DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL AND THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT

15 February 2005

DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL AND THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT

15/2/2005
Press Briefing

Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesman for the Secretary-General


AND THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT


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,


**Guest at Noon


Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette will be joining us today to brief you on two issues addressed in the interim report of the Independent Inquiry Committee on the UN oil-for-food programme.  And those are UN procurement and reform of audit and oversight.


**SG on Lebanon, DPRK


The Secretary-General was asked this morning by reporters about the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, and he said that he considered Hariri “a friend, a man who has done a lot for Lebanon, and a great patriot”.  He said that “a great political leader has been removed from the scene”, and the impact of his loss would need to be analysed.


The Secretary-General said he trusted that every effort would be made to find the perpetrators, and added that the focus right now should be to determine who is responsible.


He said that he had also recently sent his envoy, Terje Roed-Larsen, to the region to discuss the implementation of Security Council resolution 1559.


The Secretary-General said that Roed-Larsen had carried a message from him to Lebanese President Emile Lahoud and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which mentioned that “we needed to see more progress and hope that there will be actual action and clear signs of withdrawal by the time I submit my next report to the Security Council.”  That report is due in April.


And when he was asked about the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the Secretary-General said that all sides should work to bring the country back to the six-party talks.  And he said he remains hopeful that they will come back to the talks.


**SG – OCHA


The Secretary-General met this morning with the staff of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) to thank them for the good work that they had done after last December’s devastating tsunami in South Asia.  Noting that many of them had given up their winter holidays to deal with the disaster, the Secretary-General said that that was what the UN was all about.


In addition to personnel here in New York, OCHA staff from Geneva participated in today’s meeting -- through a video link.  OCHA representatives in Indonesia and Sri Lanka were patched in by telephone.


Responding to questions from OCHA staff members, the Secretary-General said Bill Clinton, his new tsunami envoy, would help promote natural disaster reduction strategies.  He also voiced concern that various governments were arguing over where to establish a centre for disaster preparedness.


Asked about involving the private sector in humanitarian relief efforts, the Secretary-General said he was committed to improving cooperation.  He added that the UN was flexible when it came to channelling monetary donations, noting that some companies did not want their contributions to go towards administrative costs.


**Security Council - Meeting


Shortly after 11:00 this morning, the Security Council began a meeting on the election of a member of the International Court of Justice (ICJ).


The announcement of the results of the vote was awaiting completion of the same election in the General Assembly.  The Council just now suspended its consultations to make an announcement on the judge.


**Security Council - Consultations


Following the meeting on the ICJ, the Security Council began consultations.


The first agenda item is a briefing by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations on Eritrea and Ethiopia.


The second item is the situation in the Middle East.


Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Kieran Prendergast, is expected to brief in response to a Security Council request following yesterday’s assassination of former Prime Minister Hariri of Lebanon.


The Secretary-General said he would join the Security Council discussion on Lebanon.


**Sudan


The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Sudan, Jan Pronk, will be travelling tomorrow to N'Djamena where he will be attending, at the invitation of the Chadian Government, a mini-Summit to be held on the subject of Darfur, on Wednesday.  The participants to the Summit are the Presidents of Chad, Nigeria and Sudan.  Alpha Oumar Konare, the Chairman of the African Union Commission will also take part in the meeting.


Jan Pronk will also attend the meeting of the Ceasefire Joint Commission, which will be held on 16 and 17 February.


Meanwhile, the World Food Programme (WFP) says that a lack of funds was limiting its ability to provide a complete food basket to displaced families in Darfur and to preposition food stocks ahead of the rainy season in July and August.


The WFP has asked for more than $440 million to feed 2.8 million, and it has only received $240 million so far. 


The Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees, Wendy Chamberlin, is in the south of Sudan where she is looking at the UNHCR operations there and the enormous needs which have to be met if 500,000 Sudanese refugees are to be able to return home.


**West Africa


Cameroon and Nigeria have agreed on a calendar for the demarcation of their border, as well as a work plan under which concrete barriers will be placed at mutually agreed points along that border.  The UN Office for West Africa reports that the two countries adopted the plan following a meeting in Abuja last week.


The West Africa Office adds that the placement of pillars is to begin in 2006.  We have more details in a press release upstairs.


Also, we have on the racks today a report from the Secretary-General on ways to combat subregional and cross-border problems in West Africa, in which he says he is pleased by the growth of a constructive partnership between the UN system and governments and communities in the region.  He also cites areas where more efforts could contribute to conflict prevention and peace-building in West Africa.


**UNICEF - Eastern DR Congo Relief


UNICEF, the UN Children’s Fund, says that the number of civilians uprooted by fighting in the Ituri district, in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, since the beginning of the year has risen dramatically over the past week.


Although some 50,000 civilians had fled attacks on their villages by the first week of this month, monitors had reported an extra 30 to 35,000 displaced since then.


UNICEF is undertaking a major relief operation to assist the estimated 50,000 people who have managed to reach the safety in four sites, which are currently being guarded by UN peacekeepers.  We have more on that upstairs.


**Global Fund


The Board of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria today approved funding worth up to $119 million for the first batch of grants that have reached their two-year renewal point.


The Global Fund approves funding for five years, but initially commits money for only the first two-year phase, so that it can review the performance of the projects it has funded.  With today’s approval, grant recipients in 16 countries will receive money for the second phase of their five-year programmes.  And we have more details in a press release on that.


**Agricultural Commodities


According to a report released today by the Food and Agriculture Organization, the long-term downward trend in agricultural commodity prices continues.


This threatens the food security of hundreds of millions of people in some of the world’s poorest developing countries, where the sale of commodities is often the only source of cash.  We have more in a press release.


**Guest at Noon Tomorrow


Our guest at the noon briefing tomorrow will be K.Y. Amoako, the Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA).  And he will be here to brief you on developments in Africa, including those relating to the Millennium Development Goals, HIV/AIDS and the Commission for Africa.


**Security Council - ICJ


And I have just been told that the Security Council has announced that Judge Ronny Abraham has received a majority of votes and has been elected to the International Court of Justice.  And he will serve out the remainder of Judge Gilbert Guillaume’s term, which ends on 5 February, 2009.


That’s all I have for you.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Fred, could you tell us whether the Secretary-General met with or had any sort of communications with his son Kojo during his recent trip to Europe?  If so, was the name Cotecna mentioned during their conversations?  And did any such meeting or communication take before or after Kojo sat down with investigators from Norm Coleman’s sub-committee?


Spokesman:  I don’t want to go into any details about the Secretary-General’s meetings with members of his family, except to say that when he travels, he often meets with children, if it’s convenient, in Europe or in Africa.  But I will not comment on specific meetings or say what was discussed.


Anything else before we bring in the Deputy Secretary-General?


Question:  Fred, does the Secretary-General believe that there can be some sort of a compromise reached over the use of the International Criminal Court instead of -- the US is suggesting that instead of using the International Criminal Court that the African court be used -- so, (Interrupted).


Spokesman:  That’s being discussed in the Security Council now.  So, let’s see if the Council members can sort it out.  Okay?


Question:  Can he suggest any measures of compromise at all?


Spokesman:  Let’s see how the debate in the Security Council evolves.


All right then, I would ask the Deputy Secretary-General to come in from next door and she will brief you on audits, oversight and procurement.


Issued separately.)


Spokesman for General Assembly President


Good afternoon,


This morning the General Assembly is holding its eighty-first plenary meeting.  Before discussing any item on the agenda, the President of the General Assembly paid tribute to the memory of Mr. Gnassingbe Eyadema, late President of the TogoleseRepublic; Mr. Zurab Zhvania, late Prime Minister of Georgia; and to Mr. Sami Kronfol, late Permanent Representative of Lebanon.  The General Assembly observed a minute of silence in tribute to their memory.


The President then invited the attention of the Assembly to document A/59/668, in which the Secretary-General informs the President that Benin, the Congo, Paraguay, Suriname, Ukraine and Uruguay have made the necessary payments to reduce their arrears below the specified amount in Article 19 of the Charter.


The General Assembly then proceeded to the election of a member of the International Court of Justice for the unexpired term of office of Judge and former President Gilbert Guillaume, whose resignation took effect on 11 February.


The President also confirmed that, at the same time, the Security Council, independently of the General Assembly, is also proceeding to elect one member of the Court.  This procedure is in accordance to Article 8 of the Statute of the Court, which provides that:  “The General Assembly and the Security Council shall proceed independently of one another to elect the members of the Court.  In accordance with Article 10 of the Statute of the Court, the candidate who obtains an absolute majority of votes both in the General Assembly and in the Security Council shall be considered as elected.  Accordingly, the results of the voting in the General Assembly will not be communicated to the Security Council until one candidate has obtained the required majority in the Assembly.”  The practice of the United Nations has been to interpret the words “absolute majority” as meaning a majority of all electors whether or not they vote or are allowed to vote.  Since the electors in the General Assembly are 191 Member States, 96 votes constitute an “absolute majority”, as just defined, and are hence required for a candidate to be elected.


And, as was mentioned earlier by the Spokesman for the Secretary-General of the United Nations, the Security Council and now the General Assembly have both elected Judge Ronny Abraham from France.  And he will serve until 5 February 2009.


Following the election, the General Assembly resumed its consideration of sub-item h of agenda item 17, concerning the appointment of a member of the Joint Inspection Unit.


As a result of the resignation of Mr. Christopher Thomas from Trinidad and Tobago, the General Assembly is required to appoint a member to fill the vacancy in the Joint Inspection Unit for a period expiring on 31 December 2008.


In accordance to the Statute of the Joint Inspection Unit, the President of the General Assembly consults with Member States and draws up a list of countries, and in this case, one country, which should be requested to propose a candidate for appointment to the joint inspection unit.


After the necessary consultation, the group of Latin American and CaribbeanStates endorsed Peru to propose a candidate for the vacancy.  Peru will, therefore, be requested to submit the name of a candidate and the curriculum vitae highlighting the candidate’s relevant qualifications for the task ahead.


The General Assembly will conclude its morning with the consideration of sub-item (g) of agenda item 56 entitled “Cooperation between the United Nations and the Economic Community of Central African States”.


The General Assembly had already discussed agenda item 56 on 21 and 22 October 2004.  So, this morning the General Assembly has before it a draft resolution, issued as document A/59/L.16 that it will be considering.


Now, to the Fifth Committee. That Committee will resume its work in March -- from 7 March to 1 April.  And among the resolutions that it adopted last year, was one on the recommendation of the International Civil Service Commission (ICSC).  And that had to do with paternity leave.


And the Commission, therefore, decided that as far as paternity leave is concerned, a duration of up to four weeks paid leave should be granted to staff at Headquarters and family duty stations and up to eight weeks for staff at non-family duty stations or in exceptional circumstances, such as those mentioned in paragraph 204 above, including death of the mother, inadequate medical facilities or complications encountered at time of pregnancy.


So, a notice to all of you fathers.


That’s all I have.  Thank you very much.


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For information media. Not an official record.