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.
The Secretary-General attended the Security Council’s closed consultations on Iraq this morning, and talked with Council members about his meetings yesterday with an Iraqi delegation led by Foreign Minister Naji Sabri.
He spoke to you just a few minutes ago, and said, “We’re at a very early stage, so we should not declare success or failure just yet.” However, he added, “we’re off to a good start.” He noted that he expects to continue talks with Iraq sometime in mid-April.
In response to questions, the Secretary-General said that Iraq had raised questions on some topics, including “no-fly” zones and the way the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, or UNMOVIC, is to work. He said the Iraqi delegation also indicated they had certain items of Kuwaiti property that they want to return, adding, “What is important is they move on with compliance.”
Following the Secretary-General’s discussion, the Council went on to hear from Hans Blix, the Executive Chairman of UNMOVIC, about the Commission’s latest report on its readiness to carry out its work. That discussion just concluded a few minutes ago.
In about an hour from now, the Council members will hold their monthly luncheon with the Secretary-General.
**International Women’s Day
Today is International Women’s Day and we are pleased to let you know that the status of women in the United Nations has been improving slowly but steadily. Angela King, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, told the Secretary-General this week that the number of women in professional posts at the United Nations has been increasing by one per cent per year over the past five years. Women currently comprise 40.4 per cent of professional staff on appointments subject to geographical distribution, compared with 29.2 per cent 10 years ago in 1991. As for the national competitive and language examinations, 54.2 per cent of professionals recruited through those tests from July 2000 to June 2001 have been women.
The Day is being observed here at United Nations Headquarters, as well as at United Nations offices around the world, with a special focus on the situation of women in Afghanistan. I have a separate item on Afghanistan in a few minutes.
The programme in New York began with a short video on women in Afghanistan. The Secretary-General in his remarks said, “Let the women of Afghanistan be our reminder, as well as our inspiration. Let us men remember that the achievement of women’s rights is not the responsibility of women alone –- it is the responsibility of us all.”
Other speakers included the President of the General Assembly, this month’s President of the Security Council, Queen Noor and United States First Lady, Laura Bush.
In other news of Women’s Day, the United Nations Children's Fund has said that every minute a woman dies while pregnant or giving birth. Carol Bellamy, the Executive Director of UNICEF, said that the figures were unacceptable. “As we mark International Women’s Day,” she said, “we must commit ourselves to addressing this fundamental aspect of the gender gap: keeping prospective mothers healthy and alive.”
The ratio of maternal mortality in developed and developing countries varies widely. Women in developing countries face as high as a one in 13 chance of dying in childbirth, while in developed countries that risk falls to one in 4,100.
We have a number of press releases and copies of speeches and messages available in my office.
The Secretary-General announced today the appointment of Anwarul Karim Chowdhury of Bangladesh as the High Representative for Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States. Mr. Chowdhury recently completed his assignment as Permanent Representative of Bangladesh to the United Nations in New York. He also served as Bangladesh's Ambassador to Chile, Nicaragua, Peru and Venezuela, as well as Bangladesh's High Commissioner to the Bahamas and Guyana. He served as Vice-President of the Economic and Social Council here at the UN in 1997 and 1998. From 1990 to 1993, Mr. Chowdhury was the UNICEF director in Japan, Australia and New Zealand.
On the Middle East, Kamal Hamdan, a staff member of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), was killed late yesterday afternoon when several bullets were fired by Israeli soldiers on a UN ambulance, in which he was riding, near Tulkarm in the West Bank.
Mr. Hamdan had been aiding an UNRWA medical team that was transporting a critically wounded camp resident to hospital. The critically wounded camp resident died en route. Mr. Hamdan is the first United Nations staff member to be killed since the current violence between Israelis and Palestinians began in September 2000.
The Secretary-General, in a statement issued yesterday afternoon, condemned the killing, which has occurred despite repeated letters of protest from UNRWA Commissioner-General Peter Hansen to the Israeli Government about the damage sustained by UNRWA facilities as a result of earlier attacks by Israeli Defence Forces against Palestinian targets.
He appealed to the Government of Israel to thoroughly investigate the incident and to take the necessary action against those responsible, and conveyed his deepest sympathy and condolences to Mr. Hamdan’s family. We have the full text upstairs.
The situation on the ground, particularly in Tulkarm, remains difficult today. Peter Hansen visited Tulkarm today to assess personally the situation in two refugee camps in that town, and he expressed his dismay at the apparently indiscriminate shooting from helicopter gunships at the camp population. Many of the casualties were women and children.
The Relief and Works Agency has reported today that as many as five ambulances have been hit within the past 24 hours, in a disturbing new development. There are also confirmed reports that male refugees over the age of 16 have this afternoon been rounded up and detained in one of the UNRWA schools in the camp.
We have a press release from UNRWA with more information.
Late yesterday afternoon, the Secretary-General also issued a statement on this weekend’s elections in Zimbabwe, in which he encouraged voters to exercise their democratic right to vote for the candidate of their choice, without fear and in the knowledge that the ballot is secret.
He said, in part, “I believe it essential that the political leadership of Zimbabwe should be decided through the ballot box; and that the will of the people is respected regardless of the outcome of this weekend’s election; and further, that once the will of the people is fairly expressed, all sides commit themselves to national reconciliation.”
He added that a credible and fully transparent process is the best way to ensure that the result of the election is accepted by all as reflecting the will of the voters.
The Secretary-General concluded by appealing to all parties and individuals to show the utmost restraint, and to pursue their objectives by constitutional means, in accordance with the law. He said, “In democratic elections there are always losers as well as winners. Democracy depends on the losers respecting the outcome, and on the winners respecting the civil and political rights of the losers.”
We have the full text upstairs.
Some 800 Afghan women gathered today in Kabul to commemorate International Women's Day. They met at an old theatre that until the early 1990s was used by the Association of Afghan Women. The theatre was partially destroyed during the civil war and burned down during the Taliban regime. Only its walls are left standing. The women cleaned it all and covered the brick walls with banners and posters. One of the banners read "Educate a woman and you educate a nation."
The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, told the audience, which included Afghan women and Administration officials headed by Hamid Karzai, that "the first precondition for the restoration of women's and girls' rights in Afghanistan is peace."
Other speakers included the Minister of Women's Rights, Sima Samar, High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, and the Executive Director of UNIFEM, Noeleen Heyzer.
Robinson urged Afghan women at home and abroad to speak up about the rights and protection from abuse that they have been denied for too long.
During the ceremony, Afghan women presented the result of a three-day seminar aimed at developing a common platform of action to restore women's rights and effectively contribute to the reconstruction process. This conference, which brought together 60 women from eight Afghan provinces, was the first Afghan women's meeting in 23 years.
We have copies of speeches by the Special Representative, Mary Robinson, and Noeleen Heyzer.
On a separate issue regarding Afghanistan, the World Health Organization is working to organize an emergency mission to Taiwara in the western province of Ghor, to investigate reports of a deadly disease outbreak that has now killed up to 40 people.
**West Africa Abuse Allegations
The UN Assistant High Commissioner for Refugees, Kamel Morjane, concluded a three-day visit to Guinea and headed for Sierra Leone in the wake of a survey alleging sexual exploitation by humanitarian workers in the region.
The UNHCR reports that with the specific consent of the High Commissioner, Ruud Lubbers, its regional offices have been given carte blanche to carry out all necessary measures to minimize the dependence of refugees and their exposure to exploitation of all kinds and by anyone. A joint plan of action involving all parties will be constantly updated.
Among measures already undertaken and under way are the increased presence of international staff, including female staff; expanded sensitization and awareness campaigns; joint workshops with the Government and international community; and development of a code of conduct for community workers.
Morjane is expected to meet with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Sierra Leone, Oluyemi Adeniji, in Freetown today.
As part of the ongoing effort to sensitize military contingents of the UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) on the importance of adhering to the code of conduct for peacekeepers, the Acting Force Commander, Maj. Gen. Martin L. Agwai, has ordered contingent commanders to caution their troops against misconduct that could undermine the work of the Mission. He has also been travelling around the country, reminding peacekeepers that when such offences by individual peacekeepers had been discovered and documented, very serious disciplinary action had been taken.
The Secretary-General has informed the Security Council in a letter that he has appointed four experts to conduct a follow-up assessment mission on Liberia sanctions. As you recall, the Council decided to re-establish the panel of experts on Liberia last week.
We have the bios for those four in my office if you are interested.
Erick de Mul, the Humanitarian Coordinator for Angola, is appealing for
$46 million to fund 11 priority projects.
If estimates that approximately 300,000 Angolans will become newly displaced during the next six months are correct, the total number of displaced in the country will be 4.6 million. This would increase the current emergency caseload by nearly 25 per cent, further taxing relief operations that are already “stretched to the limit.”
We have a special humanitarian report on this subject.
The UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Dato Param Cumaraswamy, will visit Italy next week, from 12 to 14 March, going to Rome and Milan.
He had sought an urgent mission to Italy to study the causes for concern by hundreds of magistrates who had alleged at the start of the judicial year in late January that the Government was attempting to undermine the independence of the judiciary.
We have details in a press release.
Today, Belgium became the 54th Member State to pay its dues for this year in full, and that with a payment of more than $12 million.
We have a press conference scheduled for Monday. At 11:30 in the morning, Louise Fréchette, the Deputy Secretary-General, will preview the International Conference on Financing for Development, which will take place in Monterrey, Mexico from 18 to 22 March. And we also have the "Week Ahead" for you, which you can pick up in my office.
That's all I have.
**Questions and Answers
Question: This is matter of housekeeping. At the stakeout today, it was really impossible to hear somebody speaking at the microphone. Is there anything someone at the Spokesman's office could do about it?
Spokesman: We'll see what we can do. There's normally equipment there, which may have been moved because of the Women's Day observances, but I'll check on it.
Question: Have you received any response from Israel about the killing of the UNRWA staff member, and how many United Nations staff have been killed by Israel?
Spokesman: To my knowledge we have not received any response from Israel, but double-check with us in the office. As we said in this announcement, this individual from UNWRA was the first to be killed since September 2000. And before that I have to check. [The Spokesman's Office later announced that the United Nations does not keep casualty statistics by perpetrators and, therefore, could not answer the question regarding casualties in the Middle East].
Question: In a speech today in Kabul, Dr. Heyzer indicated that about
90 per cent of Afghan women were without ID cards or papers at all. Is there any campaign to alleviate the situation?
Spokesman: I'll check with Lakhdar Brahimi to see if he's talking to the Interim Administration about rectifying that, but I have no specific information on that. In fact, I didn't hear that she had said that, but we can look into it for you. [He later said that the Interim Minister for Women’s Affairs, Sima Samar, was working with the Interim Authority to make sure that women are issued national identification cards all over the country to ensure their right to engage in the political process as voters and representatives.]
Question: Can you elaborate on the Secretary-General's talk with the Security Council?
Spokesman: All I'll say is check the tape of what the Secretary-General said to the press when he came out from that session. He took several questions.
Correspondent: Inside the Council.
Spokesman: That was a closed meeting. I mean, the best you can do is to ask him questions when he comes out. And, as I said, he took several questions.
Briefing by the Spokesman FoR the President of the General Assembly
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of the noon briefing by Jan Fischer, Spokesman for the President of the General Assembly.
The President of the General Assembly, Dr. Han Seung-soo, is back in New York. Yesterday afternoon, he met with the President of the Security Council and with the Under-Secretary-General for General Assembly Affairs. This morning, addressing an event to mark International Women’s Day, the President paid tribute to Mrs. Laura Bush for her efforts to promote women’s rights. Focusing on the theme for the day, the women of Afghanistan, he went on to say the following:
“I strongly believe that, in post-Taliban Afghanistan, women should become primary stakeholders who will identify their own needs and priorities in all sectors of society. The international community should continue to encourage the new leadership of the Interim Authority to empowerAfghan women as full partners in the post-conflict reconstruction of the country. The donor countries for Afghanistan should place high priority on promoting and protecting the human rights of women and girls in Afghanistan. In particular, girls should be guaranteed equal access to education.”
The full text of his statement is available upstairs.
He then met with representatives of a Model UN for students, and at 4 p.m. he will meet with the President of the Economic and Social Council, Mr. Simonovic.
On Monday, the President will chair the meeting of the open-ended Working Group on reform of the Security Council. The Working Group will end its session next Friday. You may recall that the General Assembly discussed this issue on
30 and 31 October last year, and if you want more information on what was done during those two days, you can check Press Releases GA/9942 to 9944 and, on the issue in general, there is more information in the report of the previous working group, that is, document A/55/47.
Also on Monday, there may be a meeting of the Assembly on organizational matters related to the International Conference for Financing for Development -- that is the Monterrey Conference.
That's all I have. Any questions?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Is the General Assembly going to take up the issue of Palestine?
Spokesman: No. The only plenary meeting scheduled is for next Wednesday, and the two issues are the role of diamonds in fuelling conflicts and HIV/AIDS. That's the kind of horizon I have at the moment. Any more questions?
Have a good weekend.
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