16 September 2004


Press Briefing




Following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Fred Eckhard, Spokesman for the Secretary-General and Djibril Diallo, Spokesman for the General Assembly President.

Good afternoon.

Joining us today in just a few minutes will be Stephen Lewis, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa.  And he’ll be talking to you about recent missions to Uganda and Lesotho.  It’s always a pleasure to have him back.


On Sudan, the Secretary-General plans to make an announcement to you.  He’ll probably do it in the Secretariat Lobby, going or coming from the building, in the afternoon.  And we’ll announce as soon as we have a specific time for that event.


The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Sudan, Jan Pronk, yesterday visited the African Union Ceasefire Commission headquarters in Al Fasher, North Darfur, where he met with General Festus Okonkwo, the Commission Chairman.

They exchanged views on the situation on the ground in Darfur, as well as means and ways to enhance communications between the Commission and the United Nations.

Today, the Deputy Special Representative for Humanitarian Affairs, Manuel Aranda da Silva, is visiting Al Fasher to meet with the rebel SLA (Sudan Liberation Army) leaders.

The discussions today will focus on granting security arrangements for humanitarian access to the areas under SLA control, similar to the ones in effect with the Sudanese Government.

Meanwhile, the UN mission continues to receive reports on acts of banditry attributed to unknown armed individuals, particularly in North and South Darfur, including attacks on passenger buses and humanitarian agency vehicles and looting.

Jan Pronk has indicated that since the Abuja talks are to be adjourned, there are more reasons to be concerned because there will be no venue to discuss such security problems.

The rebel movements, particularly the JEM (Justice and Equality Movement), indicated yesterday to the AU mediation that they needed more time to reflect on the AU Chairman President Olusegun Obasanjo's request to the parties to the Abuja Talks to sign the humanitarian protocol, on which they agreed.  Meanwhile, on the North-South peace process, the Government of Sudan and the SPLM/A (Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army) are expected to resume their talks in October in Kenya.

**Security Council

The Security Council is holding consultations today on the UN Mission in Sierra Leone.  Daudi Mwakawago, the Special Representative for Sierra Leone, briefed on the latest report on the mission in that country.


I told you earlier this week that 15 UN international staff had remained in the city of Herat, in western Afghanistan, even after last weekend’s violent demonstration, when other staff were temporarily relocated from the city.

Staff have been returning to Herat, with 25 international staff there yesterday.  Another 18 international staff flew back today.  They continue to be supported by hundreds of UN Afghan staff who work and live in the city.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) resumed its voluntary repatriation convoys in Herat yesterday, following a three-day suspension of activity.  The decision to restart the convoys coming in from Iran was made after UNHCR received firm assurances from the new Governor of the province, as well as from central government officials, that the convoys could cross safely.

We have more in today’s briefing notes from Kabul.

**Hurricane Ivan

The UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination team that went to Grenada has carried out two missions on the island, following the damage caused by Hurricane Ivan.

They said that approximately 90 per cent of the houses on the island have been damaged or destroyed by the hurricane, and consequently tents, building materials and tools are urgently needed.  The teams found that there is no power supply at all in northern Grenada, and crops have been badly damaged there.  Lack of food continues to be a serious problem in the parish of St. Andrews.

Meanwhile, the UN Children’s Fund has sent water containers, oral rehydration salts and health kits to Jamaica, as it seeks to recover from the hurricane.

Also, the UN country team in Cuba continues to exchange data with the national authorities, and field assessment missions to two areas in western Cuba are being scheduled.


The UN Children’s Fund representative in Russia, Carel de Rooy, said the next priority for the children of Beslan must be “to restore their faith in schooling”.

He said, after meeting with children who had been hospitalized following the hostage-taking in the school in Beslan last week, that most of the children he had spoken to do not want to return to school.  “For these children”, he said, “their own school has become a place of terror.”

UNICEF plans to help the children by supporting their psychological rehabilitation, and it is also trying to make the other seven schools in Beslan more comfortable and attractive to children, so that they can take in the students affected by the hostage-taking.  And we have a UNICEF press release with more details on that story.

**International Day for Preservation of Ozone Layer

In a message to mark the International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer, the Secretary-General notes that, 17 years after the signing of the Montreal Protocol, more than 90 per cent of ozone-depleting substances have been phased out.  While congratulating the parties to the Protocol for this remarkable success, he asks them to overcome some of the remaining challenges in this area.

In a separate message, Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), says that scientists estimate that, by the middle of the century and as a result of the phasing out of numerous ozone-damaging chemicals, the ozone layer will be repaired.  But, Toepfer adds, this is far from guaranteed.

UNEP is now asking countries to assess the quantities of methyl bromide, an ozone-damaging chemical, being used to kill pests on shipments of rice, maize, nuts and other big commodity export crops.  Both those messages are available upstairs.

**Other Announcements

Tomorrow morning at 10, the Secretary-General will lay a wreath outside the Meditation Room in the Visitors Lobby, to mark the forty-third anniversary of the death of Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld and his companions.

UNAIDS and the World Health Organization today urged European governments to adopt integrated HIV prevention and treatment programmes, at a time when more than 1.8 million people are living with HIV in Europe and Central Asia.  And we have a press release on that.

Finally, ministers and officials from more than 100 countries will mark the debut of the Rotterdam Convention, dealing with hazardous chemicals and pesticides, at a high-level conference that begins in Geneva on 20 September.  And we have an FAO press release on that.

**Press Conference this Afternoon

The long-awaited press conference on security arrangements for the general debate next week will take place at 1:15 today.  It will involve Bruno Henn, the Officer-in-Charge of the United Nations Security and Safety Service, and Abdellatif Kabbaj, the Chief of Media Accreditation and Liaison, and they’ll be happy to tell you everything you want to know about what you can’t do next week.

**Press Conference on Gender Justice

A reminder that the organizers of the ongoing Conference on Gender Justice in post-conflict situations (the UN Development Fund for Women -- UNIFEM -- and the International Legal Assistance Consortium) will be holding a press conference this afternoon.

It will be held from 5:30 to 6:30 in the Ballroom of the UN Millennium Plaza Hotel. 


And my last item for today, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations is showing at 6 p.m. today, a film, "Liberia:  An Uncivil War", that can be seen in the Dag Hammarskjold Auditorium, and Special Representative Jacques Klein and the filmmaker will be there to answer your questions afterward.  

That’s all I have for you.  Richard?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I have a few questions for you in a row.  You’re saying the Secretary-General will speak about Sudan?

Spokesman:  He’ll have an announcement to make on Sudan sometime this afternoon.  We think it’ll be the early part of the afternoon.

Question:  Any guidance, whether it should be something that is taken live, is it a comment on genocide, or the resolution or an envoy?

Spokesman:  I can’t give you anything more at the moment.  I don’t know whether you want to carry it live.  Maybe you and I can talk after the briefing.

Question:  Ok, on Iraq.  Was the Secretary-General trying to send a message when he said the Iraq war was illegal, and was this the first time he said the word, “illegal?”

Spokesman:  He has, over the past more than a year, used the words “not in conformity with the Charter” to describe his view of the Iraq war.  And, of course, one of his purposes in establishing the High-Level Panel on Change was to look at the question of preventive war and try to bring that in conformity with the Charter principles, which do not permit preventive war.

I can give you some quotes:  In The Hague, on 10 March 2003, he said, “I think that under today’s world order, the Charter is very clear on circumstances under which force can be used.  I think the discussion going on in the Council is to ensure that the Security Council, which is the master of its own deliberations, is able to pronounce itself on what happens.  If the US and others were to go outside the Council and take military action it would not be in conformity with the Charter.”

April 2 of that year:  “That is why”, he told a group of journalists, “the legitimacy of this action [the war] has been questioned, and widely questioned, and I myself have raised questions about it.  I have raised questions about the legitimacy and whether it was in conformity with the Charter.”

March 8 of this year, again, comments to journalists, “I myself indicated”, he said, “that a war would not be in conformity with the Charter and the credibility of any such action would be widely questioned and the legitimacy would be widely questioned.  And this is what happened.”

So the conformity with the Charter language has been his consistent position.  I think if you saw the interview, you saw that the Secretary-General was quite reluctant to use that word and in the end, after repeated pressure from the interviewer, he said, when the final question was, “Is it illegal?” he said, “Yes, I have indicated it is not in conformity with the UN Charter; from our point of view and from the Charter point of view, it was illegal.”

Question:  The SG may have said that many, many times over about the legitimacy of the war in Iraq, but is his recent statement to the BBC likely to place the issue, to highlight it to the General Assembly?

Spokesman:  I don’t think that’s his intention.  Since the war, he has been emphasizing the need for the nations on the Security Council and in the UN membership as a whole, to pull together to deal with the situation in Iraq, saying, “It is in everyone’s interest that stability be restored to Iraq.” So, once the invasion took place, he didn’t look back.  He looked forward.

But the principle of the Charter called into question, in his view, by the invasion, needs to be addressed in a serious way, and that’s why he asked the High-Level Panel to look specifically at that issue.  That panel is supposed to report by the end of this year, and the Secretary-General will formulate its recommendations and put them to the General Assembly next year.

Question:  Is it his concern now that he said it at this particular time that it may be forced to be on the minds of heads of State here next week?

Spokesman:  I don’t think he would want to anticipate any particular results such as that of his comments yesterday.  He feels it’s no different from what he’s been saying for more than a year, and that position is very well known to member governments.

Question:  Can you give us more information about illegal action in Iraq.  In that interview, it is (inaudible) is the first question.  The second is, will the Security Council (inaudible) a new draft resolution on the Sudan tomorrow?

Spokesman:  The Secretary-General said, as recently as yesterday, that the decision on the elections in Iraq is to be made by the Iraqis themselves, by the independent Iraqi Electoral Commission.  So that is their judgement call.

You’ll have to ask the President of the Council what his expectation is regarding a vote on the draft resolution on the Sudan, that the Council is now considering.

Question:  Do you think Annan’s comments are a non-story?

Spokesman:  We see nothing new in it.  Djibril?

Spokesman for General Assembly President:  Good afternoon.  Three points very quickly.  President Jean Ping had his first press conference today, which makes my work and my life easier because you had a chance to ask him most of the questions that you had on your mind.  Second point, yesterday afternoon, the General Committee continued its consideration of the memorandum of the Secretary-General regarding the organization of the fifty-ninth session of the General Assembly and this memorandum is contained in document A/BUR/59/1.  You may recall that in my briefing yesterday, I mentioned the fact that the General Committee was considering Section 4 of the memorandum.  That section is entitled Adoption of the Agenda. Today, there is an open-ended meeting of the General Committee and the agenda is going to be adopted tomorrow morning at the plenary session of the General Assembly.

Please allow me to end on a personal note because the next speaker is a person from whom I learned to be a spokesperson, Stephen Lewis, who was then Chairman of the Organizing Committee, in the 1980s, of what was called the UN Plan of Action for Africa’s Recovery.  And when you all asked me questions after midnight, he was still chairing meetings in the windowless rooms in the basement.  And I’d come out and say, “The Chairman is very busy”, and he’ll say, “No, let him come I’ll answer his questions.”  He’s very, very media friendly and for that I want to thank you again, Stephen Lewis. 

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Well, I hope Mr. Lewis said to return all phone calls because we didn’t hear from you on Taiwan yesterday.  What happened, if you could tell us for broadcasting purposes?  What was the final result?

Spokesman for General Assembly President:  Alright.  You know the United Nations being an intergovernmental body, every country, every MemberState has the right to recommend points on the agenda for consideration and, as I mentioned yesterday, the General Committee looks at all the points and decides to recommend them or not to recommend them for adoption to the General Assembly.  So the General Committee met yesterday, considered several items on the agenda, and one of those items was the one that you’re referring to, Richard, item 159 regarding Taiwan.  And yesterday afternoon, the General Committee decided not to recommend the inclusion of that item in the agenda of the fifty-ninth session.

Question:  Can I make a recommendation?  I know that eventually we get it the day of the event but with all the DPI staff, is there a way that we can get an e-mail with the names of the speakers in the General Assembly, at least for the first week.  For broadcasters, for writers, I think that’s even more important than some of the summaries we’ll get on some other events this week.  I think the focus should be put on that because if you’re trying to get more interest in the speeches, people want to know who’s going to appear.

Spokesman for General Assembly President:  I spoke yesterday, I may not have spoken to you, Richard, but I spoke to quite a few of your colleagues and I have to talk to Fred about this because we have to balance it out with issues of security, which are being raised.  And I’m on a learning curve right now and I’ll do my best to serve you.  But we did look at the question yesterday and some concerns were raised, which I’ll consult with the Spokesman for the Secretary-General on, and we’ll do our best to serve you.

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For information media. Not an official record.