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

21 December 2007

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

21 December 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.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Good afternoon.

**Statement on Pakistan

We have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Pakistan.

The Secretary-General is appalled by today’s suicide bombing at a mosque at the residence of the former Interior Minister of Pakistan, which has claimed the lives of over 50 civilians and injured many others.  The Secretary-General strongly condemns this act of terrorism carried out at a house of worship.  He expresses his deepest condolences to the families of the victims and to the Government of Pakistan.

The Secretary-General urges all political forces in Pakistan to unite against the scourge of terrorism and to act together to create a peaceful environment ahead of the Parliamentary elections scheduled for 8 January 2008.

**Statement on Special Tribunal for Lebanon

We also have another statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.

Earlier today, the United Nations and the Kingdom of the Netherlands signed a Headquarters Agreement that will enable the seat of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon to be based in the Netherlands.  Mr. Larry D. Johnson, Assistant Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, signed on behalf of the United Nations, and Permanent Representative Frank Majoor signed on behalf of the Netherlands.  This step is the outcome of three months of negotiations that began when Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende informed the Secretary-General that the Government of the Netherlands was favourably disposed to hosting the Special Tribunal.  The Agreement will now be submitted to the Parliament of the Netherlands for ratification.  In the meantime, the United Nations and the Netherlands’ authorities will continue taking steps to establish the Tribunal in The Hague.

In a further development, the Secretary-General has received the report of the Selection Panel, constituted pursuant to article 2 of the annex to Security Council resolution 1757 (2007) to make recommendations regarding the selection of judges of the Special Tribunal.  The Panel was composed of Judge Mohamed Amin El Mahdi, formerly of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia; Judge Erik Møse, of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda; and Mr. Nicolas Michel, the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, the Legal Counsel. 

The Secretary-General has accepted the Selection Panel’s recommendations and will announce the names of those selected at an appropriate time in the future.  The judges will assume their functions on a date to be determined by the Secretary-General, as set forth in the annex to resolution 1757 (2007).

In addition, pursuant to article 6 of the annex and a subsequent agreement between the United Nations and the Government of Lebanon, the Management Committee of the Special Tribunal will soon be established.  It will be composed of the major donors to the Special Tribunal and will have as its main responsibility providing advice and policy direction on all non-judicial aspects of the operations of the Special Tribunal, including questions of efficiency.

**Statement on Republic of Korea

The Secretary-General spoke last night to the President-elect of the Republic of Korea, Lee Myung-bak.  The subject of their conversation is contained in a statement released yesterday and attributable to the Spokesperson.  In that statement, the Secretary-General warmly congratulated Mr. Lee Myung-bak and expressed his hopes for an even more active engagement by the Republic of Korea in advancing the agenda of the United Nations -- from combating the effects of global climate change and contributing to peacekeeping, to achieving the Millennium Development Goals and promoting human rights.

He also said he looks to the Republic of Korea to play an instrumental role in further consolidating peace and security on the Korean peninsula, including through denuclearization, and in North-East Asia as a whole.  The full statement is available upstairs.

**Security Council

The Security Council started its work this morning by adopting two resolutions on Africa.  With the first resolution, the Council extended the mandate of the UN Integrated Office in Sierra Leone until 30 September 2008.  By the second, the Council extended the mandate of the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or MONUC, until 31 December 2008.  It also asked that MONUC attach the highest priority to addressing the crisis in the Kivus, especially through the protection of civilians.

The Council then heard a briefing from Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe on the Middle East.  Pascoe said the next few months are critical for the renewed peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.  Solid progress will be essential in the bilateral negotiations.  But that is unlikely without serious improvements on the ground, he added.

He also said that donors must follow through on their commendable Paris commitments, and the parties must act to fulfil their responsibilities, so that a new climate of confidence, security and physical mobility is established.  On Lebanon, Pascoe said that, as the current situation is dangerous and unsustainable, it is of fundamental importance for the Lebanese State that all Lebanese leaders seek a solution that enables presidential elections to take place immediately.  We have his full remarks upstairs.

The Council then moved into consultations on the Middle East and other matters.  Following those consultations, a press statement is expected, welcoming pledges recently made in Paris to the Palestinian Authority.

** Somalia

The Security Council on Wednesday adopted a Presidential Statement, in which it reaffirmed its support for the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) and urged the international community to provide funds, personnel, equipment and services for its full deployment.

The Council also reiterated its request that the Secretary-General develop the existing contingency plans for a UN peacekeeping operation to succeed AMISOM.  The Presidential Statement also welcomed the appointment of Nur Hassan Hussein as Prime Minister of Somalia.

Meanwhile, some 10,000 more people are reported to have fled Mogadishu due to continuing fighting that claimed at least a half a dozen lives and injured some 50 people this week alone.  The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates some 256,000 people have fled the Somali capital since October.  Most of these internally displaced are being sheltered in camps on the Mogadishu-Afgooye road.

** Burundi

After a number of threats of imposing unwarranted tax and of harassment of its staff in Burundi by members of the armed FNL group, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that its representatives met with the FNL, police and Army officials to seek better humanitarian access to the province around the capital Bujumbura.  It is yet unclear whether the meetings would lead to an improved work environment for OCHA in that country. 

Meanwhile, the World Food Programme was able to deliver some 1,000 tons of food supplies to some 175,000 people.  And the UN Refugee Agency successfully transferred 458 Congolese refugees from Bujumbura to a camp in Musasa.  There are now some 6,600 Congolese refugees in that camp.

Also, UN health workers have detected 310 cases and 4 deaths of cholera in an outbreak of the disease in Rumonge and Nyanza-Lac.  UN health workers are now disinfecting houses and public facilities, with more than a thousand households and 11 public buildings restored to inhabitable conditions.

** Dominican Republic

Turning now to the Dominican Republic, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that more than 60,000 people remain displaced following Tropical Storm Olga.

UNICEF is distributing food packages and hygiene items to the survivors.  The UN Population Fund is also providing hygiene items, as well as cleaning equipment and medical supplies.  For their part, the World Health Organization and Pan American Health Organization are providing supplementary staff to the relief effort and are helping with health and sanitation management in shelters.

**Iraq

UNICEF today painted a bleak picture of the situation of children in Iraq.  Only 40 percent of children across Iraq had access to clean drinking water; thousands of families had been obliged to leave their homes owing to the violence or because of threats; and hundreds of children had lost their lives owing to the same violence.

UNICEF says conditions continued to deteriorate, with many mothers preventing their children from attending school for fear they would be attacked.  Despite that situation, UNICEF and its partners continued to work in Iraq.

**World Health Organization

The World Health Organization says the continued looming threat of an influenza pandemic, outbreaks of Ebola, Marburg and other infectious diseases, and high rates of women who die in pregnancy and childbirth in developing countries, are among the notable health topics that mark 2007.

Progress was made to halt resurging yellow fever in Africa, and efforts to wipe out the last bastions of polio and to stop tuberculosis advanced.  Landmarks, such as major success in the fight to cut measles deaths in Africa, also captured news headlines, according to the WHO website.

**Week Ahead

As per our normal practice, today is our last planned noon briefing for 2007.

Next week, we will post UN news highlights on our website every day at around noon.  The exception will be Tuesday, when the UN will be closed for Christmas.  Our office will be staffed next week, and on Christmas, there will be a duty officer on call, should you have any urgent inquiries.

Since there are no planned events for next week, we won’t have a “Week Ahead” today.  We’ll start issuing the “Week Ahead” again next Friday.  We’ll inform you also of the Secretary-General’s next new year press conference as soon as the date is confirmed.  This is all I have for you.  Thank you. 

Yes, Khaled.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Concerning the announcement on the judges, you said the Secretary-General is planning to announce the names in the near future.  Do you have an estimate?  And why not release the names now, since the decisions have been made? 

Spokesperson:  I think the main reason is that it has to go through the approval process.  And it will be released, of course, as soon as that is done.  So, I cannot give you a date, but I’m sure the first week of January, we’ll make sure that you have a briefing on this.  Mr. Nicolas Michel already told me he is willing to come and brief you.

Yes, Masood?

Question:  Michèle, I just wanted to ask you, since it’s the holidays and the Secretary-General has issued these ethics guidelines, which are going to be effective as of next year.  And in that ethics guideline, basically, which have been elaborated, all that has been suggested that no employee of the United Nations accept any gifts whatsoever.  Even the appearance of gifts also is not right.  And now some of the employees who get the gifts like a bottle of wine, box of chocolates, some dates -- even those are supposed to be returned to the Secretary-General’s office.  Am I right?

Spokesperson:  I think it’s above a certain value.

Question:  And if some of the gifts are submitted to the Secretary-General’s office, and they are deposited in a certain place and then either they’re disposed of or they’re sold -– what happens to the money?

Spokesperson:  Okay.  I’ll try to get that information for you.  I think it has been the case that, above $25, gifts cannot be kept by a UN staff member.

[The Spokesperson later added that staff members have been turning over to the Ethics Office gifts they have received from Member States.  The Ethics Office has put in place an interim measure for the disclosure of gifts received, as well as temporary storage, and is currently reviewing existing policies and procedures with an aim to clarifying the United Nations gift policy and establishing a registry, storage and disposal mechanism.]

Question:  The other point that has been raised over and over again, as far as the ethics violations are concerned, that if a high UN official is able to influence either the promotion or appointment of somebody at the United Nations, above and beyond what are the rules, and also there are appearances of nepotism –- what happens with that, in that case?  Is that considered also an ethics violation or not?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think a number of measures are being put into place so there will not be this type of nepotism that you are mentioning.  I think the Office of Human Resources Management (OHRM), which takes care of human resources, has very tight rules about how someone is employed at the United Nations.  So there is a process in place, and there are some checks and balances in place already.

Question:  Yes, you’re right.  I’m only asking because there have been some cases –- I’m not going to go into specifics -- which have been pointed out that in A, B, C, D case certain people have been given promotion without going through the normal process.  And if that is brought to the notice of the Secretary-General’s office, would action be taken?

Spokesperson:  As you know, the staff member who feels that he has been deprived of a post and that someone else had that post and he deserved that post more, has the ability to go through that process -- the internal process of asking for information and getting information.  Yes?

Question:  I’m sorry, I’m a little bit late, but after the Security Council session on Kosovo the day before yesterday, can you tell us now where Mr. Ban Ki-moon stands on the issue?  He had already listened to the Member States’ position.  So what’s his position now towards the solution to the problem?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have an answer for you yet.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  This was probably Wednesday, but the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Meles Zenawi, has criticized the UN for saying too much about Somalia or calling it a major humanitarian problem.  What does the UN think of the type –- does it stand by its statements, does it think what Mr. Zenawi is saying is useful or helpful?  What’s the response?  It is a criticism of the UN.

Spokesperson:  Well, it is his statement.  We don’t have any reaction to that.

Question:  On the budget, I want to ask you… Obviously –- supposedly this is the deadline.  Is there some –- we’ve learned in the Fifth Committee, one of their proposals is to cut $180 million from special political missions, which seems to be exactly the number of the proposed Baghdad headquarters’ new building.  Is there some –- is that your understanding of what they’re proposing?  And what does –- does the Secretariat still stand behind all of its proposals on the Procurement Task Force?  I guess I’m just asking for a readout as this --

Spokesperson:  Actually, the Secretary-General has submitted his budget.  Now it is in the hands of the Member States.  They are discussing the budget.  They are going to be voting, as far as I understand, this afternoon at 3:00 on the budget.  So at that time you will know. 

At this point the process is no longer in the hands of the Secretariat.  The process is in the hands of the Member States, who have to decide on the different aspects of that budget.  And if there are cuts, they are the ones to decide on those cuts.

Question:  But like on Wednesday evening, late, I saw both Ms. Bárcena and Warren Sach -– I mean, they’re down there, in and out of the Fifth Committee.  So it seems to me there’s still --

Spokesperson:  Yes, answering questions. 

Question:  So it’s not –- they’re answering questions.  It’s not so much that they’re taking a position, and saying we must have this or proposing cuts? 

Spokesperson:  No, they are explaining the budget.  They are explaining the Secretary-General’s position on some aspects of the budget.  And they are answering to requests for additional information from the Member States.

Question:  And just a final -– how, whatever happens, whether it’s 3 p.m. or later today, is there going to be some way for the press –- for media –- I don’t know if there will be a briefing, but a stakeout?  Some way to know, to get information on what happens?

Spokesperson:  Well, this has to come from the General Assembly, not from us.

Question:  Since Janos is not here, that’s why I’m asking.  I guess I’m just asking if there’s some -- what should we do?  Just hang around?

Spokesperson:  Hang around, yes.  That looks like the solution.  Until -– it might be late.  But you know, you can try to have some information later on today.  At any rate, it’s not finished yet.  The process is not finished yet.  Yes?

Question:  Does the UN have a statement in reaction to the remarks made by the leadership of the Lakota?  The leadership have declared sovereignty and have said they will be coming to the United Nations and other world leaders on their sovereignty.

Spokesperson:  Nothing official has been submitted to the UN yet.

Thank you very much, and happy holidays to all of you.

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