DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
16 January 2002
The following is a near-verbatim record of today's noon briefing by Fred Eckhard, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
We will start with Sierra Leone today. The United Nations and the Government of Sierra Leone today signed a landmark agreement establishing the Special Court for Sierra Leone. The Court will prosecute persons who bear “the greatest responsibility” for serious violations of international humanitarian and national law during the country’s decade-long civil war.
At a ceremony in Freetown witnessed by Sierra Leone’s President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, the agreement was signed by Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Solomon Berewa, on behalf of the Government, and by UN Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, Hans Corell, on behalf of the United Nations.
The signing of the agreement is the culmination of a process that began with the adoption of Security Council resolution 1315 (2000) of 14 August 2000, in which the Secretary-General was requested to negotiate the creation of an independent special court with the Sierra Leonean Government.
Hans Corell, in his statement, noted the court will serve as an important contribution to the healing process in Sierra Leone, which that country must undergo to be able to create a better future for those who live there. Speaking to the people of Sierra Leone, he said, “you should address the past with determination. But with the same determination you should also look to the future –- to the new day that dawns ahead".
We have copies of the speech, a summary of the agreement, and the agreement itself, as well as the statute of the court, if you are interested.
Onto Cyprus, now. The Greek Cypriot leader, His Excellency Glafcos Clerides, and the Turkish Cypriot leader, His Excellency Rauf Denktash, began their direct talks in Nicosia this morning with a 90-minute meeting at the UN Protected Area in the presence of the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Cyprus, Alvaro de Soto.
At the conclusion of today’s session, the Secretary-General’s adviser told journalists that the two leaders had a "good discussion on the substance".
Mr. Denktash and Mr. Clerides agreed to establish a pattern of meetings, de Soto said, which will be Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays starting at 5 p.m. The first meeting will be next Monday.
Asked for his assessment of the meeting, de Soto said, “I thought it was a very encouraging start. They engaged immediately on the substance”. He also characterized the climate of today’s talks as “good, cordial”.
We have the following rather lengthy statement attributable to the Spokesman on the issue of El Salvador.
"Ten years ago today, representatives of the Government of El Salvador and of the Farabundo Marti Front for National Liberation (FMLN) opted for peace by signing historic accords that ended over a decade of war. In marking this tenth anniversary, the Secretary-General wishes to commend the Salvadorean people, as well as the signatories, for their efforts to implement this agreement, which paved new ground in peacemaking and peace-building.
“The 1992 accords signalled an innovative approach to ending civil conflict by addressing its root causes and transforming the institutions that had served to preserve the status quo. The successful implementation of the accords was due primarily to the political will and determination of the signatories to end the war. As Salvadoreans examine their society today and look toward the future, the Secretary-General hopes that the accords and the democratic, rights-respecting approach they embody, will continue to serve as inspirations and points of reference. The experience has provided both the Organization and other societies facing similar situations with lessons that will serve as a model.
“In recent years, the United Nations has continued its verification functions in four areas relating to land tenure and benefits for those wounded in combat and the dependants of combatants who lost their lives. The Secretary-General was gratified by the agreement reached in December 2001 paving the way for progress on the war-wounded question. On this occasion, he wishes to reiterate his call to the Government, the Fund for the War-Wounded, the FMLN and the associations of beneficiaries to implement the December agreement, thereby concluding this remaining aspect of the accords and sealing the completion of a remarkable process."
We were just on the phone with Kabul and learned that the Chairman of the Interim Administration of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, today issued a decree prohibiting poppy production.
According to the decree, the production, processing and illicit use, smuggling and trafficking of drugs, such as opium and all of its ingredients, are declared illegal. It went on to say that the Interim Administration, with the help of international organizations, will promote crop substitution programmes all over the country.
On another front, Afghanistan, as you know, is one of the most cut-off countries in the world in terms of communications. The World Food Programme, responsible for the initial set-up and maintenance of relief telecommunications, has been working with the international telecommunication giant, Ericsson, to set up this mobile telecommunications network. Free of charge, Ericsson is lending all the equipment, with a market value of $5 million, for six months. This is in line with the recommendations made by the Secretary-General in his Millennium Report to strengthen partnerships in humanitarian operations between the private sector and the United Nations.
Today, Lakhdar Brahimi received the first mobile telephone from the head of the Ericcson team.
Mr. Brahimi attended the second Joint Coordination Body meeting between the Interim Administration, the International Security Assistance Force and the United Nations.
And, finally, Kabul Airport has opened for military flights for troops and equipment. Within a few days, the airport is expected to be open to civilian flights.
**Secretary-General's Travel Plans
You have been asking about the Secretary-General's travel plans after Tokyo. I can now give you the itinerary:
After the donors meeting on Afghanistan in Tokyo next Monday and Tuesday, and his official visit to Japan, the Secretary-General will go to Kabul for a one-day stay and also to the two pivotal neighbouring States, Pakistan and Iran. He will travel from Tokyo to Islamabad on Wednesday the 23rd. From there, he will go into Kabul on Friday the 25th, and then on to Tehran at the end of that day. He will visit Tehran on the 26th.
At the end of this tour, he will make an official visit to Austria, where he will visit the UN staff there, as well. He will arrive in Vienna on Sunday the 27th. And he is expected to return to New York the following weekend. We will try to give you a schematic of the programme in each of those places by the end of this week.
**Statements of High Commission for Human Rights
The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, today issued a statement concerning the Taliban and Al Qaeda prisoners currently being held at United States facilities at Guantanamo, Cuba.
In her statement, Mrs. Robinson reminds all concerned that these people are entitled to the protection of international human rights law and international humanitarian law. She adds that the legal status of the detainees and their entitlement to prisoner-of-war status, if disputed, must be determined by a competent tribunal. Any possible trial of those being held should be guided by the principles of a fair trial, including the presumption of innocence, she went on to say.
Earlier today, during a press conference in Geneva, Mrs. Robinson also stated that, at a time of difficulty, it’s important that human rights and international humanitarian standards be clearly upheld and observed. She said that, in some respect, some people are feeling that the rules are changing, but that it’s her concern to say “the rules are not changing, the rules are as important as ever.” We have the text of her statement and remarks from the press conference available upstairs.
The High Commissioner for Human Rights issued another statement today in which she expresses her concern over the deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe. “There is a real human rights crisis in Zimbabwe,” Mrs. Robinson said, "and action must be taken now, especially as elections are scheduled for March.” She said she noted President Robert Mugabe’s pledge at the recent Southern African Development Community (SADC) summit to free and fair elections, but added, “real democracy requires full respect for human rights immediately". We have the full text of the statement upstairs.
Security Council members are set to meet this afternoon in closed consultations to be briefed on the latest developments in the Democratic Republic of the Congo by Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Marie Guéhenno. Council members will also be briefed by the Chair of the Angola Sanctions Committee, Ambassador Richard Ryan of Ireland.
Following consultations, Council members will hold two back-to-back Council formal meetings to adopt a presidential statement on Ethiopia/Eritrea and also adopt a draft resolution in support of the upcoming elections in Sierra Leone.
We have upstairs a press release from the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo on the humanitarian work being conducted in the river town of Mbandaka.
Approximately 900 families in the town have been displaced after floods washed away their homes. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is working in partnership with other UN agencies, as well as with NGO’s, to provide temporary housing, medical supplies, agricultural and fishing tools, and food. We have a press release that you can pick up in my Office.
In another press release, issued today, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia received the prosecution’s brief for the appeal against the Trial Chamber’s decision to try the Kosovo indictment in the Milosevic case separately and before the Croatia and Bosnia indictments. The Kosovo indictment is scheduled to go to trial on 12 February, but that date may be affected by the appeal. We have more information in a press release.
And in another press release, the United Nations Environment Programme today announced the launch of a three-year, $38 million project on the safety of genetically engineered crops.
**International Labour Orgnization
The International Labour Organization (ILO) will launch its "Red Card to Child Labour" campaign this week to coincide with the start of the 2002 African Cup of Nations that begins Saturday in Bamako, Mali. The new campaign against the use of child labour is symbolized by the red card handed out by referees for serious violations of rules on the soccer field. You can read more about that in the release.
Signings this morning -- the European Union became the 23rd signatory of the Protocol against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Their Parts and Components and Ammunition, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.
On the budget side, we got two more payments today for the 2002 regular budget contributions. Iceland paid a little more than $366,000, and Liechtenstein, more than $66,000. There are now 26 Member States paid in full.
And, finally, the UN Correspondents' Association asked me to announce that this afternoon at 3:30 p.m. in the UNCA Club, Human Rights Watch will launch its 2002 world report.
That's all I have for you.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Any more on Benon Sevan's trip in Iraq? Any more fresh news coming out of Iraq?
Spokesman: We had a bit of a report yesterday, but I don't think we'll give you a blow by blow. But, if you're interested, you can talk to Hasmik Egian, who is spokeswoman for that Department, or check with Stephane Dujarric in my Office.
Question: Fred, you mentioned that 26 Member States have already paid their dues in full. Do you know how much money the UN had at the end of 2001? Because, I figure it was an unusually good year after some pretty bad ones.
Spokesman: Yes, it was. I think we gave out some numbers earlier this year, but if you check with me after the briefing, I can give you the amount that had been collected in 2001 and anything else you might be interested in.
[The Spokesman's Office announced, immediately following the briefing, that the total collection last year for regular peacekeeping and tribunals combined was $4.2 billion. That was an all-time high. The previous high was in 1994 --
Question: Two questions about the Secretary-General's travel plans. You said that he would arrive in Vienna, I think, on the 27th, a Sunday, and he would not be returning to New York until the following weekend. Does that mean he is going to have a week-long visit to Austria?
Spokesman: No. Monday would be a day of rest. Tuesday and Wednesday would be the visit to Austria. And, then, Thursday he will go somewhere else in Europe for a private visit, and then return on the weekend.
Question: And on the Tokyo thing -– you mentioned an "official" visit. What constitutes an official visit? It seems to me that he has made several trips to Tokyo that have been described as "official visits", in addition to going there sort of functionally. Why so many official visits to Japan?
Spokesman: I think we now expect that this would be the only official visit to Japan that he would make this year. So, an official visit involves, in this case, an audience with the Emperor, meetings with the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister, parliamentarians, citizens' groups, and so on. So, it's a full official visit. He'll spend roughly a half a day at the Tokyo donors' conference, and the rest of the time will be with these types of appointments I've just mentioned.
Question: An official visit to the royal baby perhaps?
Spokesman: That can't be excluded.
Question: Fred, could you elaborate a little on what the Secretary-General is hoping to accomplish during his visit to Kabul and to both Pakistan and Iran?
Spokesman: Yes. In Kabul, he'll be meeting with the head of the Interim Administration, Hamid Karzai, and then other members of the Administration, with the Security Assistance Force leaders. He'll tour parts of Kabul that have been particularly damaged by the war and probably visit with Afghans in a hospital or a school or a woman's bakery. We haven't quite firmed up all the details yet. So, that's the kind of visit.
I think he'd want to assess the needs, the financial needs of the Interim Administration. He would probably want to underline the appeal for the short-term needs -– the 2002 appeal, which is separate from the reconstruction figures that were given to you, yesterday. And, that appeal is likely to be made just after the Tokyo meeting, on reconstruction –- an appeal for 2002 immediate needs.
And, I think he'll want to congratulate them for the progress they have made on setting up the transitional government and urge them to keep up the good work.
Question: And the neighbours?
Spokesman: Well, we have been saying from the beginning that peace in Afghanistan would not be durable without the full support of the neighbours. If the neighbours, who in the past have backed various warring factions in Afghanistan, continue to do that, then their influence on the country will be divisive. Of course, most critical will be Pakistan and Iran, and he will be urging them to work more closely together to keep the security situation in Afghanistan stable, arguing that it is in their common interest to do so.
Question: Does the Secretary-General share Mrs. Robinson's view on the prisoners?
Spokesman: The Secretary-General does. I think the High Commissioner's statement on these prisoners is merely a statement of principle and based on international law. So, he has no argument with anything she said.
Question: Has the Secretary-General been to Afghanistan before, and who was the last Secretary-General to have been to Kabul.
Spokesman: That's a historical research question that I will have to take up after the briefing. The Secretary-General, himself, has not been to Kabul, at least not as Secretary-General. Whether he might have been there in his previous capacity as head of peacekeeping, I kind of doubt, but I'll have to look into the record to see.
Previous secretaries-general -– yes, there have been visits by previous secretaries-general, but I don't know how far back. It is easy enough to find out, so check with me after the briefing.
[The Spokesman announced, immediately following the briefing, that, as far as his Office knew, only one Secretary-General had visited Kabul, and that was Dag Hammarskjöld, in March 1959.]
Question: Concerning the detainees in Afghanistan, how many are there and what is their condition?
Spokesman: You'd have to ask the United States Government how many prisoners they're keeping. I did see in the media today that the United States agreed to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit these individuals, and once those visits take place, then I think you could ask the Red Cross about the condition of the prisoners.
Question: Fred, you said that the Secretary-General is going to spend only one day in Kabul. Does that mean that he is not going to be overnighting there?
Spokesman: Yes, we have, I think, 12 people in Kabul and 10 beds. We really don't have the capacity to put up anyone overnight. We are very strictly controlling the numbers of our own representatives of agencies, and so on, and many of Mr. Brahimi's staff are working in Islamabad and rotating into Kabul, as others rotate out.
We did send a mission there a number of weeks ago, and one of their jobs was to pick up some real estate, which I understand they did at a good, competitive price, but that facility was now being renovated and prepared for both office and living space. I am not quite sure; I don't have the details.
Question: The Wall Street Journal has a very long story today about the computer whose hard drive shows a lot of data from the Al Qaeda people, including a statement to the effect that the United Nations was to be a target because of the presence here of so-called criminals, naming a number of countries, including the United States, Russia, France, the United Kingdom, etc.
This kind of information must be rather troubling to the Secretary-General and security people in this building. In light of the fact that the sanitation trucks have been removed and that high security seems to have relaxed, does this kind of thing stir anxiety and raise the fear that something might happen here?
Spokesman: I saw that article. I think the information contained in the computer dates from a month before the September 11th attacks.
Question: But some of this was as recent as last November?
Spokesman: In any case, we rely on the security assessments of the host country. This would not have been the first indication that this building might have been a target on somebody's list. If the local security authorities decided to move the sand trucks, we assume that they had good reason for doing that.
Again, this information is not fresh. It is not from this week or last week, which might require us to ask for a reassessment of the threat level. So, I think we're comfortable with the measures that have been taken.
Question: Fred, are you going to travel with the Secretary-General?
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