DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
29 January 2003
Following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Fred Eckhard, Spokesman for the Secretary-General, and Richard Sydenham, Spokesman for the President of the General Assembly.
Spokesman for Secretary-General
**State of Union Address by United States President
Good afternoon. We are going to start with a statement contributable directly to the Secretary-General concerning President Bush’s State of the Union Message last night, which reads, as follows:
“I congratulate the President of the United States on his pledge to provide stronger U.S. leadership in combating the devastating impact of the global AIDS epidemic. An additional $10 billion –- making a total of $15 billion over the next five years, with a new emphasis on access to life-saving treatment and care for millions of people -– will make a vital impact, not only in saving lives, but also in staving off the very real threat to stability that AIDS represents in the worst affected regions.
“I am particularly pleased that $1 billion is initially to go to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which is a key instrument for the international community in giving strategic direction to the global struggle against HIV/AIDS.
“We know, from experiences on every continent, that success is possible in preventing infection and in treating and caring for those infected. But, too often, the lack of resources has prevented projects from growing into the full-scale national strategies required for success. President Bush has confirmed his belief that AIDS can be defeated. I hope the U.S. Congress will accept the President’s challenge and ensure the needed funding is made available as quickly as possible, in keeping with the urgency of this crisis. And I hope that this example will encourage other governments to follow suit.”
We also have a statement from Stephen Lewis, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, welcoming the announcement, as well.
The Security Council resumed consultations on Iraq a few moments ago, with the Secretary-General, as well as UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) Executive Chairman Hans Blix and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei, attending. The consultations may continue after 3 o’clock in the afternoon, if needed.
Late yesterday afternoon, the Security Council approved two resolutions. One extended the Liberia sanctions panel of experts for a further three months, and the other strongly supported the "Kimberley process" for rough diamond certification, as a valuable contribution against trafficking in conflict diamonds.
We have a report from Baghdad from the UN inspectors, saying that today an UNMOVIC biological team inspected the University of Technology in central Baghdad. A second biological team inspected two agricultural field stations about 45 kilometres north-west of Baghdad, while a third biological team inspected sites belonging to the State Company for Drugs Marketing Appliances about 10 kilometres north of Baghdad. If you want more details, see the full report.
Yesterday afternoon, the Secretary-General delivered a statement on Côte d’Ivoire in consultations, after which he spoke to reporters.
He said the agreement reached in Paris offers the Ivorian parties a chance to restore peace and stability in that country, and appealed to all the people of Ivory Coast to stop the violence, and to return to their normal life. The Secretary-General also said he would be appointing a special representative to act on his behalf on the ground, and will be submitting further proposals to them as to what the UN can do.
Security Council President Jean-Marc de la Sablière, in a press statement, urged the parties to implement the accord constructively without delay and to avoid further violence.
**Côte d’Ivoire –- Human Rights
We have available on the racks a report, transmitted to the Secretary-General and to the Security Council, on the mission which travelled late last month to Cote d’Ivoire, headed by Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Bertrand Ramcharan.
The mission notes that, according to estimates that it received during its visit, between 1,000 and 2,000 people have been killed in the conflict so far, with many of the deaths being the result of summary executions. It says that many politicians and businesspeople have been murdered in Abidjan, in killings which, according to testimony, are organized by death squads and private militias.
The mission also reports allegations about the existence of mass graves, cases of detentions and disappearances on all sides, and reports of torture and sexual violence, including gang rape, which both the Government and the rebels accused the other side of perpetrating.
The report says that “the Ivorian crisis is characterized by the scale of acts of hatred and xenophobia”, and it calls on the Government and the rebel leaders to prevent excesses and bring to justice those responsible for them, as well as to protect people at risk.
**Côte d’Ivoire – Humanitarian
Carolyn McAskie, the Secretary-General’s Humanitarian Envoy for the crisis in Côte d’Ivoire, left Abidjan for Ghana today. In addition to Ghana, Ms. McAskie will be visiting Burkina Faso, Guinea, Liberia and Mali to assess the humanitarian impact of the Côte d’Ivoire crisis on those countries.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, meanwhile, announced that it partially resumed its operations in Côte d’Ivoire, sending 100 Liberian refugees home from the south-west.
Just after noon today in Nicosia, Cyprus, the office of the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Cyprus, Alvaro de Soto, received a piece of mail from overseas containing a suspicious white powder. Immediately, security officers from the UN mission in Cyprus were alerted and standard precautionary measures were put into effect.
The area adjacent to the offices in question was cordoned off and an investigation was begun by the UN military police unit. At the same time, Cyprus government officials were alerted by the UN. Tests were carried out on samples to determine the exact nature of the powder and whether the substance is dangerous. These have proved negative. However, further tests are being conducted, and the outcome of those will be known only tomorrow.
As a precautionary measure, the meeting between the Turkish Cypriot leader, Rauf Denktash, and the Greek Cypriot leader, Glafcos Clerides, hosted by de Soto, was moved from the UN Protected Area at the old Nicosia international airport to Ledra Palace, another UN building in the buffer zone between north and south Nicosia.
Meanwhile, some 50 people, UN staff and members of the technical committees, who had been meeting at the Nicosia Conference Centre at the time of the incident, underwent precautionary decontamination procedures.
In a report released today, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) warns that two decades of warfare in Afghanistan have degraded the environment to the extent it now presents a special stumbling block for the country's reconstruction efforts.
The post-conflict environment assessment report, produced in close cooperation with the Afghanistan Transitional Authority, shows how conflict has destroyed infrastructure, hindered agricultural activity and driven people into cities already lacking the most basic public amenities. The report says that over 80 per cent of the Afghan people live in rural areas, yet they have seen many of their basic resources -- water for irrigation, trees for food and fuel -- lost in just one generation.
In urban areas, safe water may be reaching as few as 12 per cent of the people. Tests of drinking water in urban areas revealed high concentrations of bacterial contaminants, which create a threat to public health. The rural assessment also found that widespread loss of forest had occurred across much of the country during the past 30 years. Satellite imagery reveals that forests in three of the provinces surveyed had been reduced by over a half since 1978.
**Democratic Republic of the Congo
The UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) announced this morning that a contingent of 176 Chinese army engineers would be deployed to Kindu and Bukavu in the eastern part of the country. This will constitute the single most important Chinese contribution to any of the current UN peacekeeping operations. As of December of last year, China had 123 people serving in seven different missions, including 69 civilian police in East Timor.
And in terms of the mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, this is the first major deployment of Phase III.
James Morris, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Humanitarian Needs in Southern Africa, and Stephen Lewis, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, today concluded a one-week visit to southern Africa. In Johannesburg, they warned that, although the international community has succeeded in averting a humanitarian catastrophe in the region, the AIDS pandemic threatens the very existence of countries.
“Without a radical and urgent approach, which addresses the terrifying reality of the pandemic and how it is indelibly woven with chronic food shortages”, said Morris, “even worse crises will stalk vulnerable people for generations to come.” He went on, “I am overwhelmed by the very real prospect of nations of orphans.”
Lewis added that the pandemic is preying on women in particular and “threatening them in a way that the world has not yet confronted”. The envoys will issue a report on the mission that took them to Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Zambia, and are expected to call for a bold new approach from the international community. We have a press release with more details.
**Security Council Sanctions
The Security Council committee on sanctions against Al Qaeda has added two more individuals to its list, which is updated regularly on the basis of information provided by Member States and regional organizations. We have the updated list available on the committee Web site.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said, following the announcement in Japan yesterday, that it is correcting the amount of plutonium declared in its past accountancy reports to the IAEA, that it has recognized for some time that the amount of nuclear material transferred to waste storage in Japan had not been adequately measured in the past.
IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei said that the Agency remains confident in its conclusion that no nuclear material has been diverted from Japan’s Tokai Reprocessing Plant. The IAEA has been working with the Japanese authorities and the Plant’s operators to introduce improved measurement techniques there. The Agency has been inspecting that facility since 1977. We have details in a press release from the IAEA.
**International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda
Carla Del Ponte, the prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, announced today that the Secretary-General has appointed Bongani Christopher Majola of South Africa, previously the head of the South African Legal Resources Centre, as the Tribunal’s deputy prosecutor. Majola arrived in Arusha, United Republic of Tanzania, yesterday and will take up his duties immediately. Del Ponte also announced that she has recommended the appointment of Melanie Gertrude Werrett, a British and Zimbabwean national, as the Chief of Prosecutions for the Tribunal. We have a press release with details.
On Sierra Leone, the UN Development Programme’s Governance Unit is working with justice officials in Sierra Leone so that judges, clerks and bailiffs in that country can receive intensive training this month to work in rural areas during Sierra Leone’s post-conflict period.
Magistrate courts resumed work in northern Sierra Leone last November, for the first time in five years, and UNDP is helping to provide training for 87 court officers on legal and judicial principles and procedures, human rights and related topics. We have a press release on that.
And last, at 11:15 a.m. tomorrow, there will be a press conference in this room, featuring Ambassador John Donaldson, the Special Envoy of the Government of Trinidad and Tobago, to discuss security and terrorism-related issues.
That is all I have for you. Anything before we go to the Spokesman for the General Assembly?
**Questions and Answers
Question: I would like to note that the Media and Accreditation Unit and the UN Security should be congratulated on the way they managed the presence of some 700 correspondents Monday. One was hardly aware that so many were here. Do you have the total number of journalists that were here, or should I get it from them?
Spokesman: Get that from them, but your estimate of ... did you say 700? I think it was something like 650, what they estimated. The feedback we get from you has been generally positive on how things went yesterday. Thank you.
Spokesman for General Assembly President
This morning, President Kavan chaired the first meeting of the Open-ended Working Group on the Question of Equitable Representation on and Increase in the Membership of the Security Council and Other Matters Related to the Security Council. This was a brief organizational meeting at which two vice-chairs were appointed, and the programme of work was adopted.
Immediately following this meeting, President Kavan chaired the 80th plenary session.
The President announced that, under Article 19 of the Charter, Antigua and Barbuda, Cape Verde and Kenya have made necessary payments to reduce their arrears below the amount specified in Article 19 of the Charter.
The plenary then decided to appoint Jun Yamazaki as a member of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) to fill the unexpired portion of the term of office of Juichi Takahara, following the latter’s resignation.
The General Assembly plenary then proceeded with the election of 11 judges to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, from a list of 23 nominations forwarded by the Security Council. The present judges’ term of office ends on 24 May 2003 and the term of office is four years.
As of the beginning of this briefing, the plenary had not returned the results of the election. I will make the list available when the results are in.
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