DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
28 June 2002
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Fred Eckhard, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon. Ready for a long weekend here?
**Secretary-General's Africa Trip
As you know, the Secretary General will leave New York next Tuesday evening for Vienna, where he will hold talks with the Iraqi delegation on Thursday and Friday. I can now announce the balance of the trip, which will take him to Africa for a week.
On Saturday, he will fly from Vienna to Durban, South Africa, where he will attend the summit of the Organization of African Unity on Monday and Tuesday. On Wednesday the 10th, he will travel to Abuja, Nigeria, for an official visit. Then on Friday the 12th, he will go from Abuja to Khartoum, Sudan, also for an official visit. He will return to New York on Sunday the 14th of July.
The Security Council began its work this morning with consultations on Bosnia and Herzegovina, with members discussing differing draft resolutions to deal with an extension of the UN Mission in that country, whose current mandate expires at the end of this month. Yesterday afternoon, the Council had discussed those texts in private consultations, when both the United States and France presented language intended to resolve a dispute over whether international peacekeepers can be placed under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, which, you’ll recall, will enter into force next Monday.
Those of you who were at the stakeout will be aware that the United States has suggested that, if it is not satisfied with language conferring immunity to peacekeepers from the Criminal Court, it may veto any further extension of the Bosnia Mission, causing it to expire at the end of Sunday. The Council intends to hold further consultations on this matter at 3 o’clock this afternoon, and it has asked for senior members of the Peacekeeping Department and Legal Office to be on hand at that time.
Right now, the Council is in a private meeting, wrapping up its work for the month of June. Ambassador Mikhail Wehbe of Syria will end his Council Presidency this Sunday, and Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock of the United Kingdom will take over on Monday as Council President for the month of July. He’ll talk to you at 12:45 on Tuesday about the Council’s program of work.
**International Criminal Court
As I just mentioned, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court will enter into force on Monday, in accordance with the Statute’s receipt of its required 60th ratification last April 11.
The Secretary-General will issue a statement on Monday noting the historic occasion of the Statute’s entry into force, which reaffirms the centrality of the rule of law in international relations. You can pick up copies of that statement, on an embargoed basis, upstairs right after this briefing.
The Statute currently has 69 ratifications and 139 signatories. We also have available upstairs a statement issued today by the special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Dato Param Cumaraswamy, noting the importance of avoiding a politicization of the Court and underlining the principles underlying a legitimate selection process for its judges.
The Secretary-General returned last night to New York from the G-8 summit in Kananaskis, Canada. Prior to his departure from the summit Thursday, the Secretary-General took part in the launch of the Africa Action Plan following his meeting with the G-8 and the four African leaders. He said if Africans stick to their commitments made in the New Partnership for Africa's Development and if the G-8 carry out the action plan announced at their summit, "this summit might come to be seen as a turning point in the history of Africa, and indeed of the world. That is a challenge for all of us to live up to".
He went on, "NEPAD provides a framework for ending conflicts, for stemming the flow of refugees and internally displaced persons, and for improving the investment climate, a prerequisite for sustainable development on the continent". He also said the World Summit on Sustainable Development, which will open in the South African city of Johannesburg in August, would serve as an indicator of global commitment to change.
The statement is now out as a press release.
There was an explosion in Spin Boldak, Kandahar province in southern Afghanistan on the border with Pakistan last night. The first explosion was at 11:45 p.m. and then subsequent explosions were heard up until 11 a.m. today. The explosions took place at a military barracks and an ammunition depot, which are near two UN premises: the UN High Commissioner for Refugees office, and the World Food Programme warehouse.
The causes of the explosion are unknown. A UN team was dispatched to the site to inspect the damage. Deminers accompanied the team. As a result of the explosions, unexploded ordnance and live ammunition are scattered over a wide area. UNHCR reported extensive damage to its office, located some 70 metres away. One of UNHCR's drivers was injured and has been taken to Kandahar hospital about three hours away for treatment.
WFP reported that one of its workers in a nearby house was slightly injured. There are five camps sheltering an estimated 32,000 displaced persons (IDPs) in the Spin Boldak area. UNHCR said it had no reports yet of any injuries involving any of the displaced persons.
Spin Boldak is the principal entry point for Afghans returning home from the Baluchistan province of Pakistan. UNHCR said it will be vital to ensure that unexploded ordnance is cleared from the town to ensure the safety of its citizens and returnees. WFP said two storage tents were destroyed, as well as three containers used as offices, and the gate of its premises was blown up. All food supplies, though, seem to be intact.
**ECOSOC Annual Session
Next week, the high-level segment of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) will take place from Monday through Wednesday, kicking off the four-week annual session of ECOSOC. The high-level segment will focus on human resources development, and particularly on health and education, and will bring together key government ministers, including US Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, to examine the consensus that has emerged on development since the Millennium Declaration.
The opening of the substantive session will feature a report by the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on the Millennium Development Goals, Jeffrey Sachs, on financing requirements to meet health and education targets. Sachs and the President of ECOSOC, Ambassador Ivan Simonovic, will hold a press conference at 1 p.m. on Monday to present an advance look at the progress toward the Millennium Development Goals.
And Paul O’Neill will speak to you at the Security Council stakeout following his presentation to the high-level segment. We expect that to be around 10:30 a.m. on Monday.
The Chairman of the Security Council Sanctions Committee on Sierra Leone, Ambassador Adolfo Zinser of Mexico, arrived in Freetown today on a two-day visit to assess the current peace process and political developments in Sierra Leone. The Committee was set to monitor and report on violations of the arms embargo imposed against Sierra Leone when the democratically elected Government of President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah was overthrown by a military junta in May 1997.
During his stay in the country, Ambassador Zinser is scheduled to hold discussions with President Kabbah and members of his cabinet, and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Sierra Leone, Oluyemi Adeniji, as well as other senior officials of the UN mission. The UN mission also reports that Adeniji this week visited several towns bordering Liberia to assess the refugee and returnee situation in the area. He also crossed the Mano River Bridge to Bo Waterside in Liberia, where he sought assurances from the Liberians that refugees and returnees were being allowed to cross freely into Sierra Leone.
“It is an irony of fate,” he said, that the inflow of refugees is in the opposite direction than in the past -– now from Liberia to Sierra Leone. Meanwhile, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees reports that Liberian refugees and Sierra Leonean returnees continue to reach Sierra Leone in large numbers despite poor weather conditions caused by heavy rains in the region. UNHCR also says it has learned that five Liberian non-governmental organization nurses held by LURD rebels were safe and might be released soon.
UNHCR also reports today that about 1,000 people fled from southern Senegal's Casamance region into neighbouring Gambia over the weekend, following renewed clashes between the Senegalese army and separatist rebels from the Mouvement des Forces Démocratiques de Casamance (MFDC). A UNHCR team has gone to the Gambia to check out the report.
The East Timor General Prosecutor’s Office has issued four indictments for crimes against humanity in the last month. The crimes were committed in the Bobonaro and Oecussi districts in 1999 and a total of 16 people have been indicted, including five officers of the Indonesian Armed Forces. We have more details of the indictments and other items from East Timor in the briefing notes upstairs.
We have a number of press releases from the World Health Organization today. First, a report released in Geneva this morning shows that spermicides containing nonoxynol-9 do not protect against HIV infection and may even increase the risk of HIV infection in women using these products frequently. The report also advises women at high risk of HIV infection against using nonoxynol-9 spermicides for contraception.
Yesterday we told you about experts from WHO and the Food and Agricultural Organization that just concluded their consultations on the issue of acrylamide in food. As a follow-up the two organizations will establish a network for research to achieve a better understanding of human exposure to the chemical and its possible health effects. We also have an embargoed press release on a WHO cancer study.
And finally, the design for the UNAIDS headquarters building in Geneva has been unanimously selected following an international design contest. The new construction will be built with the generous support of the Swiss Government and the Republic and Canton of Geneva. Construction is to be completed by June 2005.
**World Heritage sites
The 26th session of the World Heritage Committee taking place in Budapest, Hungary, ended yesterday with the addition of nine new sites to the World Heritage List. We have a press release from UNESCO with more details including a list of the sites.
**United Nations Population Award
The United Nations Population Award will be presented on Monday in the Trusteeship Council Chamber at 4:30 in the afternoon. This year’s individual award will be presented to Dr. Kwasi Odoi-Agyarko, a health innovator from Ghana and the institutional award to the NGO Engender Health from the United States. The award is awarded annually by the Committee for the United Nations Population Award.
Budget news. Jordan, today, became the 83rd Member State to pay its 2002 regular budget contribution in full. That is with a payment of more than $88,000.
Press conferences on Monday. At 11:15 a.m., James Morris, the Executive Director of the World Food Programme, will launch a massive appeal to provide emergency food relief to six countries in southern Africa where millions of people are threatened with starvation over the next nine months.
And then our guest at the noon briefing will be Olara Otunnu, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict. He will brief you on his recent visit to the Russian Federation, including the northern Caucasus.
And then at 1 p.m., Ambassador Ivan Simonovic and Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, as I have already mentioned to you. And we have the "Week Ahead" for you which you can pick up in my office.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Fred, can you rationalize the request of the United States regarding the immunity of troops in Bosnia?
Spokesman: Well, I don't want to get into too much detail here because these are matters being discussed in the Council now behind closed doors. We merely commented on public statements made by, I think it was Ambassador Negroponte, yesterday at the stakeout. I don't want to go further in trying to describe the United States position or the position of any other member of the Council.
Question: Has the Security Council demanded to provide States with security? Remember the question of Angola, when the representative of Angola mentioned that the Security Council would not provide immunities to the former combatants. I remember that this speech was criticized, so why -- [inaudible] -- when the representative of Angola made this statement already?
Spokesman: The question was not historical on Angola, but the current issue before the Council and I don't want to comment further on that issue. Robert?
Question: In his latest report on Bosnia, the Secretary-General said that the mission had played a crucial role in combating terrorism and organized crime in Europe. How concerned is he about the possible ending of the mission ahead of time? And more generally, how concerned is he about the planning of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations if this kind of resolution goes through?
Spokesman: Well, of course, we were planning on a smooth hand-over to the Europeans of this police operation in Bosnia over a period of six months. The latest police commissioner that we named, in agreement with the Europeans, would continue then as the European police commissioner in January 2003. Those plans for a smooth hand-over go right out the window if we have to suddenly terminate this mission on Sunday. So, of course, from the point of view of the peacekeeping department and the Secretary-General himself, the hope is that Council members will be able to find some compromise in this current stand-off and not cause the premature end of our mission in Bosnia.
Question: Thank you Mr. Eckhard for choosing my question. I am Sharif Hussein Sharif, correspondent of Sudan TV at the United Nations. Regarding the visit of the Secretary-General to Sudan, as you know this is his first visit to Sudan, the largest country in Africa. It comes after the lifting of the sanctions of the Security Council on Sudan since September last year. Sudan warmly welcomes this visit and the Foreign Minister of Sudan considers it a historically important visit. Can you please tell us about the top issues that are estimated to be on the discussion table between the Secretary-General and Sudanese leaders?
Spokesman: We don't usually give out the agenda of the Secretary-General's discussions before they take place. So if you want to just follow our reports from the area, each day we say who the Secretary-General met with and we usually give you the topics that were touched on in those discussions. But we don't say beforehand what they will be. So if you will just be a little patient, we will eventually get that information to you.
Question: On the Bosnia question. Can we get Mr. Guéhenno or a DPKO member of staff to the stakeout to get his impressions and thoughts about the potential implications of this on peacekeeping after he has briefed the Council?
Spokesman: I am willing to ask him if he will talk to you. I am not sure he will want to comment while the Council is still deliberating. I expect he will want to be there as a resource person for them at their request. Whether they can resolve this by the end of the day, I don't know; we have been told to be prepared for a possible long weekend here at Headquarters.
Question: Is there any kind of legal manoeuvering that could be done to extend the mission if there is a veto by Sunday? And if there is not, how quickly would you begin the drawdown?
Spokesman: I don't think I want to start speculating on the worst case scenario, nor what options might be open to the Council, whilst they are still deliberating on the extension of this mission. So, if you don't mind, I am going to duck both those questions.
Question: Turning around Robert's question a little bit, how would you describe what the value is, at this point, of the mission and what purpose it is serving? What would be potentially lost?
Spokesman: Well, you know that the idea is to help Bosnia return to the rule of law, to develop a multi-ethnic police force and a professional police force, a police force that would understand the need to serve the community rather than a political entity. So, the whole plan of training by international police officers of the Bosnian police force was to achieve that goal. We think that we have achieved progress, but the job is far from done.
We planned to shut down this mission at the Secretary-General's recommendation in six months’ time, but acknowledging that the job is not yet done, we said we would hand over to the Europeans the job of the continuing training of this police force. The risk, of course, is that a sudden and abrupt termination of the United Nations mission, without a careful hand-over, could cause a gap. I don't know whether this Bosnian police force is ready to stand on its own two feet alone. Clearly the international community felt that more help was needed. But, again, let's not speculate on worst case, since we do have until midnight on Sunday to try to resolve this.
Question: I was told that the last time a peacekeeping mission was vetoed by a member of the Security Council was the mission in Macedonia, by China, in 1999. Can you give us more of a perspective on other times this might have happened and how rare an occurrence this is?
Spokesman: I am not aware of any other case where a mission was terminated. I would have to check with the Peacekeeping Department to see if their resident historians know of any other cases. But the most memorable one, of course, was the one that was terminated in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The effects of that premature termination became evident when there was the outbreak of violence in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia that took a considerable European effort to bring under control. I think at the time that Macedonia was
experiencing that violence, people were speculating whether it would have happened if the peacekeeping mission had stayed. I don't think anyone could say for sure yes or no, but the general feeling was that the premature withdrawal of the mission was a contributing factor to the violence that occurred later.
Question: If the mission has to be terminated, what kind of United Nations presence would remain?
Spokesman: That I think would be up to the Council to decide. And then probably for the Secretary-General to consider under the new circumstances and put a proposal to the Council. But again, we are getting very hypothetical here.
Question: At the G-8 summit yesterday there was a statement by the President of the United States about giving more funds for AIDS in Africa? Is that under the Global Fund? Could your office issue some kind of statement or breakdown on who will receive what and where we are with the Global Fund?
Spokesman: We could give you a briefing on that. The last thing we announced were the initial grants from that Fund, but I will see if we can get you an update.
Question: Is the Fund that the President of the United States talking about more to the Global Fund, or from the Fund already existing? It would be $1 billion, so it would be a lot.
Spokesman: You will have to see with Ambassador Negroponte what his Government intends to do with those contributions. It is not for me to say, but as far as the activities of the Fund, we will try to get you an update.
[Shortly after the briefing, it was announced that the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria stands at just over $2 billion and that the first set of grants was given to 40 programmes in 31 countries for a total of $378 million.]
Question: Is there a possibility that the Secretary-General will go into the afternoon meeting?
Spokesman: I have not heard that. He has a programme for this afternoon and he is coming in after lunch. He will be in the building. I would not expect him to go down, as they have asked for guidance from senior peacekeeping and legal affairs people, but you never know. He will have to make that judgement himself.
Question: In the report of the Secretary-General regarding the situation in Sierra Leone, there is no mention of a forthcoming trial for Foday Sankoh. It has been two years. What is the situation here?
Spokesman: Let me get an update on Foday Sankoh and give it to you later. I don't have it here. [It was later announced that since Mr. Sankoh is undergoing a national trial, the United Nations would not comment.]
Thank you very much.
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