DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
9 July 2004
Following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Associate Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon. Sorry for being late. I’ve got quite a lot of material for you today.
On the ruling by the International Court of Justice, the President of the International Court of Justice, Judge Shi Jiuyong, today read out the advisory opinion on the legal consequences of the construction of a wall in the occupied Palestinian territory.
The advisory opinion says that “the construction of the wall being built by Israel, the occupying Power, in the OccupiedPalestinianTerritory, including in and around East Jerusalem, and its associated regime, are contrary to international law.”
The Judge added that “the Court is of the view that the United Nations, and especially the General Assembly and the Security Council, should consider what further action is required to bring to an end the illegal situation resulting from the construction of the wall and the associated regime, taking due account of the present advisory opinion.”
And this is the ruling of by the ICJ, which is available up on their web site.
**Statement Attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary-General
And I have statement on this ruling:
“The Secretary-General has today received from the International Court of Justice its advisory opinion on “the legal consequences of the construction of a wall in occupied Palestinian territory”.
“The Secretary-General has forwarded the advisory opinion to the General Assembly, which had requested the Court’s advice, and which will determine how to proceed on this matter.”
** Statement Attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary-General
And I now have a rather long statement on Afghanistan on the elections:
“The Secretary-General has been informed of the decisions of the Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) -– the independent authority mandated to conduct and supervise the electoral process –- concerning the holding of elections in Afghanistan. He fully supports the JEMB’s decision to convene the presidential election on 9 October. It is in line with the timetable adopted in the Bonn agreement. It also responds to the very strong wish of Afghans to participate in the electoral process, as demonstrated by the 6 million voters who have already registered.
“The Secretary-General also welcomes the decision of the JEMB to hold parliamentary elections in April 2005. This additional time will enable voters and candidates to participate more meaningfully in the election of their representatives in the National Assembly and in local councils. It is also a very valuable opportunity to create better conditions for the holding of a free and fair parliamentary election, which the government and the international community should not miss.
“Indeed, the Secretary-General believes that, ahead of the presidential election and, with even more emphasis, the parliamentary elections, the process of disarmament must gain further momentum and reach the targets agreed at the Berlin Conference. This has been and will continue, in the eyes of the Afghans, to be one of the most important benchmarks for the holding of a genuine, democratic election. The Secretary-General underscores the necessity of creating a safe and secure environment for all electoral staff and the elections process as a whole, and takes this opportunity to once again condemn in the strongest terms any and all acts of violence against the process.
“The Secretary-General is convinced that the ongoing electoral process, supported as it is by the keen aspiration of Afghans to political participation, can be brought to a successful conclusion and make an essential contribution to the restoration of a lasting peace and the building of a legitimate democratic state in Afghanistan.”
And the full text of the statement is available to you upstairs.
**SG in Bangkok
Turning to the Secretary-General, he has arrived in Bangkok, Thailand today, where he will on Sunday address the 15th International AIDS Conference.
In his speech, he will warn that, despite much progress over the past three years, we are not on track to begin reducing the scale and impact of the AIDS epidemic by 2005, as world leaders had promised. The Secretary-General will outline the need to focus on supporting treatment and prevention, empowering women and girls to protect themselves against the virus, and providing stronger leadership at every level in fighting AIDS. We have embargoed copies of the speeches on AIDS available upstairs.
**Humanitarian Update in Darfur
We also have upstairs a humanitarian update on Darfur, but I will highlight a number of key points:
The World Food Programme says it was about to conclude an agreement with Libya to transport food from the port of Benghazi to northern Chad.
And from the field, UNICEF and WHO said today that two million children in Darfur have now been vaccinated against measles, but that hundreds of thousands more cannot be reached because of prevailing insecurity.
In North Darfur, humanitarian agencies are investigating the Sudanese Government’s repeated claims that internally displaced persons are returning voluntarily to Tawilla and Korma from El Fasher and the Abu Shouk camp, supposedly to prepare for the planting season. So far, an assessment of the humanitarian situation in Tawilla, where some 150 households are accommodated in schools, has revealed serious security concerns.
Twenty-two deaths have been reported in Abu Shouk during the past week, mainly because of diarrhoea. In El Fasher, malnutrition among children has increased.
In West Darfur, agencies plan to investigate claims by local authorities that around 6,500 displaced have recently returned from Chad. Local authorities in West Darfur have continued to push for the relocation and return of the displaced persons, even though they still do not feel secure enough to return to their villages. Reports of attacks and looting continue to be received. Donor funding is at 40 per cent of the requested $350 million.
Turning to Côte d’Ivoire, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights announced that the Independent Commission of Inquiry, which was announced on 22 June to look into the grave violations of human rights committed in Côte d’Ivoire, would travel to that country on 18 July. The five-member Commission would be accompanied by its secretariat and a team of forensics experts.
The Commission expected to be in Côte d’Ivoire for three months, but that could change depending on what they found. The period that they were looking at was open-ended and would examine the human rights situation since 19 September 2002.
On Ethiopia-Eritrea, in his latest progress report on Ethiopia and Eritrea, the Secretary-General says a protracted stalemate in the peace process is in itself a source of instability and flags his concern that a relatively minor incident, even one of miscalculation, could degenerate into a very serious situation, which no one would wish for and which would be tragic for all concerned.
Also out today is the Secretary-General’s report on the UN Mission in Sierra Leone, which notes the steady improvement in the security situation in the country as the mission continues its gradual withdrawal. Ongoing efforts to improve the overall situation in Liberia continue to have a positive impact on the situation in the whole of the ManoRiver region, the Secretary-General notes.
As for the Security Council; it is going into a public meeting right now, to adopt a resolution on Bosnia and Herzegovina, which would extend the mandate of the NATO Stabilization Force until the end of this year.
We also have available for you upstairs a number of updates and press releases on various humanitarian issues and events, including UNHCR’s efforts in Venezuela, the humanitarian situation in the North Caucasus as well as the humanitarian needs in Nicaragua following the severe weather there.
This afternoon, in a short while, Ambassador Dan Gillerman will be here at exactly 1:00 p.m. to brief you on his country’s reaction to the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice.
**The Week Ahead at the United Nations
And today being the Friday and the last day of the week, we have the traditional Week Ahead for you. Any questions? Yes?
Questions and Answers
Question: Okay, so the Secretary-General is passing on The Hague thing to the, sorry, to the General Assembly. Does he have any comment on that?
Associate Spokesman: No. The Secretary-General at this point would not want to pre-empt the General Assembly’s determination on how to proceed on this issue. I think the membership of the UN, the membership of the General Assembly needs time to digest the ruling. And the Secretary-General would expect them to consider seriously their actions in light of the Court’s advisory opinion. He believes that it is for Member States to determine whether further action in the General Assembly is appropriate.
Question: Have there been any contacts, Stéphane, between him and the Israelis after the ICJ’s decision?
Associate Spokesman: No, not that I am aware of.
Question: Do think there is going to be anything at the Security Council regarding this?
Associate Spokesman: I think, again, the ruling just came down. We have to see how the membership of the Organization decide to react and act on the ruling.
Question: A question on Iraq, Stéphane. Do we have a reaction from the SG to the measure taken by Iyad Allawi in Iraq, and how it may or may not impact the Brahimi push for impartial elections in Iraq?
Associate Spokesman: No, we do not. But I will try to get something for you.
Question: On food-for-oil, three questions if you don’t mind.
Associate Spokesman: Sure.
Question: There have been a list of companies surfacing lately that show those companies that Saddam Hussein had preferred to do business with. In fact, among that list we found a sort of secondary list that shows companies that he really preferred to do business with, like almost his business partners. And that, of course, opened the door to all sorts of exchanges and allegations of Saddam garnering favours to certain organizations if they promoted his policies of lifting sanctions and other issues. Is that secondary list, this sort of preferred business partner list of Saddam, something that the UN was aware of? Is it something that was just a result of the way the programme was set up? I’m trying to understand how this came about.
Associate Spokesman: We were not aware of the specific list that I have seen you report on, that you’re mentioning. I think you have to take a step back and remember how the programme was set up, under what rules it operated, which were set up by the Security Council 661 Committee, which gave the then government of Iraq headed by Saddam Hussein the exclusive right to select companies he wanted to do business with. He would select the companies; they would negotiate a contract. Once that contact was finalized the national authorities of the company that was providing the contract would forward, through its Permanent Mission here at the UN, the contract to the oil-for-food programme and then it was then forwarded to the 661 Committee for approval or rejection or consideration.
But the way the programme was set up by the Security Council gave Saddam’s regime, his government, the right to select which companies he wanted to do business with and which ones he did not want to do business with.
Question: Were any concerns raised, or at the time of the inception of the programme or even at the point at which it was clear that there were these specified companies that were getting the business with Saddam, for whatever reasons, that it raised concerns that the programme was being exploited to a terrible degree?
Associate Spokesman: I am not aware of specific concerns that were raised, but the way the programme was set up was very much out in the open. The rules were known to everybody –- to all the members, obviously, of the 661 Committee which approved and set up the programme. That’s the way it was designed. So, there is really nothing more to add.
Question: But presumably Benon Sevan’s office, as the executive director of the oil-for-food programme, and some other UN officials would have been aware that there is some special list out there. Or were they not ware of the special list and...(interrupted)
Associate Spokesman: We were not... The way the programme was set up, again, the oil-for-food programme, the secretariat of the programme was not to be in direct contact with the suppliers. It was done through the Permanent Missions. So, a company from country X would sign a contract with the government of Iraq. The Mission of that country, of country X would then forward the contract to the 661 Committee. But we were not mandated to have contact with the suppliers, with the contractors.
Question: But presumably there would have been some moments in which UN officials would have realized, now that we’re all hearing about the abuses and overcharges and payoffs and things like that, they must have gleaned some of this going on and raised it, as UN officials raising the problem before Member States or something...(interrupted)
Associate Spokesman: When we received information regarding kickbacks and surcharge, those were forwarded to the 661 Committee for action, whether it had to do with the surcharge on the oil contacts. As far back as November 2000, the UN oil overseers flagged their concern to the Security Council, to the 661 Committee, and said ‘We think there is a problem here,’ and as a result, the Security Council’s committee took action and enacted the retroactive pricing. So, when we were made aware of these instances of kickbacks, of improprieties, we did inform the Security Council. But we were not mandated to police the contractors; it’s not the way the programme was set up by the Security Council members.
Question: Just a question on the inception of the programme itself. You say the Security Council endorsed it, the whole thing. But, in designing a system in which Saddam Hussein would be in charge of deciding who would supply the goods, who came up with that concept? Where did that come from? Who allowed the designer to shape it up the way it did? We’re going before the endorsement. Where did it all...(inaudible)
Associate Spokesman: I think as far back as immediately following the first Gulf war there was a willingness on the part of the international community, the Security Council to alleviate the humanitarian situation in Iraq and allowing them to sell oil and use the proceeds to buy those goods. But...(interrupted)
Question: But did Saddam direct the decision-making, in who he does business with? Where did that idea come from?
Associate Spokesman: I don’t know whose original idea that was. But the point remains that we had to deal with the then government of Iraq; Saddam Hussein’s government, as a sovereign government. And everyone had to. That was a fact. Obviously implementing a humanitarian programme, in dealing with such a government, was a tremendous challenge. But there was no other government to deal with. And the programme had to be built, was built in a way that you had to deal with what was then the sovereign government of Iraq.
Question: Do you know if recommendations made at the time to try to figure out a way to circumvent Saddam though, in the decision making of that? Even though Iraq, okay, it’s a country and it’s got its leadership, but it had come through an illegal occupation, and it had been you know, there were sanctions imposed on the country. Were there other proposals floated out there so that some other mechanism would be functioning that would avoid some sort of special treatment of certain businesses and companies?
Associate Spokesman: You’re asking me to look back at history, way back. I am happy to look into that for you, but there was no way to get around dealing with the sovereign government. But you could look in the northern area, in the northern governorate, in the Kurdish areas where the central government in Baghdad did not have effective authority, the UN implemented the oil-for-food programme itself, the humanitarian component. But, in the areas where the central government of Iraq at the time, Saddam’s government, had effective control, the UN and the Security Council dealt with the sovereign government that had control on the ground.
Question: Some argue that because the UN officials were aware of the corruption out there, and didn’t do anything to combat it, although you say...(interrupted)
Associate Spokesman: I don’t agree with that premise but...(interrupted).
Question: Right. But some do argue. Why don’t you agree with that premise?
Associate Spokesman: Again, the way the programme was set up, the oil-for-food programme was given very specific mandates of what it could and it could not do. It was not given the authority to investigate and police companies that Saddam did business with. The national authorities of these companies which forwarded the contracts to us could have and had the authority to vet those companies. We received the contracts through Permanent Missions. What was the second part of your question? I am sorry I am going off...
Question: Why wouldn’t the UN officials be guilty by association for not at least...(crosstalk)
Associate Spokesman: They are not guilty...(crosstalk). Again, I don’t agree with your premise that they were guilty by association, because they had to work with a sovereign government in place. When instances of kickbacks and surcharges came to our attention, were brought to our attention, we forwarded, as mandated by the rules, we gave that information to the Council for action. We were not given a policing mandate. The Security Council chose not to give the UN Secretariat a policing mandate. We worked with the mandate that we had.
Question: Just one other question. Volcker, when he started his, when he was appointed to lead the investigation into the corruption allegations, that was back in March and I believe we’ve passed the three-month period in which he said he would give us a briefing on where things stand and all that. Do you have any sense of when he’s going to...(Interrupted).
Associate Spokesman: No. I think you need to ask him. Obviously it took a little bit of time to get his staff together. But I think you should ask him when he plans to talk to you. Yes?
Question: Steph, on the SG’s Special Representative to Iraq, there are two names...(interrupted)
Associate Spokesman: No announcement.
Question: But there are...(interrupted).
Associate Spokesman: I have no announcement on that. There are names floating around every where. Once one name emerges we will announce it. But until then, I really have no... Sorry, I didn’t mean to cut you off. But go ahead?
Question: Can you tell us when the SG will announce his Special Representative to Iraq?
Associate Spokesman: Shortly.
Question: There are names floating around.
Associate Spokesman: Shortly. I know. Shortly.
Associate Spokesman: Though I am stretching the definition of that word. (Laughter). Yes?
Question: Has the Secretary-General’s position changed at all with the recent hostage-taking, I think two Bulgarians and a Filipino who is about to be executed any time now?
Associate Spokesman: From this podium we have condemned all these acts of violence in the strongest possible terms. And unfortunately, as I see, there are more and more cases and we do condemn those and any act that gets in the way of peaceful return to stability in Iraq.
Question: Is the UN in any way, as a follow up, able to try to bring some of these groups to a table; not to negotiate but to try to resolve this meaningless killing?
Associate Spokesman: As far as I am aware, we’ve not been contacted by the Iraqi national authorities in order to help them in that sense.
Any more questions?
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