24 April 2006


24 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.

Briefing by Spokesman for Secretary-General

Good afternoon.  I’ll start off with a statement on the situation in the Solomon Islands.

** Solomon Islands

The Secretary-General expresses concern over civil disturbances in the Solomon Islands following the election of the Prime Minister on 18 April 2006.  He calls on the people of Solomon Islands to refrain from acts of violence and reaffirm their commitment to a peaceful and constitutional resolution of their differences in a spirit of goodwill which they convincingly demonstrated during the general elections.  He welcomes the assistance provided to the Government of Solomon Islands by the Pacific Islands Forum through the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) to restore order.  The Secretary-General stands ready to complement the efforts of the regional partners.  That statement is upstairs.

** Nepal

From Nepal, our human rights colleagues there tell us that protests continued throughout the country today, though in relative terms, things remained quiet.  Despite the 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. curfew in Kathmandu, human rights teams were able to monitor the area, visiting hospitals and investigating the security forces’ behaviour over the past days.

The human rights office in Nepal is now focused on the massive demonstration, which the Seven-Party Alliance is planning for tomorrow in Kathmandu.  The office is renewing its appeal for the use of non-violence by demonstrators and strict observance by security forces of international standards regulating the use of force and firearms in law enforcement.

Our human rights colleagues are also keeping a list of prominent journalists and civil society leaders who have been arrested after taking part in peaceful demonstrations.  The UN human rights office is concerned that the conditions under which they are being kept are not adequate or suitable for prolonged detention.

Meanwhile, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that hospitals in Kathmandu are reported to be overcrowded, with bullet wounds, baton injuries and tear gas-induced respiratory problems as the most common ailments.  A UN assessment team is now on the ground and has so far visited six hospitals today.  And we do have more information upstairs.

** Economic and Social Council

The Secretary-General today opened a high-level meeting of the Economic and Social Council and members of the Bretton Woods institutions plus the World Trade Organization, and the UN Conference on Trade and Development.  He said that a lack of significant progress on trade is conspicuous and could even be perilous.

The Secretary-General said it is time for trade-distorting subsidies for agriculture to be eliminated -- and rapidly so for sensitive products such as cotton.  He also welcomed the steps taken in the International Monetary Fund for this weekend to increase participation by developing countries in the Fund's decision-making, and he urged the Fund to use its meetings in Singapore in September to give a real voice to the developing world. 

** Security Council

Alvaro de Soto today, as you know is the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, in an open briefing to the Security Council today warned the Council members that “we are witnessing a potentially dangerous deterioration of the situation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”.

Addressing an open meeting of the Council, de Soto noted the failure of the new Palestinian Government to commit to the principles articulated by the Quartet on non-violence, recognition of Israel’s right to exist and the acceptance of previous commitments and obligations.   De Soto also pointed to the withdrawal of support by several key donors for the Palestinian Authority, and the worsening lawlessness in the Territory.

De Soto also said the first challenge is to stabilize the security environment, where the primary responsibility rests with the parties.

On the humanitarian side, de Soto said, it is likely that, in light of current developments, the scale of UN activities will increase.  UN programmes and agencies will continue to interact with their Palestinian Authority counterparts, to ensure that the United Nations serves the interests of peace and meets the needs of the Palestinian people as effectively as possible.   De Soto added that political and diplomatic contacts may take place at the discretion of the Secretary-General.

The Council’s open briefing on the Middle East is being followed by closed consultations on the same issue, which are going on now.  After those consultations are done, the Security Council members are expected to hold a formal meeting to consider a resolution on the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  (This meeting did not take place today.)

** Western Sahara

The Secretary-General’s latest report on the situation in Western Sahara is out on the racks today.  In it, he says he is concerned that the current deadlock might lead to the deterioration of the situation in Western Sahara, as seen by continued demonstrations and allegations of human rights abuses.

He says the only recourse left is direct negotiations, held without preconditions and with the aim of accomplishing what no plan could -- namely to work out a compromise that produces a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution which provides for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara.

Given the stabilizing and monitoring role the UN Mission there plays, the Secretary-General recommends that its mandate be extended for another six months, until October of this year.

** Timor-Leste

Also out on the racks is the Secretary-General’s end of mandate report on the UN Office in Timor-Leste which is out today on the Council’s web page as well.  In it, he recommends the establishment of a small integrated UN office there to assist preparations for the 2007 presidential and parliamentary elections, and to help strengthen institutions in the period leading to the elections.  The office would include teams specializing in electoral support, political advice, police training and human rights. 

** Iraq

From Iraq, Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, yesterday offered his congratulations on the election of the new Iraqi political leadership.

Speaking on the Secretary-General’s behalf, Mr. Qazi offered his best wishes to the officials elected over the weekend by the Council of Representatives and congratulated Jawad al-Maliki on his nomination as Prime Minister-designate.

Qazi hopes that the election of Iraq’s Presidency, Prime Minister and Speaker will lead to the strengthening of democratic institutions and consolidation of the political process.  He hopes that Iraq’s political leaders will seize this new political momentum to form a government of national unity in a manner that will heal political and social divisions.

** Human rights

Also from the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, she’s in Addis Ababa today to undertake a first-hand assessment of the situation in Ethiopia and hold talks with Government and civil society representatives on how to address human rights challenges in the country.

The visit, which is scheduled to last through 26 April, will see the High Commissioner meet with Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, as well as other senior judicial and law enforcement officials.  And she’s also expected to meet with representatives of parties from across the political spectrum.

** Horn of Africa

Also from the same area, the situation of poverty-stricken and conflict-affected people living in parts of Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia has been a cause of particular concern.  Several years of successive rainfall failures and the rapid erosion of assets and livelihoods have left these people to suffer from water shortages and declining access to food.

Starting tomorrow, the Secretary-General’s Special Humanitarian Envoy for the Horn of Africa, Kjell Magne Bondevik, will be visiting those five countries.  In each, he will meet with government officials, representatives of donor countries, as well as UN agencies and NGO partners.

The United Nations has appealed for $426 million to meet the needs of more than 8 million people in the Horn of Africa.  But so far, only 5 per cent of that amount has been received.

** Secretary-General at Macalester

And over the weekend, the Secretary-General was the inaugural speaker at his alma mater, Macalester College, in St. Paul, Minnesota, as part of the launch of the university’s newly created Institute for Global Citizenship.

At a luncheon afterwards, he was presented with the 2006 Caux Round Table Award for Principled Leadership in recognition of his work in initiating the Global Compact.

The Secretary-General also spoke to the press while in St. Paul on Saturday, and we have upstairs the transcript of that press encounter, as well as the speech he delivered.

And tomorrow our guest will be UNESCO’s Assistant Director General for Education, Peter Smith.  And he will be here to present UNESCO’s report on teacher shortages in the developing world.

And at 11:15 a.m. tomorrow, Kevin Kennedy, the Director of Coordination and Response for OCHA, will brief you here on his department’s latest efforts to deal with financial risk analysis in humanitarian operations.  And I think that is it for me.

Any questions?

** Questions and Answers

Question:  On Nepal, is Kofi Annan or anyone from his office involved in any way in the negotiations or in any dealing between the monarchy and the protestors and the different parties?

Spokesman:  No, not in that direct fashion.

Question:  On the sentencing of this lone individual in connection with the bombing of the UN in 2003, what can you tell us about that?

Spokesman:  We’ve all seen the reports on Friday.  At this point, the situation can best be described as confusing.  We’ve asked our colleagues in the field, at our mission in Baghdad, for more information.  Our regular interlocutors concerning the investigation into the Canal Hotel bombing, meaning the FBI and the Iraqi authorities, have up to now never mentioned that anyone had been formally charged with this bombing.  So we’re just trying to get a bit more information as to exactly what happened and who this gentleman is.

Question:  Have you been informed that there had even been any suspects?

Spokesman:  No, as I said, we have not been informed that anyone had been charged.  We have been kept abreast [of the investigation].  The announcement on Friday by the UN official in Geneva, I think, took all of us by surprise.  And we’re just trying to get more information at this point. 

Question:  How frustrated is the Secretary-General over the efforts of the Group of 77 of trying to stall his budget reforms?

Spokesman:  As far as our understanding -- and Pragati may correct me if I am wrong -- the Fifth Committee has so far suspended its work until Thursday.  So the Secretary-General is just hoping very much that the members of the Fifth get together and sit down and hash out the issues.  But until a decision has been made, we’ll refrain from further comment.

Question:  There seems to be some sort of a switch.  The people who rush to the side of Kofi Annan are likely Americans and Japanese and so forth, while the people who seem to bash his efforts are from the G-77.  Are there any concerns about this?

Spokesman:  Our concern is that we would like to see the Secretary-General’s reform proposals enacted and put into place.  There are discussions in the Fifth under way and I’ll leave to you the colour commentary and the analysis.

Question:  Is there any news about the OIOS investigation of Qazi?

Spokesman:  No, nothing more.

Question:  Are they going to confirm?

Spokesman:  We’ve left it that the OIOS is not briefing at this point.  As soon as we have something to announce, we will.

Question:  I was wondering if the Secretary-General had any public reaction to Osama Bin Laden’s appeal for people to fight a new jihad in Sudan?

Spokesman:  I think we feel no need to respond to him directly.  I think our efforts in Darfur are pretty clear.  We, the UN, as representing the international community are working with the people of Sudan to try to achieve peace and stability in Darfur for those people.  The people in Darfur are clearly in need of protection, of humanitarian assistance and our efforts – the international community’s efforts -- are aimed at that.

Question:  While not feeling any need to respond directly to him, does it in any way alter the calculation that you’re making in terms of who you’ll be inviting to deploy, the security that such a mission would need.  Does a direct threat from Al-Qaida in any way change the equation here?

Spokesman:  The way we handle security for our staff living and working in dangerous areas is reviewed and looked at on a daily basis and we make the adjustments that we feel are needed.

Question:  Khartoum officials made similar comments actually about infidels and others coming into their country.  Since the UN is charged with deploying forces there, “re-hatting”, are you concerned that there is some sort of nexus between the Khartoum Government and Osama as least as far as rhetoric?

Spokesman:  No, I don’t share that concern.

Question:  You say that security arrangements are reviewed and adjusted as needed.  Would a direct threat by the head of Al-Qaida influence that? 

Spokesman:  We’re not going to go into detail about the kind of precautions we take to protect our people.  But obviously, like you, we listen to these reports, we take all these things into consideration and we react accordingly.

Question:  How many UN people are there now?

Spokesman:  I’ll have to give you a figure.  {Later in the afternoon, the Spokesman said there were 250 international staff in Darfur.]

Question:  And just to finish up on management reform, can you tell us what the Secretariat has done to try to explain or negotiate whatever questions or problems there are lingering in the GA?  This must be pretty frustrating to you guys.

Spokesman:  We’ve presented the report in detail not only to the GA as a whole, but to various Committees, to regional groups, to groups of ambassadors.  I think the Secretary-General’s position and his proposals are fairly clear and we are always available to Member States who seek more clarification.

Question:  Is it true that an OIOS Committee which went to Darfur to do some investigation was blocked by Mr. Jan Pronk from conducting that investigation until such time that he [inaudible] for reasons which are still unclear?

Spokesman:  No, I am not aware.  And obviously we would expect all UN officials at whatever level to cooperate fully with any OIOS request.

Question:  On the Fifth Committee, what are the implications if they don’t approve the budget fast?

Spokesman:  Let’s wait for them to make a decision before we start speculating on what may happen.

Question:  It would be a very worrying situation for the United Nations.

Spokesman:  Let’s wait. 


Briefing by Spokesperson for General Assembly President

Good afternoon. I guess most of you know that this morning the Fifth Committee considered two draft resolutions.  It adopted by consensus a draft resolution on the Capital Master Plan, deciding to appropriate $23.5 million for financing the design and pre-construction phases, and authorizing the Secretary-General to enter into commitments of up to $77 million to provide for the construction and related requirements of a conference swing space building on the North Lawn.  The United States dissociated itself from the consensus.

And on the draft resolution on management reform, the Committee decided, on the proposal of Chairman John Ashe of Antigua and Barbuda, to suspend consideration until Thursday morning, to allow more time for consultations, which he will conduct.

Any questions?

** Questions and Answers

Question:  Is there any option of not coming out with a decision on Thursday? 

Spokesperson:  They could delay consideration even further if they wish to.

Question:  I am just wondering what the role is of the President of the General Assembly at a moment that some basically think is one of the greatest crises facing this Organization in years.  There is essentially a battle for the nature of this Organization between the developed and the developing world.  Should the President of the GA, does he have the intention to come here to talk to people to try and sort this process out?  Is his job in Sweden taking up all of his time at the moment?  I’m speaking of his duties as Foreign Minister.

Spokesperson:  The President did make efforts on Friday.  He convened a small meeting in his office of the key players to try to encourage various parties to come to an agreement.  And his Chef de Cabinet also held a further meeting in the afternoon.  His office continues to be engaged in the issue.  He’s monitoring it.  They’re doing what they can to facilitate an agreement.  They’re hoping for a consensus.  But Member States have made it clear that they want the negotiations for this process to take place in the Fifth Committee.  So that will continue.

Question:  There was supposed to be a deadline on the Fifth Committee.  And then it snapped back to the General Assembly, which seems to be a move of things without any regular input from the President.  Can you check on this?  This was a major discussion, with people not knowing where he stood, as you know.

The second thing is somewhere in the Secretary-General’s report -- and I don’t know what really bothered Kumalo and the others was not which report and how many reports because many of those reports were already agreed upon -- but that there is a section in the Secretary-General’s report that says a small group of nations will make some decision on something and that’s what it resents.  That the rich countries already have come to decisions of the Secretariat, which is not really an equal body.  And I’m not really sure what section that is.  Do you know? 

Spokesperson:  I’d have to consult some of the experts on the proposal.  But we can look at the text.

Question:  When did Mr. Eliasson return to the capital and when is he coming back?

Spokesperson:  He left on Friday afternoon for Stockholm.  He assumed his duties as Foreign Minister this morning.  According to the schedule, he was due to spend one week in Sweden and then a further week travelling as President of the General Assembly in Jordan and Kenya for meetings that were arranged long ago.

Question:  Is there any chance that he would come back earlier if the situation warranted it?

Spokesperson:  I haven’t heard that that’s the case.

Question:  Regarding the business in the Fifth Committee today, does this have to be decided by consensus or can it go to a vote?

Spokesperson:  It could be decided by a vote.  There is a long-standing tradition in the Fifth Committee that matters are decided by consensus.  And I think all Member States are very reluctant to change that long-standing tradition.

Question:  So there is the threat of the vote though?

Spokesperson:  It certainly is possible.

Question:  I had understood in my sketchy knowledge of General Assembly procedure that the idea that the Fifth Committee took decisions by consensus was part of the deal that was hatched with the United States to allow it to come back and pay its arrears following the whole UN funding crisis.  Was that deal something unofficial at the time or was it a little bit more formal?  And in that case, how big a change would it be to go for a vote rather than a consensus on this decision?  Is it possible from the Office of the President of the GA to try to get some kind of history?  Have there been votes on a major budgetary decision like this or has it always been consensus all the time?  When was the last time that this was another consensus process?

Spokesperson:  I can certainly try to do some research on the history of it, as to how far back that agreement goes.  As I understand it, it’s an informal agreement.  I don’t think we’ll find anything in writing.  And it does have to do with the balance between developing countries and donor countries.

Question:  Any facts on that would be much appreciated.

Spokesperson:  Sure.

Question:  Have you heard from any of the Member States that some of them think that at this point, to follow up on Mark’s question, that there should be a full-time President?

Spokesperson:  I don’t think that there are very many Member States who question the President’s commitment to the reform process and to this job.

Question:  But he’s not here.

Spokesperson:  He’s monitoring the situation.  His office is fully engaged.  And he has done a tremendous effort in the reform of the United Nations as he was mandated to.

Question:  (Inaudible) only (inaudible) crew was allowed in the booth and no other television crews were allowed.  I just wanted to know if this situation would continue because it doesn’t really help in the sense of what’s going on in the meetings and our coverage of them.

Spokesperson:  Yes, I was aware of that situation.  I was there with you when that was taking place.  I understand from the Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit that that is at the discretion of the Chair of the Committee and that was based on requests from Member States.  The President has been making an effort -- and I’m glad you brought this up because some questions about access to GA meetings have been raised lately -- and he plans to bring up in the General Committee some of the questions about why certain meetings are traditionally closed, especially like the Security Council reform meeting last week, which consisted of statements.  There is a sense among Member States, usually, that negotiations need to be carried out in closed meetings.  They prefer that.  But we’ll do what we can from the President’s side to try to open up the process as much as we can.

Thank you very much.

* *** *

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