21 April 2006


21 April 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 Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General, and Pragati Pascale, Spokesperson for the General Assembly President.

Spokesman for Secretary-General

Good afternoon.  First, I’d like to mention all our friends here -– students from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.  So, welcome to the UN and welcome to this briefing.

** Nepal

I’ll start off with Nepal.

On Nepal, our human rights colleagues on the ground have told us that demonstrations began slowly in the morning in Kathmandu, and were generally peaceful in most places.  In addition, today’s conduct by security forces in most of the capital was more restrained than in the past days.  And in general, the types of clashes that we had seen in previous days are not taking place today.

Also, there were no reports of any significant numbers of injuries or arrests of demonstrators.

And after the Human Rights Office lodged an official protest with the Nepalese Army yesterday, the human rights monitors were granted a limited number of curfew passes and have been monitoring the situation throughout the city today.

Teams visited hospitals where those injured yesterday by security forces are being treated.  And according to the UN teams, many of the wounded are suffering from bullet wounds, and some of the victims are apparently in serious condition.

Meanwhile, on the humanitarian front, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Nepal has reported shortages of kerosene and gas, as well as scarcity of cooking oil, sugar, fresh fruit and vegetables.  It also warns that hospitals are being overstretched.

And the World Food Programme, as well as the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, have been able to maintain their humanitarian food convoys to seven refugee camps.  Also, the UN and its partners have been successful in distributing crucial vitamin supplements in the past two days to those camps.

**Security Council

Meanwhile, the Security Council this morning heard from visiting Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora about the latest developments in his country in an open meeting.  And the Secretary-General was in attendance at that meeting.  Syria’s representative to the United Nations also addressed the open meeting of the Security Council.  The Council then moved into a closed discussion with the Prime Minister, and that is continuing.

The Prime Minister will then be meeting the Secretary-General and that should take place shortly.  And then he is expected, Prime Minister Siniora is expected to come down to this briefing room to speak to you.  It was scheduled for 12:30, but I think it will probably slip to 12:45 at the earliest.

** Haiti

Meanwhile from Haiti, the UN Mission says that the second round of legislative elections there opened today and it’s progressing in a calm and peaceful manner.  The UN Mission is providing security for all aspects of the elections and it also provided technical assistance in their preparations.

** Chad

From Chad, the World Food Programme (WFP) warned today that the continuation of conflict in Chad could have serious implications on the humanitarian efforts and leave thousands of people short of food both in eastern Chad and Darfur.  Despite the recent relocation of non-essential UN and NGO staff, WFP remains operational in Chad and is completing April food distributions in camps in the east of the country.

But the months of April and May are absolutely critical, according to WFP, since they must pre-position enough food for six months in each of the 12 refugee camps in the east before the annual rains make road transport action impossible.  Insecurity-related delays will have also serious consequences, according to the UN Food Agency.

** Pakistan

From Pakistan, the Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees, Wendy Chamberlin, today ended a six-day visit to Pakistan, where she witnessed the signing of an agreement with the Government on the registration of Afghan citizens in Pakistan.

Signed on Wednesday, the Memorandum of Understanding will pave the way for Afghans counted in the Pakistan Government census of March 2005 to be registered at an individual level later this year.  UNHCR has more details in their briefing notes up from today.

**Secretary-General Travels

Couple of travel notes for senior officials to flag.

The Secretary-General will be in Saint Paul, Minnesota, this Saturday, where he’ll be the inaugural speaker at Macalester College’s newly created Institute for Global Citizenship.  As you may know, the Secretary-General earned his bachelor’s degree at Macalester in 1961.  And we do expect him back in the office on Monday.

**Deputy Secretary-General

And on Monday, the Deputy Secretary-General, Mark Malloch Brown, will be at the UN’s Geneva headquarters.  While in Geneva he will speak on UN reform at the spring meeting of the so-called Geneva Group, which brings together the major donors to the UN’s humanitarian and development activities.  He will also address the Geneva ambassadors of the “Group of 77” nations on the same issue.

And the Deputy Secretary-General is also scheduled to address the Geneva staff council on Tuesday, and he will also have a town hall meeting on Tuesday with the UN staff at large in Geneva.  And he will be back in the office on Wednesday.


Also a heads-up on Monday morning, the Secretary-General will open a meeting in the Economic and Social Council Chamber of the IMF, World Bank and the World Trade Organization.

The meeting, which is to be a follow-up of the ministerial-level meeting in Washington over the coming weekend, will focus on the Doha Round of trade talks and implementation of the Millennium Development Goals.

**The Week Ahead

And today being Friday we have The Week Ahead available for you.

Any questions before we move on to Pragati?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  For the benefit of our guests, wasn’t the Secretary-General also a track star at Macalester?

Spokesman:  Yes, he did do track and he played soccer.

Question:  He was out in front on all --

Spokesman:  Out in front.  Yes, Nick?

Question:  Does the Secretary-General see any contradiction that Nepalese troops are, you know, the fifth largest contributors to peacekeeping forces, yet they are also being accused of widespread abuses at home?  Is there any effort to scale back the number of Nepalese troops in UN peacekeeping missions?  What can he do about that?

Spokesman:  We addressed that issue yesterday, but basically, at this point, at this stage, our policy remains focused on the activities of individual Nepalese soldiers.  If we are to find that Nepalese soldiers or police officers serving in UN peacekeeping operations have been accused of human rights violations, we would ask Nepal to remove them.

We usually rely on information from Member States to help us weed out, or vet, any possible human rights violators in their own contingents.  In the case of Nepal, we have the added benefit of the work of the UN Human Rights Office in Nepal, which is coordinating with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and passing on any specific information they have to them on the activities of individual Nepalese police or soldiers.

Question:  I mean, obviously this is more of a larger order that has come down from senior staff in the Nepalese Army.  It’s, you know, whether you’re going to chase some army soldier who fired a gun on a protestor on the street, I mean.  And also the notion that you would notify human rights abuses by troops.  Well, they’re not in the missions, they’re in Nepal.  So, would that policy mean that you would block individual Nepalese soldiers from being deployed on UN peacekeeping missions?

Spokesman:  The general policy is, obviously, we would not want any soldier from any nation who is accused of any human rights violations or criminal acts to serve in the tens of thousands of peacekeepers we have.  As I said, we traditionally rely on the Member States to help us vet.  In this specific case, we have the backup of the Human Rights Office in Geneva, which is tracking the activities of individuals.

But this remains the policy at this point.  They have about, as you pointed out, Nepal is the fifth largest contributor and they have about 3,500 troops in 12 peacekeeping operations.

Question:  You will rely on the Nepalese Army to inform you about abuses by...

Spokesman:  No, I think as I said, in the specific case of Nepal, we rely on the Nepalese, as we do with all the Member States, but we rely specifically on our own human rights officers who are currently in Nepal who are monitoring the activities of the army and the police in the demonstrations.

Question:  But they don’t wear name tags.  I mean, how –-

Spokesman:  Nick, this is –- our monitoring teams are on the ground.  They’re interacting with the army, they’re interacting with the police, and they’re tracking as best as they can.  Masood?

Question:  Follow-up on Nepal.  I mean, what Nick is asking.  The UN officials and agencies over there were saying that they are not getting access, [inaudible] getting movement in the city.  Have they got that access?  ICRC, UN High Commissioner for Refugees and so forth?  And what, do you have anything to say about this statement by the King?

Spokesman:  First of all, on access, yesterday, the human rights monitoring teams were denied access.  They filed the protests with the Army.  This morning, we were given a limited number of curfew passes, which enabled us to monitor the activities, the demonstrators and the behaviour of the Armed Forces, which was much more restrained, as we were able to witness today.

As far as the statement made by the King a few hours ago, we’re obviously studying the announcement carefully.  But it’s the Secretary-General’s sincere hope that the statement will lead ultimately to the speedy restoration of democratic order in Nepal and an end to the civil conflict that we’re seeing.

But we’re taking a look at the statement, and we do expect to have further reaction this afternoon.

Question:  I believe that the opposition took a dim view of that statement because it has not -–

Spokesman:  They’ve probably had a chance to study it more closely than we have, but we’re doing just that.

Correspondent:  Okay.

Spokesman:  Thank you.  Yes, Matt?

Question:  There are reports that UNHCR has suspended operations at a camp in Burundi [inaudible].  So, I know you’re going to say, ask UNHCR.  I guess I want to say, I’d like your office to actually look into it, to get a report back on that.  I’ve had some difficulty with the UNHCR press office in New York.  They ended up yesterday sending a press release after four hours of waiting about Liberia –- sending a press release that had been out for a day.  I think your office should say something, maybe even speak on this issue.

Spokesman:  We’ll be happy to try to pry information out of them.

Correspondent:  Appreciate it.

Spokesman:  Mr. President?

Question:  Mr. Spokesman, there are reports that there are certain senior UN officials who will be gathering at some retreat in New York, some place at some point, next weekend, to do something about the legacy of the Secretary-General.  Is that true?  And is this also true that some of the top officials are going to be there?  Can we just know who are the officials who are going to be there?

Spokesman:  I have no details.  But, you know, UN officials have often retreats, meet, and we don’t flag every meeting or retreat, but if there’s anything to say on that, I will let you know.  Nick?

Question:  As a follow-up to Masood’s question on the Secretary-General.  Does he have sort of an agenda of big-ticket issues that he’s going to focus on for the rest of his term?  I mean, we get some statements of concern and things like that.  He’s going to Macalester.  But what are the defining issues that will help him shape his legacy in the last six months?

Spokesman:  The focus at this point is not on his legacy, but it is on his work, as it remains until December.  Obviously, the big issues that he’s dealing with is trying to see through as much of the reform process that he put forward to completion, and the situation in Darfur, and the situation in Sudan, the regional situation in general, in Sudan and Chad and parts of central Africa.  And seeing that resolved.  I think those are things that he’s focusing on, without prejudice to all the other issues he’s also looking at.

Thank you.  And Pragati is coming here to brief you on the General Assembly.

Spokesperson for General Assembly President

Good afternoon.

General Assembly President Jan Eliasson is leaving this afternoon for Sweden, where he will be assuming his duties as Foreign Minister on Monday, 24 April.  He will spend one week in Sweden, and will then be travelling to Amman, Jordan, where he has been invited in his capacity as President of the General Assembly to be the keynote speaker at the annual meeting of the InterAction Council of former Heads of State and Government.

Following that he will be travelling to Nairobi, primarily as President of the Assembly, to discuss environment and other related issues with senior officials at the UN Environment Programme and UN-Habitat, and with Government delegates there.  He will also hold some bilateral meetings as Foreign Minister.

And he will then be back at UN Headquarters on 8 May.

Intensive negotiations have been continuing in the Fifth Committee on the management reform issues raised in the Secretary-General’s report “Investing in the United Nations”.  The Committee held “informal informal” consultations until 4 this morning.  The Assembly President is holding meetings today to take stock of the situation and discuss the way forward.  A formal meeting of the Fifth Committee has been scheduled for Monday, to take action on the draft resolution under negotiation.

Nick, yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  There will be a vote on the resolution on Monday?

Spokesperson:  It’s not clear yet whether it would be a vote or consensus action, but the meeting has been scheduled to take action.

Question:  Security Council reforms.  There was a meeting.  You have a brief on that?

Spokesperson:  Actually, I don’t have a readout on that meeting, but I can try to get more information for you.

Question:  This is just kind of a logistical question.  Did I understand you correctly when you said until 4 a.m. -- in the morning?

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  If you could, where were they meeting, who was, not necessarily what was discussed, but how, can you say a little more about that?  Can you try to give a better description of how hard people are working on it maybe?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know what room they were in specifically.  It was one of the conference rooms downstairs.  And these are informal informals, so there’s no services, no interpretation.  They’re just a room full of people trying to work out elements of the text.

Question:  Can you find out how many people?  [Inaudible]

Spokesperson:  No, no.

Question:  But how many people, a dozen, three dozen, a hundred?

Spokesperson:  I’ll try to get an eyewitness account for you.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Question:  Do you also have any readout on the closed consultations on injecting greater transparency into the selection process for the Secretary-General?

Spokesperson:  I heard that it was a very positive debate, and a very interesting debate with a lot of participation.  I don’t have any more information than that.  But some delegations circulated their statements, I know.

Thanks very much.

* *** *

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