7 September 2006


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


and spokesperson for the general assembly president


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 Secretary-General’s Spokesman

Good afternoon.  Apologies for the delay.

**Guest at Noon

Joining us as our guest after Pragati Pascale briefs on behalf of the General Assembly President, will be Karen AbuZayd, the Commissioner-General of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

**Secretary-General Travels

The Secretary-General is now on his way back to New York at the end of his two-week trip to Europe and the Middle East, which ended today as he met with Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos in Madrid.

Following that meeting, the Secretary-General said in a joint press conference that Israel’s embargo will be lifted as of 6:00 p.m. today -– about 13 minutes ago.  That lifting follows the intensive consultations the Secretary-General has had with European and Middle Eastern leaders in recent days, in person and by phone, trying to get the issues around the blockade resolved.

He said this would allow Lebanon to press ahead with recovery and reconstruction without impediment and added, “I am really pleased that we have all rallied” and that, if the international community continues to pool its efforts, this will succeed.

The Secretary-General also said he was very pleased that Prime Minister Zapatero decided to recommend to the Spanish Parliament that Spanish troops join other European countries in helping to stabilize Lebanon.  He reiterated that recent troop contributions to the enhanced UN force were “a sign of international solidarity for the people of Lebanon”.

And we’ll try to have a transcript available for you shortly from that press encounter.  He also met earlier in the day with King Juan Carlos of Spain and discussed with him his recent Middle East tour, among other topics.  And he met separately this morning with former Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez before meeting with the Prime Minister.

** Lebanon

From the ground, the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) reports that the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) withdrew today from several towns in south-western Lebanon, including Al Bayyadah.  UNIFIL has now set up checkpoints and deployed patrols in those areas to ensure that no IDF troops are present.  It is expected that in the next 24 hours, the Lebanese Armed Forces will take control of these areas.

Major-General Alain Pellegrini, the UNIFIL Force Commander, welcomed the Israeli withdrawals saying, “This shows that the process is working.”

Over the past 24 hours, the Indian and Ghanaian battalions distributed some 93,000 litres of water to several villages, and UNIFIL also continues to provide medical assistance to the local population.  And we have a press release upstairs with more information.

** Lebanon –- Humanitarian, Human Rights

Also on the humanitarian front, the World Food Programme’s (WFP) Chief, James Morris, is currently in Lebanon to get a firsthand look at the situation on the ground.  In addition to visiting a hard-hit farming community south of Beirut today, he met yesterday with the Lebanese Prime Minister and other Government officials.  As humanitarian efforts in Lebanon move towards the recovery phase, WFP is preparing to wind up its emergency operation in the country by the end of October.

Meanwhile, on the human rights front, Walter Kälin, the Secretary-General’s Representative on the human rights of internally displaced persons; Philip Alston, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; and Paul Hunt, the Special Rapporteur on physical and mental health, as well as Miloon Kothari, the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, will visit Lebanon and Israel on a fact-finding mission from tomorrow until 13 September.

**Security Council

Meanwhile back here, the Security Council is holding consultations today on the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, better known as UNMOVIC, as well as Sierra Leone and other matters.  Council members heard briefings on the latest reports on those subjects.

Briefing on UNMOVIC was the Acting Executive Chairman, Demetrius Perricos, and on Sierra Leone, Victor Angelo, the Executive Representative for the UN Integrated Office in that country.

And under other matters, according to the Council Presidency, a proposed Middle East meeting was discussed.

** Sudan

From Sudan, the UN Mission in that country says that it has received reports that five armed men opened fire at African Union [AU] staff located at the Kassab camp for internally displaced people in North Darfur last Monday.  A number of bullets penetrated structures that serve as the AU post and fortunately there were no causalities.

And in south Darfur, the Mission also reports that around 50 suspected armed militiamen on horseback attacked a group of women and children collecting firewood a number of kilometres south of Nyala.  And you can find more on the Mission’s update, which is available upstairs.

We’ve also just received a report from UNMIS that a vehicle belonging to the World Health Organization was hijacked in north Darfur at gunpoint.  And they will give us more information as the day goes on.

**Conflict Prevention

Back here this afternoon, the Deputy Secretary-General, Mark Malloch Brown, is scheduled to address the General Assembly on the Secretary-General’s conflict prevention report, which you heard about yesterday.  After delivering a message on behalf of the Secretary-General, Mr. Malloch Brown will make his own remarks.

In his message, the Secretary-General is expected to say that one of his consistent objectives as Secretary-General has been to move the United Nations from a culture of reaction to one of prevention.  He will also ask delegations to read the report and remind them that, with their help, the next Secretary-General will be able to strengthen this vital aspect of the Organization’s work.

He is also expected to refer to his latest mission in the Middle East, which was carried out precisely to prevent further armed conflict in a region of the world which, during the lifetime of the United Nations, has suffered from it more than most.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

Meanwhile, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Jan Egeland, is continuing his tour of Central Africa.  He arrived today in Bukavu, in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where he visited a hospital that specializes in treating victims of sexual violence.

During his visit, Egeland met with women receiving treatment at the hospital, including one who, after being tied up and repeatedly raped for a week, lost the use of her hands.  Moved by their suffering, Egeland promised the women that he would personally take their story to the world.

Meanwhile, the UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, has welcomed the conclusions of the Security Council’s Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict, following its study yesterday of the Secretary General’s report on the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

** Somalia

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) reports that the deadly business of smuggling people across the Gulf of Aden from Somalia to Yemen has resumed for another year, with four overcrowded open fishing boats arriving in less than a week.  The hazardous journeys are continuing despite the Agency’s repeated calls for international action to address the problem of smuggling and minimize the number of deaths.  Hundreds have died before reaching shore in each of the three previous sailing seasons.

The High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, has called for the international community to press local authorities in Puntland to crack down on smugglers.  At the same time, UNHCR has called for donors to support efforts to help displaced persons in Puntland, where very difficult living conditions encourage people to take desperate measures like risking their lives in a boat to cross the straits.

**World Suicide Prevention Day

World Suicide Prevention Day, which is an initiative of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP), will be observed on Sunday, 10 September.

To focus attention on suicide, which is a leading cause of death among teenagers and young adults, the WHO and the International Association for Suicide Prevention will be holding an event on suicide prevention tomorrow, from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., in Conference Room 2.

And at noon tomorrow we will be joined by Dr. Bertolote of WHO, and, as well as someone from IASP.


And in a completely unrelated matter, we have been keeping you updated on the issue of procurement.

We now have a new Permanent Chief of the procurement service.  His name is Paul Buades.  He is a Belgian national who has served for over twenty years with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Belgium.  And, yes, we do have a CV available for you upstairs.  He served for over 20 years with NATO in procurement and other operational jobs.

On that note, I will take Sylviane.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Could you confirm that the facilitator will be Lakhdar Brahimi?

Spokesman:  No.

Question:  Could you deny it?

Spokesman:  No.

Question:  You don’t deny…

Spokesman:  You know, I don’t mean to take this lightly, but we’ve been through this.  I think someone threatened to keep asking until they were blue in the face.

Correspondent:  No, no, but…

Spokesman:  I understand.  We will not have any comment on who the person is, who the person is not, whether it’s a he or a she.  So, I have absolutely nothing on that.

Question:  But, the name is already floating around.

Spokesman:  Things do float around in that part of the world, but I have nothing to comment on that.  Yes, Laura?

Question:  I have two questions.  The first one is, that team of the IDP Special Rapporteurs, are they going to be -- when they come back -- I guess on the 13September, are they going to present a report?  And secondly, is this any connection to the possible war crimes?

Spokesman:  This is the initiative of the Rapporteurs.  It is separate from the resolution that was passed by the Human Rights Council.  And, I assume they will hand over a written report.

Question:  And the other question was, is that the upcoming maybe Arab League meeting that might take place in the Security Council, there’s a Qatari initiative about what might be discussed.  Is Annan going to make any suggestions or encourage the Israelis to participate in this meeting, if it does happen?

Spokesman:  I think at this point, the meeting is under discussion -- a meeting on the Middle East is being discussed by the Security Council so let’s wait and see what comes out.  The issue of the Arab League initiative was something that obviously the Secretary-General discussed with Amre Moussa when he was there.  Yes, Nick?

Question:  On the issue of the blockade, I know you spoke about it a little earlier, but, out of the region, there are reports that the UN and Italy and other players who would be monitoring this blockade cannot agree on details and has sort of come to a deadlock and Israel is essentially saying that it’s not going to lift it.  Can you speak to the negotiations?

Spokesman:  What has happened, we know, is that a number of German officials are now operating at the Beirut airport with close cooperation with a number of UN staffers to help the monitoring at the airport.  It is our understanding that a naval task force, that includes British, French and Greek ships, is already -– and Italian –- is operating or is about to be operational.  And that is as an interim measure before the full UN component of that naval task force is operational, which very much would include a German component.  And those discussions with the Germans are continuing.

Question:  Does that mean that the Germans are refusing to join the naval blockade for now because there’s certain…

Spokesman:  There’s no refusal.  I think the Germans have made it clear that they would want to operate under a UN command.  The ships that are there now are there at the invitation of the Lebanese Government to help them secure their naval frontier.

And meanwhile and parallel to that, we are working on maritime rules of engagement for the naval component of UNIFIL.

Question:  So, at this point the sea portion of the blockade is not…

Spokesman:  I think, you know, it will be up to the Lebanese to say when they feel the blockade has been lifted.  We’re obviously in contact with them, but, it will be up to them to basically say they feel that the blockade has been lifted.

Question:  [Inaudible].

Spokesman:  Well, obviously the Israelis to say that they have lifted it and to the Lebanese to say that it has been lifted.

Question:  Could you speak to the maritime rules of engagement and are they different from the UNIFIL plus rules of engagement?

Spokesman:  Well, obviously you have different rules of engagement for land forces as you do for maritime forces.  There’re another set of international legal implications when it comes to operating on the seas.  Those issues are being worked out, but the aim of it, as stated in the resolution, is to support the Lebanese Government in securing its frontiers.

Question:  But, that was exactly my question.  Does the resolution cover legally the idea of fleets?

Spokesman:  No, it discusses naval borders.  But, there are obviously -- when you’re talking about a naval component and operating it at sea, whether it’s within the maritime borders or without, there are a number of rather technical, maritime legal implications which are currently being discussed.  But, we very much hope that within two weeks that will all be settled and the Germans will be on board.

Question:  Could you just tell us who is discussing these?  Is it the Office of Legal Affairs?

Spokesman:  This is obviously being worked on at various levels with the Secretary-General in discussions with Chancellor Merkel and Mr. Guéhenno has also been in touch with diplomatic and defence officials on the German side.  So, it really is at a number of different levels.  Yes, Irwin?

Question:  Steph, we did an interview in Basel this morning with Mark Pieth, who criticizes the United Nations for failing to take on some of the key recommendations of the Volcker Commission.  He says that one of the key recommendations was an independent audit committee, and instead, the UN has a committee with just one independent member.  He says the UN needed to weed out and remove incompetent employees, but hasn’t done so.  And, I’m wondering if you have any comment.

Spokesman:  Well, I think we’ve taken on board quite a lot of the lessons learned from Volcker -- What we have been able to do ourselves, under the Secretary-General’s authority on audits and on procurement, as I just announced today.  There are obviously other more general audit rules that the General Assembly does have to work out, but, I think we are proceeding on the lessons learned from the Volcker Commission.

Question:  On those particular points -– an audit committee with one just independent member…

Spokesman:  That’s the answer I can give you at this point.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  I have three questions.  Two are very short.  One is, in Ivory Coast, the Prime Minister has disbanded the Cabinet because of this toxic spill.  What does the UN or its representative there, given that the election has been put off, had they said anything about this?  What do they think are the next steps?

Spokesman:  Well, on the elections, obviously it is something that will be, as we said, worked out and looked at on the sidelines of the General Assembly in the next two weeks when there will be a meeting of the major parties involved in the Ivorian conflict.

On this specific issue, the Prime Minister, Charles Konan Banny, spoke to Mr. Guéhenno today, to brief him on the dissolution of the Government.  He told them the decision was made to ensure that all those who have a hand in what happened in the dump of the toxic waste, take full responsibility and are removed from Government jobs.  We obviously acknowledge the decision.  I think it is always good when people take responsibility for these sorts of things.  And, we very much encourage all Ivorian parties at this time to support and fully cooperate with the Prime Minister to facilitate the formation of a new Government in order to avoid any further delays in the peace process at this time.

Question:  Thanks.  One thing I wanted to ask you about is housing subsidies.  We’ve spoken about them before –- housing subsidies by Governments to UN employees.  You said that they’re ok, if they’re disclosed.

Spokesman:  I know what I said.  At this point I have nothing to add.  I am waiting for some language, which I don’t yet have.  So, as soon as I have something, I will let you know.

Question:  Last thing.  Mr. Alston.  I just wanted to know.  He’s been asked by groups in Nigeria to visit Nigeria on the issue of extrajudicial killings.  I don’t know who speaks for him in terms of his plan of work.

Spokesman:  We don’t speak for him, but we can put you in touch with him.  Yes, Mark?

Question:  I have two questions for you.  Number one.  What will Kofi Annan, I understand he will be going to the Non-Aligned Summit before the General Assembly is opened.  What will he be saying there?  And also, does the UN have any comments on the United States admission that it was running secret CIA detention centres around the world?

Spokesman:  On the possible presence at the Non-Aligned Summit, I don’t have anything to announce.

Correspondent:  [Inaudible] not fixed?

Spokesman:  I just have nothing to announce at this point.  On the issue that you raised, on Guantanamo and the CIA, the Secretary-General spoke to that this morning and he said, “In the fight against terrorism we ought to be very careful not to erode human rights and civil liberties.  If we do we are handing the terrorists a victory they cannot win on their own.”  And, I think the Secretary-General’s message has always been one that in the fight against terrorism, one should not sacrifice human rights.

Question:  So, does the Secretary-General call for the dismantlement of all secret US CIA prisons?

Spokesman:  He has called –- he has often said that Guantanamo should be closed.

Correspondent:  No, I’m not talking about Guantanamo.

Spokesman:  -- and his answer to that is fairly clear in what I’ve said.  Yes, sir?

Question:  I, and I imagine some of my colleagues as well, got an e-mail yesterday evening from the press attaché at the Greek Mission revealing, among other things, that there is a sixth candidate for Secretary-General.  The said candidate was nominated by the Government of Fiji, but it’s not clear if it was actually a Fijian.  I sent back a reply e-mail to which I’ve not yet gotten a response.  Do you know anything about this?

Spokesman:  What I do know is that the selection of the next Secretary-General is in the hands of the Security Council at this point and the Member States.  And I have no information on that specific candidate or non-candidate.  Mr. Pincas?

Question:  In regard to initiative by the Arab League, what is the intent?  Is this to strengthen the road map or to create an alternative to the road map, which is actually more one-sided?  What did they put forward that should be discussed?

Spokesman:  I think you need to ask the Arab League representative, here, that question.  I cannot speak for them.

Correspondent:  [Inaudible] on the record?

Spokesman:  I cannot think for them.  You are asking me a question about their proposal and explaining their proposal.  You will have to ask them.  Yes, Jonathan?

Question:  A serious impasse with Sudan and we have heard the Secretary-General make the occasional proclamation about how terrible the situation is there.  Is there any initiative that he has planned, any trips out to the region, something to kick-start this?

Spokesman:  I have nothing on any possible trips to the region.  I think it’s been more than an occasional statement from him.  Through a number of stops during his trip to the Middle East he has raised the critical issue, reminded the Government of Sudan that, if they themselves could have protected their own population, we would not be in the situation, and that, if there is no international protection for the people of Darfur, they will have to answer to the international community.  He continues to work with the Security Council and other Member States who may have some influence with the Sudanese, and that includes obviously Arab and African countries, to try the Government of Sudan in the direction of accepting a transition to the UN force.

Yes, Sylviane?

Question:  On the Nicolas Michel mission, do you have anything new on the international tribunal?

Spokesman:  No, he’s continuing his meetings with the Lebanese authorities.  I believe he met with the Minister of Justice today.  These are part of his ongoing discussions.  We may have something towards the end of the mission, but this should really be seen as part of the ongoing dialogue with the Lebanese to see how we can be helpful in this regard.

Question:  But, there’s the legal issue and the…

Spokesman:  No, there are all sorts of issues that have to be worked out, and that is what the trip is all about.

Question:  Did the Secretary-General raise this issue with the Lebanese Government while he was in Lebanon?

Spokesman:  You know, I don’t know the answer to that particular question, but I can check.

Question:  Follow-up on yesterday’s question about the Lebanese official who was assassinated apparently.  Anything on that?

Spokesman:  No, I have nothing further to add to what I said yesterday.

Thank you.  On that note, we’ll go to Pragati.

Correspondent:  [Inaudible] look into it.

Spokesman:  When you ask me questions, I actually do look into them sometimes, Benny.

We’ll go to Pragati and then we’ll have Karen AbuZayd.  Thank you.

**Briefing by General Assembly President Spokesperson

Good afternoon.

This morning General Assembly President Jan Eliasson presented a draft resolution on “The United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy” to the informal consultations of the Plenary.  This draft is the product of extensive negotiations led by the Co-Chairs, Ambassador Yañez-Barnuevo of Spain and Ambassador Vanu Gopala Menon of Singapore, as well as numerous bilateral consultations by the President and his team.

The President asked Member States this morning for their full cooperation and support so that a decision can be reached on this vital matter by consensus tomorrow afternoon, in Plenary.  He said that this would demonstrate to the world that the General Assembly can play a key role in effectively and responsibly addressing one of the most serious threats to the security of us all today and that by this, the Assembly would also pay tribute to all those around the world whose lives have been lost and destroyed by the scourge of terrorism.

And we can make the text of the draft resolution, as well as the President’s statement, available to you after this briefing.  We are also working on arranging a press briefing by the Co-Chairs and the President’s Office sometime tomorrow to walk you through the highlights of that text.

This afternoon the Assembly will meet in Plenary to consider the report of the Secretary-General on conflict prevention.  As Steph mentioned, the Deputy Secretary-General will deliver a message on behalf of the Secretary-General.  The General Assembly President will also make a statement, the notes of which we can make available afterwards.

Conflict prevention is an issue in which President Eliasson has taken a special interest for many years.  A number of delegations have asked to speak on this agenda item at the meeting this afternoon.

And this afternoon, the Assembly will also take up the item on the situation in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan, postponed from yesterday.  A revised draft resolution has been submitted by Azerbaijan and is available upstairs.

And also at tomorrow afternoon’s plenary meeting, the Assembly is expected to take action on the report of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Revitalization of the General Assembly, which includes the text of a draft resolution that has been the subject of extensive consultations.  And this resolution contains a section with recommendations for the future process for selecting the Secretary-General.  That text will be available later this afternoon upstairs.

Yesterday, the Assembly President gave the opening address at the annual DPI/NGO Conference, which is being attended by over 1,500 NGOs.  He told the civil society representatives that “You are partners with us”, and that “We need your voices, we need your contribution” to achieve the huge tasks ahead of us in all the key areas coming out of the 2005 World Summit.

This year the President has spearheaded discussions, chaired by the Ambassadors of Indonesia and Norway, to give further consideration to expanding the role of civil society in the General Assembly.

Some broadcasters have asked about the scenario for the hand-over to the incoming Assembly President.  At the conclusion of the sixtieth session on Monday morning, after the President’s closing statement and the moment of silence, President Eliasson will invite the President-elect of the sixty-first session up to the dais and present her with the ceremonial gavel.  So, that’s a visual moment you may want to capture.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Approximately what time will that be?

Spokesperson:  The meeting starts at 10:00 a.m. so maybe 11ish?  It’s hard to say.

Question:  When the General Assembly starts, when the sixty-first one starts, in the past two years we’ve had speeches also given on Saturday, and I notice that the preliminary schedule doesn’t have a Saturday showing.  Is there a possibility that it will carry on to Saturday or that it’s actually not going to happen this year?

Spokesperson:  I think they usually manage to stick to the schedule that’s published.

Question:  So, there won’t be a Saturday this year?

Spokesperson:  It’s not scheduled.  I don’t think there would be.  Last year was kind of an unusual year also.

Question:  Since we haven’t seen the President’s statement and we’re going to have to write about it this afternoon, can you walk us through this terrorism strategy or does the President’s statement layout exactly what the high points are and what it’s all about?

Spokesperson:  His statement this morning gives a few highlights.  I was hoping that you would write about it tomorrow, when it’s adopted, and then we’ll try to get the experts who’ve done the negotiations to come brief you.

Question:  It’s a done-deal?  Basically, it’s been agreed then?

Spokesperson:  I mean they’ve had extensive consultations.  There has been no action in the informals.  This morning one Member State commented that he was awaiting instructions from his capital.  And the President commented that he understands that a number of delegations are in that position.  So, it’s not a done-deal, but the President is very optimistic that it will be adopted by consensus.

Question:  Will you be around this afternoon just in case it turns out that some people want to write about this?

Spokesperson:  Yes, I’ll do my best and I can put you in touch with the delegates involved.

Question:  The resolution on the occupied territories of Azerbaijan is it a consent text or is there going to be a vote?

Spokesperson:  I think that they were working on revising the resolution so that it could be adopted by consensus.  I have to check if a vote has been requested or if it was withdrawn.

Question:  On this gavel question, is it the gavel with the kind of unique back part on it, or does that belong to Mr. Eliasson?

Spokesperson:  I think it is the ceremonial gavel, but I’d have to check, the one he was presented with.

Question:  I realize that this might not be technically your responsibility, but do you have any details yet on when there might be a briefing with the incoming President?

Spokesperson:  I believe it’s scheduled for the opening of the session, on that day, Tuesday, 12 September.

Question:  I know the scheduling of the list of speakers in the General Assembly Plenary meeting is subject to change, but there are certain speakers the media is focusing on, particularly the Iranian President and the Venezuelan President.  How firm are those dates?  Can we begin to frame coverage plans around that or is really too early still?

Spokesperson:  We have the schedule that’s been given to us.  Delegations have given those slots to General Assembly Affairs, and we can only go by what the delegations tell us.  So, to the best of our knowledge, that’s the schedule.  I suppose you could ask the delegation to firm that up or how strong their commitment is to that time.  I think it usually holds –- the schedule holds fairly well.

Thank you very much.

* *** *

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