4 February 2005


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.

Spokesman for the Secretary-General

Good afternoon.


In the statement issued yesterday after he received the report of the Independent Inquiry Committee into the oil-for-food Programme, the Secretary-General said he was, as chief Administrative officer of the UN, responsible and accountable for its management.  And that is why he formed the Inquiry Committee in the first place.

He stressed that measures have already been taken to address deficiencies in management controls highlighted in the report.  He also promised that more steps would be announced soon in reforming the management of the Organization.

The Secretary-General said he was glad the Committee’s findings show that the UN budgeting, accounting and administration of the funds were in general disciplined.

As for the staff that have been identified as having violated rules and procedures of the UN, he repeated he would take appropriate action.  To that end, procedures have been initiated against Benon Sevan and Joseph Stephanides.

Yesterday, the Secretary-General also sent a letter to the staff to keep them informed on the report and the actions he planned to take.

He pledged to the staff that he was going to deliver greater accountability and transparency.  He told them that reforming an organization like the UN is never easy but it sometimes takes a crisis such as this one to overcome obstacles to change.

In closing the letter, the Secretary-General reiterated his firm belief that by working together, the UN can come through this crisis and emerge better able to fulfil the trust and expectations that our MemberStates and their citizens have placed in the Organization.

**SG Comments – Oil-for-Food

The Secretary-General was asked about the Volcker report when he entered Headquarters today, and he emphasized that, for an organization like the United Nations, “any hint of corruption and misbehaviour and that sort of disrespect for rules is harmful, and is dangerous, and we cannot dismiss it.”  He said that the United Nations intends to act promptly.

Asked about disciplinary action against Benon Sevan and Joseph Stephanides, he said that lawyers are working on that matter, and that a further announcement would be made shortly.

Asked to comment on actions taken by his predecessor, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the Secretary-General said that each Secretary-General has to act in accordance with the circumstances he finds himself in.  And he added that he would not want to second guess the actions that Boutros-Ghali took.  We have the transcript of that press encounter upstairs.

**Security Council

On the agenda of the Security Council today is the Secretary-General’s report on Sudan.  That report recommends that the United Nations establish a peace-support operation with a mandate to assist the parties in achieving a sustainable peace in Sudan through its good offices, and in aspects of security, governance, humanitarian assistance and development.

Before discussing the recommendations in closed consultations, Jan Pronk, the Special Representative for Sudan, briefed Council members in an open meeting on the proposed deployment of the 10,000-strong force.  He cautioned that “if solutions are not found to the conflicts in Darfur and elsewhere in Sudan, any peace-support operation limited to south Sudan would be affected by the consequences of such conflicts”.  Jan Pronk will speak to you at the stakeout microphone following the consultations.


The Cameroon-Nigeria Mixed Commission is holding a meeting of its Demarcation Joint Technical Team (JTT) from 7 to 9 February 2005 in Abuja, Nigeria.  The meeting is taking place in the aftermath of the Secretary-General’s visit to Cameroon and Nigeria.  Participants are also expected to discuss the work plan for demarcation activities, including a revised time plan, and to undertake the operational planning for the field assessment, scheduled to begin in March.


Now on the tsunami.  The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, has sent a planning expert to a destroyed fishing village near the Indonesian town of Calang to help rebuild.  As a temporary measure, the agency has erected some 500 tents in the village, which lost half of its population to the tsunami, and is home to 4,000 displaced persons.

For its part, the International Telecommunication Union has sent 14 portable satellite terminals to Sri Lanka to help rebuild that country’s telecommunications infrastructure.  And we have more in press briefing notes upstairs.


The three countries in Asia that are still affected by polio are on target to eradicate the disease this year, according to health authorities.

Meeting at the World Health Organization’s headquarters in Geneva, Health Ministers from Afghanistan, India and Pakistan laid out a plan for 2005 that involves massive and repeated immunization campaigns.  The emphasis will be on reaching children in communities traditionally under-served by health services.

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative, spearheaded by the World Health Organization and UNICEF, has reduced polio cases throughout the world by 99 per cent since 1998.  Last year, cases in Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan were slashed by nearly half.  We have press release on that.

**Human Rights

Today in Geneva, six UN human rights experts issued a joint statement voicing their concern at the continuing detention of inmates who have been held virtually incommunicado at the US Naval Base in GuantanamoBay.  According to numerous observers, the statement says, the conditions of their detention amount to inhuman and degrading treatment.  We have their joint statement upstairs.

**MONUC - Disinformation

The UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) has denounced a disinformation campaign orchestrated by some Congolese media, which claim that there are Rwandan soldiers serving as peacekeepers with the UN Mission.  The mission says these rumors, spread by anonymous sources, were relayed in the media in Kinshasa over the past few of days, and the Mission is keen to set the record straight.  It says it does not have any Rwandan soldiers serving as peacekeepers, nor as civilian or military personnel in the DRC.


The UN flag is flying at half mast today, in observance of the official mourning for the Prime Minister of Georgia, Zurab Zhvania, who passed away yesterday.  Also, this morning, the Secretary-General visited the Mission of Lebanon to offer his condolences following the death of Lebanon’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Sami Kronfall.

**Press Conference Today

One press conference to announce:  1:15 this afternoon, Ambassador Don MacKay of New Zealand, who is the Coordinator of the fifth session of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  And he will brief you on the outcome of the session which concludes today.

**The Week Ahead at United Nations

And to help you in your coverage of the UN next week, we have the Week Ahead available for you in my office.

That’s all I have.

Yes, Mr. Baresh?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Fred, how come the UN is so late in, you know, (Inaudible) investigations in the food programme?  How long, it’s about ten years since, you know, since they had the food programme and nobody (Inaudible) on that?

Spokesman:  Well, the 1990s were, I think, chaotic for every foreign ministry in the world, as people adjusted to the end of the cold war.  And the allegations regarding this programme did not emerge ‘till more recently.  So, I think that explains the timing.

Yes, Laura?

Question:  Fred, yesterday it was announced that disciplinary -- and you said today -- action was going to be taken Stephanides and Sevan.  But when you read the report, there was a number of UN staff who were mentioned in the report.  One of the things that Volcker said yesterday was that while companies and individuals are mentioned, that doesn’t mean that they have done any wrongdoing.  Is the UN going to be issuing statements as... is a list going to be made of people that you’re going to take further actions against besides these two?

Spokesman:  No, at this time, based on our preliminary reading of the report, we’re only prepared to initiate action against these two individuals.


Question:  Fred, yesterday Mr. Volcker said that, in fact, they haven’t obtained (Inaudible) about Mr. Sevan and that investigations are continuing and the final report will be available in June about the whole affair.  Will you wait till June to take action or action is being taken right away, as you said?  What do you say to Mr. Sevan’s attorney who says that Mr. Sevan hasn’t taken a single penny, and he is being used as a scapegoat for the Organization while other people may be involved?

Spokesman:  The report did have specific conclusions regarding Mr. Sevan’s violation of the rules and procedures.  And it’s on that basis that we will take our initial action against him.  It is important to underline what Mr. Volcker himself said that they have not established any criminal activity on Mr. Sevan’s part.  But he also said that their investigation is continuing.  So, our initial action against Mr. Sevan relates to UN rules and regulations only.

Question:  What about his attorney who has said that he is being scapegoated?

Spokesman:  We would not comment on the attorney’s statement of yesterday.

Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Fred, now that the preliminary report is out and that the Secretary-General has (inaudible)... disciplinary measures... and answering some questions of the  press, would he be interested in briefing the press more fully so that some issues that are on the minds of the international community are more fully answered?

Spokesman:  I don’t know how much more fully we could respond to the Volcker report of yesterday than we did with the Chief of Staff’s press conference yesterday afternoon.  And, as I’ve just reported, the Secretary-General stopped and took further questions from the press on his way into the building today.  He continues to make himself available to you both casually, as in the doorsteps in the morning, and through formal press conferences in this room.  So, I think you will have every opportunity to pose whatever questions you have to him.

Yes, Djibril Diallo, Spokesman for the President of the General Assembly.

Spokesman for General Assembly President

Good afternoon,

Preparation of the High-Level Plenary Meeting of September 2005 was the subject of a meeting President Jean Ping of the General Assembly held this morning with ten facilitators, at ambassadors’ level, from Australia, Bangladesh, Barbados, Ghana, Netherlands, Panama, Slovenia, Thailand, Tunisia and Ukraine.

President Jean Ping reviewed with the participants some of the pending questions to be examined, the consultative process with Member States and the roles of facilitators.  The pending questions are really, from two reports that the General Assembly has had so far:  The United Nations Millennium Project 2005, and the High-Level Panel report.

So, those pending questions include:

Development -- this issue will continue to be examined within the framework of the United Nations Millennium Project 2005.

Institutional reforms include:  General Assembly: reinforcement of its authority and working methods; Security council (enlargement, improvement of its working methods and decision-making mechanisms); ECOSOC (reinforcement of its coordination role in the economic and social areas); the Secretariat; universalization of the Commission of Human Rights; peace-building commission; and collaboration with regional organization.

Also, new norms and principles of international law criteria for the use of force and protecting civilians.

Other substantive issues:  terrorism; nuclear non-proliferation; human rights; rule of law; and democracy and good governance.

A fifth point concerns issues that were not mentioned in the report of the High-Level Panel and that will need to be addressed.  And there are three of them:  environment; migration; and cultural and religious clashes.

Facilitators continue consultations with Member States on these and other issues, bearing in mind the meetings on 10 February (on the UN Millennium Project 2005), 22 February (on the report of the High-Level Panel) and beyond.  Ultimately, the views of Member States will be communicated to the Secretary-General by President Jean Ping as a contribution to the overall report of the Secretary-General.  That report will come out in March 2005.

On the consultative process, in the short time available before September, facilitators will use a combination of techniques to insure maximum consultation with Member States, including meetings on specific questions, at the request of delegations.

Meetings taking place next week, for your schedules:

On Monday, the opening of the 2005 session of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People. The meeting is at the ambassadorial level.  It will take place from 10:30 a.m. in the ECOSOC chamber.  The agenda will include the election of officers of the Committee and the organization of its work for 2005.

The General Committee will have a meeting on Tuesday, 8 February, to discuss the revitalization of the work of the General Assembly, and to hear a presentation by Anwarul K. Chowdhury, who is Under-Secretary-General, on addressing the needs of the least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and small islands developing States.

Finally, as mentioned previously, the plenary will meet next Thursday, 10 February, to continue an exchange of views on findings and recommendations of the United Nations Millennium Project 2005, commonly known as the Jeffrey Sachs Report.

That’s all I have for you.


**Questions and Answers

Question:  Djibril, was there any reaction from the President of the GA on this report by Mr. Volcker yesterday?

Spokesman for General Assembly President:  I did not get any reaction nor comment from the President of the General Assembly, so far.

Thank you.

* *** *

For information media. Not an official record.