3 April 2008


3 April 2008
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 Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon.  I’m sorry I’m a little late.  I was waiting for two statements, two appointments and one trip announcement.  And I have them all.  And we also have the guest already here and my guest today is Catherine Bragg, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and the Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator for the United Nations, and she is here to announce plans for the global commemoration of the International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action, which is to be observed tomorrow.  So I may switch over to her immediately after the briefing since she is already here.

**Statement on Cyprus

The first statement attributable to the Spokesperson for Secretary-General is on Cyprus.

The Secretary-General warmly welcomes today’s opening of a crossing at Ledra Street in the old town of Nicosia.  Since its closure in 1963, Ledra Street has come to represent the division of Cyprus.  Its reopening today, after more than four decades, is the symbol of a new and hopeful environment.  As the Cypriots now embark on what will be a challenging process towards renewed negotiations aimed at reunifying the island, the United Nations is fully committed to help them succeed

And at today’s opening ceremony in Nicosia, Elizabeth Spehar, the Secretary-General’s Acting Special Representative in Cyprus, said we all know that the opening of Ledra Street does not mean the Cyprus problem has been solved.  But the opening does give us a glimpse of what is possible, she added.  We have her full remarks upstairs.

Meanwhile, we also have an announcement that Rear Admiral Mario César Sánchez Debernardi of Peru has assumed his duties as Force Commander of the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus.

**Statement on Disabilities Convention

The second statement attributable to the Spokesperson today welcomes the entry into force of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The Secretary-General welcomes the twentieth State depositing a ratification or accession today, which triggers the entry into force of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Protocol, on 3 May 2008.

The Secretary-General congratulates the States that have already ratified or acceded to the Convention for enabling the entry into force only a year and a half from its adoption by Member States on 13 December 2006.

It is estimated that there are at least 650 million persons with disabilities worldwide, of whom approximately 80 per cent live in less developed countries.  The Convention, together with its Optional Protocol, is deeply rooted in the firm commitment of the international community to rectifying the egregious neglect and dehumanizing practices that violate the human rights of persons with disabilities.

The Convention will be a powerful tool to eradicate the obstacles faced by persons with disabilities:  discrimination, segregation from society, economic marginalization, and lack of opportunities for participation in social, political and economic decision-making processes.  It is an historic moment in our quest for realization of the universal human rights for ALL persons, creating a fully inclusive society for all.

Therefore, all States are called upon to ratify or accede to this Convention without delay.  They will have an opportunity to deposit instruments of ratification or accession to this Convention during this year’s annual treaty event at the beginning of the sixty-third General Assembly session.

**Secretary-General in Romania

Turning to Bucharest, Romania, the Secretary-General addressed the high-level meeting on Afghanistan, and he pledged the UN's commitment to that country, vowing: “We shall not leave Afghanistan as long as we are needed by the Afghan people.”  He noted the signs of progress in the country, as well as the obstacles that are still present, foremost among them the threat posed by the continuing violence and the militancy in various parts of the country.  Another obstacle, he said, is the constantly growing drug economy.  The Secretary-General acknowledged that the UN has not been as effective as it needs to be in coordinating the international community, adding that the new Security Council mandate will allow the UN to take a more assertive role in coordination.

The Secretary-General began the day with a working breakfast with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, and met with other leaders participating in the NATO summit over the course of the day.  The Secretary-General and the President discussed the importance of today’s conference as a means of reaffirming the international community’s long-term support for Afghanistan.  The Secretary-General and the President also discussed the latest audio message from Al-Qaida, and both noted, contrary to that message, the contributions that the UN has made to the Muslim world.

After visiting UN staff in Romania, the Secretary-General then held bilateral meetings with the President of France, the Prime Ministers of Italy, New Zealand, Sweden, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, and the Foreign Ministers of Canada and Germany, as well as the European Union High Representative and the President of the European Commission.  All those meetings included discussions on the ways that the international community can improve its assistance to the Afghan people.  In his meeting with the Swedish Prime Minister, the Secretary-General thanked the Prime Minister for offering to host the 29 May meeting of the International Compact for Iraq.  Later today, the Secretary-General expects to meet with the President of Romania, which will be the last of his bilaterals for the day.  And he is planning to be back in New York tomorrow.


And just a few minutes ago, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia acquitted Ramush Haradinaj and Idriz Balaj of all charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity against them for alleged violations committed in Kosovo between March and September 1998.  The third accused, Lahi Brahimaj was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment for cruel treatment and torture of persons.  The three faced charges of participating in a joint criminal enterprise whose aim was to consolidate the KLA’s total control over an area of north-western Kosovo by the unlawful removal, mistreatment and murder of Serbian and Kosovar Roma civilians, as well as Kosovar Albanian citizens who were perceived to have been collaborating with Serbian forces.

** Chad and Central African Republic

Available on the racks here is the Secretary-General’s latest report on Chad and the Central African Republic and the work of the UN Mission in those countries.  In it, he says that Chad’s internal crisis, the situation facing refugees and internally displaced persons in eastern Chad and the Central African Republic, the tensions between Chad and the Sudan and the situation in Darfur should be addressed simultaneously in a coordinated effort.  He adds that, while such an effort should take into account the root causes of the internal conflicts and their regional aspects, neither the UN Mission (MINURCAT) nor the European Union Force (EUFOR) is suitably mandated to address these issues.

Noting the need for Chad and Sudan to reach a negotiated and comprehensive settlement of their dispute, the Secretary-General says that, while the international community can assist them in settling their differences, it is incumbent upon the parties to demonstrate the political will and commitment to address the underlying challenges.  Constructive relationships between Chad and the Sudan, as well as a coordination in the activities of the UN Mission, EUFOR, the UN-African Union Mission in Darfur, the UN Mission in Sudan and humanitarian organizations operating in eastern Chad and Darfur, are essential to restore peace and security and ensure the protection of refugees and internally displaced persons in the region.  As developments in eastern Chad have prompted the Government of Chad to seek an increased involvement of its police force in the coverage of IDP sites, the Secretary-General intends to recommend that the six-month review of the UN Mission and EUFOR, expected to be finalized in September, look at this issue and develop recommendations.

** Lebanon

Out on the racks today is also the latest report of the International Independent Investigation Commission.  In it, Commissioner Daniel Bellemare presents an overview of progress made to date in the investigation into the killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.  He also underlines the complexity of the investigation as he prepares for an effective handover of collected evidence to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.

In this tenth progress report, the Commissioner says that his team has evidence that a network of individuals acted in concert to carry out the killing of the former Prime Minister and that this criminal network, or parts of it, are linked to some other cases of political assassination within the Commission’s mandate.  The Commission’s priority is now to determine the scope of the network and identify its members.  And we expect Commissioner Bellemare to brief the Security Council next week and hopefully the press as well.

** Nepal

And in the run-up to the 10 April Constituent Assembly election in Nepal, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights there is urging all political parties, Government and Nepalese people to abide by the electoral code of conduct and ensure respect for human rights during the election process.  Adding that the human rights relevant to the election include the right to freedom from intimidation and discrimination, as well as freedom of opinion and expression, the Office of Human Rights stresses that a sincere commitment by the people to respect these rights will create an environment for a successful and credible election.  The Office recommends a six-point measure to ensure respect for human rights in order to help create a free and fair election, including ensuring that voters are free to choose without fear and that children do not participate in political activities that risk their safety.

** Iraq Landmines

Ahead of tomorrow’s International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action, UNICEF and the UN Development Programme are calling for urgent efforts in Iraq to clear landmines, unexploded ordnance and other deadly remnants of war.  And I’m sure the Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator will have more on this subject.


Also, from UNAIDS, UNICEF and the World Health Organization, they released today their second stock-taking report on children and AIDS, which reviews progress since the last such report in October 2005.  Since we are running a little late here, I will refer you to more information on this subject upstairs.


The two appointments I have today, we’ll start with the appointment of the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Resources Management.  The Secretary-General has appointed Ms. Catherine Pollard of Guyana as the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Resources Management.  Ms. Pollard succeeds Ms. Jan Beagle of New Zealand, who was appointed Deputy Director-General of the UN Office in Geneva.  This appointment is a cornerstone of the Secretary-General’s commitment to strengthen the Organization in the key area of human resource management.  Ms. Pollard brings to OHRM her demonstrated capacity to forge collaborative partnerships with different groups of stakeholders in order to get the job done.  She currently holds the position of Chief of Staff in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and has a proven track record in financial, human resources and general administrative management.  And there’s more information on Ms. Pollard in her bio that’s available upstairs.

The second appointment, the Secretary-General has appointed Ms. Aracelly Santana of Ecuador as his Deputy Special Representative for Nepal and Deputy Head of the UN Mission in Nepal (UNMIN).  Ms. Santana succeeds Mr. Tamrat Samuel of Eritrea and will assume her functions on 21 April.  Ms. Santana is currently serving as Chief of Staff in UNMIN and has served in a number of capacities since joining the UN in 1980.  UNMIN is the UN Mission in Nepal.  She has been responsible for a number of active portfolios, both in the African and American regions in the Department of Political Affairs.  And there is more information on Ms. Santana in her bio upstairs as well.

**Follow-up on Questions

And I have one more announcement and a reminder before I turn the floor over to our guest.  In response to some questions we had yesterday, the Secretary-General will be embarking on a three-day official visit to the Russian Federation next week.  This will be his first trip to the Russian Federation since taking office as Secretary-General.  He is expected to meet with Russian Government leaders, including President Vladimir Putin, President-elect Dmitry Medvedev and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.  While in the Russian Federation, the Secretary-General will also meet with the Deputy Chairman of the State Duma and civil society leaders, and he will speak at the Moscow State University.  The Secretary-General will also address the launch of the UN Global Compact's Russia network.

**Radio Documentary

And to remind you, today at 1 p.m. in the Dag Hammarskjöld Library Auditorium, there will be a screening of a documentary about Radio Okapi and the challenges of running a radio operation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  That will be followed by a panel discussion with the Radio Okapi editor-in-chief and representatives from several UN departments we well as the Fondation Hirondelle President.  And with that, I think I’m going to turn over to Ms. Catherine Bragg, who has been patiently waiting, or, okay I’ll take a few questions because she has been waiting since noon, so why don’t we go through those whose hands are up?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Marie, about this situation in Kosovo, with two top UN officials threatening to resign because Mr. Gallucci won’t take blame for that disaster on 17 March.  Do you have any comments on that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  All I can tell you is that UNMIK continues to operate under critical and evolving conditions and that the Mission’s leadership remains in place to carry out the UN’s mandate under resolution 1244 (1999).

Question:  Their threats to resign have been conveyed to the Secretary-General?  And what is the position of Mr. Gallucci, who’s been cleared by the Peacekeeping Department?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The only comment I have on the reports that you mention now is that the Mission’s leadership remains in place to carry out its UN mandate.

Question:  Do you have any reaction to Ayman al-Zawahri’s statement that the UN is the enemy of Islamic Muslims?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t know if you were here when I mentioned that it came up in the discussion with President Karzai.  In addition to the readout from that meeting, the Secretary-General today in Bucharest visited UN staff in Romania and, while he was there, he did refer to that message describing as totally false and unacceptable the accusation that the United Nations did not help the Muslim world.

Question:  As a follow up to that, if you take those accusations seriously, has the UN abroad taken any measures to increase the security of its staff and offices abroad?

Deputy Spokesperson:  As you notice, security at the UN is constantly reviewing security around the globe, 24 hours a day, and we would not publicly get into what those measures are, but in terms of the Secretary-General’s reaction, I just mentioned to you what he said with the staff when he met with them, and that, in his meeting with President Karzai, [the President] also dismissed the Al-Qaida statements and added that the OIC [Organization of the Islamic Conference] was totally behind the United Nations.

Question:  Just a word about Thomas Shindelmayr.  As we know, he was critical to bringing into force the treaty on disability rights and I understand he’s been seriously ill and I just wonder if anyone has an update on where he is and how he is?

Deputy Spokesperson:  All I have today is the Secretary-General’s rather lengthy statement on this Convention.

Question:  Do you have any notion yet of when we can expect appointments to the High Commissionership of  Human Rights and the Under-Secretary-Generalship for Legal Affairs?  And by way of reference, when are Ms. Arbour’s and Mr. Michel’s resignations effective?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything further on that and I believe it’s the summer for both of them.

Question:  You just said, in the Secretary-General’s meetings with Mr. Karzai, the threats were raised and “he dismissed” these.  Which one were you talking about?  Which person were you referring to as dismissing those threats?

Deputy Spokesperson:  It was President Karzai, as well as the Secretary-General.  The Secretary-General, in his meeting with the staff, described the statement as totally false and unacceptable, and then, when he met later with President Karzai, President Karzai also dismissed the Al-Qaida statements and asserted that the member States of the OIC were totally behind the United Nations.

Question:  By dismissing them, they are effectively discounting the severity of those threats?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I’m just simply responding to a question that was asked about the Secretary-General’s reaction.  We have not issued a statement.  These are things that came up in the course of his day in Bucharest.

Question:  Then to follow up on something else, this new appointment in human resources.  That is, appointed by the Secretary-General and requires no input from the General Assembly?

Deputy Spokesperson:  That’s correct.

Question:  Is there a shortlist published?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, there isn’t.

Question:  Is there a biography of her or a list of qualifications?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, upstairs, available in the Spokesperson’s office.

Question:  Is there any kind of printed job description for this?  A list of qualifications by which this post is being filled?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I’m sure there was, yes.

Question:  Is that something we can see?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I’m not sure that it was a publicly advertised announcement.

[The Deputy Spokesperson later announced that the Office of Human Resources Management post was advertised.]

Question:  Another question about Al-Qaida’s accusations.  It was reported that the Secretary-General just called them false and unacceptable, according to AFP.

Deputy Spokesperson:  That’s what I just mentioned.  I said that, in the course of his meeting with the UN staff in Bucharest, that’s what he described as the message.

Question:  Other questions I had.  Can you confirm that John Holmes is scheduled to visit Kuwait and other GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] countries next week?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think we have the Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator here, who can probably confirm anything that he is doing much better than I can.

[The Deputy Spokesperson later noted that a media advisory had been issued yesterday announcing Mr. Holmes’ trip to Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.]

Question:  And the other question, I’m not sure if this was discussed earlier, I was at the MDG debate, did the Secretary-General receive a letter yesterday from the President’s Envoy to Sudan, Williamson, on sending 3,600 troops to Darfur?

Deputy Spokesperson:  There was a letter from the US Envoy for Darfur last week.

Question:  Did the Secretary-General respond to it? 

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t think the letter, which has been reported in the press, has been responded to yet, but I can say the following about the subject: that we are pleased that the United States is committed to the rapid deployment of UNAMID, the UN-AU force in Darfur.  We are working hard with troop-contributing countries and donors to get capable troops on the ground.  One of the challenges that we face is that these troops will be going into an extraordinarily difficult environment.  They have to be ready for it.  Donors like the United States have a serious role to play in ensuring these troops, most of them African, have the capabilities necessary.  Donors can help procure equipment and ensure it can be maintained once the troops hit the ground.  The troops who are deployed before they’re ready will put themselves at great risk, and we would also call on concerned Member States to help us fill critical gaps we still face, particularly in aviation.  That’s a subject, as you know, that has come up over and over again.  We are still short 2 tactical helicopters and 18 military transport helicopters and also a military transport unit, and these are essential if the force is going to have the effect we want it to have.

Question:  Mr. Brahimi last month said that the United Nations is viewed in the Islamic world as a party more than a mediator or an impartial party.  Is the United Nations doing anything to improve its image in the Islamic world?  Is there an effort or concerted effort in this respect?

Deputy Spokesperson:  In terms of image-building, I can’t get into details, but in terms of what the Secretary-General is doing in that part of the world, I think we report to you on that daily.  As for Mr. Brahimi’s work, as you know, he is now embarking on this report now and he’s busy at work on that.

I’m sort of rushing through because I really would like to transfer this podium over to Catherine Bragg, who’s now been waiting for 35 minutes.

Question:  I have a follow up on Ms. Pollard.  There was an OHRM notice, they did advertise it.  I wanted you to look into whether Ms. Pollard was one of the applicants or whether she was sought out by the 38th floor.  Also, there’s a pretty widely circulated staff complaint, and I admit it’s a complaint, regarding Ms. Pollard.  It’s standard to ask her for a comment, which I didn’t receive, but is the Secretariat aware of this complaint, which seems widely circulated in this building, and did they look into it and reject it, or how did it relate to the appointment?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I’ll look into that for you.

[The Deputy Spokesperson later announced that Ms. Pollard was a candidate.]

Question:  Also can you confirm that Ms. McAskie is leaving as head of the Peacebuilding Commission?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I cannot.

Question:  And Mr. Lemke, the new Sports Envoy.  I asked before but I didn’t get an answer.  Is he still employed as a Bremen State politician in Germany or not?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t know.

Question:  It seems like if you appoint somebody, whether they have another job seems relevant?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I’ll look into that for you.

Question:  In light of all the Islamic-world questions, over the weekend, the Secretary-General was condemning the Dutch film Fitna.  Do you know if he’s seen it?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I’d have to check.  I’ll have to look into it.

[The Deputy Spokesperson later confirmed that the Secretary-General had seen the film.]

Question:  One follow up, Marie.  Does the Secretary-General agree that there is a problem of perception of UN partiality in the Muslim world?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think I just answered the question to the message that was out today.  So that’s all I have for you and I’m going to turn it over to Catherine Bragg, who’s been patiently waiting.  Thank you very much.

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