DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
25 February 2004
Following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Fred Eckhard, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Earlier today, the Secretary-General’s acting Special Representative for Iraq, Ross Mountain, arrived in Baghdad.
During his stay in Iraq, Mountain will assess reconstruction and humanitarian issues. He is scheduled to meet with representatives of the Coalition Provisional Authority and the Iraqi Governing Council. Mountain will also meet with the UN’s national staff in Iraq.
This visit comes a few days ahead of the Abu Dhabi conference, which is set to launch the International Reconstruction Facility for Iraq. As you’ll recall, this was endorsed at the Madrid meeting in December to allow governments to contribute to the rebuilding of Iraq's economy and infrastructure through projects administered by UN agencies and the World Bank. Mountain will be present in Abu Dhabi.
The Security Council today is holding consultations on Somalia, with the Secretary-General’s Representative, Winston Tubman, briefing the members on the Secretary-General’s latest report.
In that report, the Secretary-General underscores that progress in the political arena must be accompanied by serious efforts to realize tangible improvements in the security situation on the ground. The Security Council expects to adopt a presidential statement on Somalia following the end of today’s consultations.
Before that, the Council expects to receive a briefing soon on Haiti, under “other matters”, from Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Kieran Prendergast.
The General Assembly today approved by acclamation the Secretary-General’s appointment of Judge Louise Arbour of Canada as the next UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. With her approval by the Assembly, Justice Arbour is expected to retire from the Supreme Court of Canada in late June 2004 to take up her new assignment in Geneva.
At the start of today’s proceedings, General Assembly President Julian Hunte offered his condolences to the Government and people of Morocco, following yesterday’s earthquake.
**Democratic Republic of Congo
The UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is investigating reports of massacres in the eastern province of Katanga. A UN team that has travelled to the area has established that at least 30 people were killed by rival Mai Mai factions on several villages in northern Katanga in the last month, and there are indications that the death toll could be much higher.
According to the investigation, the groups involved have carried out widespread torture, rape and mutilation, and gone as far as drinking their victims’ blood. The perpetrators of the killings are reported to be led by a commander named Shinja Shinja, which is Swahili for the Ripper.
More information is available in a press release. We also have a note from the Mission on a press conference today in Kinshasa, which covered a number of issues, including the situation in the area of Bukavu, which has been tense in recent days.
A United Nations Disaster and Coordination Assessment team arrived in Morocco today to assist in the relief effort following yesterday’s earthquake. Among other tasks, the team will coordinate on-site search-and-rescue activities and will assess immediate needs of the affected population.
The UN’s humanitarian office is also organizing a shipment of relief goods, including cold climate blankets and water and sanitation supplies, from the World Food Programme warehouse in Brindisi, Italy. We have more information in a press release.
**Central African Republic
Ramiro Lopes da Silva, the Special Humanitarian Adviser for the UN’s humanitarian office, arrived in the Central African Republic for a three-week humanitarian assessment mission in the country's war-affected areas. The most recent UN Consolidated Appeal the country asked was for $17 million to respond to urgent humanitarian needs. So far, only $700,000 has been collected.
The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia today sentenced a Bosnian Serb accused of involvement in the killings of Muslims at the Drina River to 15 years in prison, finding him guilty of aiding and abetting persecution and murder. We have more details in a press release from the Tribunal upstairs.
Meanwhile, in Arusha, United Republic of Tanzania, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda sentenced the former military commander of the Rwandan armed forces to 27 years in prison after convicting him on six counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and serious violations of the Geneva Conventions. It also acquitted two other former Rwandan officials of similar charges. And we have a press release on that.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is investigating a case of polio in Côte d’Ivoire. The WHO is trying to find out if the case is linked to viruses which have spread to west and central Africa from northern Nigeria, following the suspension of immunization campaigns in the Nigerian state of Kano in August last year.
Côte d’Ivoire hadn’t reported polio cases since July 2000. If the case is confirmed, then Côte d’Ivoire would become the eighth previously polio-free country in the region to be reinfected.
Meanwhile, UNICEF, the UN Children’s Fund, is calling on the Nigerian state of Kano –- as well as other states in the country’s north –- to take part in the vaccination campaign.
UNICEF says it’s unforgivable to allow still more children to be paralysed because of further delay and baseless rumours. The WHO has said that concerns that the vaccine may be unsafe are without foundation. We have more on that upstairs.
An update now on avian flu, bird flu: The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says outbreaks of avian influenza are still occurring in some Asian countries, and it’s stressing the need for continued control campaigns.
Countries so far affected by the virus are Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Japan, Republic of Korea, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Thailand and Viet Nam. The FAO says the situation in some countries is still unclear and further investigations are required to get the virus under control.
Twenty-two people have died from bird flu, and it’s estimated that about 100 million birds have died or have been culled to battle the disease. FAO experts are currently in several Asian countries to assess the local situation and assist countries with the battle against the disease. And we have more on that in a press release.
Turning to North Korea and the food situation there: The World Food Programme (WFP) is taking “extraordinary measures” to partially resume food supplies to the country’s hungriest people.
But it warns that 1.5 million vulnerable people will still go hungry over the next six weeks -– and that without additional donations soon, millions of people will be deprived of food in the second half of the year.
The WFP says the already severe humanitarian crisis in North Korea has been aggravated by a recent round of severe food aid shortages. We have more on this in a press release.
Indigenous children are among the most vulnerable and marginalized groups in the world, and global action is urgently needed to protect their survival and their rights, according to a new report from UNICEF.
The report says improving the lives of indigenous children is crucial -– not only for their own health and well-being, but for the future of indigenous peoples and their unique place in the world. We have a press release on that.
And finally, a reminder that the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) report on economic development in Africa is being launched tomorrow.
The report finds that the majority of African countries are boxed into a trading structure, which leaves them dependent on the production of commodities. The report is embargoed until noon tomorrow, New York time, and there will be a press briefing on it by Jan Kregel, a senior official from UNCTAD, here in room S-226 at 11:15 a.m.
That’s all I have for you. Mark?
**Questions and Answers
Question: On Haiti, following the collapse of, well, the rejection by the opposition of the peace plan, Aristide is warning that if rebels reach the capital thousands of people will die. How seriously does the UN consider this to be a genuine risk? And if so, is the UN thinking of using its own powers of proposing action, perhaps at the Security Council?
Spokesman: Well, as you know, Kieran Prendergast is briefing the Council right now. We are concerned that should the fighting move to the capital, Port-au-Prince, that there could be heavy loss of life and injury. You can get exactly what he is telling the Council on that subject from my Office. He has approved our releasing to you the text of his comments. As I have been saying to you all along, we’re supporting the political role of the Caribbean Community, CARICOM, and the Organization of American States. So, it’s not our intention to interject ourselves in that process. By keeping the Council briefed on our concerns, we’re at least sharing with them the information we have. At present, we have no political mandate on Haiti at all. And I think I mentioned to you that the Secretary-General was thinking about what further steps he could take, but primarily in the humanitarian area.
Question: And is the envoy going to be appointed today?
Spokesman: We might have something to say on that subject tomorrow. Richard?
Question: Can we make a formal request for Mr. Prendergast to appear at the microphone to go along with his printed talking points following his briefing at the Council?
Spokesman: I don’t think he likes to do things like that.
Question: That’s why I am asking.
Spokesman: Well, we will ask him, yes. Thank you. Is there something else Richard? [The Spokesman later announced Mr. Prendergast had politely declined the invitation.]
Question: Yes. I know it’s a delicate area. Today, there is an update on the story on spying on the missions. The case against a UK communications specialist was tossed out. The prosecution dropped the case. Does the UN have any comment? And I imagine the answer is “no”, but then is this a good thing for the security of the Organization (inaudible) ... for one country to be thought of and accused of spying in essence with the help of another country to spy on other members of the Security Council?
Spokesman: You know what my answer is. I have already given it to you. These allegations don’t concern something that is said to have happened within this Building or on our premises. It is something that is alleged to have happened on the premises of governments across the street, across town. And so, it’s a matter between those governments who may or may not feel aggrieved and the host country, the United States.
Question: We don’t know if it didn’t happen here though? If there was a campaign, electronic surveillance, phone tap ...?
Spokesman: You mean you are now alleging that the spying was also carried out against the United Nations Secretariat?
Question: No, the ambassadors themselves while they were on the UN premises, in the Building. I mean, why would they stop at just internal, in their missions? I mean, it can’t be ruled out?
Spokesman: Well, that’s your opinion. But we have no reason to believe anything like that has happened in this Building recently. Yes?
Question: Which begs the question: Does the UN do security sweeps for wiretaps or eavesdropping devices?
Spokesman: I don’t think we comment on things like that. But we have the capability of doing that, yes.
Question: Do you know if the SG intervened in any way in this matter? I mean there was the Chilean former ambassador, and I think Mexico said communications were made to the representative parties between governments. But I wondered if the UN Secretary-General in any way was involved in this or was notified of their complaint?
Spokesman: To my knowledge, no. Yes, Mark?
Question: I have just one other on Haiti and then another question. Is the UN engaged in any contingency planning for possible international police of peacekeeping presence in Haiti? And then just another question. Maybe my memory is wrong, but I thought Ramiro Lopes da Silva had been suspended following the Ahtisaari report? Am I barking up the tree? I am a bit confused that he is now (inaudible) ...?
Spokesman: On your first question, we would follow the lead of the Security Council. I am not aware that any contingency planning is being made. There’s certainly been no discussion in the Council of the possibility of UN action.
On Ramiro Lopes da Silva, he voluntarily took leave or suspended his responsibilities as Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq pending the outcome of the investigation of the panel that is supposed to report by the end of this month. I think both he and Tun Myat, the Security Coordinator, took that action voluntarily for a period of time that I think, was ending 15 January, was what they originally said their intention was. The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs(OCHA) decided after 15 January to put Mr. Lopes da Silva to work in the Central African Republic.
As how that relates to the investigation, in accepting the offer to suspend their activities for the United Nations, we said that that would not prejudice the outcome of the investigation and neither does his accepting a new assignment prejudice the outcome of the investigation. So, OCHA has him working in Central Africa. We’re still waiting for the results of the investigation, and the Secretary-General is expecting to get that report, I believe, on Monday.
Question: Tun Myat is also engaged in active work ...?
Spokesman: No, no. To my knowledge he has still suspended fully his activities for the United Nations. Yes?
Question: Are we going to see the Secretary-General’s good offices operate soon in Baghdad?
Spokesman: The role of the United Nations vis-à-vis Iraq, apart from the ongoing humanitarian work we’re doing there, consists of the Secretary-General’s response to the call by the Iraqi Governing Council and by the Coalition Provisional Authority to advise them on this question of elections. We’ve done that. We’re waiting for them to react to Mr. Brahimi’s report. We’ve signalled to them our willingness to continue working with them, should they like, as they consider next steps, if not elections, how to establish a provisional government. So, we consider ourselves engaged. But whether that’s a question of a good offices mission or not, I don’t want to get into the semantics of it. Richard?
Question: Is Ms. Perelli going back next week to Iraq with the team?
Spokesman: I have nothing to say on that. Should the Iraqis ask for help on the technical side requiring electoral experts from the UN, I think we’re equally prepared to assist. Should we send either a political team or an electoral team back, we would not announce it in advance because of security concerns. So, I will not say anything in direct response to your question. Richard?
Question: Can you just give us a timetable on the security report? You mentioned that the Secretary-General receives it Monday. How would it be disseminated? Or is the panel going to be here? What happens?
Spokesman: I think it will be presented in person by the chairman of the panel. I think it’s considered an internal report. I don’t know that it’s intended for publication. But neither am I sure that a final decision has been made on that. So, I would await further guidance on that question.
Question: The exact goal -– because I know that there have been so many competing panels running around. This is the [Gerald] Walzer panel?
Question: The goal is exactly what?
Spokesman: The initial assessment of what happened in Baghdad with the explosion at UN headquarters on 19 August was carried out by Mr. Ahtisaari, who made some general observations about accountability. As a result of that, these two senior officials I have mentioned suspended their UN activities with pay while the Secretary-General set up a second panel to look at the accountability question much more thoroughly and much more carefully to see if any individuals indeed bear any responsibility for what happened. And so, that panel is now reporting on Monday.
Question: Any timetable about the Secretary-General? I know he is up in the air. You may now want to say publicly about tomorrow coming into the Building?
Spokesman: He should be home. He was scheduled to touch down mid-morning. So, I assume he is home now recovering from a long flight. We don’t know yet if he’ll be coming in tomorrow.
Question: Any word on whether Louise Arbour will be passing through here? Will there be any meeting?
Spokesman: I don’t expect to see her here -- just before she takes up her duties at the end of June. But if that changes, I will let you know. Yes?
Question: Fred, to follow up on Haiti. The French Permanent Representative was quoted yesterday as saying that a police force or a civilian force is being considered. This idea is being discussed among Security Council members. Has the Secretary-General been apprised and what might he be considering what role might the Secretariat play?
Spokesman: This is now in the hands of the Security Council. I am not aware that there have been any formal discussions of this option. I am not going to comment on what the French ambassador said yesterday. I would expect that Member States are in touch with each other as they consider the options. There may well be a UN option in there. But until they formally discuss it and ask for our reaction, I am not going to comment. Yes?
Question: Give us some perspective about the possibility that the Secretary-General will present or explain the level to the Security Council ... (inaudible)?
Spokesman: I don’t think he has anything else to say regarding the report. He had the luncheon with the Security Council on the day the report came out. He briefed a large Friends of Iraq group, some 46 delegations, and that same day he spoke to you. So, I don’t expect anything more from him. Now, you may try to catch him, when he comes into the Building either tomorrow or Friday to see if he has anything fresh to say to you. But I am not aware that he has any plans to go back to the Council at this time.
Thank you very much.
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