DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
24 September 2001
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Fred Eckhard, Spokesman for the Secretary-General, and Jan Fischer, Spokesman for the President of the General Assembly.
Briefing by the Spokesman for the Secretary-General
**Secretary-General at General Assembly
The Secretary-General this morning addressed the General Assembly and noted that today was to have been the start of this year's general debate -- a schedule which was changed following the September 11 attack on the United States.
That attack, he said, struck at everything for which the United Nations stands: peace, freedom, tolerance, human rights and the very idea of a united human family. He added, "Let us respond by reaffirming, with all our strength, our common humanity and the values that we share. We shall not allow them to be overthrown."
He noted the need for a vigorous response to terrorism, a topic which the General Assembly will address in greater detail on 1 and 2 October. He also said that the rule of law should be re-affirmed, asserting, "No effort should be spared in bringing the perpetrators to justice, in a clear and transparent process that all can understand and accept."
Other tasks, he added, remain to be done, including efforts to strengthen the international trading system as preparations begin for the World Trade Organization meetings in Doha this November, and the need to fulfil the pledges made at last year's Millennium Assembly.
He concluded, "Let us reject the path of violence, which is the product of nihilism and despair. Let us prove by our actions that there is no need to despair; that the political and economic problems of our time can be solved peacefully; and that no human life should be sacrificed, because every human being has cause to hope."
**Secretary-General on General Assembly General Debate
Jan [Fischer, Spokesman for the President of the General Assembly] and I continue to get questions about when the General Debate of the General Assembly will begin.
When the Secretary-General went down to Ground Zero last week, he asked New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani when he thought that the New York security team could handle an influx of heads of State and government for the high-level debate.
The Mayor said it should not be before late October or early November at the earliest. He suggested they talk again in a few weeks.
The Secretary-General conveyed this information to the President of the General Assembly, who continues to consult with regional groups on possible dates.
And we have nothing more specific for you at this time.
We do have an update though on staff contributions to the Staff Relief Committee fund for the victims of the terrorist attack, which now stands at over $100,000. And if any of you journalists would like to join the staff in making a contribution, if you have not done so already, you can make it to the account at the Credit Union. The account number is 550380.
The Spokeswoman for the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Afghanistan said today in Islamabad, Pakistan, that Taliban authorities had entered UN offices in Kabul last Friday and locked up communications equipment. Similar operations took place over the weekend at some other UN offices throughout the country.
In Kandahar, also over the weekend, local authorities took over UN offices as well as those belonging to some non-governmental organizations.
On Friday, the UN had sent out a last communication to its staff advising them to comply with Taliban order to cease communications with the outside world since it is possible that non-compliance could put lives at risk.
The UN Coordinator has sent a letter to the Taliban requesting that one high-frequency radio be allowed to function in each location so that a form of communication would be possible. We have not yet received an answer to that request.
Many UN activities have been disrupted or have ceased entirely; some, however, are continuing.
The World Food Programme (WFP) continues to assist more than 1 million people with food aid inside Afghanistan under increasingly difficult circumstances. Since 11 September, WFP has distributed 25 hundred tons of food.
On the immunization front, the Fall Immunization Campaign against Polio which had been scheduled to begin in Afghanistan yesterday did in fact get under way. By tomorrow, it is expected that 5 million children will have received immunization shots. That work is being conducted by officials from the Taliban Ministry of Health, assisted by other volunteers.
Concerning refugees, the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees says that following talks with local authorities in the Pakistani province of Baluchistan, it hopes to begin screening new Afghan refugees tomorrow. UNHCR also reports last numbers of Afghan refugees blocked at the Chaman border crossing with Pakistan.
For more information, you can get a report in my office which I think might also have some numbers.
**Statement on the Middle East
The following statement is attributable to the Spokesman on the subject of the Middle East.
“The Secretary-General is concerned by the announcement earlier today by the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) that it has established a closed military zone in the northern part of the occupied Palestinian territory. The creation of such a zone will impose additional restrictions on the Palestinians' movement. It is a unilateral and provocative act, contrary to the signed agreements between Israel and the Palestinians, and it can only undermine ongoing efforts to find a way out of the present crisis.
“While Israel has a legitimate concern for its security, such concerns can in the end only be satisfied through a decisive effort to reach a peaceful settlement to the conflict in accordance with Security Council resolutions 242 and 338. An early and productive meeting between Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and President Yasser Arafat would be an important step in this direction.”
**UNRWA faces $31 million budget crisis
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) is facing a financial crisis at a time when it is needed more than ever as a force for stability in the Middle East. That was the stark message of Mr. Peter Hansen, UNRWA’s Commissioner-General, to a meeting of donor and host nations in Amman, Jordan, today.
The donors’ meeting, which was attended by representatives of 25 countries and the European Union, began with a minute’s silence for the victims of the attacks in New York and Washington D.C. on September 11. The meeting was opened by His Excellency Adbul Ilah al-Khatib, the Minister of Foreign Affairs for Jordan. He urged the donor countries to a “collective effort to support UNRWA politically, financially and morally at this crucial time”.
We have a press release with more information upstairs.
The Council met in closed consultations this morning to continue its discussion of the pricing mechanism for Iraqi crude oil sold under the Oil for Food Programme.
Council members received a briefing from the UN oil overseers on this issue.
**Secretary-General's message to Sikhs
The Secretary-General over the weekend issued a message at a memorial ceremony for Balbir Singh Sodhi, a Sikh who was killed in Arizona just after the September 11 attacks, in what police are investigating as a "hate crime".
The Secretary-General, in his message, conveyed his deepest sympathy to the Sikh community and said, "Essential to the global response to the terrorist attacks is a recognition that the perpetrators are not, are never, defined by religion or national descent." To allow divisions for people to be exacerbated by acts of terrorism, he added, would be to do the terrorists' work for them.
We have copies of his message in my office.
The East Timor Council of Ministers of the Second Transitional Government today held its formal meeting in Dili, the East Timorese capital.
The Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Sergio Vieira de Mello, exceptionally attended today’s meeting, as the invitee of Chief Minister Mari Alkatiri.
Vieira de Mello said that “We are about to initiate something that has never been done before: an administration that is still the United Nations, but in which the executive power is in the hands of an East Timorese Government with democratic legitimacy. This phase is perhaps the most demanding one so far.”
For details on that meeting, we have a Briefing Note from Dili in my office.
In a letter to the Security Council and General Assembly, which is out on the racks today, the Secretary-General notes a request made in July by Judge Navanethem Pillay, the President of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, asking for a pool of "ad litem" (or short-term) judges to be set up to speed up the Tribunal's work.
Such a pool of ad litem judges has already been set up for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, and the Secretary-General notes that the Rwanda Tribunal is seeking 18 ad litem judges to handle work both in trials and pre-trial proceedings. The preliminary estimated cost of establishing a pool of nine ad litem judges for the 2002-2003 biennium, he adds, would be about 23.6 million dollars.
The Secretary-General is meeting this afternoon Dr. Chrispus Kiyonga, the chairman of the transitional working group, which is setting up the new Global AIDS and Health Fund. The purpose of the meeting is to update the Secretary-General on progress achieved thus far in setting up the Fund.
More details on the working group and the Fund, which is to be operational and ready to disburse funds by the end of the year, are available as a press release issued this morning.
Also out on the racks today is a report from the Office of Internal Oversight Services reviewing the policies of the Department for Peacekeeping Operations concerning the recruitment of international civilian staff for peacekeeping and other special missions.
The report identifies shortcomings in the recruitment process, including the absence of benchmarks and proper analysis of workloads, and it makes a number of recommendations to strengthen the process and enhance transparency.
**Reports and Press Releases
There are a few reports out on the racks today, I am only going to highlight two. The first is the twelfth report of the United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala (MINUGUA) covering the period 1 July 2000 to 30 June 2001 which says that a large part of the population, mostly indigenous people, women and poor peasants, have yet to feel the benefits of the peace agreement.
The second report is by the Secretary-General on international cooperation on humanitarian assistance in the field of natural disasters. This report recommends that an inventory of the ways that countries can respond to disasters should be established and that the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the United Nations Development Programme should take the lead in its establishment.
A press release to mention, the Food and Agriculture Organization announced an agreement with the Government of the United Kingdom to provide $13 million for an initiative to improve livestock farming in poor countries. The project memorandum will be signed in London tomorrow.
And finally, the World Health Organization announced today that the World Health Report 2001 will be launched in Geneva on Thursday 4 October. The report will highlight the year-long mental health campaign and will focus on the impact of mental and neurological disorders on society. The report itself will be on the WHO web site on the day of the launch. We have a media advisory with more information.
Signings -- a number took place today. This morning, Madagascar became the 101st country to sign the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, and Austria and Jordan signed to the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism.
And this afternoon, Indonesia will also sign that Convention along with both Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
My last announcement for today concerns the World Chronicle TV programme, the UN TV programme which features Jayantha Dhanapala, who is the Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs. You can see it at 3:30 today, on in-house channels 3 or 31. This was taped after the September 11 events and in the programme Dhanapala underscores the need to cut the world's nuclear arsenals, particularly in light of the threat posed by terrorists.
There is a second programme, which will also be showed today, a half hour later, at 4 p.m., which will feature Dr. Derek Yach, the Programme Manager of the Tobacco-Free Initiatives at the World Health Organization, and Richard will be watching that.
Thank you very much, anything before we go to Jan, any questions, Richard?
** Questions and Answers
Question: I will let that last comment go. Will the Indonesian President or the Japanese Prime Minister be available for any stake-out or questioning?
Spokesman: Not that I am aware of, but we will relay your interest in talking to them to see if something can be arranged.
[It was later announced that neither the Indonesian President or the Japanese Prime Minister would be available for questions at the stake-out.]
Question: What is the United Nations security going to do about the building -- the press was not allowed into the staff meeting -- do you know what measures will be taken regarding the safety of the building in the face of terrorist threats?
Spokesman: Well, probably there are a few things that could be done, including the public address system which did not function very well on the 11 and 12 September. That was one of the complaints that the staff, attending the meeting you are talking about, brought to the attention of security. Some of you might have tried to call Headquarters yesterday and found that the phone system was down. This was in connection with a re-testing of the public address system.
Otherwise, I think we are all living in a different world since 11 September. Security has to be tightened everywhere and you know that as a matter of policy we do not discuss specific measures that are taken. The entire security arrangements for this building are under review and some things have been changed already, as you might have noticed. We have had a few complaints from journalists about having to go through metal detectors and difficulties in getting into the garage because cars are being checked much more carefully. So a number of measures have already been taken.
Question: How long will the trucks be out in front?
Spokesman: That is the mayor's call or the secret services' call, I am not quite sure. I know it is not our call.
Question: What was the exact threat by the Taliban in Afghanistan and when was the last communication your people in Islamabad had with the offices?
Spokesman: I believe it was Friday. The instruction, to my knowledge was that they should cease communication with the outside world.
Question: Was there an "or else"?
Spokesman: I am not sure I can give you any more information. If you check with me after the briefing I can see if I can add any details.
Question: Has there been any thought to holding the General Assembly elsewhere, in Geneva, for example?
Spokesman: To my knowledge, there has been no discussion of that, Jan?
Spokesman for the President of the General Assembly: I think that the regional groups have relayed to the GA president that theywould like the meeting to go on in New York.
Question: In the speech this morning by the Secretary-General, he was urging, more than ever, the role of the United Nations. Is this a message that before military action, further approval has to be sought from the Security Council?
Spokesman: There was no element of that issue in the speech, neither explicit nor implicit.
Question: Could you tell me more about the United Nations pulling people out of Somalia because of the failure to get insurance cover for flights there?
Spokesman: I don't know, I would have to look into that for you.
Question: What will happen in Afghanistan to the national staff that work for the United Nations should there be a military attack by the United States? Is there a contingency plan?
Spokesman: Because we have no international presence in the country, we are not in a position to provide any protection for them. In a national emergency where we have both national and local staff and where we have the capability to evacuate people if we feel there is a threat, we do have the option to facilitate their [local staff’s] evacuation as well. But in this case we simply do not have that capacity.
Question: The Secretary-General is meeting with Pino Arlacchi today, any particular subject matter?
Spokesman: I don't know, I would have to try to get you a read-out afterwards. That is an internal meeting, we don't usually give read-outs on internal meetings, but I know why you are asking and we will see what we can find out.
Question: Concerning resolution 1333 from the Security Council, has there been any answer from the Taliban?
Spokesman: To my knowledge, we have had no response from the Taliban, on 1333 or any other resolution.
Question: What are the United Nations goals in Mr. Vendrells' meeting with the former Afghan King?
Spokesman: I don't think there was an ulterior motive. I think that Mr. Vendrell is merely trying to stay in touch with all the political actors. The King in exile is and continues to be a political actor. I am not aware that there was any special message that Mr. Vendrell brought to the King or from him.
Briefing by the Spokesman for the President of the General Assembly
At the moment, the President of the General Assembly is presiding over a plenary meeting reviewing the report of the Secretary-General on the work of the Organization. I think we are up to 60 speakers so the plenary will spill into Tuesday.
The President will have a working luncheon with the Chairmen of the Main Committees whereupon he will be back in the GA Hall for the afternoon session.
Tomorrow, he will again open the plenary but will leave around mid-day to return to the Republic of Korea for consultations with the Government there and he will be back in New York on Sunday.
Last week, I mentioned that you could find a lot of information about the work of the Sixth Committee on the UN web site. I had hoped to give you an indication as to where you could find information about the work of the other committees on the website, but unfortunately for you –- and me –- they don’t have a similar set-up to that established by the Sixth Committee.
The Preparatory Commission for the International Criminal Court is also meeting today as scheduled. There is more background info on that in L/2983 of 21/9 (Friday).
**Questions and Answers:
Question: Do you have a list or run-down of the October 1 terrorist discussion? Who might be speaking first and who are the high-profile attendees, if there are any?
Spokesman: I would not expect too many high-level speakers or heads of State because at the moment the security situation is such that we don't want to burden the city. But I will find out what the speaker's list looks like at the moment.
Spokesman for the Secretary-General: Ok, I have just been told that Mr. Arlacchi was not able to get to New York, I do not know if it was because of problems with flights. That appointment with the Secretary-General has been cancelled.
[It was later announced that Mr. Arlacchi was in New York, however, the meeting had been postponed until later this week.]
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