DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Fred Eckhard, Spokesman for the Secretary-General, and Jan Fischer, Spokesman for the President of the General Assembly.
Our guest at today's briefing is Mr. Kenzo Oshima, who is just arriving. He is the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and also the Emergency Relief Coordinator, and he will be talking about the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan in just a few minutes.
**Statement by the Secretary-General
I have a statement here by the Secretary-General on the humanitarian crisis in and around Afghanistan. It reads:
"I strongly support the statement issued yesterday by the leaders of all the branches of the United Nations involved in humanitarian action.
"The plight of the civilian Afghan population is indeed desperate.
"More than two decades of conflict, seven years of oppressive rule by the Taliban regime and three years of severe drought have left more than five million people dependent on foreign aid for their very survival.
"Now, tragically, that aid has been interrupted.
"Those who deliberately withhold food supplies from starving people, and attack or impede humanitarian relief workers, whether local or international, should know that the international community will hold them responsible.
"Many Afghans are trying to flee their country but find it difficult to cross the borders.
"In accordance with international law, the borders must be open to civilians seeking refuge. At the same time, the international community must send swift and generous help so that refugees do not become an impossible burden on the neighbouring States.
"Innocent civilians should not be punished for the actions of their government. The world is united against terrorism, let it be equally united in protecting and assisting the innocent victims of emergencies and disasters."
Yesterday afternoon, the heads of six UN agencies and offices –- Carol Bellamy of UNICEF, Catherine Bertini of WFP, Ruud Lubbers of UNHCR, Mark Malloch Brown of UNDP, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Kenzo Oshima and Mary Robinson
High Commissioner for Human Rights -- issued a joint statement warning of the humanitarian crisis looming in Afghanistan.
Today, WFP announced it would resume cross-border operations to move food on a trial basis to the northern and western parts of the country. The WFP said many of the people there have enough food for one week only. The area is the epicenter of the country’s devastating food crisis.
UNHCR, as part of its efforts to prepare for a possible mass exodus of Afghans to neighbouring countries, said representatives from UN agencies, non-governmental organizations and the Pakistan government plan to travel Wednesday to evaluate 75 potential camp sites in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province.
UNHCR noted in today’s Afghanistan update that at least two women gave birth at the border over the past week. They were allowed to enter Pakistan, given medical treatment and then sent back.
In Iran, UNHCR and Iranian government refugee officials continue to identify potential camp sites in the border area.
In Islamabad, a meeting between the UN Humanitarian Coordinator, Michael Sackett, and the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan today proved inconclusive regarding the cut-off of communication between UN national staff and the outside world.
Mary Robinson, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, addressed a one-day informal meeting of the Commission for Human Rights today.
Afterwards, in a press conference in Geneva, she told journalists that the events of 11 September in the United States were not only acts of terrorism but could also be characterized as crimes against humanity.
“If these are crimes against humanity,” she said, “every country would owe a duty to work with the United Nations, work with the United States, to bring the perpetrators to justice.”
The High Commissioner added that all the members of the Commission of Human Rights had begun their work by standing in a minute of silence to honor the victims and families of the terrorist attacks.
We also have copies of the speech that she gave to the Commission.
**World Health Organization
Gro Harlem Brundtland, the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) said yesterday that countries must prepare for the possibility that chemical or biological agents might be used as terror weapons. At a meeting of Health Ministers of the Western Hemisphere in Washington, United States, she said that proper surveillance and quick and coordinated responses are vital to contain the use of agents such as anthrax or smallpox before they infect large numbers of people. She added that the WHO had stepped up its capacity to help countries to respond to any such attack. More information is available on their Web site.
At the same meeting, the Director of the Pan American Health Organization, George Alleyne, said terrorism was a new disease “the treatment for which is eternal vigilance; a disease for which no vaccine or drug exists except the confidence and goodwill of men and women”.
We have two press releases with more information in my office.
This morning the Security Council met in closed consultations to discuss the report of the Working Group on Peacekeeping Operations entitled No Exit Without Strategy. The work of this group has been led by Ambassador Curtis Ward of Jamaica.
A draft resolution on the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia was introduced, and is expected to be adopted tomorrow.
UNHCR reports that the rate of refugees' returns to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia from Kosovo has fallen to just under 200 per day and says that uncertainty continues over the security arrangements after NATO ends its arms—collection mission on the 26 September. UNHCR has warned that a security vacuum could trigger a new round of violence and displacement.
**United States Payment
The Secretary-General was pleased by the decision of the United States Congress to authorize payment of $582 million dollars, in partial settlement of the dues owed to the United Nations. He wishes to thank Mr. Ted Turner for his remarkable role in facilitating this payment, and salutes him for his visionary leadership as a true global citizen.
The Secretary-General hopes that all outstanding financial issues between the United States and the United Nations can be resolved as soon as possible, in order to put this issue behind us once and for all.
On Iraq, the stalemate in the Security Council over the issue of the frequency for reviewing prices for Iraqi crude oil deliveries continues. This has prevented the approval of prices for Iraqi crude oil to the United States market in September.
Nevertheless, according to the weekly update from the Office of the Iraq Programme, the flow of Iraqi oil exports in the week ending on 21 September was strong. At an average rate of over 2.3 million barrels per day, a total of 16.4 million barrels of oil were lifted from the two authorized loading terminals of Mina al-Bakr and Ceyhan.
The Chairman of the Sanction Committee, Ambassador Ole Peter Kolby of Norway, informs us that he is in close contact with the other members of the Committee to gather their views on how they perceive the situation following yesterday’s Security Council consultations and get their advice on how to address the current situation.
At this time, the Chairman has decided that there is no basis for a new formal meeting of the Sanctions Committee.
Sefer Halilovic, the former Chief of the Supreme Command Staff of the Bosnian Army, today voluntarily surrendered himself to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and has been transferred to the Tribunal's Detention Unit.
Halilovic was initially indicted by the Tribunal this July, on charges of war crimes relating to the killings of Bosnian Croats in the villages of Grabovica and Uzdol in September 1993.
We have a press release from the Tribunal.
Today in Amman, at a meeting of major donors and host countries of the UN Relief Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), the representative of the European Union said it will continue to urge the Israeli authorities to ease the restrictions on the movement of UNRWA staff and humanitarian supplies.
Earlier, UNRWA officials had briefed participants at this two-day meeting on the restrictions imposed on staff and humanitarian aid in Gaza and the West Bank since the start of the current Intifadah.
The United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone today announced that the Civil Defence Force (CDF) and the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) began handing over their weapons in the towns of Bo and Bombali, and that more than 70 combatants had been disarmed on the first day of disarmament in the two cities.
The East Timor Gender and Constitutional Working Group today handed a report on women’s rights to Special Representative Sergio Vieira de Mello. The report, which will be presented to the Constituent Assembly for its consideration when drafting the Constitution, reflects the aspirations and desires of women from all 13 districts, based on meetings, congresses and interviews conducted in 2000-2001. The report is backed up by 8,000 signatures.
There are more details in the briefing notes from Dili.
Budget news -- Myanmar became the 119th Member State to pay its 2001 regular budget dues for this year, with just over $100,000.
Two more World Chronicle programmes will air today at 3.30p.m. on in-house channels 3 or 31. One will feature John Langmore, Director of the Division for Social Policy and Development of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs. And then one at 4.00 p.m. will feature John Richardson, Head of the European Commission Delegation to the United Nations.
Finally, as you know, UN Security has been reviewing our safety procedures, including for evacuation of the building.
They have decided that we will need a practice evacuation, and they have scheduled one for Friday afternoon of this week. We will give you the exact times later.
So on that day, all individuals, from delegates in the General Assembly to Secretariat staff from the roof to the basement, to you -- the working press -- will have to leave the building.
You will not be able to report or broadcast from this building during this exercise. We don't know how long it will take; we estimate an hour and a half or so. So let's stay in touch as the week progresses and please start making contingency plans for you to do your work on Friday afternoon.
That is all I have before we go to Jan and then to Mr. Oshima. Yes?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Did you mention one border or borders to be opened?
Spokesman: Borders must be open as a matter of principle.
Question: If a war starts, how will innocent Afghani people get assistance from the United Nations?
Spokesman: Well, let's not speculate about wars. We have Afghans on the move now. Many of them are not able to cross the border into neighbouring states. We did note that Pakistan has reported that part of its border with Afghanistan has been opened today, so we are doing what we can to get tents andrelief supplies. As I already mentioned we are scouting out sites for camps both in Pakistan and Iran, and as I also already mentioned, the World Food Programme is resuming its food aid to the interior, to within Afghanistan today, on a trial basis. So we are doing whatever we can, but the fear is that there could be massive migration from Afghanistan to the neighbouring countries. We hope that does not happen.
Any other questions before we go to Jan? OK, Jan?
Briefing by the Spokesman for the President of the General Assembly
Yesterday, the General Assembly heard 25 speakers on the annual report of the Secretary-General and as there were still 45 remaining on the speakers' list this morning, we may not be able to finish today. Before giving the floor to
the first speaker this morning, the President of the General Assembly outlined the programme of work for the next two weeks.
On Monday, as you know, there will be a debate on measures to eliminate international terrorism and as we are already up to 107 speakers, it will go over at least three days.
On Thursday, 4 October, the General Assembly is expected to take up the report of the Security Council. The report should be out on the racks tomorrow as document A/56/2.
On 8 October there will be the election of five non-permanent Members of the Security Council. Let me recall that the five Members whose term will expire at the end of the year are Bangladesh, Jamaica, Mali, Tunisia and Ukraine.
And finally, on 12 October the General Assembly and the Security Council will hold meetings to elect a Member of the International Court of Justice. Elections of Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Members are expected later in October.
The Assembly President also met with the chairmen of the Main Committees yesterday who outlined their plan of work. It looks as if there are not many that can bring their work forward. Most of them will start their substantive work on 8 October. The Second and the Third Committee are still considering whether it may be possible to start on Monday, but it depends on documentation and other items. I will keep you updated on that one.
That is all I have.
Any questions for Jan?
* *** *