DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
15 March 2002
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of the noon briefing by Marie Okabe, Associate Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Our guest today, who is already here, is Kevin Kennedy, the Chief of the Humanitarian Emergency Branch of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), and he's here to talk to us about his mission to Sudan and I’ll turn over to him immediately after this briefing.
The Secretary-General is in Managua, Nicaragua, today where he is expected to receive the Pedro Joaquin Chamorro award at the National Assembly in a ceremony scheduled to take place in a few minutes from now. After that ceremony the Secretary-General is to meet with Nicaragua’s Foreign Minister, Norman José Caldera Cardenal. Later today, he will leave Nicaragua to arrive in San José where he will pay an official visit to Costa Rica over the weekend.
Earlier today the Secretary-General and Mrs. Annan visited a water supply and sanitation project supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the European Union, which was set up to address the needs of some 15,000 people following the effects of Hurricane Mitch. The Secretary-General arrived in Managua yesterday afternoon where he was greeted by the Foreign Minister and presented with the keys to the city. In the evening he met with President Enrique Bolanos, who described the progress Nicaragua has made over the past decade despite the conflicts and natural disasters it has faced in the past. At a press encounter afterwards -- a transcript of which is available upstairs -- the Secretary-General referred to corruption and emphasized the need for developing countries to get their act together, strengthen their institutions and tackle corruption very seriously. Adding that he was not implying that corruption is all on the side of the poor, he said he hoped ways to repatriate illicit funds to the countries from which they were stolen could be discussed at next week’s Financing for Development conference in Monterrey, Mexico. He also said that he expected the poorest countries to come to Monterrey next week prepared to participate fully. He said: "We’ll be discussing issues of great concern to them and their voices must be heard."
Here in New York, the Security Council began a public meeting on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, on which it received a briefing by Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Kenzo Oshima. The meeting is being Web-cast live on the United Nations Web site. Oshima told the Council that it is important that decisive and timely action is taken to end the suffering of millions of innocent victims of warfare, including women and children. Oshima also noted the serious allegations of sexual exploitation of children in refugee camps in West Africa and the measures the United Nations system is taking to deal with the matter while an investigation by the Office of Internal Oversight Services continues. He commended the unprecedented cooperation between the Security Council and the United Nations Secretariat in developing an aide-memoire that would identify guidelines to ensure that the protection of civilians is incorporated into the mandates of United
Nations peacekeeping operations. The document, which is to be adopted by the Council later today, can serve as a quick and easy reference guide for Council members when developing a peacekeeping mandate, Oshima said.
We have the text of his briefing upstairs.
In addition to the aide-memoire, the Council hopes to adopt a presidential statement on the protection of civilians once the open briefing ends. Then the Council intends to hold another formal meeting to consider a resolution that would extend the mandate of the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea by six months until 15 September.
**Sierra Leone Special Court
Out on the racks today is a letter from the Secretary-General to the Security Council presenting the report of the planning mission, led by Assistant Secretary-General for Legal Affairs Ralph Zacklin, that went to Sierra Leone in January to deal with setting up a special court for that country. The report outlines a number of practical issues that will need to be dealt with for the special court to be established, including requirements, at a minimum, for one courtroom and associated support space; staffing requirements for the prosecutors’ office and registry; and security considerations.
It also notes that the relationship of the special court to Sierra Leone’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission should be guided by the complementary roles each body performs, the independent nature of both institutions and the establishment of an agreed set of priorities for each body.
The planning mission says that the start-up phase of the operational plan should be completed by 31 May, and outlines the logistical arrangements and appointments of key officials to take place in the next two-and-a-half months.
By adhering to that schedule, the report says, the judges will have been appointed and the prosecutor’s office and registry will be functioning on Freetown by the third quarter of this year. The first indictments and trials could take place by the end of the court’s first year of operation.
The Security Council will take up the planning mission’s report in its consultations next Tuesday. We expect to have Ralph Zacklin brief you about the court at the noon briefing next Wednesday.
**Sierra Leone: UNAMSIL -- Sensitization of Peacekeepers
Also on Sierra Leone. The United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) today informed us that its Acting Force Commander is continuing his “sensitization tour” which was launched following allegations that some peacekeepers were involved in the sexual exploitation of refugee children.
Visiting recently with Bangladesh and Nigerian United Nations troops, Gen. Martin Agwai emphasized that the Force would “deal decisively with any misconduct by peacekeepers.”
You can pick up a press release with more details upstairs.
Turning to Afghanistan. The World Health Organization (WHO) says 7 million tablets of Vitamin C are urgently needed in Ghor Province to treat an outbreak of scurvy. A five-member team, led by a WHO epidemiologist, is currently in this remote district and has found widespread scurvy, particularly in 15 villages. It is believed that the scurvy has weakened the population, making them vulnerable to a secondary, still undiagnosed disease that has resulted in the deaths of 40 people to date.
Meanwhile the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says the spontaneous repatriation of Afghan refugees from Pakistan is stretching the capacity of the agency’s registration system. With today’s returnees, the number of Afghans returned with UNHCR assistance over the past two weeks is now 45,446.
On East Timor, as the presidential campaign got under way in East Timor today, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative predicted that the process would be peaceful and successful.
Sergio Vieira de Mello expressed confidence that the Timorese people would continue to be tolerant and responsible, turning out in large numbers for the 14 April elections.
He also told reporters today that the United Nations will remain engaged on East Timor after the territory becomes fully independent on 20 May.
We have the transcript of his press briefing upstairs.
**North Korean Asylum Seekers
On the North Korean asylum seekers, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees says it is pleased that Spanish and Chinese authorities quickly found a humanitarian solution for the 25 North Korean asylum seekers who spent yesterday and part of today at the Spanish Embassy in Beijing.
UNHCR says that it appreciates the efforts of the two Governments to reach a speedy conclusion.
Also in Geneva today, the Organization of the Islamic Conference held a symposium on human rights which was addressed by Mary Robinson, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, saying that "Islamaphobia" has been on the rise since 11 September. She stressed the need for education to fight bigotry, and called on Islamic communities to combat ignorance actively.
Pointing out that Islam is practised by more than a fifth of all people, the High Commissioner said its greatness must be recognized. “No one can deny that at its core, Islam is entirely consonant with the principle of fundamental human rights”, she said.
We have copies of her speech upstairs.
A judge from the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia handed down a seven-and-a-half-year sentence to Milorad Krnojelac, a former prison warden in Bosnia and Herzegovina, for crimes committed against non-Serb detainees in the early 1990s.
We have summaries of the sentencing judgement upstairs for anyone who is interested.
This morning, Mexico deposited instruments for a number of treaties, including both Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and the Convention on the Non-Application of Statutory Limitations to War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity.
For a full list, please go upstairs and we can provide you with that rather than my reading them out now.
On press releases, according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), endangered species around the world are benefiting from trade suspensions and other incentives imposed on governments. In response to pledges by the Governments of the United Arab Emirates, Russian Federation, Fiji and Viet Nam to reform wildlife management and trade practices, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species has decided to lift or modify trade measures imposed on those countries. We have more details in a press release.
Following his briefing at 12:45 in this room, Ambassador Adolfo Aguilar Zinser of Mexico will brief on the Conference on Financing for Development, which will take place in Monterrey, Mexico, from 18 to 22 March.
There are no press conferences scheduled for Monday as of now. And as usual we have the "Week Ahead" upstairs, a weekly feature, so that you can look up what is planned for next week. Before I turn to Kevin, do you have any questions for me?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Did the total of 45,000 refugees come from Afghanistan or Pakistan recently?
Spokesman: The number I read to you is the number of Afghans who have returned with UNHCR’s assistance. UNHCR started an assisted programme of return over the last two weeks, and that number has reached – to be exact – 45,446. And UNHCR was saying today the numbers have risen so much in the last few days that their system is being stretched to the point that today, which is usually a holiday, their centres are processing people as quickly as possible. But no, this is not the total. As you know, the total number of Afghan refugees is somewhere over 3 million and they still are in Pakistan and Iran and in neighbouring countries.
Question: Do you have any idea if they are being fed by the United Nations?
Spokesman: Every year, as you know, the United Nations issues a humanitarian appeal for the region that includes assistance to these refugees. Over the years, sometimes the appeal was well met, sometimes it wasn’t. Depending on what the donor contribution was, the amount of assistance obviously would be affected. But yes, the United Nations was there. UNHCR was the main refugee agency there mandated to provide assistance to these refugees.
Question: Today’s press release doesn’t mention the name of Iran. Is it only refugees from Pakistan or both from Iran and Pakistan?
Spokesman: Today’s press release refers to Pakistan and particularly a centre near Peshawar.
Question: Do you have any further details on the arrangement that has apparently been worked out that would allow the United States to regain its seat on the Human Rights Commission? There have been some wires . . . (inaudible).
Spokesman: There are four seats open for the "Western European and Others" Group, and the United States is one of the four candidates for those seats.
I’ll turn to Kevin. Kevin?
(The following statement attributable to the Spokesman of the Secretary-General was issued after the briefing):
"Mr. Razali Ismail, the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Myanmar, will visit Yangon from 19 to 22 March to continue his effort to help facilitate the national reconciliation process in Myanmar.
"During his four-day visit, Mr. Razali is expected to meet with Government leaders, including Senior General Than Shwe, Prime Minister and Chairman of the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), as well as with senior members of the National League for Democracy (NLD), including its General Secretary, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
"The Secretary-General hopes that Mr. Razali’s mission will provide the process with a fresh momentum to assist the two sides to develop their confidence-building talks into a more substantive dialogue in the near future. This will be Mr. Razali’s seventh mission since he was appointed as the Special Envoy in April 2000."
* *** *
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|