spoke to Siniora yesterday and they discussed the Tribunal. I don’t know if there was a specific request to have the last case be put on the Tribunal.
About the talks on Western Sahara, as you know, they are scheduled to take place on Monday in an undisclosed location outside of New York. The Secretary-General’s Special Envoy Peter van Walsum is leading the discussions between, as you know, the Frente Polisario, Morocco, Algeria and Mauritania. The meeting is private and there will be no arrangements made for media coverage.
Question: Not even a briefing at the end of the talks?
Spokesperson: After the talks, we can try to get a briefing for you.
Question: What about the other delegations that are supposed to be taking part in those talks that are supposed to be friends of the Polisario like the US, France…?
Spokesperson: I told you who will be there.
Question: That’s it?
Spokesperson: That’s it.
Question: As a follow-up, when was the last time Mr. Ban Ki-moon spoke with (Syrian) President Bashar al-Assad? And also a second question: when will the independent assessment mission to South Lebanon and the border be back in New York? When will the report be issued?
Spokesperson: I will find out for you about the assessment mission. We don’t have any specific date yet but I will eventually get one for you soon. Your other question about when was the last time he spoke to Mr. Assad: not since the last time I reported. He hasn’t recently talked to Mr. Assad. He spoke to Prime Minister Siniora yesterday.
Question: A few questions on The Hague tribunals. The Rwanda Tribunal, as you mentioned, is going to complete its work for 65 to 70 people, and on the other hand, the ICTY is expected to complete also next year, with 29 people. What is the … do we have a … for the Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda, do we have two dates, actually 2008 and 2010 like in…?
Spokesperson: Yes. Well, between 2008 and 2010 what you have is the appeals process, and also the possibility for…
Question: That’s also for Rwanda?
Spokesperson: That’s also for Rwanda and it’s also true for … it’s true for both tribunals.
Spokesperson: There is a period between. They will finish all the first-instance proceedings in 2008 and, between 2008 and 2010, there will be the Appellate Court acting on cases.
Question: How can one explain that? It seems to me that the Rwanda Tribunal is really faster than the ICTY, dealing with 70 people in comparison to 29 people, and they are not even sure that they are going to be complete by the end. Do we have any explanation on that?
Spokesperson: Well, I don’t think that there is a quota for the tribunals. There is also the question of political will. There are indictments that were sent out and if the country in which person who is being accused is… If the country does not deliver the person, there is no way the tribunals can actually arrest the person or try the person. So this is the situation. I don’t think we can compare the two. They are two different sets of circumstances, but in terms of functioning, they function in similar ways.
Question: Just one more: can you confirm or deny that there are talks in the UN Secretariat for finding the legal grounds for continuing the work of the ICTY after those two dates?
Spokesperson: I cannot confirm this. I will have to ask our Legal Department.
Question: Has the Secretary-General reacted to Ethiopia’s acceptance of the Border Commission’s ruling to give the town of Badme back to Eritrea?
Spokesperson: Not yet. We don’t have a reaction yet.
Question: You mentioned MONUC (United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo) and the DRC. Has MONUC or the Secretariat had any comment on this controversy around Mr. (Jean-Pierre) Bemba saying he can’t return to the country because it’s unsafe and asking for protection, either by the Government or by MONUC?
Spokesperson: No, we don’t have anything on that. No, we don’t.
Spokesperson: What I mentioned… I mentioned MONUC in the context of the killing of that journalist.
Question: Okay. Also there is a coalition of human rights NGOs in Geneva saying that they have written to Mr. Ban urging him to do more on Darfur and that so far, he is “dissipating pressure rather than building it”. I don’t know if he’s… They’ve put out a press release that says they’ve written to him. Has he received the letter and what’s his response to that analysis?
Spokesperson: Okay. I’ll check on that for you. [The correspondent was later informed that the letter had been received.]
Question: Back to the Waldheim situation. If the Waldheim family permits it, does the Secretary-General intend on having a personal representative present at either a memorial service or at the funeral?
Spokesperson: There will probably be a representative of the Secretary-General at the funeral, yes.
Question: On Lebanon, Mr. Siniora asked yesterday for urgent security and technical assistance from the UN. How did Mr. Ban Ki-moon respond to that? And also the Iranian President yesterday said that he did not attach any value to UN Security Council resolutions. Is Mr. Ban Ki-moon for imposing a third resolution on Iran?
Spokesperson: Your first question had to do with… I’m sorry, could you repeat your first question?
Question: Yes. Mr. Siniora asked for urgent security and technical assistance from the UN. I was wondering if he talked to Mr. Ban Ki-moon over the phone about this?
Spokesperson: Yes, he did. But, of course, this is not a decision for the Secretary-General to take. The Secretary-General will have to refer such matters to the Security Council, as you know. And your second question was about Iran?
Question: Yes. He said he did not attach any value to UN Security Council resolutions. I was wondering whether Mr. Ban Ki-moon is for imposing a third resolution with sanctions on Iran?
Spokesperson: Well, this is matter for the Security Council. It is in the court of the Security Council. It is a matter for the Security Council to follow up.
Question: Yes, but he wouldn’t care to respond to this comment, Mr. Ban Ki-moon?
Spokesperson: No. It is a matter, as I said, for the Security Council.
Thank you very much.
* *** *