|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICES OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
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 Secretary-General’s Spokesman
**Secretary-General to Council
Good afternoon. Sorry for being late, yet again. In his last briefing to the Security Council on the Middle East, the Secretary-General this morning said that the region today faces grim prospects and is in profound crisis. The situation is more complex, more fragile and more dangerous than it has been for a very long time. The Secretary-General warned that mistrust between Israelis and Palestinians has reached new heights. As his term ends, he has presented the Security Council with a report that suggests ways that the Council and the Middle East Quartet can revitalize efforts to find peace in the region.
The time has come for the Quartet to be clear at the outset on the parameters of an end-game deal, the Secretary-General said. And it will have to be open to new ideas and initiatives. He also delivered messages to both parties, saying that Israel needs to reach a negotiated end to its occupation based on the principle of land for peace, while Palestinians and their supporters will never be truly effective if they focus solely on Israel’s transgressions, without conceding any justice or legitimacy to Israel’s own concerns. The Council’s open debate on this is continuing.
**Human Rights in Darfur
From Geneva, the Human Rights Council’s special session on Darfur is currently under way. In a video message to the gathering, the Secretary-General said it was essential that the Human Rights Council send a clear and united message to warn all concerned that the current situation was simply unacceptable and would not be allowed to continue. Stressing that the people in Darfur could not afford to wait another day, he urged the Human Rights Council to send without delay a human rights assessment mission to Darfur. Such a mission would be mandated by the two draft resolutions that are currently before the Special session, and which are to be acted upon tomorrow.
High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour also addressed the special session, highlighting increased ground attacks on civilians by the Sudanese Armed Forces, as well as indiscriminate bombardments by Government planes. She added that the victims were entitled to expect a credible response from the Human Rights Council.
Meanwhile, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland also sent a message to the special session, saying that it is intolerable that, after more than three years of conflict and violence, those committing the gravest crimes against civilians are enjoying more freedom than those trying to save the lives of millions. He added that what we need now is urgent action to ensure that we do not miss what may be our final opportunity to reverse the trends that are pushing Darfur and the region towards disaster. And we have all three statements upstairs. The special session is continuing to hear speeches, and is expected, as I said, to take action on the resolutions tomorrow.
Meanwhile, from the ground in Sudan, in the context of the follow-up of the implementation of the UN light support package to the African Union Mission in Darfur, the Tripartite Mechanism composed of representatives of the United Nations, the African Union and the Government of Sudan will hold its first meeting tomorrow, according to the United Nations Mission in the Sudan [UNMIS]. The group aims at ensuring a more transparent, systematic, and efficient provision of UN support to [African Union Mission in the Sudan] AMIS. During tomorrow’s meeting, the United Nations Mission will present a list of equipment and personnel ready to be deployed in support of the African Union’s Mission.
Meanwhile, insecurity continues to prevail in many parts in Darfur. In West Darfur, a vehicle donated by a UN agency to the local Ministry of Health to assist in mobile vaccination and immunization of infants and children was hijacked along with the driver outside of a camp housing displaced persons. Meanwhile, the UN refugee agency reports that the voluntary return of Sudanese refugees to South Sudan is set to gather new momentum this week with the scheduled relaunch of convoys from Ethiopia starting tomorrow and from the Central African Republic starting this weekend.
In a step to help Guatemala battle criminal groups who have become a threat to human rights in the country, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Ibrahim Gambari, signed an agreement today with the Vice-President of Guatemala, Eduardo Stein, to establish the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala. That Commission is to be an independent body, whose commissioner will be appointed by the Secretary-General and is to report periodically to him. Under the agreement’s terms, the Commission will have an initial two-year mandate to investigate the existence of “illegal security groups and clandestine security organizations” and to assist Guatemalan justice authorities in carrying out criminal prosecutions against them. And, we have texts of the agreement available to you upstairs both in English and Spanish.
** Sri Lanka
From Sri Lanka, the United Nations is gravely concerned at the deteriorating prospects facing civilians in the town of Vaharai, in eastern Sri Lanka, as intense shelling continues for the fifth day in the area. According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Sri Lanka, an unconfirmed number of civilians are now dead, with dozens lying wounded in a hospital. Innocent civilians and school children suffered direct attacks on a school and private homes. Meanwhile, humanitarian agencies are delivering immediate assistance to affected populations and stand ready to undertake response operations to address evolving needs. Meanwhile, the Humanitarian Coordinator’s Office has a press release available upstairs with more information on Sri Lanka.
The Peacebuilding Commission began its second round of country-specific meetings today with a discussion on Burundi, and tomorrow it will discuss Sierra Leone. Meanwhile, the Advisory Board of the UN Democracy Fund met this morning to review progress on implementation of the first batch of 125 projects, which were approved by the Secretary-General in August, as well as to endorse guidelines for monitoring, evaluation and accountability.
**Statement on Jan Egeland
I was just given this statement from the Secretary-General concerning the resignation of Jan Egeland, and this is in the Secretary-General’s name.
“It is with deep regret and with profound gratitude for his tireless efforts that I have accepted the resignation of Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland. Over the past three and a half years, Jan Egeland has led our joint efforts to provide desperately needed relief in the wake of a number of disasters, from the earthquake in Bam to the Indian Ocean earthquakes and tsunami. He has coordinated our humanitarian efforts in neglected and forgotten crises, from northern Uganda to Somalia, and he has traveled to the front lines of conflicts to bear witness to the suffering of civilian populations from Darfur to the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and brought the world’s attention to the suffering there. He’s also led the Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and a wider humanitarian community, through a period of significant reform to insure that needs are covered, from the establishment of the Central Emergency Response Fund to the creation of new humanitarian partnerships and agencies of last resort.
“I wish Jan the very best as he prepares to return to Norway to spend more time with his family. His leadership will be sorely missed but I also know his voice will be heard, speaking on behalf of those who need it most.”
And that statement is upstairs.
**Press Conferences Tomorrow
Tomorrow at 11 o’clock, Ambassador Ali Hachani of Tunisia, President of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), will hold a press conference to discuss ECOSOC reform, right here.
And at 1 o’clock, Ambassador Don MacKay of New Zealand, Chairman of the General Assembly committee that negotiated the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, will hold a press conference on the adoption of the Convention, which is scheduled to take place tomorrow.
**Note to Correspondents
And finally, I just wanted to say a couple of words. I think some of you may have noticed the atmosphere in these briefings this past week or so has sometimes gotten a little unpleasant and a little more tense than we would like it to be. I hope you all know how much my office tries to show you the respect that all of you deserve for your professionalism, and in particular Matthew, because I had singled you out, I wanted you to know that, despite a few heated words last week, that we do appreciate the work you do as a journalist, and since you’ve come here, you’ve made it your business to pursue topics that might otherwise be ignored.
So, let me assure all of you that, even when we may have a different opinion than you about the way a topic is covered and has been dealt with, we respect what you are doing but also ask for some respect back. And I think we’re back to where we want to be and we look forward to continuing a professional working relationship with all of you. And on that note, I will take your questions.
**Questions and Answers
Question: I saw on BBC that Mr. Olmert announced that Israel has nuclear power, which everyone knew. What’s the response to that announcement?
Spokesman: I don’t have anything specific on that press report but the Secretary-General’s views on the need for Member States to deal with nuclear non-proliferation are very clear and explicit, as stated in a number of his statements, but I don’t have anything specific on that.
Question: The statement you just read about the press, is that your statement or whose statement is it?
Spokesman: That is on my behalf.
Question: Is this in response to the question about why Mark Malloch Brown was calling Matthew a jerk?
Spokesman: This is in response to the atmosphere we’ve had here in the last week or so.
Correspondent: I haven’t been here.
Spokesman: You missed the fun, James, and you can watch it on the webcast.
Question: What is the response to the request to withdraw that comment?
Spokesman: What I read was an attempt to put a lot of these issues behind us. They were private conversations that took place in the hallway. They were not here in 226 so I will leave it at that.
Question: This concept of respect that you cite. I mean, when the Secretary-General refused to take a question from me at a press conference when I was investigating something possibly to do with corruption, he said the reason was because people had to show respect to the institution. Does the concept of respect mean the press aren’t showing respect if they pursue questions of corruption at the United Nations?
Spokesman: Not at all, James. This was in response as I said to what happened last week and I have nothing further to add.
Question: When is the Secretary-General meeting with Brammertz?
Spokesman: If I’m not mistaken, he met with Mr. Brammertz earlier this month.
Question: Will they be meeting before next Monday?
Spokesman: I don’t know if they’ll be meeting before next Monday.
Question: Thanks for your statement. A follow up to a question yesterday on Morris, the Special Envoy to southern Africa, and Robert Mugabe. After the meeting, Mugabe said that he had said: aid but with no political preconditions. Is that the readout from the United Nations side?
Spokesman: We’ve been trying to get a hold of Mr. Morris. I’ll see if I can get you a readout of the meeting.
[The spokesman later reiterate what had been said the day before, that James Morns’ mission was a humanitarian one, not a political one.]
Question: Also, since your statement on the status of the Fijian peacekeepers, the military in Fiji has locked up the Finance Minister and taken other steps. Has there been any follow through or ramifications in the United Nations system to the coup in Fiji?
Spokesman: On the political front, the Secretary-General has, of course, called for a return to constitutional rule and has provided his support to the efforts of the Pacific Islands Forum, but it is obviously a situation we are watching closely.
Question: From what I understand, a Fijian contingent guard, the UN mission in Iraq. Do you trust people who are supposed to guard you from a military that’s just overthrown the Government?
Spokesman: The Fijians who are guarding the United Nations, and who are doing an admirable job under extremely difficult conditions, work under the command and control of the United Nations in Baghdad, and there’s been absolutely no discussion about changing the make-up of our guard units in Baghdad.
Question: Does the United Nations have any plans on making public the interim [Office of Internal Oversight Services] OIOS the report on Andrew Toh? Another thing, this “One United Nations” idea that was raised by the coherence panel and endorsed by various senior officials, will that come together to answer questions about the entire United Nations system as opposed to now having to run around and make separate requests. Will there be some effort to consolidate the message of the United Nations, to tally with the message that there’s one United Nations that spends all the money in every country?
Spokesman: The report itself still has to be discussed by the General Assembly and the Assembly has not yet done so. It is clear that, at the country level, as there is more coherence and unity that will affect the way public information is handled and there are already a number of places we see the different public information components of the United Nations working closely together and speaking with one voice. But, obviously, the different agencies will be responsible for their work. That’s as far as I’ll go on that. On Toh, obviously the task force is still going about its work. I have no update for you on that.
Question: On the Toh report, is there any expectation on when it’ll be out?
Spokesman: It’s difficult to say when the report of an investigation will be finalized.
Question: Without a resolution to the situation, will Mr. Toh continue to remain on leave? Because there’s a transition coming up.
Spokesman: I understand have no update to provide on this situation.
Question: First of all, thank you for the statement on press relations. The Secretary-General made his last speech for a US audience yesterday and his last Middle East report. Is he planning any kind of final address to the General Assembly, the United Nations membership, and the UN staff?
Spokesman: There will be an informal farewell with United Nations staff at some point next week. The Secretary-General will be speaking to the Assembly on the fourteenth, during the swearing in of his successor, but, in terms of the final address to the membership at large was really his address during the GA in September.
Question: A facilitator was appointed on the matter of the three kidnapped Israeli soldiers in the Middle East. Why didn’t a report on them make it into the speech today?
Spokesman: His facilitator and the Secretary-General continue to work on the issue. Obviously, when there is something to announce, he will announce it. But the fact that the work of the facilitator was not mentioned in a speech should not be taken as a fact that the Secretary-General does not continue to be focused on this issue. The issue of the kidnapped soldiers and the prisoners something the Secretary-General continues to be focused on and, the speech was clearly looking at a very general situation.
Question: Is there any update on this Callixte Mbarushimana, the guy the United Nations was ordered to pay?
Spokesman: I don’t have anything here with me but I’ll check.
Question: Prior to his resignation, then Under-Secretary-General Burnham gave us a briefing on this anti-revolving door policy. He said they would try and have it done by the end of the year. What’s the status?
Spokesman: We continue to try to get this out by the end of the year.
Question: Will there be a bar on lobbying the UN?
Spokesman: Obviously, the policy itself is still being elaborated.
Question: Who decides?
Spokesman: It gets signed off by the Secretary-General.
Question: A probing question here. This is from the Irish Times, about the Secretary-General’s speech last night. It says countries need to play by the rules toward each other as well as toward their own citizens. Now, there’s a call here in the diaspora, better known to you all as America, but to us of African descent it’s the diaspora, people are wanting the United Nations to take a look at the fact that the police departments in this country are killing unarmed black men. Is there a door open in the United Nations for this discussion? We’re talking human rights. As a black man, I can’t walk out this door without fearing some cop’s going to shoot me. Something’s got to happen.
Spokesman: The obvious forum for this would be the Human Rights Council.
Question: Can you tell me how that’s done because since the days of Martin Luther King or Malcolm X, black folks haven’t been able to get in that door?
Spokesman: Let me talk to you after the briefing.
Question: Speaking of the Secretary-General’s speech yesterday, is there any response to some of the reaction among American lawmakers, editorial writers, etc? There’s been a somewhat predictable response to the Secretary-General’s perceived criticism of the US Administration?
Spokesman: You’ve seen the response, I’ve seen the response. It goes through the spectrum. But, the Secretary-General made his speech and it was very warmly greeted in the audience, which included both Democratic and Republican lawmakers.
Question: I gather that the Secretary-General, when he was in Beijing in May, the Secretary-General met Maurice Strong for a private meeting, not even a meeting but a walk-talk where they took a walk together. Why was the Secretary-General meeting with someone who had been shown in court to have received a million dollars from Iraq and who had to resign from here because he employed his stepdaughter?
Spokesman: Mr. Strong no longer has any links to the Secretary-General and I don’t have any comment on a private meeting that may or may not have taken place.
Question: If there are no links to the United Nations, then why did this private meeting take place? First of all, can you confirm it took place?
Spokesman: No, I can’t comment on whether the meeting took place or not.
Question: Can you comment on why the Secretary-General met Mr. Strong if there aren’t any ties?
Spokesman: The Secretary-General has a right to meet whomever he meets. Whether or not this meeting took place, I don’t know. If it was a private meeting, it was just that.
Question: It would be nice to have a briefing from a DESA official, a financial person, someone who could explain how DESA finances work. I’m quite interested in a multimillion dollar discretionary fund that the head of DESA has asked for in the budget, what it’s for and what rules it’ll be subject to.
Spokesman: We’ll see what we can do.
Question: I want to go back to the Olmert question because in September, I asked the Secretary-General a similar question to the one that was asked here today, about Israel having nuclear power, but denying it, and wasn’t there a double standard being applied, and his response was that it was a very complex issue and they were working hard on that. What have they done so far? And is that how they’re working, to have Olmert come out and say we are powerful on the nuclear issue?
Spokesman: I haven’t seen the exact text of Mr. Olmert’s comments, but the Secretary-General has repeatedly pointed out, since September, the unfortunate lack of action by Member States on creating a better framework for non-proliferation.
Question: Following up on DESA, can you confirm that Guido Bertucci took a leave of absence?
Spokesman: No, I can’t confirm it but we can see what we can find out.
Question: A point that was raised here was the transparency of [United Nations Development Programme] UNDP, a major issue given the kind of public money it handles, and anybody who’s dealt with the UNDP press machinery will see that it’s entirely dysfunctional, it’s impossible to get an answer from it. Many of us have had that experience. I wonder if there’s any way we can get a weekly press briefing from UNDP in the way you brief us on the Secretariat.
Spokesman: As you said, you were late to the story. We expect to have a briefing by a senior UNDP official before the end of the year. And furthermore, I take exception to your description of the UNDP press machinery and if you have questions of them, you can address them to them.
Question: My point is that I can’t get answers from them and, as a user of the system, I probably know more about it than you since you don’t have to deal with it. I asked about a regular briefing from UNDP, given the amount of public money it handles, not a one-off briefing after 14 months.
Spokesman: That’s a question you can put to them.
Question: Who should I put the question to?
Question: To the press machinery that’s dysfunctional?
Spokesman: I don’t agree with you that it’s dysfunctional. That’s your opinion.
Question: Have you used it?
Spokesman: Yes, I have used it.
Question: Joaquim Chissano, the new envoy to northern Uganda is to be in New York, Saturday. Is there some way to be briefed him before he goes to Uganda?
Spokesman: We’ll try.
Question: Also, the Deputy Secretary-General is meeting with Jessen-Peterson today, the ex-UNMIK Kosovo representative. Do you know what that’s about?
Spokesman: No, but I can find out. [The correspondent was later informed the meeting was a simple courtesy call.]
Question: And finally, on Kosovo, the word is that Ahtisaari’s plan is to have Kosovo run by the EU but not become independent. Has the Secretary-General confirmed or denied that?
Spokesman: No, I think we have to wait for his final proposals to be out.
Question: The briefing with the senior UNDP official. Can you tell us when and with whom?
Spokesman: They’re working on it. As soon as I find out you’ll be the second person to know. On that note, Gail.
Briefing by the Assembly President’s Spokeswoman
Good afternoon. The General Assembly this morning continued its discussion on Security Council reform as well as this year’s report of the Security Council to the General Assembly (document A/61/2). Some thirty four speakers addressed the Assembly on Monday while forty three more are expected to speak today. The majority of speakers have expressed their belief that the current Security Council needs to be reformed and that that reform is central to the overall process of revitalizing the United Nations.
Most Member States also appear to favour expansion of both the permanent, and non-permanent, membership, as well as further improvements in its working methods. But the sticking points remain: who would get a seat on an expanded Council and with what powers; the principle of the veto, whether it should be curtailed and eventually eliminated; the role of the General Assembly versus the role of the Council; the need to ensure that the agenda reflects the needs and interests of developing and developed countries; and that enlargement addresses the issues of making the new body more democratic, accountable and effective. Member States also seem to be of one opinion that consensus or broad agreement needs to be arrived at in coming up with a solution to reform the Council.
During this morning’s debate, the representative of India, for example, noted that adding numbers to the Council will not solve the problem of reform. He suggested that the Assembly should avoid “reform for the sake of reform,” and should address problems of “concentration of power, the problem of oligarchy and accountability.” A number of speakers have also asked for the General Assembly President’s assistance as the Assembly looks to a way forward. Debate is expected to end today.
Meanwhile, the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) made decisions yesterday regarding the budgetary implications of three draft resolutions. The most controversial decision was on the establishment of the United Nations Register of Damage caused by the construction of the Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The Committee voted 116 in favour to 6 against ( Australia, Canada, Israel, Nauru, Palau and the United States) with one abstention ( Republic of Moldova) to inform the Assembly that the adoption of the text would require an appropriation of up to $3.1 million of the 2006-2007 budget to establish and maintain the Register of Damage. The Committee also adopted, without a vote, an oral draft decision on the budget implications of the draft resolutions for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the draft resolution on Oceans and Law of the Sea. Today the Committee will take up a comprehensive review of the United Nations governance and oversight system. And that’s my report for today.
Questions and Answers
Question: Can you brief on what’ll happen Thursday with the swearing in and the transfer?
Spokeswoman: Good question. I did bring the scenario. It’s divided into two bits; the first part is a tribute to the current Secretary-General. It will begin with the Assembly President opening the Plenary. The President will then invite the African Group to introduce a draft in appreciation of the Secretary-General. The Assembly will then adopt the resolution by acclamation. We’ll then have a statement by the GA President and statements by the regional groups and the host country in recognition of the contributions of the current Secretary-General. That will be followed by a statement by Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
The second part of the ceremony will be the oath of office ceremony by the Secretary-General-Designate, Ban Ki-moon. We will again have a statement by the General Assembly President, and then the GA President will invite to the podium the Presidents of the Security Council, ECOSOC and the Trusteeship Council, the President of the fifty-sixth session of the GA, Mr. Han Sim Soo, Vice-Presidents of the GA, and there are 21 of them, and the chairpersons of the main committees. The Assembly President will then invite the Secretary-General-Designate to the podium, and the GA President will administer the oath of office to Ban Ki-moon and congratulate him. The Secretary-General-Designate will then receive congratulations from all those present on the podium. He will remain on the podium while the others go back to their seats and then he will make his statement.
The meeting will then adjourn, and he is planning to hold a press conference at noon. It will be a thirty minute press conference and will take place in conference room 4.
Question: When is all that?
Spokeswoman: Thursday at 10:00, the regular starting time of the Plenary.
Question: You said there’s a comprehensive review today of governance and oversight. Will that lead to any outcome?
Spokeswoman: It’s being taken up in the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary), as an item on its agenda. As with all items on their agenda, it will probably lead to a resolution. I’ll have to confirm that for you.
Question: This comprehensive review. Does that amount to speeches by diplomats, or is there a discussion of work done by analysts, anything like that?
Spokeswoman: Comprehensive means broad and wide-ranging. It means they’ll really debate the issues. Don’t forget they’ve had informal consultations already so that means they have expressed some basic points of view and want to come to an agreement.
Question: The comprehensive review is members of the Committee talking to each other, not a study of what works and what doesn’t.
Spokeswoman: I’m not sure they have a specific report [against which they are holding these discussions.]. I’ll check and get that to you.
Question: The Mexican Mission held a press conference on the indigenous issues declaration, saying the African Group expressed outrage over advocates of the text. Is the General Assembly President involved, is there any process going on between the African Group and the others? Mexico presented it as if nothing is going forward. Is that your understanding?
Spokeswoman: That is one viewpoint, yes. Many in the indigenous groups feel that way. Before getting to this stage of finalization or the vote actually, the President was very much involved. At this point, the feeling is that there wasn’t enough of a broad discussion before it came to the vote and I think this is the hope, that they’ll now have the opportunity to have that broad discussion. There is a proviso in the resolution that everything should be completed at the end of the sixty-first Assembly session. The hope is that that’ll happen. The other view is the more bleak way of looking at it; but I think many feel that if you open the discussion you’ll have a richer exchange and you’ll come to a conclusion sooner, rather than later.
Question: Will she convene such a discussion?
Spokeswoman: She doesn’t have to convene it; the Member States have decided [and they will be the ones to take the discussions forward.]. They may form a working group. She’ll only become involved if they ask her to become involved.
Question: It was under this President that Assembly streamlining was to kick in. It would be nice to have an update on how the Assembly has been streamlined and what issues have been taken off the agenda and how the President is pursuing that mandate. Is there any difference in the way the Assembly is working under this President?
Spokeswoman: All that is being handled under the issue of mandate reform, and that has yet to be discussed because there are a huge number of mandates. But that item is on the agenda and it will be discussed.
Question: But what has the Assembly done to streamline its work?
Spokeswoman: We’ll have to take a look for specific examples. One off the top of my head is the general debate, where they stuck to the time limit and the light came on and people respected that. We’ll check for more examples.
Question: Is there a discussion about trying to stop these endless International Days of this, that and other?
Spokeswoman: I haven’t heard that but I’ll check. Anything else? Thank you.
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