2 January 2007
Spokesperson'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 Michele Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.

For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Michele Montas.

As you know, the Secretary-General appointed Vijay Nambiar as his Chief of Staff and myself as a Spokesperson.  That was on Sunday.

It is a real pleasure for me to be here and to be with you in this room today.  As some of you might remember, I was here in September 2003-2004 as Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.  Many of you have since become friends.  And, in fact, some of my favourite people are in this room.

It will be difficult to fill Stéphane’s shoes, but Marie and the rest of the team will continue to be in the Spokesman’s Office to help.  Also, Choi Soung-ah, who was, as you know, the spokesperson for the transition team, is going to join the Spokesperson’s Office.


As you know, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon began work this morning at UN Headquarters, beginning his first working day here by walking to the building with his newly appointed Chief of Staff, Vijay Nambiar.  He first went to the meditation room in the Visitor’s Lobby to pay respect to United Nations staff fallen in the line of duty.

He then spoke to reporters –- some of you were there -- telling them that he starts his duties at a daunting time for international affairs, with challenges in Darfur, the Middle East, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq and North Korea.  And he called for a collective response to those challenges, noting that no single country, however powerful, can deal with them.  Copies of his press encounter transcript are available upstairs.

The Secretary-General’s priority this morning was meeting the United Nations staff.  In his remarks, he restated his determination to implement management reforms on a number of fronts, by building a staff that is multitasked and truly mobile and changing the working culture of the Organization.  “To meet the demands of the twenty-first century, we have to change,” the Secretary-General said.  He will also pay visits to the staff in different offices in the afternoon today.

Yesterday, before he left New York, former Secretary-General Kofi Annan visited Mr. Ban in his hotel to wish him success.

** Iraq

Turning now to Iraq, the Secretary-General was asked about the death sentence imposed over the weekend against Saddam Hussein and he said that we should never forget the victims of Saddam Hussein’s crimes.  The Secretary-General said that it is up to each Member State to decide on the issue of capital punishment, but he added that all States should pay due respect to international humanitarian law.

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq, Ashraf Qazi, issued a statement over the weekend on the imposition of the death sentence against Saddam Hussein, saying that the United Nations stands firmly against impunity, and understands the desire for justice felt by many Iraqis.  However, Qazi added, the United Nations remains opposed to capital punishment, even in the case of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

** Sudan

On the Sudan, turning to Darfur, the UN Mission in the Sudan reports that the overall security situation remains fairly calm during the period of Eid al-Adha, although there were a number of isolated cases of killings and robbery.

And while the deployment of United Nations personnel as part of the “light support package” to the African Union Mission in the Sudan (AMIS) continues, the United Nations is working with the African Union to submit to the Sudanese Government phase two of the three-phased approach to peacekeeping in Darfur.

Meanwhile, the Secretary-General told you a while ago that he had spoken yesterday with Jan Eliasson, his Special Envoy on the Darfur crisis, who is arriving in New York this afternoon, and that he would be meeting with him tomorrow morning.  The Secretary-General is also expected to chair the task force meeting on Darfur later this week, it will be Thursday.  And you heard him -– he said that he intended to attend the African Union summit meeting scheduled in Addis Ababa later this month.

** Somalia

The World Food Programme (WFP) reports that its operations in Somalia have started to return to normal today.  Last Friday, the agency was able to resume humanitarian flights into the country after being forced to suspend them one week ago because of conflict and instability.  For their part, UNICEF is handing out soap and chlorine throughout flood-hit areas and the World Health Organization (WHO) is bolstering the capacity of hospitals in conflict-hit regions with emergency health kits, first aid kits, medicines and medical supplies.  We have more on that upstairs, in the Spokesman’s Office.

** Burundi

On Burundi, the United Nations has completed its peacekeeping mandate in Burundi on 31 December 2006 with the departure of the peacekeepers, the last of whom left Bujumbura last week.  As of yesterday, the United Nations operation in that country is succeeded by an integrated peacebuilding mission with a monitoring and assistance mandate in the areas of good governance, security sector reform and enhancing human rights and the rule of law.

**Security Council

Russia has assumed the rotating presidency of the Security Council for the month of January and Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin will meet with the Secretary-General today in his role as the new Council President.

The Security Council will hold its first consultations for the year, on its programme of work, tomorrow morning, and Ambassador Churkin intends to hold a press conference in this room after those consultations, to discuss the Council’s work over the month.  If consultations end quickly, he could come to this room as early as 11:15; otherwise, his briefing to you may take place later, after tomorrow’s noon briefing.

And I’d just like to remind you that five new members of the Security Council are beginning their two-year terms now:   Belgium, Indonesia, Italy, Panama and South Africa.

**Secretary-General’s Name

For those of you in the media still a bit confused on Korean names, let me clarify how the new Secretary-General should be addressed.  Korean names formally begin with the family name followed by the given name, so his name should be stated as Ban Ki-moon.  His surname is 'Ban' spelled b-a-n and pronounced 'bahn'.  His given name is Ki-moon, with a capital 'K', small 'i', hyphen and small 'm-o-o-n'.  The accurate pronunciation of that would be 'gee-moon'.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Congratulations.  I was just hoping you could square the statement by Mr. Qazi that the United Nations remains opposed to capital punishment.  The Secretary-General did not sound like he was fundamentally opposed to capital punishment, that it was up to Member States to decide, and also -- if you could point to –- within international humanitarian law, whether there are specific prohibitions, conditions on the death penalty that he may have been sort of tacitly referring to in his statement.

Spokesperson:  Yes, I think that what he was tacitly referring to is that there have been several statements made about the fact that the UN and its Human Rights Council do not recognize the death penalty.  And what he said today is a nuance on the situation, stating that we should think first about the victims and the need for justice -– and he did mention that it is up to each country to decide, and he talked about respect for humanitarian law.

Question:  Is he opposed to the death penalty?

Spokesperson:  He just wanted to leave it open to Member States.

Question:  But does this actually reflect a change in the UN policy on the death penalty, because before, every time the death penalty was mentioned, UN officials were opposed to it.  Mr. Ban was questioned twice on this and specifically did not say that.  So does this reflect a change in the UN policy?

Spokesperson:  No, it does not.  The UN policy still remains that the Organization is not for capital punishment.  However, the way the law is applied in different countries, he left it open to those different countries.

Question:  While commenting on Saddam Hussein and capital punishment, the Secretary-General made no reference to the trial that took place, because UN experts, including the former Secretary-General, had said that the trial was not credible.  So where does Mr. Ban Ki-moon stand on that trial?

Spokesperson:  On the trial, he has not commented on it yet, but if you want to have his comments on the trial, I will request some comments. 

Question:  And to follow up on that.  Also, Iraq is occupied and there is a fight against that occupation, and there are rules and laws governing what kinds of trials get held about the people who get captured by the occupiers.  And so I would appreciate a response, because it was not just some country that imposed a death penalty, but it was an occupied country.

Spokesperson:  You want his take on the trial itself…  Yes.

Question:  Many people are feeling that it is a war crime to have done this execution.

Spokesperson:  I will definitely get back to you on this.

Question:  Just wondered in what capacity Ms. Choi will be serving in the Spokesman’s Office and also when we can expect more appointments at senior level.

Spokesperson:  An Information Officer -- we should expect more appointments within the next few weeks.  As you know, the Secretary-General is reviewing different senior posts at this moment.  We should have in the next few days his choice for management and his choice for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.  And probably after that, he is going to be holding consultations with Member States on Deputy Secretary-General.  As you know, we have already announced that it would be a woman from the Third World.  We don’t know anymore at this point.

Question:  You mentioned that the posts for management and OCHA are forthcoming.  Are there any names that you can share with us?  And what sort of decision-making framework Mr. Ban is using?

Spokesperson:  Mr. Ban is just reviewing.  Those two posts happened to be open and available, so he decided to choose two people for those two posts first.  That’s why he is announcing them shortly, probably this week you will have those two names.  The others will take more time.  It is important that he reviews, and he wants to take his time to review each specific case of every senior official here at the United Nations.

Question:  Is Alicia Barcena one of the prime candidates for the management position?

Spokesperson:  I cannot say.

Question:  First, congratulations on your appointment.  Back to the pronunciation of his name.  A lot of people, even here at the UN are saying Ban Ki, but you are telling us it’s Ban Gi?

Spokesperson:  It’s Ban 'gee-moon'.  He joked during the meeting with staff.  He said he does not want to be called “Mr. Ban”, because he is not planning to ban anything.  He is not going to ban any constructive dialogue with the staff –- definitely not.  So it’s ‘bahn gee-moon’.

Question:  Two questions on Darfur.  First, could we request to speak to Jan Eliasson tomorrow, after he sees the Secretary-General?  And second, could you tell us about this task force?  Which task force is this –- can you refresh my memory?

Spokesperson:  Yes, this is a task force that was set up by Secretary-General Kofi Annan a few months ago, and it is going to be just continuing.  As for Mr. Eliasson, we already asked him if he could talk to the press and he is more than willing.

Question:  Who is on this task force?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have the names right now.

Question:  Could you follow through on that?

Spokesperson:  Yes, I will definitely follow up on that.

[She later added that the task force consisted of representatives of UN actors on the ground in Darfur, including UN agencies.  The task force is working to seek a solution to the crisis in Darfur.]

Question:  Jan Eliasson was named shortly before the end of Mr. Annan’s term for a temporary assignment for the Sudan.  What is the status of his position and is there a plan to have him in a different capacity later on?

Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t know yet at this point.  As I said, the Secretary-General is reviewing all senior appointments and he is going to make his decisions known within the next few days.

Question:  So is he staying for now in his temporary assignment?

Spokesperson:  As far as I know, yes.

Question:  Over the holidays, the troops from Ethiopia went all the way and took Mogadishu and Kismayo.  I am wondering if the Secretariat’s representative, Lonseny Fall, has had anything to say about this or whether the new Secretary-General has any thinking on this war in Somalia.

Spokesperson:  We expect to have a statement on Somalia, probably tomorrow, or the next day.  For the time being, the situation is the way it was stated before you left for the Christmas holiday.

Question:  Back on Darfur, is it the Secretary-General’s interpretation of the letter from President Bashir that the way is now clear for not just phase I and phase II, but also phase III -– and has he instructed DPKO to proceed with getting commitments on the troops now?  And also, would the remaining issues be resolved with the deployment of phase II and phase III?  And does he intend to get in touch with President Bashir in the coming days?

Spokesperson:  As you know, this is the first order of business for Secretary-General Ban.  He is going to talk to Mr. Eliasson tomorrow, as I said.  It is going to be Darfur first.  So we do expect to have some position on Darfur and particularly on the implementation of phase III.

Question:  What about DPKO?  Has any decision been made on whether Mr. Guéhenno will stay on the job or will he be replaced?  And also, can we go back to the death penalty?  I am a bit confused.  If the Secretary-General thinks that the position of the UN remains unchanged on this, why did he not restate that the UN is opposed to the death penalty, just like Mr. Qazi did?

Spokesperson:  Oh, I think essentially, because his national position is that there are some countries that do recognize the death penalty, and, from what I gather, he would like to leave it open to the different countries.

Question:  What do you mean by national position?  You started to refer to his national position?

Spokesperson:  No, it’s the fact that the death penalty is authorized.

Question:  And what about DPKO?

Spokesperson:  For DPKO, we have no answer yet.  And we have no decision taken yet on the DPKO post.

Question:  You mentioned that Mr. Ban is still reviewing all senior management positions.  Has there been an effort to extend the contracts of people?  And on some offices that may be in flux, is there a time period?

Spokesperson:  Well, most of the contracts expire at the end of February, from what I gather, so he has that much time ahead of him, except for those two positions I mentioned, management and OCHA.

Question:  Will there be any kind of shortlist published?

Spokesperson:  I don’t think so.  I think you will get the announcement when the decision is taken.

Question:  Welcome and congratulations.  With reference to the Middle East and Lebanon, I wonder if you have been briefed as yet, particularly on the negotiations for the release of three Israeli prisoners of war, particularly the two held as a result of the Lebanon war.  Mr. Annan has sent a facilitator there, who was revealed only to be a male and European.  And there were, of course, separate negotiations for the release of Corporal Shalit with Hamas.  Have you been briefed on that, or has the Secretary-General been briefed on that, and is there anything you can report on that to us?

Spokesperson:  Nothing yet.  As you know, the Secretary-General has spent the whole day dealing with staff issues.  He has not really, except for the position that he has expressed today -– on Darfur, Saddam Hussein and the six-party talks -- he has not really talked about other issues.  He is focusing today on the staff.  He is planning to visit a number of offices this afternoon, so that’s his office today.

Question:  Can we put it on the agenda to have him or you get back to us on that, among various other things?

Spokesperson:  Yes, definitely.

Question:  Mes felicitacions, d’abord.  You indicated that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon indicated to staff that he intends to change the culture within the Secretariat.  Could you specify what that means?

Spokesperson:  Now we have available upstairs the copy of his statement to the staff, and there, he elaborates a little bit more on what he expects of the staff and what he wants.

Question:  Congratulations.  You just mentioned that the Secretary-General mentioned the word “mobile” when describing how he wants the staff to be.  What does that mean?

Spokesperson:  You know that there is a stated policy within the Secretariat –- stated within the last two or three years –- of movement within five years.  There should be movement on the part of the staff either within the Secretariat, or from the Secretariat to Headquarters.  And he just restated the policy that exists already.

Question:  And is this policy actually implemented?

Spokesperson:  Not yet, but it is supposed to be implemented in 2007.

Question:  When the former Secretary-General came in, he did a lot of reshuffling of departments, offices, et cetera.  Does Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon intend to make that sort of major alterations in the number of departments, the number of Under-Secretaries-General?

Spokesperson:  This we don’t know about.  He has been talking about streamlining, but we don’t have any specific information yet as to how streamlining would be carried out and whether he is planning to eliminate some posts, or not.

Question:  On the shortlist, does that mean the policy of producing shortlists for major posts is over?  And just a quick question peacekeeping.  There is a report that the conditions are not right for a peacekeeping mission in Chad and the Central African Republic and basically arguing against that peacekeeping mission.  Is Secretary-General Ban going to be transmitting that message to the Security Council?

Spokesperson:  I need to check on that one. 

[The correspondent was later informed that the UN Secretariat had already briefed the Security Council twice last month on that topic.]

Question:  And another small thing.  When I asked him about his information policy, he said that the UN would encourage senior management to talk to Member States…

Spokesperson:  And the press.

Question:  OK.  So it was a little bit unclear.  I was wondering:  when Kofi Annan arrived, he gave us this bulletin, which explained what the information policy was and in which he basically authorized any staff member to talk to members of the press on issues under their competence.  So if we could have a very clear statement of Mr. Ban Ki-moon’s information policy as to what he supports and whether he supports staff speaking to the press…

Spokesperson:  Very well.  I will get back to you on this.

Question:  The shortlist -- is that finished then, as a policy?

Spokesperson:  No, I don’t think it is finished.  Right now, he is studying options, so maybe he will come up with a shortlist, we don’t know yet.

Question:  I also want to welcome you, and also make a mention of the important tradition that you and your sadly deceased husband established in Haiti.  We are very proud to have you here.

Let me just say that I was happy that Ban Ki-moon said that challenges should be addressed collectively, but the practice of the Security Council is exactly the opposite, at least in the case of Iran and in the case of North Korea.  There were sanctions imposed when there were serious disputes on the question, and the parties who were getting the sanctions got no chance to have their ideas and experience heard.  So if there could be some way of dealing and helping to negotiate the situation.  So the question is will there be some effort on the part of the new Secretary-General to have this policy of collective including the people who are being the object of sanctions, so there is some effort to resolve the issue before imposing the sanctions?

Spokesperson:  He has expressed already that he is planning to stress a lot of dialogue, to really discuss issues as much as possible, so we should expect more dialogue and more discussions.

Question:  On the question of the death penalty -- how does that statement that Mr. Ban wants to leave it open to those countries that recognize the death penalty to do that -– how is that consistent with the UN’s opposition to capital punishment?

Spokesperson:  Well, as I said, he stated both today and the general position of the UN stands.

Question:  But why did Mr. Ban want to make an exception for those countries that do recognize the death penalty if the position of the Organization is to be opposed to it?

Spokesperson:  If you need more clarifications on his part, I will ask him to provide them.

Question:  I think you confirmed that the Secretary-General plans to travel to Addis Ababa for an African Union meeting.  Is that, in fact, happening and also do you know what the itinerary is going to be?  And will the Ethiopia-Somalia issue be under discussion while he is attending that meeting?

Spokesperson:  I can tell you that plans have not been finalized yet for that trip, so we cannot at this point release any specific information on exactly where he is going to go and what the topics will be.

Question:  Most of new Secretary-General’s crises are in Africa and with the new African member of the Security Council, will he meet with South Africa or will he rely a lot on South Africa?

Spokesperson:  Well, I cannot say at this point –- I think that he wants to stress dialogue and he is planning to talk to everybody.

Question:  I just wanted to triple confirm on the pronunciation -– maybe you can spell out:  “g-i” you are saying -– not “k-i”?

Spokesperson:  Yes, it is just the way I was told –- it’s ‘bahn gee-moon’.

Question:  We should use a “g” then?

Spokesperson:  It’s pronounced “g”.

Question:  On the first day, isn’t he sending a mixed message on the Iraq death penalty situation?  You have a Special Representative saying “we oppose it, it’s a violation” –- all of that –- and then the Secretary-General comes in and says:  “Well, it’s up to every country”.  On his first day in office, you have this man [talkover] Does the UN want to get more involved in Iraq or does it not want to?

Spokesperson:  I don’t think this was the issue.  The issue was the actual execution, and he stressed, when he started the statement –- let me stress that -– he said first we have to think of the victims, which means that the need for justice was stressed from the start of his statement.

Question:  On North Korea -– that issue only partially runs through the UN.  Do you know what he had in mind there?

Spokesperson:  Well, he talked about dialogue in this case, using his good offices.  As you know, the UN is not directly involved, but he said that he would use his good offices to help the six-party talks to move forward.

Question:  With Ban Ki-moon being just so recently the Foreign Minister of South Korea, is he going to have some special channels of communication open with that country still?  Will he be involved in some kind of official or unofficial kind of special communication with South Korea, as he takes office?

Spokesperson:  He is now the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

Question:  So no special relationship with South Korea?

Spokesperson:  Of course, there will always be a special relationship –- it is his country.  But he is essentially the Secretary-General.

Question:  A follow-up question regarding this appointment -- I see that the new Secretary-General has picked India as the chief of the cabinet, and he has promised to pick somebody from the Third World for the Deputy Secretary-General.  Now, what kind of message does that send to the other parts of the world and is he going to keep two Indians as top management staff?

Spokesperson:  We don’t know yet and, in the terms of the message he sends, I think that message is strong.  He is talking about geographical distribution, he is talking about gender parity a lot.

I think we are going to have to stop it here.  It’s way past the time I am assigned, but I am sure I will get a chance to talk to all of you separately and I wish you a very happy New Year.  And once more, I am happy to be here.

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For information media • not an official record