23 June 2006


23 June 2006
Spokesman's Noon Briefing
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York




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.

**Peacebuilding Commission

Good afternoon.  As you all have been following, those of you who are here, the Secretary-General this morning opened the first session of the Peacebuilding Commission, and expressed his pleasure that the new Commission will aim to provide more sustained, more coordinated and more focused support to countries emerging from conflict.

He noted the weaknesses in current international responses to post-conflict situations, including a shortage of funds, the lack of international coordination, and the tendency for international actors to leave too hurriedly.  The Secretary-General warned that, as we have just seen in Timor-Leste, undue haste to disengage from a transitional situation can result in reversals and a need to redeploy, at great cost to all, particularly the helpless civilian victims.

The Peacebuilding Commission today also decided to take up its first two country cases: Sierra Leone and Burundi.

**Secretary-General – Remarks to Press

The Secretary-General, speaking after the launch -- he spoke to reporters at the stakeout outside of the chambers -- was asked about the possibility of a missile test by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and said a test at this time was “not a wise thing to do.”

On Sudan, he said he hopes to discuss the possible transition to a United Nations peacekeeping force in Darfur with President al-Bashir of Sudan, when they attend the African Union summit next week in Banjul, in the Gambia.  The Secretary-General said that, although the President had publicly expressed his rejection of a United Nations peacekeeping force, the Sudanese had agreed to continue the dialogue on this matter.

We also have available in the Spokesman’s office now the transcript of the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Marie Guéhenno’s press conference in Khartoum yesterday jointly with the African Union at the end of his assessment mission there.

** Somalia

We also issued, yesterday afternoon, just for those of you who may have missed it, a statement on Somalia, in which the Secretary-General welcomed the agreement reached between the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia and representatives of the Union of Islamic Courts in Khartoum yesterday as a positive development.  He urges the two parties to remain engaged in dialogue to promote peace and national reconciliation.  The Secretary-General commended the League of Arab States for facilitating the talks.


Turning to Timor-Leste, on the ground there, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Sukehiro Hasegawa, today called upon all Timorese to reject attempts to divide the nation.

In a message broadcast on national radio, he urged Timorese to “remain resilient to any efforts to divide your people along regional or ethnic lines,” and he added that “maintaining national unity is paramount.”

Regarding the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Timor-Leste, Ian Martin, he and a team that the Security Council asked to examine the needs in Timor-Leste will leave for that country tonight.

On the humanitarian front, the World Food Programme says it is expanding food distribution to 30,000 people displaced in districts outside of Dili.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says that a second wave of relief supplies bound for Timor-Leste is due to get underway early next week.

There are more humanitarian developments outlined in press materials available upstairs.

**Human Rights

In Geneva today, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, addressed the Human Rights Council.  In her statement, which we have available upstairs, she said that poverty continued to be the world’s most serious and widespread human rights violation.

Stressing that human rights must be at the forefront of efforts to counter terrorism, she expressed grave concern about the reported existence of secret detention centres, where suspects were held incommunicado.  She said such practices had a corrosive effect on the rule of law and human rights, and created an environment ripe for abusive conduct.

We have, as I mentioned, the statement upstairs.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

On the racks here today is a document, the Secretary-General’s report on the United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC).

He surveys the UN Mission’s role in the preparations for the 30 July elections, including security plans for election day, and the United Nations humanitarian work in the country and the UN Mission’s efforts in assisting the Congolese authorities in disarming local militias.

The Secretary-General also gives an update on the UN Mission’s strategy to combat sexual exploitation and abuse and other types of misconduct.

** Indonesia

Turning to Indonesia, four weeks after the devastating earthquake in Java, Indonesia, it has become apparent that the damage sustained, particularly to housing, is worse than initially thought.

According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), at least 1 million people have lost their homes, more than 300,000 people need emergency shelter, and reconstruction is expected to take a minimum of two years.  Despite the urgent needs, the emergency response plan remains less than 23 per cent funded.

There is a press release on that upstairs.

** Nepal

We also have a press release by the World Food Programme (WFP) on the transportation of emergency food aid to 225,000 drought-stricken people in the western part of Nepal.

**World Urban Forum

UN-HABITAT’s World Urban Forum is ending in Vancouver, Canada, today.  We have a press conference that will be happening shortly.  About 8,000 participants, including experts, slum dwellers, city planners, Government officials and others have spent the past week discussing the problems of urbanization under the theme “Our Future: Sustainable Cities -- Turning Ideas Into Action”.

We should have a summary of the press conference later this afternoon.

**Louis Sohn

Finally, I have a statement attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary-General, who was sad to learn of the death today of Professor Louis Sohn, an important figure in the history of the United Nations and international law. 
Mr. Sohn, who served as Professor of Law at Harvard University and the University of Georgia, was a member of the United States delegation at the San Francisco conference in 1945, at which the United Nations Charter was drawn up, and also, from 1974 to 1982, at the conference which drafted the International Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Throughout his life, he won wide respect as a voice of reason and source of wisdom, and was a firm believer in the importance of the United Nations and of the rule of law in settling international disputes.

The Secretary-General extends his deepest condolences to Professor Sohn’s family, and to the Government and the people of the United States.

We have that statement available upstairs for you.

**Week Ahead

Just to flag for Monday, at 11 a.m. the Permanent Mission of Switzerland will be sponsoring a press conference to launch the Small Arms Survey 2006.  That’s Monday at 11 a.m. in this room.

Our guest on Monday will be the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, who will brief on her recent visit to Uganda and the report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

We also should have the week ahead for your planning purposes next week, and Pragati Pascale, the General Assembly Spokesperson, is here to brief you on the latest from the General Assembly. 

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Two questions about Uganda.  One is… Uganda has sent a representative to Juba in South Sudan, I guess, to meet with the Lord’s Resistance Army, and they’ve called for the United Nations to keep a military option on the table in terms of capturing Joseph Kony.  Since they’re calling for United Nations action, I wonder if the United Nations has any response to that.

Deputy Spokesman:  I don’t have an immediate response, but I will get you one after this briefing.

[The Deputy Spokesman later said that, as requested by the Security Council in resolution 1663, the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) continues to do everything within its mandate and capabilities against the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).  However, the United Nations forces are extremely limited by both.  She added that it must be stressed that the governments of the region (the Sudan, Southern Sudan, Uganda, Democratic Republic of the Congo) have significant more capacity to act against the LRA than UNMIS does, and that UNMIS is also configured towards implementing a classic Chapter VI monitoring and verification mission and, as such, does not possess any offensive assets.  Furthermore, the Deputy Spokesman said that, now that UNMIS deployment is reaching completion, it will be more proactive patrolling in known LRA areas, as well as in providing assistance facilitating the coordination of information between the three military forces on the ground -- the Sudanese Armed Forces, the Sudan People's Liberation Army and the Ugandan Peoples Defence Force.]

Question:  The second question… this has to do with something I asked you Wednesday.  I wanted to, I guess, reiterate it.  A programme in Uganda, funded by the United Nations Development Programme, in which there are allegations that pastoralists are having their huts burned down and various abuse.  I don’t expect you to answer from this podium, but here’s what I’m asking you…

Deputy Spokesman:  You just raised the matter with the Secretary-General, and we spoke with the United Nations Development Programme.  They do have a response for you.  I don’t have it now, so if you can call, the spokesman there can…

Question:  Thank you.  That’ll be great.  As soon as we finish there, but here’s what I wanted to ask you.  As a matter of course, if a journalist here wants to know how a United Nations agency, how much money it spent on a programme, am I missing something?  Because I asked them Monday and today’s Friday.  Now, maybe by asking it this morning, I’ll get it.  What is the way to get it?

Deputy Spokesman:  You raised the matter with the Secretary-General.  I think he responded to you, and right now I’m telling you that they have a response for you. 

Question:  In the future, does it have to be that way, or is there a better way?  I’d rather not ask the Secretary-General about a particular funding.

Deputy Spokesman:  I think, as the Secretary-General said, these matters of funding budgets are a public record, so the agencies, if you approach them, should be able to provide you with those answers, and most of the time this material is also available on their websites as well.

Question:  At the press conference, the Secretary-General said that, basically, he does not foresee any financial problem, but, yesterday, Mr. Warren Sach addressed the Fifth Committee, and he basically, to paraphrase the Secretary-General, told them that, if something doesn’t happen soon, within the Fifth Committee budget process, that there’s a fear that, in July, the United Nations operation will be severely undermined and that a lot of the work will be stopped.  So where do we stand?  One way he’s saying there is no financial crisis, then Mr. Sach tells the Fifth Committee there is a crisis.

Deputy Spokesman:  I think what you are citing are two sides of the same coin.  The Secretary-General is hoping that the Member States will lift the spending cap, and I believe that the Controller, when he spoke to the Fifth Committee earlier this week, was simply pointing out the urgency of that measure to be implemented because if it’s not implemented by a certain time -- and I think he did mention mid-July -- then the money will dry up.  It’s the same appeal, and I think Pragati will have an update right now on where the Fifth Committee is actually going with this.

Question:  There have been speculations that the Prime Minister of East Timor will be stepping down by the end of the weekend.  Do you have any knowledge about that, or can you confirm that?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, we cannot confirm the press reports you are reading, but I can confirm to you that the Secretary-General has spoken to both the President and the Prime Minister of Timor-Leste, and he urged them both to take actions that contribute to the stability and peace of that country.  I just mentioned to you that his Special Envoy, Ian Martin, is on his way and will be on the ground shortly, and his Special Representative on the ground, Mr. Hasegawa, is on the national radio really basically echoing the same message to the people of Timor-Leste.

Question:  Is there going to be a press conference with the Peacebuilding Commission?  I listened to them on TV today, and it would be very interesting to have that.

Deputy Spokesman:  I’m sorry that you missed -- we announced yesterday that they would be speaking at the stakeout.  The Secretary-General came out with Carolyn McAskie, who is the head of the Peacebuilding Commission’s Support Office.  Then, following that, the Chair, the newly-elected Chair, along with the General Assembly, Security Council and Economic and Social Council Presidents, also went and spoke to the press, so that has already taken place.  It took place after the Commission, but I’m sure you can watch it on the web or get a recording of it.

Question:  You mean it was on the stakeout, or they are going to come here?

Deputy Spokesman:  It was at the stakeout immediately afterward.

Question:  I mean, really, this is not the situation of a stakeout.

Deputy Spokesman:  I’m sure that when the work of the Commission gets under way, we can have them come in and brief you on the developments of the countries being considered. 

Question:  Yesterday, the Chinese Ambassador said that, in his opinion, the Security Council should send a special mission to the Occupied Territory and that he had asked the Security Council to do it.  It is not doing it.  Can it be that the Secretary-General, assessing the situation in the view of the human rights experts, as they have said, about a bad situation existing in Palestinian territory, being that the funds have been cut off by most of the international community and Israel is also not sending them the money which it is retaining on behalf of the taxes that have been collected by them, can it be the Secretary-General asked the Security Council to send a special mission?

Deputy Spokesman:  I have not heard anything of that nature.  I’ll leave it at that for now.  If there are no other questions, Pragati?

Briefing by Spokesperson for General Assembly President

Good afternoon.  This morning at the inaugural meeting of the Peacebuilding Commission’s Organizational Committee, General Assembly President Jan Eliasson stated that, this week, we are writing history at the United Nations, with the first meeting of the Human Rights Council on Monday, and now with the first meeting of the Peacebuilding Commission.

He noted that the international community has struggled for many years to find ways of sustainably assisting States emerging from conflict and that the new Commission is a truly innovative body, bringing together the different actors in peacebuilding for strategic discussions.  Copies of his statement are available upstairs.

In the Fifth Committee this morning, the Chairman, Ambassador John Ashe of Antigua and Barbuda, read out a message from the General Assembly President, stating that he has been assisting, by holding consultations with the objective of lifting the spending cap by consensus, and that he is working towards building this consensus.  The President stated that it is his sincere intention to bring this matter to a conclusion by Wednesday, 28 June.

The Fifth Committee Chairman also circulated a draft decision authorizing expenditure of the remaining funds appropriated in the biennial budget.  Copies of the President’s message to the Fifth Committee are available upstairs.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I just wanted to ask you logistical questions on the Peacebuilding Commission.  Carolyn McAskie was appointed the head of the Support Office.  First of all, that’s going to be in New York?

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  And then, they haven’t decided how they’re going to go about helping Burundi and Sierra Leone yet, because they’re waiting to elect more Committee members, I suppose?  Because that’s what -- Ambassador [Gaspar] Martin said that they elected, I think, Norway and El Salvador, but then other people would be elected to different posts at a later date, so I didn’t know if they were waiting to elect those people to start the logistical who-does-what and where.  I just wanted to know…

Spokesperson:  I think the way, if I remember, the Commission is structured in the resolution establishing it, for each country that is going to be examined or assisted, there will be a committee or a body that is drawn together specifically for that country, with some actors that are relevant to them, so there will be additional people brought in for each country-specific situation.

Question:  So there will be two separate committees, but what’s the time frame for electing these or bringing these people into these committees?

Spokesperson:  I’m not sure, but we can get you that information.  Thank you very much.

* *** *

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