|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. Of course, you understand that, because of the Security Council, we start this briefing a little later than usual. Some of you are still, I know, out there but we have to start. It is really getting close to the next press conference you are going to have.
The Security Council today discussed in its closed consultations the Secretary-General’s report on the revised concept of operations for the UN presence in eastern Chad and the north-eastern Central African Republic. Council members received a briefing on the report by Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hédi Annabi.
That report, you will recall, proposes that the tasks and functions of the military component would be performed by a European Union military force that has been accepted by President Idriss Déby of Chad. Also, there would be no direct involvement of the multidimensional international presence in the border area.
Council members this morning also received a draft presidential statement (circulated by France) responding to the Secretary-General’s report on Chad and the Central African Republic.
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights today issued a report detailing cases of abduction, rape and sexual violence in South Darfur, in which it says that the Government of the Sudan must protect women and children from sexual and gender-based violence.
The report, a follow-up to one issued last April, contains testimonies from victims and eyewitnesses describing how women were abducted, kept as sex slaves and subjected to other human rights violations in Deribat and surrounding towns by the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and affiliated groups. These and other violations occurred in late December 2006 in the wake of air and ground attacks on civilians in the area.
The report, prepared in cooperation with the UN Mission in Sudan, says the abuses may also constitute war crimes and it recalls that no investigation had been carried out by the Sudanese Government.
We have copies of the report and an accompanying press release upstairs.
The United Nations Force in Cyprus announced today that the leaders of the two communities, Tassos Papadopoulous and Mehmet Ali Talat, have agreed to meet on 5 September. The announcement was made after the two principal aides to the leaders met for 45 minutes this morning at the mission’s headquarters in Nicosia.
Kevin Kennedy, the Deputy UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, today expressed his concerns about the humanitarian situation in Gaza.
Kennedy said that, while basic humanitarian needs are largely being met in Gaza, the situation remains very difficult. Tens of thousands of people have lost their jobs and income due to a lack of imports and basic materials to keep factories running, as well as a lack of export opportunities.
There are increased demands on UN agencies to provide assistance and much remains to be done, he added.
Hurricane Dean made landfall on the Yucatán peninsula in Mexico early this morning. It has weakened to a Category 3 storm now that it is moving over land.
The United Nations country team is working with authorities to prepare the region for this hurricane. Five hundred thirty storm shelters -- with a capacity of 73,000 people -- have been set up on the eastern part of the Yucatán peninsula.
Concerning the other countries already hit by Hurricane Dean, the United Nations has sent Disaster Assessment and Coordination teams to Jamaica and Belize. In Haiti, UN agencies are participating in assessments along with the United Nations mission in that country. MINUSTAH is also supporting urgent repair works and the distribution of water and food rations.
Turning to Peru, we flagged yesterday that a seven-member United Nations Assessment and Coordination team had been deployed to the country. But a World Health Organization (WHO) team of experts is also in Pisco and Ica -- the most affected areas -- to identify the health needs of the affected population.
WHO reports that there is a good local response but that the destruction of four health facilities and the lack of drinking water are major concerns.
For its part, the World Food Programme (WFP) says it has already distributed 500 tons of food which it had airlifted from its centre in Ecuador. One hundred tons of energy biscuits will be shipped to the area, as well as other food items.
And we have more on this in the Geneva briefing notes upstairs. And on humanitarian assistance, I would like to stress that tomorrow, at the noon briefing, we will have as our guest Margareta Wahlström, the Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, who, as you know, has started giving you regular updates on the UN relief efforts. She will talk most precisely about the earthquake in Peru and Hurricane Dean. So she will be here tomorrow as our guest.
**Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
Still more floods: the World Food Programme says it will begin immediately to deliver emergency food assistance for flood victims in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. It reports that the Government of that country has agreed to food distributions over a three-month period to 215,000 people in six provinces affected by the flooding. Following this request for assistance, WFP has already started distributing its pre-positioned aid.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) says that many medical warehouses had been ravaged by the floods and that there is an urgent need for emergency health kits, anti-cholera kits and other basic medical supplies. WHO will be organizing the provision of those supplies, while an OCHA specialist should be deployed in the coming days to facilitate the coordination of aid assistance. And we have more on this in a WFP press release in the Geneva briefing notes.
The United Nations World Food Programme reports the current floods across Nepal have affected many parts of the country, exacerbating the food security situation.
The food body adds that, unfortunately, ethnic tension and insecurity has prevented WFP from conducting an in-depth emergency food security assessment in these districts and, to date, the delivery of humanitarian assistance to the people most in need. The full report is available upstairs. We also have upstairs a situation overview report of Nepal from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
**Conference on Disarmament
In Geneva today, the United Nations High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Sergio Duarte, addressed the Conference on Disarmament, expressing hope that the members would bring to the UN General Assembly in October, a report and resolution that would truly reflect the intensity of the Conference’s determination to demonstrate its potential as a negotiating body.
Mr. Duarte said that, despite the collective efforts of this year’s presidents, of their seven coordinators and of the entire membership, the Conference stood one short step away from resolving its longstanding impasse. We have the press release and the statement upstairs.
**Democratic Republic of Congo
The UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) has reported that, by last Friday’s deadline, three Ituri armed groups had provided lists of combatants who will join the third phase of the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programme. The Mission says that there are some 3,500 combatants likely to join the process. They include members of the Mouvement Révolutionnaire du Congo, the Front of Nationalists and Integrationalists and the Ituri Patriotic Resistance Front.
Thousands of young Iraqis have started enrolling in schools in Jordan since this past weekend, after the Jordanian Government decided to let all Iraqi refugee children attend public schools, regardless of whether or not their parents have residency permits.
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) warmly welcomed this generous decision and the positive impact that it will have on the lives of thousands of refugee children. It hopes to see strong support for the $129 million educational appeal that UNHCR and UNICEF put out late last month, which is designed to bring back to school some 155,000 Iraqi refugee children throughout the Middle East. We have more details in the refugee agency’s briefing notes.
The UN Refugee Agency today expressed its relief that the 149 ethnic Hmong refugees, held in a detention centre in Thailand, have called off their hunger strike. But the Refugee Agency remains alarmed at their living conditions, health and well-being and calls on the Thai Government to release them from detention.
The Hmong refugees, who are from Laos, began their strike last Thursday in protest over the deteriorating conditions under which they have been held since last December. We put out a press release from UNHCR yesterday with more details.
Today at 1 p.m., there will be a press conference by Ambassador Vitaly Churkin of the Russian Federation on the recent incident in Georgia.
Tomorrow, at 1:15 p.m., there will be a press conference by Mr. Irakli Alasania, Permanent Representative of the mission of Georgia, on the recent incident in Georgia.
This is all I have for you today. Thank you.
**Questions and Answers
Question: First of all, it would be nice if we could get Russia and Georgia at the same time. That is just an aside. Just now, at the stakeout, the UN Ambassador, Alejandro Wolff, called “ludicrous” UNDP’s argument that the Ethics Office does not apply to it, and said that he or the US mission thinks that Mr. Ban wants the Ethics Office to have jurisdiction over the whistle-blower’s case. Inevitably, it is a follow-up to you to say that, is the impression that he just stated, is that Mr. Ban’s position?
Spokesperson: At this point, it is a fact that, legally, the Ethics Office has no jurisdiction over UNDP. As you know, UNDP has its own intergovernmental body, and its own Executive Board. What I can only say is what I said yesterday, that the Secretary-General encourages a thorough and independent investigation into all matters related to the case, including its whistle-blower aspects. However, whether it is done by the Ethics Office or by another body is not being raised here.
As you probably know, the UN Board of Auditors is preparing to begin the second phase of an external audit into the operations of the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and UNDP in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, as requested by the UN Secretary-General.
UNDP has said that it is proceeding to arrange an additional and complementary external review to take place under the auspices of its Executive Board. A formal announcement on this review will be made in a few days. This review would look into issues relating to UNDP’s operations in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea not covered in the second phase of the external audit. And this could include Mr. [Artjon] Skhurtaj’s allegations.
Question: Just one thing. Having spoken to him, he says he sought protection as a whistle-blower from the Secretariat’s Ethics Office. And that Office has found him to be retaliated against. That was an initial, prima facie finding. The Board of Auditors and whatever UNDP is proposing have no mandate to protect whistle-blowers. He was not asking for just an investigation, but actually for the protection under the UN’s protection against retaliations statute. How does that relate to that?
Spokesperson: Okay, as far as I know, the UNDP has a protection against retaliation policy. I spoke to them this morning, and it is under the Harassment and Abuse of Authority policy. It has both informal and formal mechanisms available to both staff and individuals on short-term contracts to address allegations of retaliation.
You know, legally -- and that is recognized by the Ethics Office – legally, the Ethics Office of the Secretariat has no jurisdiction over UNDP.
Question: He said for the good of the UN it should be done in this case. I have more questions on this, but I’m sure others...
Question: How long does the Secretary-General intend to deliberate over this issue of the whistle-blower? We have our own urgency as journalists, but there is urgency for UN men and women, any potential whistle-blower who is out there, who is not going to speak out because of fear of retaliation. It is something that even matters today. Every day that goes by, potentially, I am not saying that something bad is necessarily happening, but it can. And a whistle-blower will not speak up now until this issue is resolved.
Spokesperson: Well, any whistle-blower has protection... The Ethics Office has jurisdiction over any case pertaining to the Secretariat.
Question: Right, but there are a lot of UN agencies and everybody, and you know the thousands of UN personnel who are watching this case, many of them who maybe have something to say are staying underground because they are afraid of retaliation.
Spokesperson: Well, each agency has its own system and mechanisms. If those mechanisms are not adequate -- and this is one of the things that the review that the UNDP has asked for is going to do, is going to go through whatever holes there are in the process. If the process does not properly protect the whistle-blower, that review is going to really pertain to this. And you’ll have the announcement soon of that external body, which is going to come and cover all the aspects that have not been covered by the Auditors’ Board.
Question: There is this huge push for system-wide coherence at the moment. And in every country the idea is one UN, one leadership, one plan, one budget, but what, 15 different systems of accountability and whistle-blower protection, is that the UN’s position at the moment?
Spokesperson: Well, this is not the UN’s position. There is the Secretariat, and there are those agencies. Those agencies were created with a specific intergovernmental body...
Question: I get that. Just answer this, what would the Secretary-General like to see within the context of this “one UN”, which seems to be the buzz-word of the past couple of years, on the ethics front?
Spokesperson: Well, the Secretary-General wants to have all those ethical issues covered. However, he has limitations. His limitations are linked to...
Question: Yes, I know the current situation. But going forward, as the UN talks about coherence and all of this, would the Secretary-General like to see a single ethics policy that pertains to all the UN brands, as it were, or does the Secretary-General feel that the current status quo, where everybody has their own system, is the right way about it?
Spokesperson: Well, he has no power to change that system. It is a decision to be taken by the Member States. As you know, each intergovernmental body is separate...
Question: Yes, but the UN Secretariat...
Spokesperson: The UN Secretariat acts whenever it can act. And in this specific case, the Ethics Office is here for that, for the Secretariat, okay?
Question: So he has no position on this...?
Spokesperson: I have said over and over again, Mark, that he is concerned and he is determined that ethical norms will prevail all throughout the system. That he has said over and over again. Sure, he would like to see one system, yes. It is not his decision, though. It is the decision of the Member States, to change the existing system where the agencies have their own governing bodies.
Question: Yesterday, a UN expert was predicting -- it is on the UN website -- that there would be surge in the number of internally displaced persons as a result of the escalation in fighting in the south of Afghanistan. Has the UN done any contingency planning to meet the situation?
Spokesperson: Yes, I think they have been doing contingency planning for quite a while on this. The agencies in charge of refugees are certainly preparing for anything of that sort.
Question: The Secretary-General’s report that they are discussing today on Chad and the Central African Republic? It says that in the Central African Republic in the north-east, next to Darfur, there are 30,000 internally displaced persons, and in the north-west, not touching Darfur but Cameroon, there are 180,000 internally displaced persons. It seems to only propose UN engagement in the north-east. Is that the correct reading of it? His suggestions to the Security Council is focused on the north-east in the Central African Republic, which is not to say it is not a bad problem, but just by his own report, the north-west has six times as many internally displaced persons. I am just trying to find out what the logic is of...
Spokesperson: The logic is linked to the security problem. Where the security problem lies -- that is what the Security Council is discussing right now -- and the report was to the Security Council and it is addressing issues of security for the internally displaced persons. But in terms of care of the internally displaced persons, of course the large number of internally displaced persons that you mentioned is certainly being taken care of.
Question: So, although it is not in this proposal, the UN funds, programmes and agencies are present there?
Spokesperson: Yes, they are.
Question: Is the UN cartographer in the Shebaa Farms expected to release his findings prior to either the expiration or renewal of UNIFIL’s mandate?
Spokesperson: We don’t know when he will do it. We don’t know yet. [The Spokesperson later said that the findings are expected after the cartographer visits the Shebaa Farms in the coming weeks.]
Question: On the Georgian situation. We know the Russians are somewhat disappointed that the US has taken sides with Georgia. What about the UN, from the view of the Secretary-General? What is his position, or does he choose for the moment to stay away from this and see how it unfolds?
Spokesperson: I think he has chosen to let it be discussed on other grounds. And you will have those two press conferences today and tomorrow, so you will have both sides of the story.
Question: I just wondered where, now you got Denmark, Canada and Russia are all staking claims to the Arctic and the US not sure and all the rest. So, has there been any further thought of the Secretary-General on where this should play out? Does he have any opinions on what should be happening? Does anyone in the UN system have any interest in this sort of land-grab going on, or sea-grab or whatever?
Spokesperson: Of course, you have several UN bodies taking care of these issues.
Question: Has he said anything on that?
Question: Does anybody intend to say anything, or...
Spokesperson: I don’t know at this point, Mark, but of course, the bodies in charge of regulating these areas are certainly working on it.
Question: Is someone coming soon to brief us on where things are going with the climate change summit? Perhaps somebody from that office to tell us who is expected and a little more details?
Spokesperson: Yes, I can promise you will have a full briefing on this, but certainly not this week, nor next week, because they are still finalizing the actual meeting, the 24 September meeting. But it is well under way, and there are several answers that have come from Heads of States, and it will be highly attended.
Question: This is housekeeping. I know that you cannot make the ultimate decision, but could you kindly discourage UN agencies, programmes, and everyone else connected with the Organization to not give a news conference or report from 22 September through the first week of October? They seem to think that, because there are so many reporters here, they have endless time to do something like that, and they don’t.
Spokesperson: We will do our best.
Question: About Somalia, the resolution that was passed yesterday calls on the Secretary-General to meet with the Secretary-General of the African Union and discuss the UN becoming more involved or providing financial assistance. It seems part of the resolution itself. When are they going to meet?
Spokesperson: Well, they are supposed to meet pretty soon on the Darfur issue, and I’m sure they will be discussing Somalia. They have, in the past, been discussing Somalia, whenever they have spoken. So I’m sure there is an ongoing discussion, and I think it will take place in the next few weeks, certainly. And there is going to be a special meeting on Darfur, and Mr. [Alpha Oumar] Konaré will be here in New York, in September.
Question: On Cyprus, we get numerous statements from the mission and the news, but we never really get any briefing here. Are we going to hear anything from the mission or from the Permanent Mission in person, so we can ask questions?
Spokesperson: For the missions themselves, I have absolutely no authority on that. They are the ones who actually solicit space to come and speak here in Room 226. So I don’t have any way to encourage them to do so. In our case, in the case of the Secretariat, we are of course waiting for the talks that they announced for early September to take place, and we are following the situation.
Well, I will close this here. Thank you very much.
* *** *