20 December 2006


20 December 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 Saint, Spokeswoman for the General Assembly President.

Briefing by the Spokesman for the Secretary-General

**Guest at Noon

Our guest today will be Nureldin Satti, Acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Burundi.  This follows his last briefing to the Security Council.  He will be here to talk to you about the closure of the UN Operation in Burundi (ONUB), and about the way ahead for the UN in that country, and that is scheduled for 31 December.  Mr. Satti will brief you after we hear from Gail on behalf of the General Assembly.

** Côte d’Ivoire

“The Secretary-General is deeply concerned about the continued stalemate in the Ivorian peace process, which has led to a deterioration of the political climate in the country.  The Ivorian people and the international community have invested considerable efforts in the political process, as defined in the road map based on a number of Security Council resolutions, including resolution 1721 (2006), as well as the decisions of the African Union.

“The Secretary-General urges President Laurent Gbagbo and Prime Minister Charles Konan Banny to initiate sustained political dialogue, with the participation of all Ivorian political leaders, in order to find common ground for resuming disarmament, identification of the population and electoral preparations, as well as on possible post-electoral arrangements.

“The Secretary-General trusts that [Economic Community of West African States] ECOWAS and the African Union will do everything possible to assist the Ivorian leaders to relaunch the peace process in earnest.  The United Nations stands ready to explore additional practical ways of moving the peace process forward.  And that statement is available upstairs.”

** Sudan

Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the senior UN official sent to Khartoum by the Secretary-General, has arrived in the Sudanese capital and met this morning with the State Minister for Foreign Affairs, Ali Karti.

Mr. Ould-Abdallah, who is seeking clarification on the proposed United Nations-African Union joint peacekeeping force in Darfur, is expected to deliver a letter from the Secretary-General to Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.  That meeting is scheduled for tomorrow.

The UN Mission, meanwhile, continues to report that the security situation in much of Darfur remains tense.  In the last two to three weeks, a total of 25 vehicles, mostly belonging to the humanitarian community, or to [African Union Mission in the Sudan] AMIS, have been stolen or carjacked.

At UN Headquarters yesterday afternoon, the Security Council called on all parties to facilitate the immediate deployment of the United Nations Light and Heavy Package Support to the African Union Mission in the Sudan, with backstopping and command and control structures being provided by the United Nations.

Through a statement read by the President of the Security Council, the Council endorsed the conclusions of the 16 November Addis Ababa high-level consultation on Darfur as well as the subsequent communiqué issued by the African Union following its meeting in Abuja.  It also welcomed the stated commitment of the Government of National Unity in Sudan to the conclusions.

**Security Council

The Security Council held consultations this morning on threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts, as well as other matters.  It then went into a formal meeting, to hear briefings by the outgoing Chairmen of the Council’s subsidiary bodies.

Following that, the Council this afternoon will hold another meeting, to adopt a resolution extending until 20 June 2007, the mandate of the Panel of Experts, dealing with Liberia sanctions.

This afternoon at 3, the Security Council will hold a meeting on the situation in the Great Lakes region.  Ibrahima Fall, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for the Great Lakes Region, will brief on the Great Lakes Conference, which was held last week.

**Security Council - Other

Also, in connection with the Security Council we have available out as documents two letters from the Secretary-General to the President of the Security Council, which extend the mandates of the groups of experts dealing with sanctions in Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo –- by 6 and 7 months respectively.

And regarding the Council’s activities yesterday, a draft resolution on Iran was circulated in closed consultations.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

The UN Mission in that country today welcomed the improvement in the security situation, with more militia groups joining the UN-run disarmament programmes.  The Mission says the situation is now calm in the east where fighting between the Congolese Army and fighters loyal to rogue General Laurent Nkunda, 60 of whom joined the disarmament programme in South Kivu.  And, at a UN-brokered meeting with Congolese military leaders, Nkunda also agreed to ensure total freedom of movement for civilians as well as an imminent withdrawal of his fighters from occupied areas in North Kivu.

Meanwhile, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that recent fighting in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo has forced some 65,000 people to flee the town of Sake and other localities.

OCHA says that the UN Rapid Response Mechanism, which it operates with UNICEF, has assisted some 35,000 people with blankets, plastic sheeting and cooking sets.  Water and sanitation services have also been provided, with the construction of latrines and distribution of chlorination tablets.  Another 20,000 people received food aid from the World Food Programme.

** Burundi

The UN Operation in Burundi, yesterday, held a farewell military parade in the UN compound in Bujumbura to mark the end of its mandate on 31 December and the withdrawal of the peacekeepers.  And, you will hear more about this, from our guest, a bit later today.

** Haiti

From Haiti, the UN Mission in that country expressed its grave concern at the recent increase in kidnappings particularly targeting children.  The Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Haiti, Edmond Mulet, condemns in the strongest terms these despicable crimes, which undermine concerted efforts by the international community and the Haitian authorities to bring stability to the country.

To address the current wave of kidnappings, the UN Mission has intensified its joint operations with the Haitian National Police in Port-au-Prince and in areas where kidnappings were recently reported.

The UN Mission and the Government of Haiti have created two special intervention groups to conduct high-risk arrests and security operations.  In the past week, these operations resulted in the arrest of two dozen kidnapping suspects and the liberation of six victims.  A number of weapons were also seized.

** Lebanon

The UN Force in Lebanon says an advance party of an infantry unit from Qatar has joined the Force ahead of a full deployment of Qatari peacekeepers.  Meanwhile, the Force was also visited today by Italian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Massimo D’Alema, who visited with the Italian contingent.

** Côte d’Ivoire – UNEP

Lastly, a note from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) mission has just returned from Côte d’Ivoire, where it was looking into ways to best deal with the recent toxic waste dump in that country.

UNEP head Achim Steiner has called on international donors to help Côte d’Ivoire overcome its funding shortfall of €15 million, which has hindered the clean-up effort.  Any donations can be directed to a trust fund, which UNEP has established to deal with this particular issue.  We have a press release with that information upstairs.

**Press Conferences

Press briefing today, 2 p.m., Jeffrey Sachs, will be here to talk to you about the Millennium Development Goals and the progress in implementation of those Goals.

Tomorrow, we have three briefings.  One at 11 a.m. by the President of the General Assembly, Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa.

At 1 p.m., Kemal Derviş, Chair of the UN Development Group, will be here to talk about trends in official development assistance and the need for inclusive economic growth.

Then, at 3 p.m., Eric Schwartz, the Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery, will be here to launch a Tsunami Lessons Learned Report.

That is it for me; I will take your questions.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yesterday, the Iranian Ambassador presented a letter regarding the Israelis coming out of the closet on the nuclear issue.  Does the Secretary-General intend to respond to that letter?

Spokesman:  I’ll have to check if there was a response.  But, he did answer that question, an answer related to that twice yesterday at the press conference.  I will check if there’s an answer…

Question:  Unfortunately, I was not able to ask questions yesterday to the Secretary-General, so, I will ask you a question, because I was not called on in the press conference.  The question is about the Mercedes.  Given the Secretary-General’s about to leave now, is there any explanation for the historical record of how the Mercedes was purchased with a diplomatic discount from Mercedes?  Is there any explanation of how that was done -– who told Mercedes to give the discount?

Spokesman:  I really have nothing to add in that regard to what has been already published in the Volcker report or comments the Secretary-General may have made on that.

Question:  Is the United Nations aware of forthcoming public activities of the Secretary-General-designate Ban Ki-moon in the next eleven days?

Spokesman:  I have no specific information.  I am not aware of any public activities he will have before taking office.  But, you can check with Ms. Choi in my office.

Question:  I just wanted some more information on this Committee on the sanctions on Somalia and whether it’s the same Committee which released the recent report that was relatively criticized by some countries for not being so accurate.  Whether it the same…

Spokesman:  Yes, it’s the same Panel of Experts, yes it is.

Question:  The same composition?

Spokesman:  I’ll have to check if it’s the same composition.  But, it’s the same Panel.

Question:  I believe that the Peacebuilding Commission has made its first award of funds -- $25 million to Sierra Leone.  Can you explain what the process is for deciding (inaudible) of funds for that sizable award to Sierra Leone?

Spokesman:  Sure, I don’t have anything with me, but we can get something to you this afternoon.

Question:  I understand that also there was $25 million to Burundi.  And the question is, as far as I’m concerned, what kind of tools are there to assure that this money goes to…

Spokesman:  As any money that is spent by the UN system, they are audited, both internally and externally, but I’m happy to get more details from the Peacebuilding Support Office.

Question:  In Nepal, part of the peace agreement, there’s been a threat by the Maoists to call a national strike.  Is the envoy there, or anyone, what is the UN’s position on whether the Government should have appointed ambassadors before the Maoists?

Spokesman:  I don’t have anything specific on that, I’m sorry.

Question:  There was a letter by Mrs. Coomaraswamy, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, stating that there is no question of her reappointment, her appointment runs through 2008.  So, I guess I’m wondering with all these [Special Representatives of the Secretary-General] SRSGs, what is the process, is there any process for review by the next Secretary-General or do those terms just run?

Spokesman:  The contracts of the [Under-Secretary-General] USG’s end, if I’m not mistaken, early next year.  For the SRSGs, their contracts -- some of them run longer, they’re all on different terms.  Obviously, it’ll be up to the next administration to decide how to proceed with those appointments or the retention of those people.  But, I can’t speak to the post-1 January world.

Question:  What about the one dollar a year contracts?

Spokesman:  I have no information on that, I can see if I can get you something.

Question:  The declaration by the Secretary-General on the Ivory Coast that you read earlier.  Is it related to the declaration that President Gbagbo made yesterday about opening a political dialogue?

Spokesman:  It is related to the ongoing tensions in the country and the lack of progress by the parties to move forward on the peace process.  I think we have seen statements in the last couple of days relating to that.

Question:  On the expiration of contracts, the Economic Commission of Africa, Abdoulie Janneh, USG, does that contract expire in February as well?

Spokesman:  I’m happy to check.

Question:  I have another question on the same theme.  I understand that Mr. Ban is having difficulty now and will quite likely not make a series of announcements before the end of the year.  I’m told that Mrs. Barcena has been told that she should be ready to act as Chief of Staff on 2 January and afterwards.  Obviously, the other posts he was going to name included Spokesman and Deputy-Secretary-General.  I was wondering, if you’ve been told, if you’ll be continuing on 2 January as Spokesman.

Spokesman:  I don’t really want to speak to the post-1 January world.  I think I will let Mr. Ban Ki-moon, and his team, make those assignments.  Those announcements, excuse me.

Question:  On Ivory Coast, Gbagbo gave a speech in which he said the buffer zone should be eliminated, and essentially, many people say, he wants to attack the rebels again.  Is there something more, it’s not just that the process isn’t going forward.  It’s that he said that the UN process and the resolution are not, have accomplished nothing for Ivorian.  Are either the envoys there or the Secretary-General going to say something more than “it’s going too slow?”

Spokesman:  We’re obviously very concerned that no unilateral moves that would take place outside of the agreed framework of the road map that’s been agreed by the Security Council, with the African Union and ECOWAS.  The UN has been in touch with all the political parties to move together along the lines of the road map.

Question:  I arrived late.  Did you answer any questions on Somalia yet?

Spokesman:  I was neither asked nor did I answer.

Question:  Somalia, reports of basically a war kicking off.  I don’t know what the UN’s analysis on this is, but basically, any UN analysis…  Are we now entering the much-heralded post-rains war or is this just a bit of [public relations] PR because of Louis Michel’s visit to Baidoa?

Spokesman:  Excuse me, is this what?

Question:  Just a bit of Islamic Court public relations because of the visit of the European Commissioner.

Spokesman:  I don’t know if that is public relations or not.  I think you’d have to ask them.  We’re obviously extremely concerned about the latest outburst of violence.  We would obviously continue to encourage a very prompt deployment of the [Intergovernmental Authority for Development] IGAD peacekeeping forces as mandated by the Security Council.  The African Union, obviously, is taking the lead with IGAD and putting together such a force and it would be best if those countries in the region would contribute to that force and do so quickly.

Question:  To follow up on that, what is the status on the preparation of that force, and is there any UN advice being given to?

Spokesman:  I am not aware of any UN involvement, technical involvement or other, in the putting together of that force.

Question:  Do you have any idea about the status of the putting together?

Spokesman:  We have no update from the African Union or IGAD on the putting together.

Question:  In the case of the procurement department investigation, procurement department taskforce, the Secretary-General suspended the people who were the principals who were accused in this, now you said that there needs to be an investigation into [Department of Economic and Social Affairs] DESA.  Will the principals who were suspects in that be suspended as well?

Spokesman:  They are two different things.  First of all, there were allegations brought up on DESA.  [Office of Internal Oversight Services] OIOS was asked to do an audit and they are doing that.  I have no update on that.  As far as the procurement taskforce, they are going about their work and, as soon as we have an update for you, I will share that with you.

Question:  (Inaudible).

Spokesman:  I can’t speak to the specifics of that, of OIOS’ work but, they’re going about their work.  If there is any announcement…  I have no information one way or another. But people are presumed innocent until proven otherwise.

Question:  Has the Secretary-General met with the staff in the cafeteria, and what was his reaction?

Spokesman:  It was an extremely warm and pleasant farewell ceremony, very informal ceremony for the Secretary-General and the staff.  And, I know he was extremely pleased and moved by it and I do hope that the staff that managed to attend felt the same way.

Question:  These Hmong, people that have left Laos and are in [inaudible], in both Laos and Thailand, have said that they are going to be returned to Laos, they say that they’re facing death and attacks by the Laotian military.  I’m wondering, [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] UNHCR has said something.  Is there some way to find out thorough your office what is the status of that and what is actually?

Spokesman:  We can check with UNHCR.

Question:  You’re not going to brief next week -– is that right?

Spokesman:  That’s correct.

Question:  So, Friday is your last briefing?

Spokesman:  That’s correct.

Question:  Given that last year, we had the tsunami for instance.  I mean things happen in the world.  On Sunday, 1 January, who is going to be the Spokesman?

Spokesman:  My office will be fully staffed up until, and I will remain until 31 December.  If something happens before that, we will be able to provide you with briefings.  I don’t have anything to announce for you as of 1 January but, there will be continuity.

Question:  Will you circulate something saying who’s in charge on 1 January so we can know.

Spokesman:  I definitely will.

Question:  There is an impasse in the negotiations over what to do about Iran and its nuclear programme.  Is the Secretary-General going to weigh in, at any point, before he leaves, in the coming days, on this issue?  Does he have any remarks about where things are going?

Spokesman:  I think he spoke to that yesterday in the press conference.  And obviously, the Council members are actively discussing it today, so I have nothing else to add.

Question:  On this anti-revolving door policy, is it going to be definitely announced before?

Spokesman:  I would very much like to be able to announce it before the end of this week.

Question:  Can you highlight to us, if there are any other policies that are going to be finalized before the end of the year or before your last briefing?  Is there anything else on your radar screen?

Spokesman:  Yes, the two issues I do expect to announce something on -- one is the revolving door policy and the other is the agreement having to do with the handling of the papers from the Volcker Committee.  We’d like to get those two things out and done with before 31 December.

Question:  Is there any taskforce in the coming days or weeks to make Israel deal with the [Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons] NPT or anything related to it?

Spokesman:  On that issue, I would just repeat what the Secretary-General said to you yesterday.  James, what I was discussing is the policy regarding access to the Volcker papers so that national authorities who wish to continue the investigations have full access to those papers.

Question:  (Inaudible)

Spokesman:  As soon as the policy is done, I’ll be able to share it with you.

Question:  You have indicated some time ago that the transition team discussion between the administration of Mr. Annan and Mr. Ban Ki-moon would continue until the end of this month.  Is this still the case -– how often will they be meeting between now?

Spokesman:  The transition.  They have contacts daily and more than once a day.  It is a lot of informal contacts and some formal ones.  The policy was discussed between the Volcker Committee and the United Nations.

Briefing by the Spokeswoman for the General Assembly President

Good afternoon.  This week, we are concentrating on the reports of the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural), the Second Committee (Economic and Financial), which will be taken up this afternoon, and the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary), which is pending.  On Tuesday, the Assembly adopted 41 resolutions and five decisions recommended by the Third Committee, including texts expressing concern over the human rights situations in three Member States, addressing human rights consequences of Israeli military operations in Lebanon and condemning the use of the media to incite violence against racial, religious and other groups.  The Assembly adopted country-specific human rights resolutions by recorded votes on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Iran and Belarus.  The resolution on Belarus followed the rejection of motions for no action.

As usual, this issue of country-specific human rights resolutions was the subject of debate in both the Committee and the Assembly.  As in the past, several delegates criticized such resolutions as selective and politically motivated, while other delegations argued that any human rights issue should be considered by the Assembly on its merits.  Another point raised was whether the newly established Human Rights Council, which has been developing a universal periodic review mechanism, and would hold all States to the same consistent human rights standard, was the more appropriate venue to address such issues.

The Assembly also dealt with the appearance in European publications of cartoons deemed offensive by many Muslims in two texts on the elimination of racism and racial intolerance.  And, by the terms of this resolution on combating defamation of religions, the Assembly deplored the use of print, audio-visual and electronic media to incite acts of violence, xenophobia or related intolerance and discrimination against Islam or any other religion.  At the same time, the resolution urges States to take resolute action to prohibit the dissemination of such ideas and materials.  The resolution was adopted by a vote of 111 in favour to 54 against with 18 abstentions.

Another of the important issues voted on yesterday was a resolution on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.  The Assembly once again strongly condemned all such executions and demanded that all States ensure that they are brought to an end.  It also called on all States, in which the death penalty has not been abolished, to comply with their obligation under relevant provisions of international human rights instruments.  The Assembly also took action on resolutions addressing the advancement of women, the protection of the rights of children, social development, globalization, the rights to self determination, the right to development and the right to food.  Details of the voting and the results are contained in Press Release GA/10562 and the annexes attached.

This morning, the Assembly completed the reports of the Third Committee considering among others, the report of the Human Rights Council, follow-up to the Vienna Declaration and the Programme of Action and the report on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice.

The Assembly also, this morning, adopted without a vote the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances.  Addressing the Assembly before action was taken, General Assembly President Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa said the practice of enforced disappearances is still widespread throughout the world.  Supporting her assertion, she noted that since 1980 there have been more that 51,000 enforced disappearances in more than 90 countries.

By adopting the Convention, she urged, Member States could help prevent enforced disappearances and bring perpetrators to justice.  She said the Convention will also provide justice for victims and their families who have suffered.  Again urging Member States to adopt the Convention by consensus, she appealed to Member States “at their earliest convenience” to take all necessary steps to ensure the full implementation of the Convention.

This afternoon, the Assembly will consider the reports of the Second Committee (Economic and Financial).  Meanwhile, the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) met formally this morning on the programme budget and financing of the United Nations peacekeeping forces in the Middle East.  The afternoon session will be devoted to informal consultations on the scale of assessments.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  A quick question on the Capital Master Plan.  Was that passed in the Fifth Committee and if it was, what’s the next step?  It goes through the Assembly and what?  It’s approved by acclamation?

Spokeswoman:  It depends on the form in which it goes to the General Assembly.  At the moment, the document hasn’t been put out as yet.  But, the Committee is still in informal consultations.  It will be considering it, along with many other things on its agenda.  We’ve had to have another extension for the Committee.  We’re keeping our fingers cross that they will finish by Friday.

[Regarding the above question, the Spokeswoman draws attention of journalists to document A/58/CRP.5 which addresses practices and working methods of the Fifth Committee.  Page 11, paragraph 64 of this document addresses the question of what happens to draft resolutions and decisions of the Fifth Committee after they are adopted.  Paragraph 64 notes:  “after draft resolutions or decisions are issued as “L” documents, they are adopted at a formal meeting of the Committee.  The Fifth Committee functions on the premise that no effort should be spared in the search for consensus before resorting to a vote.  Implementing paragraph 7 of section II of resolution 41/213 of 19 December 1986, in which the General Assembly considered it desirable that the Fifth Committee should continue to make all possible efforts to obtain the broadest possible agreement on the outline of the programme budget before submitting its recommendations to the General Assembly.  For political considerations, this method is applied not only to the outline of the programme budget, but also, to all other draft resolutions and decisions, without exception.  This approach has often led to delegations making consensus on one agenda item dependent on consensus on other items, a process which has necessitated lengthy negotiations.  Only on very rare occasions has the Fifth Committee adopted a proposal by vote.”

Question:  This is something they’ll discuss between now and Friday?

Spokeswoman:  Yes, it’s one of the many items to be discussed between now and Friday.  [It is in fact on today’s agenda of the Fifth Committee].  The report of the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) will also be discussed today.

Question:  If it is passed in the Committee?

Spokeswoman:  The General Assembly, will decide whether to approve it.  If it’s by consensus, then that’s fairly easy to approve.  If it’s not by consensus, then they will vote.

Question:  And you expect a vote on the Capital Master Plan this Friday?

Spokeswoman:  This is what the plan is, that the Committee reports as a whole will be voted on, we hope, on Friday.  They’ve been meeting around the clock.  I understand they met over the weekend, so our hope is that we can, in fact, meet that deadline.

Question:  Is there any disciplinary motion that can discipline an Ambassador who shows contempt for the General Assembly?

Spokeswoman:  In general, I remember at the beginning of the Assembly session, just after the general debate, the President made a general appeal to Member States to make sure that they respect the Assembly, and respect each other in their exchanges within the Assembly.  That is as far as we can go, but I can certainly ask whether there’s ever been a censure, which is what you’re asking.  We can certainly check to find out.

Question:  The General Assembly President’s press conference tomorrow.  Is there something she’s planning to address or is it just general?

Spokeswoman:  I think she wants to wrap up this session, in general, to look at what’s been done and look forward to what’s still on the agenda for the first part of next year.  There are a couple of things [she would like to flag] including her thematic debate on gender and empowerment of women.

Question:  In your summary of the Third Committee yesterday, there was one, resolution on using the media to incite racial violence, not the cartoons one but the other one.  I see it passed with only two in opposition, United States and Israel.  What was the debate about?  You can’t speak for the two missions, but what was the substance?

Spokeswoman: I didn’t see anything specific on that and I didn’t follow it closely, but I will check for you.  Anything else?  Thank you very much.

* *** *

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