7 November 2006
Spokesman's Noon Briefing

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York




The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General, and Gail Bindley-Taylor Sainte, Spokeswoman for the President of the General Assembly

Briefing by the Spokesman for the Secretary-General

Good afternoon. 

**World Food Programme

I’ll start out with the announcement about the World Food Programme (WFP).  UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf announced today their appointment of Ms. Josette Sheeran ( United States) as Executive Director of the World Food Programme, in succession to Mr. James Morris.  The Executive Board of WFP has confirmed its concurrence with the appointment of Ms. Sheeran.

Ms. Sheeran currently serves as Under-Secretary of State for Economic, Business and Agricultural Affairs where she is responsible for economic issues including development, trade, agriculture, finance, energy, telecommunications and transportation.

The Secretary-General would like to put on record his deep appreciation for the exceptional leadership that Mr. Morris has given to WFP since 2002.  He rendered outstanding service as Executive Director of the World Food Programme, bringing assistance to some of the world’s neediest people.  Mr. Morris leaves behind an institution which has become one of the world’s largest humanitarian programmes and which has established a solid reputation as a primary institution of the UN system in providing aid in emergencies.  Ms. Sheenan’s full biography is available upstairs.

** Myanmar

I also have a statement on Myanmar.

“The Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Ibrahim Gambari, will visit Myanmar from 9 to 12 November as an emissary of the Secretary-General, within the context of the good offices mandate given by the General Assembly and at the invitation of the Government of Myanmar.  Mr. Gambari is expected to meet with senior officials and with actors from across the political spectrum, including all those with whom he met during his first visit in May of this year.

“The Secretary-General appreciates the invitation extended to his envoy to visit the country once again, as part of a process of dialogue that could lead to strengthened cooperation between the United Nations and Myanmar.  The Secretary-General emphasizes, however, that the continued value of such engagement can only be demonstrated by tangible steps forward on central issues such as human rights, democratic reform and national reconciliation.”

The statement is available upstairs.

**Security Council

The Security Council began its work this morning with consultations on Somalia.  It is receiving a briefing on recent developments in that country from the Secretary-General’s Special Representative from Somalis, François Lonseny Fall.  Mr. Fall will be here in Room 226 for a briefing after I’m done and after Gail is done briefing you on the General Assembly.

This afternoon, starting at 3:30, the Security Council has scheduled consultations to receive an update on the talks under way in Juba, in southern Sudan, between the Lord’s Resistance Army and the Ugandan Government.  Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Ibrahim Gambari, will provide that briefing.  And I understand he will be happy to stop at the stakeout on the way, if you have some further questions on that.

** Lebanon

From Lebanon, Major General Alain Pellegrini, the Force Commander of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), met today with senior officers from the Lebanese Armed Forces and the Israeli Defense Forces at the UN Position at the border crossing at Ras Al Naqoura.

It was agreed that the Israeli Defense Forces will withdraw their forces from most of the surrounding area of Ghajar village today.  UNIFIL will carry out intensive patrolling and set up temporary checkpoints in the specified area to confirm that the Israeli forces were no longer present there.

Pellegrini welcomed the Israeli withdrawal from the area around Ghajar and said he hoped that an agreement will soon be reached for full Israeli withdrawal from Lebanese territory, in accordance with UN Security Council resolution 1701.  We do have a press release upstairs from UNIFIL.


Meanwhile, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) reports that the Israeli military operations on the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Hanoun finished in the early hours of this morning.  The Agency adds that Israeli forces are still present in other parts of Gaza.

Since last Friday, a joint humanitarian convoy of UNRWA and the International Committee of the Red Cross has been in Beit Hanoun, delivering food, water, milk, blankets and mattresses to the hospital there.  Additional convoys entered over the weekend and yesterday.

UNRWA staff delivering humanitarian supplies notes significant damage to roads and houses throughout Beit Hanoun.  In addition, they say, the Israeli military destroyed phone lines, cut electricity in the area and food and water supplies are scarce.

Also, the World Food Programme said that it had provided 5,000 loaves of bread and 300 tins of canned meat for 300 displaced persons in a hospital in Gaza.

**Cluster Munitions

The Secretary-General has sent a message to the third Review Conference of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, which started today in Geneva.

In that message, the Secretary-General calls on parties to freeze the use of cluster munitions against military assets located in or near populated areas.  At the same time, he reminds them that placing military assets in such areas is illegal under international humanitarian law.

Urging parties to stop the transfer of those cluster munitions that are known to be inaccurate and unreliable, and to dispose of them, he also challenges parties to establish technical requirements for new weapons systems so that the risk they pose to civilian populations can be reduced.  We have that message available upstairs. 

Also in connection with the Review Conference, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland released a statement, which said that the immediate freeze on the use of cluster munitions was essential, until the international community put in place effective legal instruments to address urgent humanitarian concerns about their use.

Meanwhile, in related news, the UN Mine Action Coordination Centre (UNMACC) in southern Lebanon reports that the density of cluster munitions in Lebanon is higher than in Kosovo and Iraq, and denser in built-up areas.  We have more on that from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the UN Environment Programme.

And I’m told that we also have a representative from the UN Mine Action Service in the room, in case you have any further questions about this issue.

** Sudan

Regarding Darfur, the UN Mission in the Sudan and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs continue to receive daily reports of militia attacks on civilians, as well as attacks against humanitarian vehicles on key roads and even inside camps housing displaced persons.

One report indicates that, yesterday, militia attacked villages south-west of El Fasher in north Darfur.  According to the report, the militia have burnt houses, destroyed crops and taken animals.  A number of people were wounded and an unknown number of civilians have been displaced as they were forced to flee their villages.  Also in north Darfur, armed men attempted to hijack two vehicles of an NGO from within an IDP camp yesterday.

In south Darfur, vehicles belonging to the African Union force (AMIS) and NGOs were forced to return to Nyala after being attacked by villagers who were accusing AMIS of failing to provide protection.

Lastly, following the large-scale attack in the Jebel Moon area of west Darfur less than 10 days ago, which the Secretary-General condemned, there are still serious concerns about further militia attacks in that area.  There is also fear that inter-tribal conflicts in several areas could increase with the end of the rainy season. 

Yesterday, I had been asked about the UN support for the AMIS mission in Darfur.  Support has been identified and will be made available immediately after the conclusion of a Memorandum of Understanding with the AU and the Government of the Sudan.

The UN Mission in the Sudan has acquired land and has started to move equipment and prefabs to El Fasher.  The Mission has also confirmed that close to 200 night vision goggles had arrived in Khartoum for use by the AMIS.

As part of the immediate UN support package to AMIS, we mentioned that nine military officers and nine police advisers were deployed to El Fasher and Nyala in mid October.  Eight military officers and nine police advisers are in Khartoum ready for deployment and 13 additional police officers have been recruited and will deploy soon.

The UN has also agreed to provide 8 “flyaway kits”, 36 global positioning systems, 36 armoured personnel carriers and public information services equipment, as well as pharmaceuticals to the AU Mission.

** Sri Lanka

High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour has welcomed the establishment by the Sri Lankan President of a Commission of Inquiry into extrajudicial killings and disappearances, expressing hope that it will see the perpetrators of serious human rights violations brought to justice.

The High Commissioner underlined the significance of this initiative in addressing impunity for human rights violations related to the ongoing conflict in Sri Lanka.  We have more on that upstairs.


The International Advisory and Monitoring Board (IAMB) that oversees the Development Fund for Iraq met in Paris last week and received follow-up special audits looking into single-sourced contracts in Iraq.

One of the auditing firms, Crowe Chizek, reported that in their opinion the settlements between the company Kellogg Brown and Root, or KBR, and the US Army Corps of Engineers were reasonable.

The findings also provide additional information about the transportation costs incurred by KBR in providing humanitarian fuel supplies to Iraq from May 2003 to March 2004.  These costs were very high, in some cases as much as 86 per cent of the total contract costs.  The IAMB continues to question the reasonableness of these costs and the adequacy of the administration of contracts.

The final meeting of the IAMB is tentatively scheduled for 11 to 12 December.  Its mandate expires at the end of this year.  And you can find more information on its web site upstairs.

**Background Briefings Tomorrow

And lastly, at 12:45 p.m. tomorrow, a senior UN official will be here to brief you on the final report of the High-Level Group for the Alliance of Civilizations, which the Group will be presenting in Istanbul on Monday next week.

Then, at 3 p.m., there will be another background briefing by a senior official, this time on the report of the Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on System-Wide Coherence, which will be launched in this room, and be presented to the Secretary-General and General Assembly this Thursday, 9 November.  Since these briefings will be on background there will be no UNTV coverage, so, if you do intend to attend these briefings, you will have to be here in person.  That is it for me.  I will take your questions.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  While we are talking about the situation in the Middle East, the Israelis, it seems, are not only ignoring the calls and concerns of the international community about what’s happening in Gaza, but they are boasting about killing many civilians.  Is there any new action about Gaza?

Spokesman:  As I mentioned yesterday, the Secretary-General has been in phone contact with the Prime Minister of Israel urging him to use restraint and avoid the killings of civilians during military operations in highly populated areas, and the Quartet envoys as well are in touch on the ground. 

Question:  Can you tell me again?  The IAMB meeting was last week in Paris?  What day did they finish and why are you doing an announcement today?

Spokesman:  We just received the information from the IAMB today.

Question:  It’s a politically issue and it seems like it’s not going to make it into the election reporting cycle here.

Spokesman:  I can’t speak for the IAMB, but I think that, as some of your colleagues may attest, it sometimes takes a little while to get the information from them.  This is regular reporting.  We do not sit on the information.  We got the information and we reported it as a courtesy to you, since we don’t officially speak for the IAMB.

Question:  Just to reiterate my question from yesterday, can you tell us more about the mediation support group?

Spokesman:  This mediation support capacity, which is currently being set up, will have about six staff members.  Two of them will be full time.  This is something that the Department of Political Affairs is in the process of establishing.  Its aim is to provide advice and support to UN and non-UN mediators working to prevent or resolve conflicts around the world.  This is an outgrowth of the outcome of the 2005 World Summit, whose document recognized the importance of the Secretary-General’s good offices, including mediation of disputes, and supported the Secretary-General’s efforts to strengthen capacity in this area.  So this is a process that has been ongoing since the fall of 2005.

Question:  Is there a budget for this?

Spokesman:  Some seed money has been provided by the General Assembly since it is being acted on as a resolution of the General Assembly.  I’m trying to get you some money figures, but no decision has been made on who will head that unit.

Question:  Is there any connection between the naming of Josette Sheeran and the elections?

Spokesman:  None whatsoever.

Question:  A question on her résumé, is that a UN-created document or is that the one she submitted?

Spokesman:  It is a UN résumé based on information provided by the candidate.

Question:  At the stakeout earlier, Ambassador Bolton said that the Secretary-General spoke to Ban Ki-moon about the position.  So, I guess, can you describe when that happened and what happened?

Spokesman:  It happened in the past few days.  The Secretary-General consulted Mr. Ban Ki-moon who agreed with the decision taken by the Secretary-General and Jacques Diouf.  It was a consultative process.

Question:  So the Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, had already selected the successor and then called Ban Ki-moon to see if he agreed with it?

Spokesman:  It was done after they had interviewed the last four candidates and before they moved forward to identify the person.

Question:  What was Ban Ki-moon’s role?

Spokesman:  It was a consultative role.  The Secretary-General wanted to consult him, but the decision to appoint the new Executive Director of the World Food Programme is one taken by the current Secretary-General and Jacques Diouf.

Question:  Just on the question of the résumé, thanks for providing it; it is almost word for word in the structure and in wording as the US State Department résumé, but…

Spokesman:  Well, it is the same person.

Question:  Right, but in terms of who put this together, if you look at the second paragraph, it says as US Under Secretary of State “responsible for economic issues”, almost the same, except it removed the phrase that she “was responsible for spearheading administration efforts to advance the interests of American businesses, farmers and workers at home and abroad”.  Was there any reason why the UN would choose to take out the element of her job that was advancing the issues of American businesses, farmers and workers at home and abroad?

Spokesman:  The résumé was done by the UN.  I’m not going to start comparing it with past resumes that she’s had throughout her career.

Question:  The was a statement on the UN website today by the UN independent expert on the conduct of judges, who said that the tribunal that sentenced Saddam Hussein was flawed because it was set up under occupation, and that it does not take into account the atrocities being committed by US-led special forces.

Spokesman:  Yes, that statement exists.  It is done by…

Question:  Does the Secretary-General agree with that?

Spokesman:  It is not up to the Secretary-General to agree or disagree with statements made by the Independent Special Rapporteurs on various human rights issues.  We explained the Secretary-General’s position two days ago and, yesterday, on the issue of Saddam Hussein’s trial and we have nothing to add to that.

Question:  About the withdrawal from Ghajar, did the Israelis withdraw from the Lebanese section of Ghajar or just the surrounding area?

Spokesman:  It is not full and complete.  What they have done is they have withdrawn from the area surrounding it.  The IDF is still present inside the northern part of the village of Ghajar, but General Pellegrini very much hopes that the full withdrawal will be done soon.

Question:  And, on the Shebaa Farms, have there been any discussions of withdrawal for them?

Spokesman:  That is something that the Secretary-General is working on according to resolution 1701.

Question:  You said that the conversation between Kofi Annan and Ban Ki-moon didn’t take place until fairly late in the process, but were Ban Ki-moon’s people consulted throughout the process leading up to the decision before he went to Ban Ki-moon?  And also, at this podium, you guys have made a big issue that, over the last year, you were trying to take some of the political patronage out of the appointments of senior positions and having a more transparent process and opening it up for competition and trying to create some sort of meritocracy.  The end point… is this essentially a post that the Americans have a lock on?  I mean it’s only been Americans, the US Administration candidate gets it.  Was all this a pointless effort to make it look like it was trying to find the best person for the job?

Spokesman:  This was a rigorous process.  It was open to NGOs, Governments.  There were outside ads put out.  We went through a number of shortlists, panel interviews.  This was a very, very rigorous process where people were interviewed, and the Secretary-General and Jacques Diouf nominated the person that they saw who would be the best leader for WFP.  This was Kofi Annan’s decision, Jacques Diouf’s decision, and Mr. Ban Ki-moon was consulted in the last few days on the decision before it went to the WFP board.

Question:  You had UN officials working on the transition.  Were you getting messages from anywhere?  Was there any communication or consultation?

Spokesman:  The consultation was between the Secretary-General and the Secretary-General-designate.

Question:  So no staff of Ban Ki-moon, no advisers, no one was talking about this issue with the Secretariat before that conversation.

Spokesman:  This was the main point of consultation.

Question:  You are telling me there was no conversation between advisers to Ban Ki-moon, his people, and the UN?

Spokesman:  This process started before Mr. Ban Ki-moon was designated as Secretary-General.

Question:  I understand that, but this question is very specific, were advisers to Ban Ki-moon involved with discussions with the Secretariat about this appointment?

Spokesman:  Not that I’m aware of and we will leave it at that.

Question:  During the process at the round, that I understand involved Mark Malloch Brown, Jan Egeland and Kofi Annan interviewing her, did Josette Sheeran’s 20-year affiliation with the organization of Sun Myung Moon who has been quoted as saying that one, we should destroy the UN, and has also been quoted as saying the UN and the US should merge, did this issue come up?  Was she asked that question?

Spokesman:  I’m not going to comment on what happened in private selection interviews.  People’s religious affiliations are their own, and people’s religious affiliations are not a matter of concern.

Question:  (inaudible)

Spokesman:  People’s religious affiliations are their own.  People are not judged on their religious affiliation here.  Thank you.  We will now turn to Gail and then to Mr. Fall who will brief us on Somalia.

Briefing by the Spokeswoman for the President of the General Assembly

Panama, this morning, was elected on the forty-eighth round of balloting to serve a two-year term on the Security Council, beginning 1 January 2007.  The official vote in the twenty-third unrestricted rounds by the plenary was Panama 164, Venezuela 11, Guatemala 4 and Barbados 1.  There were 9 abstentions and 1 invalid vote.  Addressing the Assembly after the vote, the Ambassador of Guatemala, Jorge Skinner-Klee, thanked members of the Assembly for their patience and respect for the process.  Congratulating the people and Government of Panama, he expressed the view that his country believed they would be well represented by Panama.  He said, however, that his country regretted the polarization caused by the voting process, “nevertheless”, he remarked, “we are proud of Guatemala’s campaign, which was carried out with dignity and respect”.  Noting that Guatemala had waited to gain a seat on the Security Council for some 60 years, he expressed the hope that they would have the support of members of the Assembly, when it presented its candidacy again, for the 2012-2013 term.

Ambassador Francisco Javier Arias Cardenas of Venezuela, for his part, also thanked members of the Assembly for their support and understanding.  He expressed the hope that there would be lessons learned from the 47 rounds of balloting.  He also voiced his hope that Panama would be an independent, impartial and balanced member of the Security Council.

The Assembly, in two rounds of voting for a seat for the Eastern European States on the Economic and Social Council, elected Belarus for a three-year term, beginning on 1 January 2007 and ending 31 December 2010.  After the first round of balloting between Belarus and Bulgaria, neither country gained the required two-thirds majority.  Bulgaria then withdrew.  The Deputy Ambassador of Bulgaria, Ivan Piperkov, noted that, during the campaign, his country had been given assurances that it had wide support, which was indeed reflected in the initial round of voting, where it was five votes short of attaining the necessary two-thirds.  However, subsequent rounds had made it clear that Bulgaria’s bid to serve in the 2007-10 Council did not find the needed support among Member States.  Pledging its cooperation for the reform efforts of the Council, Bulgaria withdrew, expressing the hope to put forward its candidacy again in the future.  The Assembly has just voted in a by-election to replace Australia, which has relinquished the rest of its term on ECOSOC in favour of New Zealand.  We are awaiting the count.  (See Press Release GA/10528.)

In news of the main Committees:  addressing the Third Committee yesterday, the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, Doudou Diene, sounded the alarm that the rise of racism, xenophobia and intolerance represented the most serious threat to democratic progress and the creation of multicultural societies.  Worrisome patterns, he noted, included the rise in racist and xenophobic violence, the growing number of political leaders openly espousing racist or xenophobic political platforms and the defamation of religions.  He also drew attention to the criminalization of immigration and asylum.  Those targeted by such policies, he noted, were the immigrant, the asylum seeker and the foreigner.  Stressing the importance of political will in addressing these problems, Mr. Diene called for urgent and far reaching measures to be taken, by the United Nations and Member States.  He also called for systematic efforts to counteract racial and religious hatred and highlighted concern about racism in sport, especially football.  (See Press Release GA/SHC/3867 of 6 November.)

It is expected that the Sixth Committee will complete its work this Thursday.  At its meeting on Monday, the Committee approved, without a vote, a draft resolution which would have the General Assembly strongly condemn acts of violence against diplomatic missions and their representatives and would urge States to strictly enforce laws that protect them.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I have one question.  On the issue of the comptrollers report and (Inaudible)

Spokeswoman:  I still have to check with Steph.  I wasn’t here yesterday, but I will make sure we get that answer for you.

Question:  In the Third Committee, I think there is a draft resolution, I don’t know if it’s moved, but is on Belarus and Uzbekistan, it’s on respectful dialogue and human rights.  Has that actually been introduced?  What is the status of that?

Spokeswoman:  I can check on the status of that, because I know that they have been talking.  I’m not sure if it’s been introduced, but I know it’s on the agenda.

Question:  One part of the resolution says that the country-specific resolution should only be used in case of massive violations related to genocide and ethnic cleansing, and I think that the current GA practice is that there are human rights resolutions on these issues that fall short of that standard.  I think the current GA practically there are resolutions issues short of that.  I don’t know if the President herself has any view on this -- not necessarily this resolution but on country-specific resolutions that are brought up?

Spokeswoman:  I will check on that.  Anything else?  Thank you.

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For information media • not an official record