30 November 2006


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


And the spokeswoman 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 Gail Bindley-Taylor Sainte, Spokeswoman for the General Assembly President.

Briefing by the Spokesman for the Secretary-General

Good afternoon.

**Guest at Noon

Our guest at noon will be Jan Egeland, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, and Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein of Jordan, who is a Goodwill Ambassador for the World Food Programme.  And they will be joining us shortly to talk about the Humanitarian Appeal 2007.

**Humanitarian Appeal 2007

And on that very issue, the Secretary-General launched the Humanitarian Appeal 2007 right here at Headquarters.  The thirteen consolidated appeals for specific emergencies seek nearly $4 billion to help some 27 million people in 29 countries across the world, mostly in Africa and the Middle East.

In his remarks, the Secretary-General said that the individuals in need were not seeking a handout, but rather a hand up.  Noting that this was his last Humanitarian Appeal as Secretary-General, he added that he hoped that, once again, the international community would respond -- not with pity, but with practical assistance.

And we have more upstairs on the Humanitarian Appeal, as well as the Secretary-General’s remarks.

And I would ask you once again, please, to turn off your cell phones.  Thank you.

**The Sudan

Meanwhile, on the situation in the Sudan, the African Union’s Peace and Security Council Summit Meeting on Darfur began just a short while ago in the Nigerian capital, Abuja.  And we have heard this morning that Jean-Marie Guéhenno, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, delivered a message on the Secretary-General’s behalf.  That message, of course, is available to you upstairs.

In it, the Secretary-General stresses that “it is vital that we ensure the continuation of a peacekeeping presence in Darfur, and that we make it as effective as possible.  We cannot afford to compromise on that”.

He added that the UN Security Council is now looking to this summit in Abuja for decisions that will facilitate the rapid implementation of the agreement reached in Addis Ababa at the UN-AU meeting that was co-chaired on Darfur.

And also I know a number of you have been asking us repeatedly over the last few days about the letter from President Omar al-Bashir to the Secretary-General.  That letter has arrived a short while ago.  It is currently being translated.

Also on the Sudan, the UN has begun delivering medical assistance to more than 300 civilians who were wounded by heavy fighting in the town of Malakal in southern Sudan, which we reported to you yesterday.  And there’s a press release from the UN Mission in the Sudan with more information on that, should you want it.

**World AIDS Day

Tomorrow is World AIDS Day, and the Secretary-General, in a message issued in advance of that occasion, says that the stakes in the struggle against AIDS are higher now than ever.  He warns that we cannot risk letting the advances that have been achieved unravel, and that we cannot jeopardize the heroic efforts of so many.  The challenge now is to deliver on all the promises that Governments have made.

This evening at 6:30, the Secretary-General will attend an event to mark the observance of World AIDS Day at St. Bartholomew’s Church here in midtown Manhattan, and will deliver remarks on how AIDS has become the greatest challenge of our generation.

The theme for this year’s observance is accountability, and the idea that “AIDS stops with me”.  And we’ll try to have embargoed copies of his remarks available to you later this afternoon.


From Kosovo, the Secretary-General’s latest report on Kosovo is now out on the racks.  In it, he says he is disappointed that the future status process has resulted in only uneven progress and limited agreement on some specific elements, and that the two sides have not moved from their diametrically opposed views.  At the same time, he calls upon the sides to refrain from any unilateral actions and statements.

The Secretary-General also notes with dismay that violent attacks continue to be made by a few in an attempt to bring about political change.  Condemning such violence, the Secretary-General calls upon the people of Kosovo to help their institutions defeat that violence.

** Liberia

And from Liberia, the UN Mission in Liberia says it has signed a landmark agreement yesterday with the World Bank, the Liberian Government and the UN Development Programme to rehabilitate three major roads at an estimated cost of $3.7 million.  And we have more available upstairs.

**Security Council

Today, being the last day of the month, is the last day of the current Presidency of the Security Council, which has been held for November by the Ambassador of Peru.

Tomorrow, the Ambassador of Qatar, Nassir Abdulaziz al-Nasser, will begin the Council’s Presidency for the month of December.  He is expected to brief you in this room next Monday, at about 1 p.m., on the Council’s programme of work for the month of December.

And there are no official meetings or consultations of the Council scheduled for today.

**Human Rights Council

Turning now to Geneva and the Human Rights Council, the President of that Council, Ambassador Luis Alfonso de Alba of Mexico, today announced that the Human Rights Council will hold a special session devoted to the human rights situation in Darfur immediately after the current session ends next week, probably around 12 December.

The meeting was requested by 29 members of the Council.  At least one-third of the members of this 47-member body are needed to request a special session.

**World Food Programme

A couple more items for you.  The World Food Programme (WFP) today announced that, unless it receives new contributions urgently, it will be forced to halt food distributions for some 90,000 orphans and vulnerable children in Namibia by the second half of December.  And we have a press release on that upstairs.

**United Nations Environment Programme

And also the UN Environment Programme says that 70 per cent of the greenhouse gas emissions generated by the 2006 Winter Olympics have been offset.  And those winter games, as you will remember, were held in Torino, Italy.  And a new report underlines how the last Winter Olympics set new records in the ultimate quest for environmental sustainability in mass audience events.

**Press Conferences

And press conferences.  Tomorrow, at 11 a.m., Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland will again be back here, along with Dennis Mukwege Mukengere of the Panzi Hospital in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  And they will be here to brief you on sexual violence.

And at 1 p.m., Bill Roedy, the President of MTV Networks International, and Dali Mpofu, the Chief Executive Officer of South African Broadcasting Corporation, will be here to talk about the Global Media AIDS Initiative.

I will now take your questions.  Afterwards, we will hear from Jan Egeland, and after Jan Egeland, you will hear from Gail, on behalf of the General Assembly.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Two questions.  Are we going to be able to get copies of the letter from President El-Bashir once it’s translated?

Spokesman:  I think on the letter, the first step is for us to translate it, study it, and see how we respond to it.  I assume at some point the letter may go also to Security Council members, and how that letter gets shared with you all, we will have to see as the day goes on.  But we will keep on eye out for it.

Question:  Secondly, there’ve been some new reports of sexual abuse by peacekeepers in Liberia and Haiti.  Is the Secretary-General aware of this? Is he concerned about this?

Spokesman:  Sexual exploitation and abuse by UN personnel is unacceptable.  There’s been a zero tolerance policy towards any kind of exploitation.  Over the past two years it’s been clear –- we have redoubled our efforts in that regard to prevent these acts from happening, to discipline those who are responsible and to try to bring assistance to the victims.

We have been making progress on these issues, but we obviously have a ways to go.  As you know, the vast majority –- about 80 per cent -- of the some 100,000 people who serve in peacekeeping operations cannot be disciplined by the UN system.  They belong to the various troop contributing countries, and we rely on those countries to discipline their personnel.

This is an issue which has been of constant concern for the Secretary-General.  And in fact, on Monday, we are organizing a High-Level Conference on Eliminating Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by UN and NGO Personnel.  That will take place across the street at the Millennium Plaza Hotel.  The Secretary-General will participate, and obviously the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, UN Agencies, Funds, Programmes, Member States, troop contributing countries and NGOs.

The Secretary-General will open the conference on Monday and you will all be invited to attend that conference, which, I must stress, has been quite long in the making.

We will also have on Monday a fuller briefing by Jane Holl Lute, the Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations on this very, very important issue.

As for the two specific cases that were raised in the BBC story, as I said, these cases are always of great concern to us.  But on the specific cases, I think both the Liberia Mission and the Haitian UN Mission have responded.  MINUSTAH, from Haiti, made it clear that they treat all these reports with extreme seriousness.  The case that was outlined in the BBC was from November 2004 –- over two years ago.  There was a full board of inquiry, there was an investigation done by the peacekeeping operation.

The conclusions reached by that investigation was that the allegations could not be sustained based on the evidence obtained.  There was a subsequent investigation by OIOS, which reached the same conclusions.

The head of the peacekeeping mission in Haiti at the time made a point of meeting with the family -- the parents of the girl which these allegations had come from -- explained to them the findings and they accepted the fact that the peacekeeping mission had fully investigated the case.

As for Liberia, the UN Mission is telling us that they -– the Liberian case refers to an incident on 15 November.  The Mission in Liberia said that it has received no reports, either from its Conduct and Discipline Team or the OIOS team in Liberia over the past two months of any cases involving minors.  And I would state that in both these missions, there has been increased training to prevent these actions.  And also the Conduct Units, which look after these kinds of issues, have all been beefed up, and so they’ve put in place systems by which to detect these activities much earlier.

To end my very long answer, just to say that we take all these cases extremely, extremely seriously.  And we are trying to revamp a system so that these cases do not occur.  One case is one case too many.

Question:  Your explanation sounds like, we’ve investigated, haven’t found anything or we don’t know about it, which in some ways is understandable but in other ways sounds like the usual, every time the BBC breaks a story, and they did break the Congo one, there’s this belittling.

Spokesman:  I think it’s –-

Correspondent:  My question is though, what kind of mechanisms are there immediately to follow-up, because certainly you can’t prevent anything.  And when is the UN just going to put a blanket ban on any kind of socializing, because these guys don’t interview people and say, “are you trafficked, how old are you”?

Spokesman:  There is clearly a zero-tolerance policy.  Some people, obviously, as in any organization, break the rules.  If they do, they need to be disciplined.  But I think your characterisation of “belittling” these accusations is unfair.  You’re right; the BBC did break the story.  I don’t know if it was them, but I think it is unfair.  There was enormous follow-up in the Congo.  I think it led DPKO changing and tightening its procedures with the creation of Conduct and Discipline Teams, with strengthening of OIOS investigators.  We obviously are working very hard with the troop contributing countries to try to make sure that there is follow-up, that people who are sent home are disciplined.    As I said, 80 per cent of the personnel who serve in field operations are beyond the reach of the UN in terms of disciplining these peoples.

There was the Zeid report, which tried to work with troop contributing countries.  There is in front of the General Assembly a resolution, which will allow us to provide assistance to the victims of sexual abuse, and that is moving forward.  So we are not belittling any of these claims.  We’re taking them very seriously.  And we are trying to strengthen and tighten the system every time these allegations come out.

Question:  It has now been reported that over one million people have left Iraq as a result of the conflict and the war and the violence.  The majority have reportedly gone to Jordan.  Is UNHCR taking any measures currently to alleviate the situation in that country?

Spokesman:  Very much so.  UNHCR has been flagging the problem with the treatment in certain countries of Iraqi refugees.  You are right; the UN itself has been flagging the high level of numbers of people crossing the border.  These refugees need to be taken care of.  A lot of countries are helping.  There are some problems in certain places, but we have more information upstairs for you from UNHCR.

Question:  On the Congo and UNDP.  Do you have any update on the fighting around the village of Sake and whether General Nkunda -– is MONUC trying to get him integrated into the Congolese army?

Spokesman:  No, I have no update, except I understand that the fighting has subsided in Sake, and I have nothing on the General.

Question:  And on UNDP, yesterday, Kemal Dervis put out an in-house memo saying that the head of Human Resources, Brian Gleason, effective today, is becoming a senior advisor in some other programme.  So I wanted to know if you could “yes or no”.  First, was he asked to resign before this transfer was made?  And two, did Mark Malloch Brown play any role in the redesignation?  Was he called by Mr. Dervis or Gleason, or did he –

Spokesman:  Mr. Mark Malloch Brown played no role in Mr. Gleason’s transfer from one job to another.

As for the nitty-gritty details of what is going on at UNDP, I think they’ve provided, you’ve sent them questions yesterday, they provided you six answers about an hour ago.  If you have any more questions, I would address it to them.

Question:  On Somalia, as the UN moves towards proposing some sort of regional intervention force, I was wondering whether the UN Secretariat had any kind of its own analysis on the value of sending in a force to prop up one of the warlords in Somalia, given that in the past, Kofi Annan said it was a mistake to prop up warlords in Somalia.  So is there any kind of independent thinking at all from the Secretariat, or is this up to Member States to decide?

Spokesman:  The Secretary-General’s position has not changed in terms of Somalia.  He’s spoken out quite a bit publicly in the past few weeks.  And obviously we keep analysing the situation as it goes.  But I have nothing publicly to say to you.

Question:  Does the Secretariat believe it’s a good strategy to send in a force to bolster Abdullahi Yusuf in Baidoa?

Spokesman:  I think the Council is debating such an issue.  We’re not going to pronounce on it.

Question:  Do you have any new information about the Iran nuclear issue?

Spokesman:  No, I understand, just as you do, that there have been –- I’ve seen the public statements -- there have been discussions at the levels of capitals, but I have nothing to add.

Question:  On the question of UNDP, sexual harassment, paying for jobs…Has the Secretary-General been advised of this?  Does he have any comments on it?

Spokesman:  I don’t exactly know what you’re talking about, Sir.

Question:  Matthew was talking about UNDP, involving Brian Gleason.

Spokesman:  Well, I think you’re jumping to conclusions.  People have been transferred laterally at UNDP. Whatever movements there are, I’m not going to comment on the internal, administrative movements at UNDP.

Question:  Will Mr. Dervis ever make himself available to talk about this and other matters?

Spokesman:  It is not unlikely that Mr. Dervis will probably hold a press briefing at some point, but you should take that matter up with UNDP.

Question:  Forgive me, the fault is obviously mine if I missed the first split-second of your announcement about this conference on Monday. What is the title and what is the nature of that conference, the one that involves the NGOs and the Secretary-General at the opening?

Spokesman:  It is a high-level conference on eliminating sexual abuse and exploitation by UN peacekeeping personnel, humanitarian abuse and NGOs.

Question:  And that will be in one of our media alerts?

Spokesman:  Well, I guess by my announcing it, it is a media alert.  Journalists are invited.  It’s Monday morning and we will have a press release, if we don’t have one already available upstairs with the exact details.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesman:  You’re very welcome.

Question:  I guess this is a request that, since Mr. Dervis hasn’t held a press conference here for fourteen months, maybe there is a way to arrange to have a UNDP spokesperson, maybe once a week, once every two weeks, to have some opportunity -–

Spokesman:  UNDP, if I’m not mistaken, you’re making UNDP out to be a closed shop that doesn’t react.  I think it is unfair.  You often gave them a long list of questions to which they do provide you with answers in as timely a fashion as they can in light of the detail of the questions.  Ad Melkert, the Assistant Administrator for UNDP, gave a press briefing not long ago.  They are available.  And I do understand Mr. Dervis at some point will probably come down and give a press briefing.

Question:  To follow-up and stress that point.  I think that for an agency which, as one of its job, is to promote good governance and transparency in governance and development in countries where such practices are less in practice for the head of the agency every-once-in-a-while to grace us with his presence would be very helpful.

Spokesman:  I’m sure it would be.  We will pass that request along.  Mr. Dervis has not been a hermit.  He has done a number of press interviews.  He’s done press conferences in other countries.  You’re right, he has not been here in this very room, but again I think this image of UNDP and its head as being a recluse is unfair.

Question:  When does Secretary-General Annan plan to give his last press conference?

Spokesman:  The 19th of December at 10:30 a.m., most likely in this room.  And if it’s not in this room, it will be in another conference room.

Question:  Just one question on procedure.  Once Ban Ki-moon --

Spokesman:  We’re big on procedure.

Correspondent:  I know.  And reform.  Once Ban Ki-moon takes the oath of office, which I understand is going to be 14 December?

Spokesman:  Correct.

Question:  Are we transferring the power?

Spokesman:  No, he will take the oath of office, which will be effective, probably to be precise, at 12:01 a.m. on 1 January 2007.  So Kofi Annan will remain Secretary-General until 31 December.  Mr. Ban Ki-moon will remain the Secretary-General-designate until 31 December.  And the handover will take place on 1 January.

Question:  What’s happening on 14 December?

Spokesman:  There is a swearing-in, and it will be effective 1 January.

Question:  So the swearing in happens two weeks before he’s actually in office?

Spokesman:  That’s correct.  Thank you very much.  We’ll have Mr. Egeland out here in about 30 seconds hopefully.

Briefing by the Spokeswoman for the General Assembly President

I’ll brief for whomever is still here.

The General Assembly, on Wednesday afternoon, began its debate on the question of Palestine and the Middle East situation.  Opening the meeting, the President of the General Assembly, Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa, called the Assembly’s attention to the grave situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  Deepening poverty, high unemployment, destruction of infrastructure and shortage of water, electricity and food, she noted, aggravated the humanitarian crisis, heightened desperation and encouraged extremism.  She called for an end to the killing on both sides, stressing that the cycle of violence must be broken.  The President emphasized:  “The lives of all civilians, whichever side they belong to, are precious and must be protected.  This reality calls us to nurture dialogue and resume the political process, for the only solution is a political one.”

The Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People introduced four resolutions on the work of the Committee itself, reaffirming the importance of the mandates entrusted to the Palestinian Rights Secretariat and the special information programme of the Department of Public Information, entrusted by the General Assembly.  The fourth draft, on the peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine, reiterated the Assembly’s position on the essential elements of a settlement.  This year’s text, according to the Chairman, however, emphasizes the central role that the Security Council should play in moving towards a peaceful settlement and encourages all international actors, including the Quartet, to take immediate steps in support of resuming the peace talks.

The head of the Political Department of the Palestine Liberation Organization, one of the early speakers in the debate, called for the holding of an international conference on the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  He also stressed the need to implement practical measures to end the occupation in a process that he said has so far been stalled, because no real pressure had been exerted on Israel to implement its side of the agreements.

We had some 13 speakers who addressed the Assembly yesterday, and today, we expect to hear from 19 on the question of Palestine and 15 on the Middle East situation as the debate continues.

The Third Committee continues its consideration of the report of the Human Rights Council and revitalization of the work of the General Assembly, while the Fifth Committee began a general discussion on the Capital Master Plan.

Questions and Answers

Spokeswoman:  And to your question, Benny.

The question of Palestine, as you rightly mentioned yesterday, was first brought before the General Assembly in 1947, on 29 November of 1947.  And, at that time, you had the resolution, which was known as the “Partition resolution”, which provided for the establishment, in Palestine, of a Jewish State and an Arab State, with Jerusalem coming under a special international regime.  Of the two States, which were to be established, one was created -- only one -- and that was Israel.  And, of course, we have the other still to come into being.  And, for several years, as you know, the Palestinian question was discussed as part of the larger Middle East conflict or in the context of its refugee or human rights aspect.

In November [19]75, the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People was established by the General Assembly, in response to the lack of progress towards the exercise by the Palestinian people of their inalienable rights, including the right to establish an independent State.  Of course, the Committee, as part of its mandate, had, you know, to deal with setting up a number of things, including a supporting unit, which came into existence and was established, and also worked with the Department of Public Information on a series of activities, including the question of promoting its work and its mandate.  Among those activities was the establishment of the Day, to commemorate the twenty-ninth of November, and that’s how the International Day came into being and is still being observed annually.

Question:  The year 1975…

Spokeswoman:  1977 was the year in which…

Question:  Was 1975 the year that you mentioned, that…

Spokeswoman:  That the Committee was established.

Question:  Was that the same year that the United Nations enacted a resolution that called the movement that actually created the Jewish State -- which was not created by the United Nations but created by a movement called Zionism -- was that the year that the 1947 original resolution to partition into two States, Jewish and Arab, was null and void?  By calling one -- the movement that created this Jewish State -- calling it the “racist” State, and therefore invalid?

Spokeswoman:  That, I’ll have to check.  I don’t know if it was the same…

Question:  When “Zionism” equals “racism” was enacted?

Spokeswoman:  I am not sure.  That, I would have to check.  George is nodding his head, and George is usually the resident historian here on these matters.

Correspondent:  (George Baumgarten):  resolution 3379 (XXX), enacted November 1975.  Repealed 16 December 1991.)

Question:  This day that we are commemorating, a day in which there was a General Assembly resolution, which was accepted by the Jews in Israel and rejected by the Arabs -- at the time, in 1947 -- we are commemorating that day because there was a decision in 1975 that there should be an Arab State.  But, the movement that created the Jewish State was “racist” and therefore -- I’m just revising what you’re saying, working it out.  So, basically, that year, 1975, there were two resolutions:  one saying that the movement creating the Jewish State was racist, and, therefore, null and void, and the other, the Arab State, should still be enacted.  And this is still in the books?

Spokeswoman:  Actually, all you asked, very simply, is for the origins of the International Day, and I have given you the origins of the International Day.  And the International Day, as I said, has been observed annually since 1977, and it provides and opportunity for the international community to focus its attention on the fact that the question of Palestine is still unresolved.  That’s all it is.

Question:  Did the Conference, on Monday, that Stéphane discussed on the panel on sexual abuse in the peacekeeping missions, is the General Assembly president…  Is she…  Is there General Assembly involvement in this Conference, or is it entirely Department of Peacekeeping Operations and Secretariat?

Spokeswoman:  Well, I will have to check and see from her schedule, because I haven’t seen her schedule for next week.  But, I will check to see whether she’s invited to the Panel’s meeting.

Question:  At the Committee level, I know that they have, they have some sessions on this very topic.

Spokeswoman:  And, he [Stéphane] did say that there would be General Assembly involvement on some aspects of this issue, because I heard when he was speaking that there would be General Assembly involvement.  However, specifically on Monday, I don’t know.  But, I will check.

Question:  There seems to be some financial resolutions and agreements that have to be reached before the end of the year, in the Fifth Committee and ACABQ… if you can keep us abreast, whether here or by e-mail or something, keep people apprised.  There’s some discussion that it will go down to 31 December, right to the wire.  There’s interest in that, to know.  We would appreciate if you could update us on the status of things.

Spokeswoman:  The Fifth Committee has a programme of work from now until it completes its work, practically.  So, right now, the Capital Master Plan is what it’s looking at.  It’s also going to be looking at the scale of assessments, and those would be the big ones that most people have asked us to keep an eye out for.  We will give you whatever readouts we have on developments.  Today, it was a question of introducing the topic and discussing it somewhat and I will give you a readout of that.

Question:  Do they have a day-to-day time line on when they’re going to be finished on?

Spokeswoman:  They do.  But, I think they’re leaving that open, because, as you know, it’s always very hard for them to finish exactly on the date.  They would love to, but at the moment, the schedule they have given us goes up to the first of December.  So, I think their hope is -- though there are things that still say “to be determined” -- I think their hope is that they will work as hard as possible to make sure that they get their resolutions to the Assembly on time.  Because, don’t forget, the work doesn’t stop with them -- it then has to go to the Assembly for approval.  The Assembly would like to keep its deadlines and I know the President, this week, appealed to all the Committees Chairs to try, as much as possible, to meet the deadlines that have been set.

Thank you.

* *** *

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