23 July 2007
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing

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


The following is a near-verbatim transcript of the noon briefing by Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.  I’m sorry I’m a little late.

**Statement on Seat of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon

I have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the seat of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.

Today, the Secretary-General of the United Nations sent a letter to the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, in which he invites the Government of the Netherlands to consider hosting the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.

In his letter, the Secretary-General stresses the fact that the Netherlands already hosts several courts and tribunals, such as the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Court and the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, and that the experience gained could be of great value for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.

The Secretary-General hopes that the Government of the Netherlands will give serious consideration to the request.  He intends to be in close contact with the Government to discuss any issues related to the request.

**Statement on death of King of Afghanistan

And another statement I have, and this one on the death of the former King of Afghanistan.

The Secretary-General was deeply saddened by the death of Mohammad Zahir Shah, the former King of Afghanistan.  He sends his most sincere condolences to the family of Mohammad Zahir Shah and to the Afghan Government and its people.

Mohammad Zahir Shah will be remembered for the long period of peace and development during his reign.  He was responsible for adopting a Constitution in 1964 that was a model of tolerance, as well as a synthesis of the best of Islamic and modern political thought.  The international community remains grateful for the dignity and grace with which he accepted to surrender monarchical claims in 2004 in favour of a republican Government based on a new Constitution, accepting instead the title of “father of the nation”.

Mohammad Zahir Shah spent one third of his life in exile, while several coups, an invasion and a civil war engulfed his country.  He returned in 2002 to lend his prestige and efforts to supporting the establishment of a democratic Government and national reconciliation.  All those working towards these goals will mourn his death.

** Afghanistan

And also today, Tom Koenigs, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, said that the king’s presence at the opening of the new Afghan National Assembly in December 2005 had been “a guarantee that a renewed constitutional order would safeguard the lives and rights of all Afghans”.

And the spokesman for the UN Mission in Afghanistan was asked at the weekly press briefing about the increase in abductions in the country, and said it is a matter of serious concern, with the Mission appealing repeatedly in recent months for the protection of civilians.

We have the Kabul briefing notes and the statement on the king upstairs.

**Security Council

And here in the Security Council this morning, it received a briefing by Ambassador Jorge Voto-Bernales of Peru, the chair of the Council’s sanctions committee on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, on the latest report issued by the group of experts dealing with those sanctions.  A draft resolution was circulated to extend the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) sanctions by a year.

Afterwards, the Security Council adopted a presidential statement on the DRC, which expressed deep concern at the deteriorating security situation in the Kivus in the eastern part of that country.  The Security Council also adopted a resolution extending the mandate of the Monitoring Group dealing with sanctions on Somalia for a further six months.

Also in its closed consultations this morning, the Security Council heard from Ambassador Jean Marc de La Sablière of France, who presented the annual report of the Security Council’s working group on children and armed conflict.  And the item on Georgia has been postponed from the Council at least until Thursday, we are told, from the Council’s schedule.

** Sudan

And turning to Sudan, the UN Mission there reports new population displacements in West Darfur, where it says an estimated 12,000 households were on the move.  The newly displaced people said they were fleeing prevailing insecurity in their areas in anticipation of a rumoured attack by Government forces.

Also over the weekend, a NGO vehicle was carjacked in South Darfur, and harassments of internally displaced persons were reported during an UN assessment of a camp for displaced persons in Nyala in south Darfur.

** Somalia

And on Somalia, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports that more people have fled Somali since June than have returned to it, with over 10,000 residents fleeing war-scarred Mogadishu last week alone.

Meanwhile, UN agencies estimate that the number of internally displaced people are at 400,000 for this year, and many among them were displaced several times as a result of the ongoing conflict. 

Restrictions on daily activities in Mogadishu have also placed some among the most vulnerable people at greater risk as their livelihoods have been made even more precarious with the closing of the Bakara market, a wholesale market in Mogadishu, with the price sugar today already more than twice what it was last week.  Meanwhile, security in Mogadishu deteriorated with the start of the National Reconciliation Conference on 15 July, which was adjourned on the same day because of mortar attacks.  The Conference resumed last Thursday, but seven mortar attacks were reported at day's end, resulting in a number of people killed, including six children reported killed. 

** C ôte d’Ivoire

And the UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire reported this weekend that the Moroccan contingent serving in the mission was suspended and cantoned following allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by soldiers based in Bouaké.  The OIOS (Office of Internal Oversight Services) is finalizing its investigation report into these allegations.

Meanwhile, representatives from the Department of Field Support and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations have met with officials of that country last week and again today to discuss the situation.  Both Departments stress their determination to make whatever necessary action to ensure that all UN personnel are held accountable to the highest standards of behaviour.

**Secretary-General’s report on Georgia

And out as a document today is the Secretary-General’s most recent report on the situation in Abkhazia, Georgia.  In it, the Secretary-General says he hopes that the outcome of the meeting of the Group of Friends for Georgia, chaired by the United Nations on 27 and 28 June, in Bonn, will lead to tangible improvements on the ground.

The Secretary-General also stresses that both sides need to resume contacts and implement the agreed confidence-building measures.

** Myanmar

And turning to Myanmar, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Myanmar, Ibrahim Gambari, arrived today in Moscow where he is scheduled to hold consultations with senior Government officials there.  He will then travel to Paris, Brussels and London for further meetings with Government and European Union counterparts.  He will also meet with other UN officials in Geneva before returning to New York over the weekend. 

Mr. Gambari's consultations are all taking place within the context of the Secretary-General's good offices mandate for Myanmar.

**Former Yugoslavia

And then on the former Yugoslavia, late on Friday, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia decided to revoke the referral of the Sredoje Lukic case to Bosnia and Herzegovina, thus clearing the way for it to be tried jointly in The Hague with the case of Milan Lukic

The Tribunal’s referral bench found that a joint trial is in the interest of justice, as the two cases are factually very closely related.  The bench also found that separate trials would have risked increasing the trauma for witnesses, who would have had to testify twice.  Both men are charged with multiple crimes, including the murder of several dozen Bosnian Muslim women, children and elderly men in and around the town of Višegrad.

According to the indictment, Milan Lukic was the leader of the "White Eagles" or "Avengers", a group of Bosnian Serb paramilitaries in Višegrad, where the other Mr. Lukic -- Milan Lukic's cousin -- was a member of the unit.

There’s more information on this upstairs.

**Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women

And the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women is observing its twenty-fifth anniversary, here at Headquarters.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, addressed the meeting this morning and said that by promoting the Committee and women’s human rights generally, the entire human rights agenda was pushed forward.  Arbour also noted that the Committee was the first UN body to make a recommendation on female circumcision and the first treaty body to adopt a general recommendation on HIV/AIDs.

** China

And then in response to -– this is my last item -– in response to some questions we had over the weekend, an application for UN membership by Taiwan was conveyed by the Permanent Representatives of two Member States.  In keeping with resolution 2758 of the General Assembly, it could not be received and was, thus, returned by the United Nations Office of Legal Affairs.

And as you know, resolution 2758, which was adopted in 1971, is the basis of the one-China policy of the United Nations.

**Guest at Noon tomorrow

And that’s what I have for you.  Just to flag a couple of press conferences tomorrow.

Our guest at the noon briefing tomorrow will be John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and the UN’s Emergency Relief Coordinator.  He will brief you on the humanitarian crises in southern Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and elsewhere. 

**Press Conference tomorrow

And also tomorrow at 2 p.m., there will be a press conference by Laurie Blum, an artist, who will brief you on her ongoing art exhibit at the UN entitled, “Shiraz: the city of Paradise”.  This press conference is sponsored by the Mission of Iran.

That’s what I have for you.  Let’s start in the front. 

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Two questions:  One is, on Saturday, Ban Ki-moon spoke with the President of Afghanistan about these hostages.  The statement you put out was that he urged the Government to do its utmost to secure the early release of the abductees.  Can you say what his position is on this idea of the swapping of hostages for Taliban prisoners.  What more can you say and has he heard back since then from Afghanistan?

Deputy Spokesperson:  As you know, we did issue a readout on the conversation he had with President Karzai, I believe it was early Saturday morning.  So you have that.

In terms of details of any kind of efforts underway, I think that is not something we would say publicly for security reasons. 

And your question is: Is he in touch?  Yes, I think through the UN Mission in Afghanistan, the Special Representative, Mr. Koenigs, is keeping him on top of the situation.

Question:  I just want to say, it wasn’t about logistics, it was more what his position is.  He’s quoted as saying, “do your utmost”, the question is, what is he urging President Karzai to do?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think he did not mean anything specifically, and as I said, I don’t think that he would be going public with anything as sensitive as trying to secure release of hostages.

Mr. Abbadi

Question:  Thank you, Marie.  Marie in his article on Friday in the New York Times the US Ambassador Khalilzad called on the UN to appoint a special envoy to the Middle East process.  And he touched briefly on the mandate of such an envoy and it seemed to fit the CV of Ambassador Brahimi.  Is Ambassador Brahimi being considered for such a mission?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General already has an envoy to the Middle East.  So I don’t think at this point there’s any other consideration. 

Question:  Former Prime Minister Blair has arrived in Tel Aviv to start negotiations, I mean –- talks -- with the Israeli Government.  But, as [inaudible] Mr. Blair, he’s the former Prime Minister, but he is not in power, he’s totally, I mean -- basically he’s impotent to do anything.  So without any talks with Hamas, his mission being successful is totally not there.  So what is it, how can the United Nations facilitate him -– empower him -– to make any kind of move.  If he’s not empowered, he is finished.

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think those questions probably need to be referred to Tony Blair himself.  In terms of the position of what the Secretary-General has said and the Quartet, I refer you to his statement.  But in terms of what he is doing out there on this mission, I will refer you to his –

Question:  He’s going to be meeting with Prime Minister of Israel and Mr. Mahmoud Abbas, but, of course, he’s not going to be meeting with HamasHamas is a very important part.

Deputy Spokesperson:  As I said, I think specifically for that, you probably need to refer that to Tony Blair’s people.

Question:  But he represents the Quartet and the United Nations is part of the Quartet.

Deputy Spokesperson:  The Quartet’s position has been made clear in its

statements.  Yes?

Question:  On this internal investigation on this sexual abuse in Côte d’Ivoire.  Do we expect in a report on this investigation and how widespread is this sexual abuse among the [inaudible] contingent or the other member of the [inaudible] force?

Deputy Spokesperson:  There is a press release upstairs issued by the Mission that you should take a look at, which is the basis of my note today.  In terms of how widespread, obviously, they’re still looking into that.  Therefore, I cannot tell you that today.  We have asked for a briefing by the DPKO as soon as possible, to brief you on the state of play regarding the recent allegations.

Question:  With reference to this proposed Lebanese tribunal in the Netherlands.  Is that intended to be held specifically in The Hague, or has that been specified yet, or would it be assumed that it would be held there.

Deputy Spokesperson:  I refer you to the statement.  I think it made it pretty clear.  The letter was addressed to the Government of the Netherlands for it to make a decision.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Should it decide to do so.

Question:  I assume this letter, just to follow up on the Tribunal thing, it followed consultations, so can we consider it to be sort of a formality?  I mean, is it already -- the Dutch Government indicated it has accepted this hosting.

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, the announcement I’m making today is the announcement that the Secretary-General has just a few minutes ago transmitted this letter officially to the Government of the Netherlands.

Question:  But I think that was on the basis of consultations.  He wouldn’t like surprise the Dutch Government and send a letter asking…

Deputy Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General is always in consultations on the issues that he’s involved with.

Question:  Can we expect a date for the beginning of the work of the court or it just stands that, you know…

Deputy Spokesperson:  The letter just went to the Government of the Netherlands, so it would be up to the Government of the Netherlands to respond to us and then we will convey the decision based on what they tell us.

Question:  Just to follow up on that then, I basically have the same question, but have you had an indication from the Dutch Government that they will be willing to accept this tribunal already?

And I just had another couple of quick questions.  You mentioned this two countries that put in Taiwan’s membership bid.  Which two were they and just explain to me a little bit more about why that was not allowed to be accepted.

And then, just finally, on the Abkhazia report, did that contain the findings?  Or, if not, when will see the findings of this investigation into that rocket attack in Abkhazia?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think while you were gone there was something on the findings on the rocket attack.  If you go up to my office we can get you something on that.

You asked about the two countries.  I’m not sure I’m at liberty to tell you what the two countries are.  Obviously, they were not Taiwan.  The logic, as I explained to you, is in keeping with the past practice, and it is based on the resolution from 1971 that is the basis of the “One China” policy of the UN.

Question:  So [talk-over] then, on the basis of that, Taiwan, will never be allowed for the rest of human history, to have other countries apply on its behalf for UN membership?

Deputy Spokesperson:  It would be entirely up to the membership of the United Nations to decide on the future membership of the United Nations.

Question:  How do they decide upon it if they can’t respond to a request?  That’s why I’m confused.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the rejection of this letter is based on a General Assembly resolution.  So, I don’t want to speculate, but I suppose the General Assembly Member States would then have to look at that resolution.

Question:  So I’m just…

Deputy Spokesperson:  In other words, Mark, I think what we’re saying here is that it’s really up to the Member States of this Organization to decide on the future course of how it deals with new membership.

Question:  Right.  And just finally on the tribunal then.  I mean, did Ban Ki-moon have a discussion with the Dutch Government in which they indicated they would open to this?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I can only say what I read to you officially in the statement about the letter, which literally went to them just a few minutes ago.

Question:  You indicated that the committee on non-discrimination against women is holding its meeting today on special occasions.  Yesterday, for the first time, a president was elected –- a woman in India.  Has the Secretary-General sent congratulatory notes to the Government of India on this occasion?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General generally sends in practice a letter on the inauguration.  And so, if past practice is followed that’s probably what it is.  In terms of women being elected leaders of the world, I am sure the Secretary-General would welcome that.

Question:  When the letter was sent to Ban Ki-moon?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The letter was sent from the Secretary-General?

Correspondent:  Yes.

Deputy Spokesperson:  A few minutes ago.

Question:  Can we have the text of this?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t believe so, but you can pick up the statement, which does outline the rationale and the reason for the request.

Question:  Can we assume after this letter that there will be meetings between the UN and the Dutch to set the details and [inaudible]…

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General says that he intends to be in close contact with the Government to discuss any issues related to the request.

Question:  Did the Secretary-General mention anything about the Korean or German hostages this morning?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, not this morning, but we have a readout of the Secretary-General’s conversation he had with President Karzai on early Saturday morning, which, I think, maybe you have missed it, but we mentioned this at the beginning of the briefing.  And you can get a copy of that upstairs.

Question:  There’s a report in the New York Times yesterday about the Ogaden region of Somalia, saying that the UN’s World Food Programme is quoted as saying, “you can’t get food in”.  In other words, humanitarian workers saying there’s a starve-out-the-population strategy.  The people in that region called for some kind of UN inquiry.  So one, are you aware of that call for an inquiry?  And two, what is the UN going to do if its humanitarian agencies are denied access to regions they are supposed to be serving?

Deputy Spokesperson:  To be completely truthful, I have received many pages of reaction from the humanitarian agencies on this report.  So, I think I’d rather share with you this report afterwards.  OCHA -- the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs -- the World Food Programme and the World Health Organization, all of which have programmes in this region which they consider to be the poorest area of Ethiopia, have reactions to this.  And rather than go through the whole Q&A here, I think I would rather share the whole thing with you afterwards.

Question:  Can I ask you, there’s a report about Kosovo, that the German Foreign Minister that it should now refer to a troika of the EU, the US and Russia and it’s unclear if he called for it or somebody else called for it, but that Ban Ki-moon should replace Martti Ahtisaari as the Envoy.

Deputy spokesperson:  I’m sorry.  What is the question again?

Question:  I guess the question is, given that –- I know late last week –- you said it’s in the Security Council -– Kosovo -– we can’t comment on it.  Given that now, basically, that resolution is on ice, what is going to be Mr. Ahtisaari’s and Ban Ki-moon’s involvement on the Kosovo issue, whether it goes to the Contact Group or this newly proposed troika.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General, as he’s indicated, is encouraging the earliest possible solution.  As far as the Secretary-General’s concerned, he still has the UN Mission in Kosovo, which has been mandated to him to operate.  And Mr. Ahtisaari still has a mandate and is available as needed.

And just one more thing on the Ethiopia story, the New York Times story that you referred to, as I mentioned earlier, John Holmes, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs will be here tomorrow.  So, I think maybe he will in a better position to also brief you on that.

Question:  This idea that the UNDP complainant for whistle-blower status, I think it’s been said that they would rule in 45 days.  So I think he turned in his complaint on 5 June.  Is there now a ruling by the Ethics Office on whether the individual is a whistle-blower or not?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I’m not aware there’s been a ruling yet, but I can look into that for you.

[The Deputy Spokesperson later added that, as has been indicated previously, the Protection against Retaliation Bulletin (ST/SGB/2005/21) provides that the Ethics Office will seek to complete its preliminary review within 45 days. The Ethics Office has indicated that they require additional time and have also advised the complainant.]

Question:  On Iraq, I wanted to find out from you that since the American Ambassador and the United States Government have been asking the United Nations to get more involved, has the Secretary-General started talks with UN officials and different agencies on the ramifications and the logistics of getting involved again in Iraq, as yet?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think his position again on this, as was outlined as early as Friday at the Iraq Compact meeting that was held here, the Secretary-General’s intention is that he would like to do whatever he can to help the people of Iraq depending on the circumstances on the ground and with the mandate of the mission and the mandate of his Special Representative of the Secretary-General coming up, this is obviously an area that he is looking at quite closely.  And yes, he is always in close consultation with his UN counterparts.

Question:  So, am I to understand that these talks will continue in the forum of the Global Compact?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, no.  I’m just saying that if you look at the statement that was made, delivered by the Deputy Secretary-General, you can see what the UN thinking is on it.  I was just pointing that out as recently as Friday that was spelled out.

Anyway, if there are no questions for me, have a good afternoon.

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For information media • not an official record