13 February 2006


Spokesman's Noon Briefing
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York



The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General, and Pragati Pascale, Spokesperson for the General Assembly President.

Briefing by Deputy Spokesman for Secretary-General

Good afternoon.

**Secretary-General in Washington

The Secretary-General arrived in Washington, D.C., this morning, and he’s scheduled to begin a working luncheon with United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice right now.  In fact, it probably has already started.

After that, in a little more than an hour from now, the Secretary-General will meet with President George W. Bush in the White House.  The Secretary-General is expected to speak to reporters after that meeting, and that’s expected to be around 2 p.m.

Then, in the afternoon before he returns to New York, the Secretary-General will have an informal meeting with some members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, hosted by the Committee Chairman, Senator Richard Lugar.

** Haiti

The United Nations Mission in Haiti says that for the third consecutive day, supporters of presidential candidate Rene Preval are demonstrating on the streets of Port-au-Prince.  The Mission says that demonstrators have erected roadblocks in several parts of the capital to demand that Preval be declared the winner of Haiti’s presidential election.  UN formed police units have been deployed to manage the demonstrations.  The demonstrations were not reported to be particularly violent earlier today, although they have managed to disrupt the functioning of the capital.

The latest results announced by Haiti’s provisional electoral council -- known by its French acronym CEP -- show that 90 per cent of the election tally sheets have been tabulated, but 1,000 tally sheets have still to be entered into the tabulation system.  The CEP says that, so far, Preval is the leading candidate with 48 per cent of the vote tabulated.  It also says final results won’t be available until all tally sheets are entered into the system, and a member of the CEP announced this morning that this should be completed either today or tomorrow.

The UN Mission urges all participants in the electoral process to remain calm and await the tabulation of the final results.

** Côte d’Ivoire

Turning to Côte d’Ivoire, Jan Egeland, the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, will visit Côte d’Ivoire tomorrow through Friday.  Egeland will meet national and local authorities and the members of the humanitarian community in Abidjan, Guiglo, and Bouaké.  He will also attend the forthcoming meeting of the International Working Group, on behalf of the humanitarian community.

There is more information in the media advisory on this upstairs.

**Democratic Republic of Congo Action Plan

And in Brussels today, the United Nations and the European Commission launched the 2006 Humanitarian Action Plan for the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The Plan requires $681 million to meet the needs of at least 30 million vulnerable Congolese.

In a video message for the launch, the Secretary-General said the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo have demonstrated their faith in the future through the recent endorsement of a new national constitution, but that faith needs to be backed by tangible support.  He said the Action Plan provides that support -- and if it succeeds, it can also help provide stability after the DRC’s elections, which are due this summer.

We have more on the launch and the Secretary-General’s message upstairs.


On the racks today there is a letter from the Secretary-General to the Security Council proposing that some $416,000 that had been in the escrow account of the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) be credited against that country’s assessments for the UN regular budget, peacekeeping, Tribunal activities and the Capital Master Plan.  The Security Council approved that proposal in a letter to the Secretary-General last Friday.

**Bird Flu

And the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today complimented Italian health authorities on what it called their “extremely effective” control measures taken last week following the discovery of bird flu in six wild swans in the southern part of Italy.  The FAO said the health authorities immediately and publicly identified the problem, quickly isolated the birds, and rapidly notified commercial poultry companies, advising them to keep their birds indoors and be vigilant.

The FAO said the measures are examples of how Governments should move to contain the virus, once it is detected.  The agency also said it is important to underline that there is no evidence that any Italian poultry has bird flu, and that the reported cases are in wild birds only.

And there is a press release on that upstairs.


The United Nations Forum on Forests opened its sixth session today here at UN Headquarters.  The session runs from the 13th to the 24th of this month, and will resume negotiations on the International Arrangement on Forests and the future direction of the intergovernmental body.  And there is more information on that upstairs, as well.

**Counter-Terrorism Committee

The Security Council’s Counter-Terrorism Committee (CTC) today began a week-long visit to the United Republic of Tanzania as part of its continuing practice of on-site dialogue with Member States in order to assess the implementation of Security Council resolution 1373.  The 11-person expert group is led by Javier Ruperez, the Executive Director of the Committee’s Executive Directorate.  And it includes officials from Interpol, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the International Maritime Organization, and the African Union, as well as the European Commission.

** Algeria

And the UNHCR, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, today says that rare torrential rains over the last few days in the desert region of Tindouf in western Algeria have destroyed houses in three refugee camps and left homeless some 50,000 refugees.  Since last Thursday, the highly unusual non-stop torrential rains destroyed 50 per cent of the mud-brick homes in the camps, leaving another 25 per cent of shelters seriously damaged and on the verge of collapse.  UNHCR said it is joining other agencies to address the problem.

And there is a press release upstairs with more information on this.


Tokelauans began to vote last Saturday, 11 February, on the referendum on self-government in free association with New Zealand.  The UN observer team reports that the first day of voting took place in Apia, Samoa, where eligible Tokelauan voters who temporarily reside in that country cast their ballots.  The second leg of the referendum is scheduled to be held in Atafu, one of the atolls in Tokelau, today.  The referendum is scheduled to end on 15 February, and we have a note upstairs on that, as well.

**Upcoming Briefings

And just to flag for you a couple of press appearances tomorrow:  at 11 a.m., the Permanent Mission of Spain will be sponsoring a press conference by the NGOs Peace and Cooperation and Airline Ambassadors International, to launch their annual international school awards, which this year are on the theme of “World without Gender Violence”.  And our guest at the noon briefing -- we hope to have Søren Jessen-Petersen, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Kosovo, following the Security Council’s public meeting on Kosovo.  Should he not be able to make the noon briefing, he will be at the Security Council stakeout to take your questions afterwards.

That’s all I have for you.  Anything for me?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Marie, do you have any official statement from the Secretary-General on the year after the Hariri assassination?  And do you have any update on the tribunal on this assassination?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, I have nothing on the tribunal, and I don’t have anything official on the first anniversary of the Hariri death, but I would like to just repeat a few points that we have made on the subject, and that is that we would like to underscore that the United Nations has consistently provided assistance to the people of Lebanon as they deal with the changes of the past year.  And we will continue to do so.  Since Mr. Hariri’s death, you’ve seen the work done by the team led by Peter Fitzgerald in examining the crime scene and the subsequent establishment and work done by the International Independent Investigation Commission.  We are striving to ensure that there is no impunity for this crime and we have also provided assistance to the Lebanese elections last year, as well as the help provided in the south by the United Nations Interim Force.  And Terje Roed-Larsen continues his work as Special Envoy to ensure that resolution 1559 will be implemented fully.

Question:  Last week, it was announced that Annan has sent a letter to [inaudible] about giving some money back for the damage done in Côte d’Ivoire, and you said today that Jan Egeland is going to be there this week.  Will he be talking about this -- about getting some money back?  Or will he be handling any of these negotiations?

Deputy Spokesman:  From my initial read of the announcement of Jan Egeland’s visit, he is going as wearing the chapeau as the top humanitarian envoy.  As you know, the letter from the Secretary-General to the President addressed peacekeeping operation damages, but let me see if there is any overlap between the two.

Question:  So that didn’t also take care of like the food supplies that were also looted -- that wasn’t part of it?

Deputy Spokesman:  From my understanding, initially, the letter was about attacks on the peacekeeping operation, but let me double-check and get back to you on that after the briefing.

Question:  The Staff Union resolution from last week deals with participation of staff representatives in the discussion about outsourcing and other matters.  How come staff have not been consulted?  Or are they?

Deputy Spokesman:  Staff members are and will continue to be ...  Just before I give you just a bit of detail on that, I would like to repeat again what we had said about the privatization -- in this room, we were asked about any moves to privatize the Pension Fund and we said that no such plan or proposal was in the works.

Question:  I am talking more about outsourcing.

Deputy Spokesman:  As you know, there is management reform.  It’s one of the pillars of the reform package that is being worked on this year -- the Secretary-General’s final year -- and in that connection, I would just like to say that in October of last year, the head of Human Resources sent out a note to all heads of departments, administrative chiefs of peacekeeping missions and all heads of all staff associations asking them for input and suggestions on the overhaul of staff regulations and other human resources issues.  In December, the same request went out to all United Nations staff.

We also had extensive back-and-forth with the staff regarding, as you know, the whistle-blower protection policy.  And in addition, the Deputy Secretary-General has regularly met with a group of middle managers, as well as with the integrity survey group of more junior staff, for discussions of issues related to management reform.  And there are more discussions being slated with the staff.  Also, to point out that we are a global organization, as you know, and the Secretary-General, when he travels abroad, he almost always makes it a priority to meet with staff and talk to them about concerns throughout the world.

Question:  I want to make this clear:  have the staff been consulted about results of studies that said that there should be some outsourcing of jobs that currently are being done in-house, right here?

Deputy Spokesman:  That has been part to the discussions that -- I understand -- which I just outlined to you, but in terms of specifics, I will have to get back to you.

[She later told the correspondent that when the outsourcing possibilities are identified -- with thorough cost-benefit analyses and options identified -- staff will be consulted.  At this stage, Member States are being asked to revisit the general proposition that there are alternative ways of delivering services (including, but no limited to, outsourcing) and to give the go-ahead for the cost-benefit analyses.]

Question:  Was there staff input into that?

Deputy Spokesman:  Staff input has been sought throughout this process.  On this particular issue, let me get back to you, because I don’t have a specific answer to that.

Question:  I missed the beginning of the briefing.  I know you talked about Haiti, but we have reports that United Nations troops have actually fired on demonstrators there. Can you ...?

Deputy Spokesman:  I just saw that same report a few minutes before I came up here.  And we placed a quick call -- there are reports saying that peacekeepers opened fire on demonstrators near the airport, leaving many casualties.  That’s a wire service report.  At this point, we can’t confirm this report.  The latest information we have is that peacekeepers did open fire, but they were firing into the air, above the heads.  But we are going to monitor the situation very carefully, so we will give you an update as soon as we get one.

Question:  Do you have any comments on the detention of Eritrean staff of UNMEE in Eritrea?

Deputy Spokesman:  I have not received an update on that, but I will look into that immediately after the briefing for you.  [She later told the correspondent that she had received reports that 13 national staff in Eritrea had been arrested.  It was not the first time that national staff have been arrested in Eritrea, and protests have always been made.]

Question:  [Inaudible] ... when he is going to be appointed Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament?

Deputy Spokesman:  You were probably quoting news reports in the Japanese press over the weekend.  There was a Tokyo-datelined story in the Nikkei, I believe, out of Tokyo, reporting on or speculating on the next Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs.  We are not ready to make such an appointment announcement yet, but yes, we should be close to announcing one soon, but nothing official today.

Question:  The LA Times had an article today talking about a draft UN report on the detainees at Guantanamo Bay.  I was wondering if this report is accurate and if the United Nations Human Rights Commission plans on closing Guantanamo Bay.

Deputy Spokesman:  We had not seen the report here, so we checked with the Office of Human Rights in Geneva and their spokesman said the report has not yet been finalized.  It is expected out some time this week, however, so as soon as we find out when the final version is about to go out, we will let you know.  The Geneva headquarters has told us that they would inform us.

Question:  Is the draft report -- is it accurate?

Deputy Spokesman:  We can’t comment on the draft report.  As I just said, the report has not been finalized, we have not seen the report here, and I checked with the source, which is in Geneva, and they said that it has not been finalized.  But they do expect something this week, so keep in touch with our Office, and we’ll let you know.

Question:  What’s the status of the search or the selection of the Deputy Secretary-General?  When is that expected, since Deputy Secretary-General has announced her intention to be ...  Who makes that selection and how is that selection made?

Deputy Spokesman:  When we announced the departure of the Deputy Secretary-General for a new assignment, I believe we said from this podium that her responsibilities would be given out to the already existing 38th floor office.  In other words, we will be looking within existing resources for that.

Question:  But that does not cancel the position of Deputy Secretary-General.  The next Secretary-General will presumably be coming in with his or her own ...

Deputy Spokesman:  The next Secretary-General?  Yes, the next Secretary-General will appoint his or her Deputy Secretary-General.

Question:  And until then there will be no DSG?

Deputy Spokesman:  We have said that we will fill those jobs with existing resources.

Question:  On Haiti, you said that the protesters were not reported to be particularly violent. If that was the case, why were United Nations peacekeepers opening fire?

Deputy Spokesman:  As I said, that was a report that ...

Question:  Why shoot -- even in the air?

Deputy Spokesman:  We received that report just a few minutes before I came up.  The earlier report was a more official report that we received earlier this morning.  And this is based on a phone call that we made with the Mission.  As I said, we cannot confirm the reports that we are seeing on the wires.  That does not mean that it’s true, but right now I just do not have further confirmation.

Question:  There were also reports that there was some vote manipulation.  Has the United Nations electoral personnel there have any comments on it?

Deputy Spokesman:  I think until the process is complete, we would not be commenting.  However, we do have people on the ground and they are working very closely with the electoral officials in Haiti.

Question:  Do you have any details of David Nabarro’s schedule -- I understand he is travelling to Ukraine -- how long is he there for?  What is he doing there?  Do you have any idea?

Deputy Spokesman:  He is an active man, and he has a big agenda, so let me find out.  If I send one e-mail, he will probably come back with his agenda for the next three months.  He is very efficient that way.

Any other questions?  If not, have a good afternoon.  Oh, I am sorry:  Pragati Pascale, Spokesperson for the General Assembly President, is here.

**Briefing by Spokesperson for General Assembly President

Good afternoon.

General Assembly President Jan Eliasson is continuing his bilateral consultations on the Human Rights Council this week.  In a few days, he should have a more precise idea of when he might present a text, but as we said, he is aiming for the end of this week, or early next week.  After that, it would be expected to be about a week before action would be taken by the Assembly to allow time for the formal processing of the text and procedures regarding financial implications.  Just to give you an idea for planning purposes.  This would still provide sufficient time to allow for a smooth transition at the March meeting of the Commission on Human Rights.

Consultations of the plenary on Secretariat and management reform are scheduled for this Wednesday to continue discussion of the review of mandates, and consultations on development follow-up in ECOSOC reform are continuing this Thursday.

Any questions?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  The Secretary-General made a statement about the Organization of Islamic Conference three-paragraph addition.  Does the President have any comments on that?

Spokesperson:  He received the text -- the suggested amendments from the OIC -- late last week and is taking them into account in his consultations with Member States.  He is meeting with the Ambassador of Yemen, the Chair of the OIC, some time this week.

Any other questions?  OK -- thank you very much.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.