16 January 2007


16 January 2007
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York


The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Associate Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.

We expect to have with us sometime over the course of today’s briefing Mr. Toby Lanzer, the UN Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator for the Central African Republic, and he will brief on the humanitarian situation in the northern part of the country.

**Secretary-General Visits Washington

The Secretary-General is in Washington, D.C., today, where he will meet with President George W. Bush in about an hour’s time.

While he is in Washington, he will also meet with members of the US Congress, both Republicans and Democrats, including key members of both the Senate and House committees dealing with foreign relations.

This afternoon, the Secretary-General will also give a speech laying out his priorities at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Among other things, he will talk about the need to confront the tragedy of Darfur, to make serious efforts for progress in the Middle East, to invigorate disarmament and non-proliferation efforts and to resolve the uncertainty over Kosovo’s status. We have embargoed copies of the speech upstairs.

The Secretary-General will be back at UN Headquarters tomorrow afternoon.

**UN Iraq Report

On Iraq, the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) issued its ninth bimonthly report on the human rights situation in the country today, which says that more than 6,000 civilians were killed during November and December. The Mission’s Human Rights Office calculates that the total civilian death toll for last year was more than 34,000, with more than 36,000 civilians injured.

According to the bimonthly report, the situation is particularly grave in Baghdad, where most of the casualties also bear signs of torture.

Sectarian violence, especially in Baghdad, is singled out as a major cause for an ever-growing trend in displacement and migration of all Iraqis, as well as the targeting of various professional groups.

We have more details in the report and an accompanying press release, which are available upstairs.

**Security Council

The Security Council today is holding consultations on the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea and other matters. Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hédi Annabi is briefing Council members on the Secretary-General’s last report on Ethiopia and Eritrea, which came out last month.

** Uganda Update

Joaquim Chissano, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Lord’s Resistance Army Affected (LRA) Areas, arrived yesterday in Juba, the capital of southern Sudan, for consultations on how to move forward the peace negotiations and reach a political settlement to end the LRA insurgency in northern Uganda and southern Sudan.

The Special Envoy met yesterday with Sudanese First Vice-President and southern Sudanese President Salva Kiir and the Facilitator of the peace negotiations, southern Sudanese Vice-President Riek Machar.

Chissano will also meet with meet with the LRA negotiators before heading to Khartoum for a consultation with Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir and senior officials.

Also on Uganda, the World Food Programme (WFP) today started food distributions to 500,000 people in north-eastern Uganda’s Karamoja region, where families are reeling from the effects of the third drought in six years. And we have a press release on that upstairs.

** Sudan

On Sudan, the United Nations and the African Union are stepping up preparations to move the UN support to the AU force in Darfur (AMIS) to its second phase, now that the delivery of the UN Light Support Package is ongoing, according to the UN Mission in Sudan.

The UN and the AU will hold this weekend a final round of consultations on the second phase of UN support to AMIS, referred to as the Heavy Support Package, which will include additional personnel and equipment.  Once finalized, the details of the Heavy Support Package will be brought to the attention of the Government of Sudan.

** Somalia

Turning now to Somalia, the first UN inter-agency mission to Mogadishu, since the Transitional Federal Government assumed control over southern Somalia, took place today.

In northern Somalia, meanwhile, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is conducting a one-month needs assessment for internally displaced persons. During that mission, UNHCR also intends to deliver shelter materials and basic supplies to the displaced.

On the Somalia-Kenya border, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is concerned that the closed frontier is leading to a deteriorating health situation, with cases of dysentery, diarrhoea, and malaria going untreated. But in southern Somalia, the World Health Organization (WHO) has been able to bolster major hospitals with medicines, medical supplies and fuel.

** Rwanda Tribunal

On Rwanda, the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) today upheld the life sentence for Emmanuel Ndindabahizi, a former finance minister of Rwanda, for his criminal responsibility in the 1994 genocide, which the Court said is the “crime of crimes”.

We have more information on that upstairs.

**New Reports on Children in Armed Conflict

Out on the racks today are two reports by the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict -- one focusing on Sri Lanka and one on Nepal.

In the Sri Lanka report, the Secretary-General notes that, despite previous commitments by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the group continues to recruit children. He also notes allegations that certain elements of the Sri Lankan Security Forces are involved in aiding the recruitment and/or abduction of children by the Tamil Tigers breakaway Karuna faction. The Secretary-General calls on the Sri Lankan Government to immediately investigate those allegations.

The Nepal report, meanwhile, contains recommendations on taking stronger action to protect war-affected children in Nepal, including the need for dedicated child protection expertise in any future UN mission to that country.

** Afghanistan

On Afghanistan, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) says that, since the repatriation to Afghanistan started in 2002, more than 1 million Afghan returnees from Pakistan and Iran have built homes with UNHCR assistance. And we have more details in a UNHCR press release upstairs.

**Economic and Social Council

Tomorrow afternoon, the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) will hold the first part of its annual organizational session and elect its President and Bureau for 2007. The event will take place at 3pm in the ECOSOC Chamber in the presence of the Secretary-General, who will also address the Council.

ECOSOC members are also expected to adopt the Council’s provisional agenda for their February session, and to discuss other organizational matters.

**UN Staff Security Summit

The seventh summit on the safety and security of UN and associated staff is taking place today, and Chef de Cabinet, Vijay Nambiar delivered a message on the Secretary-General’s behalf, saying that effective security is a core aspect of UN operations, which we must always strive to improve. He said that effort would require robust cooperation, and thanked the Staff Union for its keen interest.

**Budget News

And last, the UN Budget Office informs that as of this week, a total of 9 Member States have paid in full their contributions to the current budget for 2007. They include Azerbaijan, Bolivia, Brunei Darussalam, Burkina Faso, Finland, Norway, South Africa, Suriname and Zambia. And a reminder that Member States have until 31 January to settle their dues in full.

That’s it for me. Are there any questions?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Actually, two questions.  First, does the Secretary-General have any comment on today’s charges filed against Benon Sevan for bribery and conspiracy to commit wire fraud stemming from the “oil-for-food” case?

Associate Spokesperson:  Yes.  On that, we were just informed about the media reports concerning the indictment, but we have yet to receive any formal information. However, the Secretary-General would like to convey that the United Nations has been cooperating with the authorities about follow-up to the Volcker reports, and the United Nations will, of course, continue to do so. He reiterates the commitment to have the United Nations uphold the highest ethical standards.

That is all for the reaction, for now.

Question:  One other thing. I wonder if you could explain on behalf of the UN, why are the figures on casualties in Iraq by the United Nations are about three times higher than the casualty figures reported by the Iraqi Government?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, that depends on what you mean by “Iraqi Government”.  We actually get our figures from two basic sources among the Iraqi authorities, namely the Iraqi Ministry of Health and the Medico-Legal Institute of Baghdad. And this bi-monthly report, like the others, draws from those sources, and the annual number that is reflected in the report is simply the combined figure of the previous five reports and the current one, again based on the figures from those two authorities -- the Medico-Legal Institute and the Ministry of Health.

Question:  Will the UN urge the two figures that were indicted to show up in court to make their case, since both of them are outside the court’s jurisdiction?

Associate Spokesperson:  You may have missed this since you’re just coming in, but we have yet to actually see the formal indictment, so I would wait until we have that to talk about the details. Obviously, what we have been urging is for all parties to cooperate with the authorities on this matter. And the Secretary-General today did reiterate that we would cooperate as we can.

Question:  What exactly is normal operating procedure for the UN in this type of case? Certainly, Benon Sevan is not the only UN official who’s been indicted. What’s been done in the past in terms of indicted figures?

Associate Spokesperson:  There are two ways -- over a wide spectrum of cases –- in which we have shown our cooperation. One is to provide information as needed with local authorities. The other is, if needed, to waive the immunity of staff members so that they could either give testimony or be tried. Obviously, it would depend on the request, or whether a waiver is sought in this or that case. But we have been doing that, as you know, in some of the recent cases that have led to follow-up action by local authorities.

Question:  Okay, then a follow-up to Benny’s question: Have there been cases in the past in which a Secretary-General or some other UN official has put in a recommendation that the person who has been indicted should indeed be extradited?

Associate Spokesperson:  I would have to look that up.  In all honesty, I don’t believe that extradition is something that the United Nations deals with. Extradition is legally a bilateral affair between countries, and I don’t know whether the UN has ever expressed any view on how countries would deal with that issue.

Question:  I know this is old news, but can you remind us why it is that the UN cannot touch an employee’s pension if he has been discredited? And second, can a UN official or staff member testify in a national legal proceeding?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, the second question pertains to things having to with the waiver of immunity. Obviously, to appear in a national proceeding, a waiver would need to be obtained. But I don’t want to get into any hypothetical discussion on that.

Question:  But can a UN official be called as a witness?

Associate Spokesperson:  Yes. In the past, you could do that. And again, it would be dependent upon waivers.

And on the pension, the pension fund is not controlled by the United Nations but by a separate body. We have no control over that.

Question:  What is the relationship between the UN and Interpol in situations like this? Can Interpol intervene to bring these guys to justice?

Associate Spokesperson:  Again, I need to see the indictment before we could react to what’s been requested one way or the other. However, the United Nations does have a relationship with Interpol on a range of matters and we do cooperate with them.

Question:  Two short questions. I seem to have missed the exact figure on the total number of civilians killed in Iraq in 2006. Was that 30,000 or 40,000?

Associate Spokesperson:  The figure I gave a few minutes ago was a little bit more than 34,000 for the course of 2006. And we do have a press release and a full report about that figure. And I believe that there were more than 36,000 injured as well.

Question:  Second question.  The new President of ECOSOC, is that a person who is known informally in advance, or is it secret?

Associate Spokesperson:  I believe it is known in advance, but I do not know it. I don’t know if you would know someone In ECOSOC who could provide you with that information.  [He later said the Economic and Social Council President would be Ambassador Dalius Čekuolis of Lithuania.]

Question:  You mentioned Mr. Chissano’s trip to Uganda. Is he slated to meet with the leaders of the LRA, Joseph Kony and Vincent Otti?

Associate Spokesperson:  I’m not aware of any meetings at this stage. In this phase, he was set to meet with negotiators, including, as I think I read out, LRA negotiators. But in terms of whether he would meet with senior LRA officials, I don’t know. At this stage, that is not one of the meetings we had announced.  [He later clarified that meetings with the LRA leaders were not on Chissano’s agenda.]

Question:  Is the United Nations doing anything regarding the release of the five diplomats abducted by the Americans in the Erbil raid?

Associate Spokesperson:  We haven’t received any request for involvement in that matter.

Question:  You are not involved at all?

Associate Spokesperson:  This is not something in which our involvement has been requested.

Question:  We had a briefing here today by Yvo De Boer (Executive Secretary) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. He told us about a meeting yesterday with the Secretary-General. Do you have, from the Secretary-General’s side, anything on what that meeting was about and what we could expect in light of two upcoming events, including a meeting on climate change in Africa at the end of January, and a meeting in Paris on February 2-3, where Heads of State will discuss the climate change issue? Does the Secretary-General have anything to say about those two meetings?

Associate Spokesperson:  The only thing the Secretary-General has to say about that following his meeting is that it is clear that the need to act is urgent and the basic scientific consensus on climate change is well established. As you know, he told you last Thursday during his press conference that this would be one of the priorities on his agenda, which is one of the reasons why he met with Yvo de Boer yesterday afternoon to discuss the state of the climate change negotiations.

Question:  On the trip to Washington, is Mr. Ban meeting with anyone from the State Department?

Associate Spokesperson:  At this stage, the schedule I have only indicates meeting with different members of the Senate and the House of Representatives. I don’t know whether anyone from the State Department will be present with the President about an hour from now. I suspect that that may be the case, but I’ll actually have a better idea once the meeting takes place.  Michèle will give us an update on that.

Question:  This past weekend the President of Iraq, Jalal Talabani, visited Syria and met with President Bashar al-Assad and they concluded several agreements, including in the field of security. Is there any reaction from the Secretary-General?

Associate Spokesperson:  Obviously, the only reaction is that we want to see Iraq and its neighbouring countries come together on a range of issues. We are certainly pleased to see Iraq’s neighbours try and be part of the solution and to play a helpful role going forward in Iraq, and we would encourage all of them to continue to do so.

Question:  Can you just explain what the UN’s relationship is with Benon Sevan now. And, I guess it was a year ago, when there was a dispute over who was going to pay for his legal fees, where did all that end up?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, this is old news, but Benon Sevan is no longer working for the United Nations. His immunity was waived last year. In terms of the legal fees, the decision was taken not to reimburse him following the initial adverse findings from the Volcker Committee.  And, as you know, there has been a range of adverse findings in the reports of the Volcker Committee, from 2005.

Question:  Well, there was a dispute after that, and Benon Sevan’s lawyer demanded that you would honour the agreement. Was that settled? You said “no” and that’s it, it’s over?

Associate Spokesperson:  As far as I know, the last is that we declined to pay, given the nature of the findings against Mr. Sevan. At this stage, I wouldn’t have anything further to say about Mr. Sevan’s status now that it appears that there would be some court proceedings. I don’t want to prejudice those proceedings.

Question:  There’s another indictment in there – Fred Nadler, who is related directly to a former Secretary-General. Do you know where Boutros-Boutros Ghali is now?

Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t, I don’t know what he is doing. He had served for a while as the Secretary-General of La Francophonie, so you might try to contact them to see whether they have any details.

Question:  There were reports from Zimbabwe that the Mugabe Government was threatening another series of mass evictions – this is from Reuters and various southern African press reports. Given the UN’s conclusions about the last round of these evictions, has anyone in the UN taken note of this? Does anyone have anything to say about it?

Associate Spokesperson:  These are reports, including reports in the Zimbabwean media. We would want to see if anything actual happens. As you know from the last time -- Operation “Clean Up Trash” -- where we came up with our own report by Anna Tibaijuka [Executive Director of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme], our criticisms of that policy are very clear and our desire for there not to be any activity along those lines. But, having said that, this is based on reports and we would need to see if any actual activities are being carried out.

Question:  And, you may not have a comment on this, but maybe you could get one: In Tanzania, there’s this proposed freedom of information bill that most of the press is criticizing because it would require licensing or a university degree to be a reporter. It would also allow the Government to decide what’s news and what’s not. So I’m wondering if the incoming Deputy Secretary-General has anything to say on this. It’s the Government in which she served and I’m wondering if you can get some sort of indication of her views on press freedom?

Associate Spokesperson:  We will inquire. Of course, she hasn’t fully taken up her duties as yet.

Question:  Is she going to talk to us?

Associate Spokesperson:  She’s expected to speak to the press in early February, once she has formally taken up her duties.

Question:  Has the UN taken any action regarding the five Iranian diplomats taken hostage in Iraq?

Associate Spokesperson:  I believe your colleague asked that.  Our involvement in that has not been requested.

Question:  Not requested at all?

Associate Spokesperson:  It hasn’t been requested. Obviously, if it is requested we would seek guidance on that.

Question:  Maybe this has been asked before, but in the meeting with the head of the…with…I don’t know, I forget his name, but in the meeting it was urged that the Secretary-General play a leadership role on the environment. Did you answer a question on this?

Associate Spokesperson:  Yes I did.

Comment:  Ok then.  I’ll check on your answer.

Question:  On Iraq, could you please repeat the figure, because I think the sound went out and we need it on tape.

Associate Spokesperson:  Sorry if the sound went out. The figure, which is based on a report that is available upstairs, is that more than 34,000 people were killed last year in terms of civilian casualties in Iraq.  And more than 36,000 injured.  And we have the details upstairs.

Question:  Regarding the Security Council’s sanctions on North Korea. The Committee recently reported that, 30 or 40 some countries and the EU were the only countries that submitted reports required by the measure. Is the Secretary-General concerned at all that the Member States are not complying with – or even ignoring – the Security Council’s sanctions? Has he done anything to encourage the Member States to comply?

Associate Spokesperson:  On that, of course, the Secretary-General expects all Member States to comply with all resolutions of the Security Council.  As for the implementation of this particular resolution, that’s in the hands of the Security Council, and particularly in the hands of its sanctions Committee on the DPRK.

Question:  Is the Secretary-General being kept abreast on the various peace initiatives being discussed on the Middle East, especially between the Palestinians and the Israelis, and especially now that ( US Secretary of State) Condoleezza Rice is in the region?

Associate Spokesperson:  Yes.  We are being kept abreast of all that. I believe yesterday, the Spokeswomen, Michèle, said that Condoleezza Rice did speak to the Secretary-General prior to her Middle East tour to inform him about the development. And of course we appreciate all efforts to bring the Israeli and Palestinian leaders together.

Question:  Are you involved in anyway other than just receiving information?

Associate Spokesperson:  We’re keeping track of it. And beyond that, the Secretary-General is trying to make sure that the Quartet for the Middle East will meet as early as possible. We are hoping for something in early February.

Question:  On Benon Sevan, what is his position and based on that, what pension would he get?

Associate Spokesperson: He would get whatever pension he’s entitled to, but I don’t know what that figure would be.

Question:  What’s the relation between Rice’s attempts to bring Palestinians and Israelis together and having the Quartet…I mean, is there a sequence here? Should the Palestinians, Israelis and Rice agree to something first and then the Quartet would meet? Or will the Quartet meet no matter what happens on the ground?

Associate Spokesperson:  Given the new developments on the ground, it is important for the Quartet to meet to evaluate the situation and see where all the parties of the Quartet can help move the Road Map forward.

Question:  What is the object of the Quartet meeting -- or is it only to assess the situation on the ground?

Associate Spokesperson:  It’s to assess the latest developments and to see what can be done to move the entire Road Map process forward.

Question:  What was Benon Sevan’s rank when he retired? Would the pension be based on that ranking, or is it..?

Associate Spokesperson:  He was the head of the oil-for-food programme at the time and I don’t know…

Question:  So, is that a D-1 or…I don’t know…

Comment:  It was USG.

Question:  While we’re on the Quartet issue, is there any newer information than what I got from Michele a week ago on the possible venue for the meeting? There was talk of Paris and then there was talk that maybe they would meet here as they did last May.

Associate Spokesperson:  We still need to figure out what venue would be convenient for all the members of the Quartet. Because of scheduling problems, we weren’t able to arrange it for Paris.

If that is it for the questions, I would now like to welcome Toby Lanzer, who is the UN Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator for the Central African Republic.

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