|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICES OF THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
AND THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly, Ashraf Kamal.
** Iran Statement
On a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General:
The Secretary-General condemns the terrorist attack on a bus in the south-eastern city of Zahedan carrying Iranian security officers, which killed at least 18 people and wounded many more. He reiterates that no cause can justify the use of terrorist violence. He extends his sincere condolences to the families of the victims and to the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
** Lebanon Statement
Another statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the second anniversary of the assassination of Rafik Hariri:
On the second anniversary of the terrorist attack which took the lives of Rafik Hariri and 22 others, the United Nations reaffirms its commitment to assisting Lebanon in its efforts to uncover the truth and bring to justice the perpetrators of this despicable act. On this sad occasion the Secretary-General reiterates his sympathies to the families of all the victims and to the people and Government of Lebanon.
At this critical point for Lebanon, and as homage for other lives lost, it is important that all sides return to dialogue and seek the reconciliation, national unity and stability for which Rafik Hariri worked during his lifetime.
The Security Council yesterday afternoon, following the conclusion of the open debate on the Middle East, held consultations on Lebanon. Afterwards, in a statement to the press, the Council President, Ambassador Peter Burian of Slovakia, said that Council members condemned in the strongest terms the targeted attacks that took place earlier that day on two public buses. Council members welcomed the determination of the Lebanese Government to bring the perpetrators and sponsors to justice.
Also, a draft resolution was introduced yesterday on extending the mandate of the UN Mission in Haiti. The Security Council is expected to work on it tomorrow.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will travel to Berlin and Vienna next week. In Berlin, he will attend the Middle East Quartet meeting and will meet with Chancellor Angela Merkel and other German officials.
Following an invitation by the Government of Austria, the Secretary General will also visit Vienna from the 22nd to the 24th of February. He will meet with Federal President Heinz Fischer, Federal Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer, Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik and with Parliament President Barbara Prammer.
The Secretary-General will also visit the Vienna International Centre, to meet with the Director-General of the United Nations Office at Vienna, Antonio Maria Costa, with the Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, and with UN staff.
We have upstairs a press release issued in Addis Ababa earlier today by the Human Rights Council mission to Darfur. The mission announced that “it decided that it can no longer allow the continued uncertainty regarding visas from Sudan to impede the continuance of the mission, having completed its very important and productive Darfur consultations and briefings in Addis Ababa”.
Mission Leader Jody Williams said that the Mission will proceed and collect all relevant information from locations outside the country. The mission’s report to the Human Rights Council, she said, will be presented as mandated. The mission will continue its work in Addis and other locations and return to Geneva, as scheduled, on the 21st of February, after which it will prepare its report to present to the Council at its fourth regular session in March.
The Secretary-General’s Special Envoy, Jan Eliasson, and African Union Special Envoy Salim Ahmed Salim left today for Al Fasher, the capital of North Darfur state. They will be holding in Darfur, today and tomorrow, meetings with local authorities, representatives and field commanders of the non-signatories rebel groups of the Darfur Peace Agreement.
The UN Mission in Sudan, meanwhile, continues to report security incidents in Darfur. Today’s bulletin includes blockages of UN humanitarian convoys in North Darfur, the hijacking of an ambulance in South Darfur and an attack on a compound housing an international non-governmental organization.
On Kosovo, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Kosovo, Joachim Rucker, today asked UN Police Commissioner Stephen Curtis to resign from his post in the wake of two deaths that resulted from last weekend’s violent protest in Pristina.
Expressing his regret over the tragic deaths, Rucker stressed that the Commissioner’s resignation did not prejudge the investigation into the incident. An investigation will proceed in a transparent and independent manner, he added. We have his full statement upstairs.
On Bolivia, as the number of people affected by severe flooding in Bolivia has risen by 25,000 in recent days, UN agencies and their humanitarian partners are working to support the Government of Bolivia in its response. Overall, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, some 200,000 people have been affected by the flooding.
In response, the World Food Programme (WFP) has distributed food to more than 60,000 people, and is planning to assess needs in Beni province, where five rivers have overflowed their banks.
Meanwhile, UNICEF has made $30,000 available for water analysis and treatment activities, and for the construction of emergency latrines. Also, the World Health Organization and Pan American Health Organization have provided medicines and medical supplies used to treat those injured in the flooding and help prevent the spread of disease.
**Treaty of Tlatelolco
On the fortieth anniversary of the Treaty of Tlatelolco, the Secretary-General, in a message today, expressed that the commemoration of nations forging agreements to ban nuclear weapons can help energize efforts to halt and reverse the spread of weapons of mass destruction throughout the world.
His message will be delivered by the Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament this afternoon in Mexico City, where the landmark anniversary of Latin American and the Caribbean States signing an agreement on banning nuclear weapons in the region took place.
Yesterday, the Secretary-General’s Group of Friends for Georgia wrapped up a two-day meeting in Geneva. You’ll recall that the Friends include Germany, France, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States. Also participating were the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Georgia, Jean Arnault, and representatives of the Georgian and Abkhaz sides.
Encouraging the sides to resume dialogue, the Friends stressed the need for immediate engagement on security issues, both in the upper Kodori valley and the zone of conflict. They highlighted the need to refrain from any action that could impede progress or undermine confidence, and urged the sides to take into account one another’s sensitivities and to cooperate to de-escalate tensions. We have a press statement on that upstairs.
Right after this briefing, at around 12:30, Mr. Ad Melkert, Under-Secretary-General and Associate Administrator of UNDP, will be here with tennis star Maria Sharapova, who will be appointed as UNDP Goodwill Ambassador and announce her donation to UNDP Chernobyl projects.
You are all invited to a briefing on the UN Police operations to root out gangs in neighbourhoods of the Haitian capital. The briefing is for attribution and will take place tomorrow, Thursday afternoon at 3:00 in the Situation Centre on the 32nd floor of the Secretariat Building. The speakers will be Francois Dureau of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and David Wimhurst, the head of public information at the Haiti Mission. They will join us via video broadcast. We have a media advisory on this upstairs.
That is all I have for you. Any questions? We have little time because at 12:30 we have another press conference. Yes?
**Questions and Answers
Question: With regard to this asking for the resignation of Stephen Curtis at UNMIK, in what way, why was he asked to resign -– was he seen as bearing any responsibility for the event?
Spokesperson: Well, the fact that two deaths occurred and the fact that they were caused by rubber bullets, along with the initial results of the investigation, raised some serious questions about possible cases of misconduct. Rucker wanted to ensure accountability and to restore public confidence in the police.
Question: I just don’t understand. I mean, if there’s an element of sort of guilt or responsibility, or something assumed for the deaths, caused by rubber bullets, is resignation enough under those circumstances?
Spokesperson: No, there is an investigation that was launched and that is under way. Yes?
Question: I have a question for you: you mentioned in the briefing that in Darfur, humanitarian convoys are being blocked. When the Secretary-General was in Sudan earlier this month or last month, he spoke with Bashir, who promised that there was not going to be any humanitarian blockages; that was one of the things that he strongly said, that that was not going to continue to happen. And now there’s a visa problem. But, addressing that question directly about South Darfur, does the Secretary-General have any comment since it seems that you know another Head of State has perhaps not given him… [inaudible]?
Spokesperson: Well, you know, he has expressed disappointment about this fact, about the fact that humanitarian access is impeded at so many instances. And he’s also disappointed about the fact that the Human Rights [Council] could not go into Darfur, in spite of the promises he was given by President Bashir. Yes?
Question: Michele, just to follow up on that. Is this, he asked for the
resignation of the police commissioner in Kosovo after the Interior Minister of Kosovo resigned – Fatir Rexhepi, that’s his name -- or he asked for it before and after, and to whom he had consulted about the firing of Mr. Curtis?
Spokesperson: He consulted DPKO and also consulted with the Secretary-General’s office.
Question: The resignation came before Mr. Rexhepi’s resignation, the Kosovo Minister, or after? Because it was a big deal down there that the Kosovo Minister resigned out of taking some responsibility, sharing responsibilities. Then it seems to me it came only after that has happened.
Spokesperson: Well, I don’t have the exact sequence, but I can find out for you the exact sequence of events. Yes?
Question: Does the Secretary-General have a reaction to calls by the House International Relations Committee from yesterday? They wrote a letter to the Cypriot Ambassador asking that Benon Sevan be released to come to face charges here in this country? Is there any reaction to that? And what does the UN intend to do about this case?
Spokesperson: Well, the UN has always been in favour of the fact that justice should be carried out and, in this specific case, that the national jurisdiction taking care of these instances should act on them. I don’t have any specific reaction on the Benon Sevan case, but I can inquire for you whether there is a specific reaction to that. Yes?
Question: If we can go back to Sudan for a moment, did President Bashir promise the Secretary-General to allow this particular group in? And if he did, is the Secretary-General going to do more than express disappointment? Is he going to get in touch with the President?
Spokesperson: Well, as you know, he’s expecting a letter from the President on a series of commitments that were taken, and he’s waiting to see. But he certainly will definitely carry this on. I mean, he will not stand still and wait; he will definitely try to probably talk to Mr. Bashir, even though it is not yet scheduled -– a phone call is not yet scheduled, a phone call is not scheduled yet.
Question: Do you know for sure he’s going to talk with him on this Human Rights [Council]?
Spokesperson: I don’t know yet. I can’t confirm that.
Question: Secondly, almost related. On NGOs [inaudible]… genocide [inaudible].. Mr. Mendez’ contract renewed and so forth. Do you have any information on what’s happening?
Spokesperson: No, all I can say is the Secretary-General never intended on diminishing the responsibilities of the UN Special Envoy on Genocide. On the contrary, he wants to reinforce that post and make it -- as you know it’s a part-time post -- and make it a more permanent post. In fact, what he’s planning to do is to reinforce that post when Mr. Mendez leaves the post, he will be certainly replaced by another person who will take on the responsibility of the position.
Question: And will he be renewed or what?
Spokesperson: He doesn’t want to; he has asked to go.
Question: A follow-up on that, the NGOs that gave the briefing also called for the release of the report of the Advisory Committee of the Secretary-General and that the shortlist be released when a new candidate is being sought. Can that report be released?
Spokesperson: I don’t know. I will try to find out for you whether the report will be released.
Question: It’s in a letter that they wrote.
[The spokesperson later added that the Secretary-General had received the report from the Advisory Committee on Genocide Prevention and was considering its recommendations. The report was not presently public.]
Question: And also, there’s been a settlement between the company behind the toxic waste and Cote d’Ivoire, and the Government of Cote d’Ivoire, and Greenpeace, among others, have said that it’s a sellout, that it legitimizes dumping on the developing world. So, I don’t know if UNEP or the UN system at all has had any comment on this settlement?
Spokesperson: An agreement between the Government and the private company – I don’t think there would be, at this point, any comments. But, we can put you in touch with UNEP.
Question: Okay. The previous Secretary-General actually spoke quite a bit about it when it happened, so I’m just wondering, whether it’s being swept away?
Spokesperson: It is an agreement between the Government and a private company.
Question: Exactly when is that letter supposed to come to the Secretary-General from Bashir? How many days are we… ?
Spokesperson: There was not a set date on it, but we’re expecting that at least on the deployment of the hybrid force.
Question: Right, but is that tomorrow, or…?
Spokesperson: We don’t know, Jonathan. As soon as I find out whether – I don’t think there was any commitment for a specific date. However, as you know, we have two Special Envoys there right now, the AU representative and our own, so we should expect some answers very soon.
Question: Are they doing a hybrid force or are they just trying to get a peace [inaudible]?
Spokesperson: For the time being, it’s the peace process. Yes?
Question: Do you have a list of the UN Goodwill Ambassadors from the date it was first initiated –- I believe it was Audrey Hepburn –- until now? And, why this time, the UNDP is selecting the Goodwill Ambassador instead of the UN?
Spokesperson: Well, why don’t you ask the UNDP? And, in our case, we will give you a list of all our Goodwill Ambassadors. Usually, you know, different agencies have Goodwill Ambassadors, so it’s not the UN only, the Secretariat.
Question: [talkover] announced here, you are supposed to know the reason.
Spokesperson: You asked me two things. You asked me for the list. I am saying I don’t have the list, but I could have the list for you whenever you want. And I am saying that different agencies have different Goodwill Ambassadors. You know, UNICEF has Goodwill Ambassadors, UNDP has Goodwill Ambassadors and today you’re going to have the presentation.
Question: Is there a reason why the UNDP has taken over what the UN has been doing for so many years?
Spokesperson: The UNDP is not taking over; the UNDP as an agency has a right to have its own Goodwill Ambassador.
Question: I think you are announcing, it’s going to be announced here, so I believe, I gather that you should know the reason.
Spokesperson: I just announced that at 12:30 you will know the reasons. Yes?
Question: Speaking of Goodwill Ambassadors, we never found out what actually happened with the dollar a year contracts. Is there any change in their situation? Which ones are being retained? Which ones are being let go?
Spokesperson: Benny, I don’t have that list yet. You can have the list of the dollar a year people, but I don’t know what decision -– there has been no decision taken yet. Yes?
Question: Just on pacing – are we going to get any more personnel change announcements over the next couple of weeks? For example, when might we have our 38th floor decisions? When might we get any information on any changes to SRSGs? That kind of thing. And, also any other sort of officials? And also, when might we see a more comprehensive proposal on the restructuring because the whole sort of thing has gone quiet for a few days now? Where are we on that?
Spokesperson: Well, today there are three meetings scheduled between different Permanent Representatives and the Secretary-General’s team on the question of restructuring, and, as I said, as soon as everything will be finalized, you’ll have someone come here and brief you on what the specific proposals were. As you know, the proposals that the Secretary-General had offered are being changed, you know, and being discussed with the Member States, and the Secretary-General said that he will be fully in respect of the legislative process. So, you know, right now we are still proceeding with consultations, and as soon as we find out, we’ll get you a briefing on that with the details.
And, your other question -- when will we find out about new appointments? I don’t have a date on that.
Question: Is there a plan to replace, let’s say, SRSGs over the coming month or something?
Spokesperson: Certainly, there is a priority on the SRSG posts that are vacant, yes. Yes?
Question: Michèle, there is an announcement out of Iraq today that they will be closing the borders for 72 hours, and I know that the High Commissioner for Refugees made a lot of his announcements on his trip. But, does the Secretary-General have any comment on this? And, also, the Iraqis said that, after 72 hours, there will be a partial opening only, leaving a lot of people stranded inside the country. Does he have any comment on that?
Spokesperson: The Secretary-General does not at this point, but we can try to seek more information from Mr. Guterres. Yes?
Question: If Mr. Ban Ki-moon is going to use the opportunity during his visit to Vienna and [inaudible] the negotiators with Mr. Ahtisaari in Kosovo?
Spokesperson: No, I don’t think he will. I think he leaves the process to Mr. Ahtisaari. Yes?
Question: I understand that Mr. Ban Ki-moon has been talking to Mr. Siniora by telephone yesterday. Can you brief us on what they discussed?
Spokesperson: Well, they discussed the incident that occurred yesterday. As you know, Mr. Siniora has written a letter to the Security Council asking for an expansion of the [International Independent] Investigation Commission, and the Secretary-General has referred the letter to the Security Council. I’ll take just one more quickly because Ashraf still has to brief and we have our tennis star coming in. Yes?
Question: I wanted to know: at the AU summit, the Secretary-General was supposed to meet with the President of Nigeria, but the meeting did not happen. There are all kinds of rumours flying around about why it did not happen. So, I’d like to know what is the take of the Secretariat as to why the meeting did not happen in Addis Ababa between Mr. Obasanjo and Mr. Ban Ki-moon?
Spokesperson: I can check on that for you, but I don’t think there was any problem there. It might have been a scheduling problem, but I’ll check for you. Okay, thank you very much. Ashraf?
Briefing by Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly
Until Michèle said Maria Sharapova was coming, I thought you guys were here for me.
**Election of Next General Assembly President
Okay, two quick points. The date for the election of the next President of the General Assembly and the General Committee is the 31st of May. It is usually three months before the end of the session, which would have taken us to the 18th of June, but due to construction work -– there is no conspiracy or anything; it’s just construction work in the General Assembly –- the date is now designated as the 31st of May.
**Elections for Human Rights Council
And the elections for the Human Rights Council will be held around mid-May. So far, there are eight candidates, and once pledges are submitted, they will be circulated as official documents.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Ashraf, who are the candidates for the new President of the General Assembly?
Spokesperson: I don’t have the list on me, but – for the President?
Question: Yes, the new President of the General Assembly, the next session.
Spokesperson: It comes from one regional group. I think it’s already endorsed by – it’s Macedonia, if I’m not mistaken. I think it’s Macedonia. I don’t have the name off the top of my head, but I will confirm. Yes, sir?
Question: … going on in the General Assembly or planned with regard to Darfur and the situation there?
Spokesperson: Nothing that I know of in the immediate future.
Question: There was an OIOS report on the Pension Fund suggesting recommendations that certain people be removed. The Pension Fund is saying it disagrees and won’t take any action, and it says it will now go to the GA. Can you explain how does it go to the GA and what does the GA do if an OIOS report is not acted on by an agency that it investigates?
Spokesperson: Okay, that’s pretty long. Well, usually the report will go the General Assembly, which will decide if there is any further action needed. So, if the General Assembly disagrees with what the Pension Fund does, it can do something about it, if it deems that this is fit. But, the reports of the OIOS get discussed exactly the same way as any other reports before the General Assembly. Benny?
Question: Yes. The restructuring, are there any activities in the next few… [talkover]?
Spokesperson: A meeting is planned for tomorrow between the Secretary-General and the President of the General Assembly, and I should be able to brief you a little more about that tomorrow once they finish the meeting.
Question: And also on other OIOS reports that are expected, I’m told that the OIOS will not brief us on the issue of a report on DESA until it’s delivered to the [inaudible].
Spokesperson: That makes sense. I can check for you on that date. Alright? Thank you.
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