DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
14 September 2001
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Manoel de Almeida e Silva, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General, and Jan Fischer, Spokesman for the President of the General Assembly.
Briefing by Spokesman for Secretary-General
Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you very much for coming. I'm going to start the briefing with the activities at the United Nations related to the attack on the United States.
**Secretary General, Peace Bell and Attack on United States
This morning, in the pouring rain, the Secretary-General rang the Peace Bell just outside the main entrance to the United Nations Headquarters, in what we call the Japanese Garden. Ringing the Peace Bell is part of a tradition to usher in the new General Assembly session -- which this year was delayed because of the horrific attacks Tuesday on the United States.
At the ceremony, the Secretary-General said that no one will forget 11 September. But he asked: Who will remember it was also the International Day of Peace, when people try to imagine a world free of conflict and violence. "Clearly", he said, "this year, it was a dream deferred." Now, he said, the Peace Bell is being rung in honour of the victims of Tuesday's attack.
The Secretary-General also noted that one of the guests at today's ceremony, Wei Li Chai, had come to the United Nations on Tuesday to hear his daughter sing at the Peace Bell ceremony that was cancelled -- instead of going to his workplace, the World Trade Center, where several of his colleagues died.
We must not lose hope, the Secretary-General said, adding, "We must maintain our resolve, and all nations must unite against the forces of darkness and depravity."
[The President of the General Assembly, Han Seung-soo, and the President of the Security Council, Jean-David Levitte, also participated in the Peace Bell ceremony.]
He then attended a meeting organized by the United Nations staff in the General Assembly Hall, to demonstrate solidarity with the people of the United States. And this was not only staff from the Secretariat, but also staff from other United Nations offices located in New York, such as the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and other agencies. The General Assembly Hall, as you know, can sit some 2,000 people, and it was filled to capacity and there were staff also standing in the aisles. The United Nations Staff Committee announced the establishment of a relief fund for the families of the victims, with an initial donation of $25,000.
The Secretary-General urged staff to add to that initial contribution as generously as possible. And he told the staff, "Our host city is deeply wounded. Our host country is in mourning. But their magnificent spirit is not broken."
I have just spoken with colleagues from the Staff Union and they have told me that, as staff left the GA Hall, many contributions were made, many of them large denominations. They will only do the counting later in the afternoon but, of course, the staff will continue making contributions through bank accounts which are going to be set up, and we will be informed of its progress by the Staff Council.
The Secretary-General thanked staff for their professionalism this week, with security officers working around the clock, and staff volunteering blood. On that latter point, I would like to add that those wishing to donate blood can find information on how to do so by calling 1-800-933-2566.
Today is a designated “Day of Prayer” in the United States. The Secretary-General, a few moments ago, headed to a service in honour of the victims at the Church of Heavenly Rest, here in New York City on Fifth Avenue and 90th Street.
At 1 o’clock, he will be at the Islamic Cultural Center of New York, at 96th Street and Third Avenue, to participate in a prayer service being held for the victims of Tuesday's attack.
And on this coming Tuesday evening, the Secretary-General will go to the Temple Emanuel, a synagogue on Fifth Avenue and 65th Street.
Yesterday, after the briefing, we issued copies of letters of condolence the Secretary-General had sent to President George W. Bush and to New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. He told them that the United Nations grieves with other New Yorkers, and expresses its solidarity with the American Government and people. He told Giuliani that, above all, the United Nations mourns the deaths of so many valiant police officers, fire fighters and city officials, who had worked to keep us safe over the years.
The Secretary-General yesterday also issued a message to the staff, noting the uncertainty they had felt about possible threats to the Building earlier this week, and thanking them for the calm they have shown in spite of the stress.
And now I have updated information from United Nations Security on arrangements for the coming days. United Nations Headquarters will continue to remain closed to the public, and guided tours continue to be suspended, until further notice. The section of First Avenue in front of the United Nations premises will remain closed to vehicles.
The Security Council is meeting this morning in closed consultations to receive a briefing by Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hedi Annabi on the Secretary-General’s recent report on the UN Mission in Sierra Leone.
In the report, which was issued on 10 September, the Secretary-General recommends that the Mission be extended by six months.
Council members are also expected to discuss their annual report to the General Assembly.
After consultations, the Council will move to a public meeting, where they are expected to adopt a resolution extending the mandate of the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea until 15 March 2002.
The UN humanitarian coordinator’s office for Afghanistan warned today that “Afghan civilians to face increased vulnerability”.
The warning came in a press release issued in Islamabad, which outlined the deepening humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan and said massive displacement could not be ruled out if assistance cannot be continued. Citing the World Food Programme’s (WFP) statistic of 3 million people receiving food aid in rural areas, the press release said at least half that number may be forced to leave their homes to avert starvation if the support cannot be continued.
There are currently believed to be almost 6 million vulnerable people inside Afghanistan, approximately 25 per cent of the total population.
Meanwhile, UNICEF says it hopes for a ceasefire during the next phase of its planned polio immunization campaign scheduled to happen from the 23rd to 26th of September, which aims to reach more than five and a half million children.
On a more positive note, the United Nations Transitional Authority in East Timor (UNTAET) reports that more than 600 refugees returned from camps in Indonesian West Timor today in a process facilitated by, among others, independence leader Xanana Gusmão.
The mass return, in which UNTAET, the International Organization for Migration and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees played a crucial part, follows a 7 July border meeting attended by East Timorese leaders and militia leaders from West Timor.
UNTAET officials will be continuing discussions with political and militia/pro-autonomy/pro-integration leaders with a view to promoting reconciliation and negotiating further refugee returns.
For more details, there is a briefing note from Dili in our Office.
The Marshall Islands today became the 115th Member State to pay their 2001 regular budget contribution in full with a payment of over $10,000.
At this time last year, 126 Member States had paid in full. The dollar value of fully paid contributions is slightly higher this year, at about $746 million, as compared to $744 million last year.
**Death of Member of Law of Sea Tribunal
We have a press release from the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea announcing that Edward Laing, a judge of the Tribunal since October 1996, died in his home country of Belize on 11 September. Mr. Laing’s term of office was due to end in September 2002. He served as both a professor of law and as Ambassador of Belize during his long career. Details are in the press release.
**JIU report on Management of Buildings
I also wish to bring to your attention that out on the racks today is a report of the Joint Inspection Unit (JIU) on the management of buildings of the United Nations. They highlight the need to review budgeting policy on building maintenance costs and capital expenditure in order to ensure that buildings are kept structurally sound and equipment well maintained.
**The Week Ahead at United Nations
And, finally, today being Friday, we have available in the Spokesman's Office our regular feature, The Week Ahead.
I would highlight that on Monday, 17 September, the Security Council is expected to hold a meeting to hear from Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic.
On Tuesday, 18 September, the Council has scheduled a private meeting with the Speaker of the Angolan Parliament, Manuel De Almeida.
Let’s see if these gentlemen who are not in the United States will be able to fly in.
Also on Tuesday, Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs Jayantha Dhanapala will represent the Secretary-General at the third meeting of States parties to the Landmine Convention, which will take place through Friday in Nicaragua.
This is all I have for you today. Are there any questions before we go to Jan, Spokesman for the General Assembly President?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Do we have any idea what's going to happen security wise from the 25September? I know it's still a week away.
Deputy Spokesman: No, I don't have ... I believe that these arrangements I mentioned will be valid for that period, as well, but, of course, the situation is being reviewed regularly. And if there are any changes, I will be sure to let you know in advance.
Thank you very much.
Briefing by Spokesman for the President of the General Assembly
Thank you Manoel. Good afternoon. The President of the General Assembly Han Seung-soo, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade of the Republic of Korea, also participated in the Peace Bell ceremony this morning. And he made a statement in which he said, among other things, that:
"Today, we participate in an annual commemoration that began in 1955. But this year’s event is unlike those of previous years, for it takes place in the wake of the unspeakable horror that occurred three days ago. Before then, I could never have imagined that my first act as President of the General Assembly would be to preside over the passage of a resolution condemning the worst terrorist attack in United States history. This was a painful duty for all of us, though I am sure that no other action we may take during my presidency could be more heartfelt and sincere."
I have the full text of his statement upstairs.
With the election yesterday of the chairpersons of the Main Committees and of 21 Vice-Presidents, the General Assembly is now fully constituted. This morning at 10 o'clock, the General Committee began its first meeting. It will discuss the organization of the work of the fifty-sixth session, the adoption of the agenda and the allocation of items. The provisional list contains 185 items (contained in document A/56/150). There are also four supplementary items which the Committee will discuss whether to add to the agenda or not. Those four items are:
-- Observer status for the community of Sahelo-Saharan States in the General Assembly (A/56/191);
-- International convention against the reproductive cloning of human beings (A/56/192);
-- Need to examine the exceptional international situation pertaining to the Republic of China on Taiwan, to ensure that the fundamental right of its 23 million people to participate in the work and activities of the United Nations is fully respected (A/56/193 and Add.1); and
-- Peace, security and reunification of the Korean peninsula (A/56/194).
I was in Conference Room 4 about an hour ago, and at that time the list of speakers was up to more than 120.
Yesterday, I was asked if we have had any cancellations from heads of State or government for the general debate. As you may have noticed, the daily Journal still refers to the provisional list of speakers, revision 3, which is as of 29 August, so I do not have any information of any cancellations. However, there will always be changes to these lists due to political developments, health or other reasons. Which is why -– I suppose -– it is called a provisional list.
If I get information about changes, cancellations and so on I will certainly let you know.
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