DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
11 March 2004
Following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Fred Eckhard, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Upon entering the building this morning, the Secretary-General expressed his profound shock and indignation about the terrorist attack in Madrid, and said that the killing of innocent people cannot be justified, regardless of the cause, and he added his hope that the perpetrators would be brought to justice.
Asked about whether there would be an inquiry into President Aristide’s departure from Haiti, the Secretary-General said that would be a matter for the Security Council to take up. If the Council wanted an investigation and gave him a mandate, the Secretary-General added that he would be duty-bound to take it up.
Asked about the departure of Sergey Lavrov, who has been named Russian Foreign Minister –- and who met with the Secretary-General over the past hour for a farewell call -– the Secretary-General said the United Nations would miss him, and called him an excellent diplomat, with a good sense of wit.
We have copies of all of his comments available in a transcript upstairs.
I have often told you that I would never knowingly mislead you. And as it turns out, on the question of the “black box”, I did mislead you, although unknowingly.
Following the appearance in Le Monde of the article alleging that a black box, supposed to have been from the Falcon aircraft that crashed in Rwanda on 6 April 1994, killing the Presidents of Rwanda and Burundi, was in the United Nation’s possession, I denied it. In fact, I ridiculed the idea.
However, yesterday we were able to trace the paper trail of a black box, sent by pouch from the United Nations Mission in Rwanda in 1994, through Nairobi, Kenya to United Nations Headquarters in New York. That paper trail took us to the Air Safety Unit of the United Nations Peacekeeping Department, located in the UNITAR building across the street. And there, in a locked file cabinet, we found a black box.
I say a black box, not the black box, because what we found was in pristine condition. In fact, when it was received in the Peacekeeping Department’s Air Safety Unit 10 years ago, the officials in charge at that time apparently concluded that it could not have been the black box, because its pristine condition indicated that it had not been in a crash.
And because of that judgement, the Air Safety experts, after unsuccessfully trying to identify its source, put it in the file cabinet and did not report it up the chain of command.
None of the senior peacekeeping officials of the time had any knowledge of it. In fact, the first time that senior peacekeeping officials knew of this was yesterday. They then reported this to the Secretary-General’s Office.
The black box, which in fact is orange, is now under lock and key in this building. We intend to immediately turn it over to a qualified outside body for analysis of its contents.
The Secretary-General has also instructed the Office of Internal Oversight Services to look into exactly what happened 10 years ago. Until that investigation is completed, I will not be able to answer many of your more specific questions.
**Counter-Terrorism Conference in Vienna
A counter-terrorism conference, organized by the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, began in Vienna today with a minute of silence in honour of the victims of bomb attacks in Madrid.
The two-day conference is looking at ways to strengthen the joint efforts of international organizations in their global actions against terrorism.
The United Nations Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee Chairman, Ambassador Inocencio Arias, opened today’s session by pointing to the collaboration between the OSCE and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime as an example for other organizations to adopt in the fight against terrorism.
We have more in a press release.
The Security Council is expected to vote on a resolution condemning the Madrid attack following this morning’s consultations.
The Council is holding consultations on Eritrea and Ethiopia, with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General Legwaila Joseph Legwaila briefing members on the most recent report.
On Haiti, a security assessment mission by the World Food Programme and UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, yesterday reached the northern city of Cap Haitien, via Gonaives.
Tomorrow, there’ll be an assessment mission of the road from the capital, Port-au-Prince, to the Dominican Republic border.
The World Food Programme has reported a contribution of 100 trucks from the Norwegian Government, which will be used to reinforce logistics capacity. In addition, water trucking has resumed in Port-au-Prince. UNICEF says it’s received $300,000 worth of medical supplies, and the French Red Cross has donated seven ambulances.
However, overall, the United Nations is very concerned, as many hospitals and schools still aren’t functioning due to the security conditions.
There are also concerns that while there are some food stocks left in the city of Gonaives, these may soon run out due to road blocks.
**Sierra Leone Special Court
In a letter to the Security Council President out as a document today, the Secretary-General draws attention to the funding shortfall of the Sierra Leone Special Court.
In it, the Secretary-General proposes to members of the Council that one way of addressing the shortfall would be for all or part of the third year costs of the Court to be provided by assessed contributions while preserving the independence of the Court. He says that the Security Council may wish him to bring the matter to the attention of the General Assembly with a view to seeking the appropriation of funds for the Court.
I draw your attention to the Secretary-General’s remarks at the press encounter this morning on this matter. At that encounter, he said “I think they have the possibility to take the decision before we run out of money”.
A small United Nations technical mission arrived in Cambodia yesterday to help with practical arrangements for launching the Extraordinary Chambers for the Khmer Rouge Trials.
The two-member team will try to finalize a choice of premises for that court; discuss arrangements on services, equipment and facilities provided by Cambodia; and review budget estimates for the Court’s work, among other tasks. It is expected that they’ll be in the country until 18 March.
Almost 2,000 Afghans have been helped to return from Pakistan in the week since the United Nations Refugees Agency (UNHCR) and the Afghan Government resumed the repatriation program. UNHCR estimates that 400,000 Afghans will return from Pakistan over the course of the year, with the pace of returns expected to pick up in the coming weeks.
We have more details in today’s briefing notes from Kabul, which also mention the work by the first unit of Afghanistan’s Counter-Narcotics Police, which was established with the support of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
The Johannesburg Office of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has sent an emergency team to Madagascar to help coordinate the response to tropical cyclone Gafilo. The Government of Madagascar requested international assistance after the cyclone hit the northeast of the country earlier this month. So far, 17 people have been confirmed dead, and nearly 4,000 people have lost their homes. We have more on this upstairs.
An update on “bird flu”. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has warned that countries affected by bird flu should not restock their flocks too quickly to avoid the disease flaring up again.
FAO says that two months after the outbreak of the epidemic some countries are already planning to declare selected zones disease-free and to restock decimated flocks. So far, 22 people have died of bird flu, and it’s also led to the death of millions of birds throughout Asia. We have more in a press release.
**ILO Governing Body Meeting
The Governing Body of the International Labour Organization (ILO) began its 289th session in Geneva today.
It plans to hold a wide-ranging debate on the social dimension of globalization -– the findings and conclusions of the recently published report “A Fair Globalization: Creating Opportunities for All”, will be at the centre of these discussions. The ILO meeting ends on 26 March and we have more on that upstairs.
The spearheading partners in the fight to wipe out polio -– these include the World Health Organization and UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund -– have welcomed Canada’s announcement of an additional $9.7 million to support the global polio eradication campaign.
The contribution comes in response to a stepping up of eradication efforts in the few countries that remain polio-endemic.
Polio has been beaten back to just a few remaining strongholds, mainly in Nigeria, India and Pakistan -– and efforts are currently under way to head off an outbreak that’s spreading from Nigeria to previously polio-free areas of west and central Africa. We have more on that upstairs.
**CameroonNigeria Mixed Commission
And finally, a delegation from Cameroon, Nigeria, and the United Nations on a mission to mobilize further diplomatic and financial support for the work of the Cameroon-Nigeria Mixed Commission is arriving in New York later today. The Commission is implementing the 2002 Judgment of the International Court of Justice related to the border dispute between those two countries.
The delegation composed of Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for West Africa, Amadou Ali, Minister of State for Justice and Keeper of the Seals of the Republic of Cameroon, and Prince Bola Ajibola, former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, will brief you here at 11:30 tomorrow morning.
And that’s all I have for you.
Any questions? Yes, Mark.
Questions and Answers
Question: I don’t know where to begin with this black box story. It’s extraordinary. So, I just want to fully understand what you’re saying, that this black box was passed from Rwanda to Nairobi to New York, that nobody said anything to anybody about it, despite this being probably one of the most contentious issues surrounding the Rwandan genocide over recent years. There was never any question asked by any senior UN official as to whether there was any of this evidence being supplied to the UN. No one was made aware of anything. Is that what you’re telling us?
Spokesman: We don’t know enough yet about who might have spoken to whom or who might have filed a report or piece of paper. That’s what the Inspector General will be looking into.
Question: Could you give us names of who’s had it in his or her office?
Spokesman: The head of the air safety unit at the time is mentioned in the Le Monde article as Andy Sequin.
Question: I don’t care about the Le Monde article. Who does the UN say as to who passed the box to who, at what time, who was overseeing it, who’s [inaudible]?
Spokesman: We are in the process of looking at the paper trail. I’m referring to the Le Monde article because the Le Monde article related very specific charges against the United Nations, said that an air safety person in the UN Mission in Rwanda, on the authority of the head of the air safety unit here at Headquarters, sent a black box from the UN Mission in Kigali to New York Headquarters, by pouch, via Nairobi. What was sent at that time, 10 years ago, showed up in a file cabinet across the street.
Question: Where was the filing cabinet? How did it just suddenly show up? Did nobody know it was in this filing cabinet?
Spokesman: It was on the inquiry of senior peacekeeping officials responding to the information in the Le Monde article that inquiries were made in the air safety unit. A search was conducted and the box was found. Now, it appears, but again this is very preliminary, it appears that the air safety officials at the time judged from the appearance of this black box that it had no connection with the air crash that killed the two presidents because it was in pristine condition. We’ll look further into that. We will send this black box out, as soon as possible, to a responsible authority -– I’m not sure which one yet, I’ll tell you as soon as we know –- to have its contents analysed.
Question: So just to fully understand, you looked at the box and said… it wasn’t sent for any independent confirmation, no one tested what was inside the box, no one looked. It was just on the say so of an air safety official that it didn’t look like it could be.
Spokesman: More than one air safety official looked at this black box, concurred that it could not have been in a crash, assumed therefore that it was not related to the sixth of April crash, made an effort to identify it as best as we could tell from the papers we have been able to look at just in the last 24 hours. But I’m already getting into more detail than I want to here because I want the Inspector General to go through all these papers and reconstruct as accurately as possible what actually happened. Warren?
Question: On the very same point, you initially said that it was a black box, not the black box. Does that mean that the UN has decided a black box that had been in a crash could not emerge in such pristine condition or is that still a question to be answered? In other words, you sounded definitive when you said it was a black box, not the black box. Did you mean to sound that definitive?
Spokesman: I think I would reserve final judgement until it’s sent out to be examined by the experts. The people who made that judgement 10 years ago were experts in these matters to a certain extent. And the pristine condition of the box indicated to them apparently very clearly that this could not have been in a plane crash. And that’s the reason they just set it aside. You have to remember 1994 –- 70,000 peacekeeping personnel worldwide in 17 or 18 missions being managed by a small department of 200 people. You make quick judgements and move on to the next thing.
It appears that in the judgement of these air safety experts, this black box was not linked to a plane crash and they set it aside after making apparently some effort circulating index numbers or something found on it. They got no response indicating where this thing might have come from. I don’t think we know enough yet how it showed up at the UN peacekeeping mission’s headquarters in Kigali. All of those things are things that the Inspector General will be looking into.
Question: My question, Fred, was not about what went on then. It was just to make sure that you meant to imply, which you did originally by saying it is not the black box, it is a black box. Are you saying that it cannot the black box or is that still a question to be answered?
Spokesman: If I sounded definitive then maybe I’m prejudging the results of the analysis we will ask some international qualified body to carry out. I was rather reflecting the judgements of the air traffic controllers of the day who felt it could not be the black box for the reasons I mentioned.
Question: But it could be the black box? I mean you didn’t mean to rule out that ultimate finding did you? Because it sounded like you were, that’s why I’m asking.
Spokesman: My understanding is, if you have a black box in pristine condition, it cannot have been in a crash. That was the judgement of our experts. Now, maybe I want to pull back a little bit and say until this thing goes out for analysis, we will not make a final determination. But on the face of it, there’s no reason why we would think that judgement made by those experts 10 years ago was faulty judgement but to make sure we’re going to send it out for analysis. Yes?
Question: You don’t have any information at all about how it got into the UN’s hands to begin with, and could you describe how this paper trail began? Did you go to peacekeeping and say, have you ever received a black box you haven’t accounted for, or how did that…?
Spokesman: I don’t have those details but, I mean, there is a paper record of pouch deliveries. There are files on the UN Mission in Rwanda. I don’t know exactly what they looked at but they reconstructed from files that they looked at over the last 24 hours, found that this press report that a black box had been sent from Kigali to New York 10 years ago, which I initially dismissed as ridiculous because I checked with all the senior officials and no one knew anything about it. But when we tracked it through the air safety unit across the street, we found it. And the explanation given for why it was not reported up the chain was that it was unlikely to be related to the plane crash.
Question: Fred, when this black box showed up and they determined that it couldn’t have been in a crash, I’m understanding this to mean that they just simply said that well this couldn’t have been the black box from the crash so we’re going to put it in a drawer and forget about it. They never sort of asked what was in this black box, they just said, well it couldn’t have been in a crash so it’s just…I mean, don’t they have the responsibility to even though it may not have been in a crash to look at what’s in the box?
Spokesman: They looked at what’s on it but apparently, and here I’m not an expert and let’s wait for the experts to decide, you cannot get inside the black box without some kind of expensive expert process. You can’t get at the tapes. So they did not have the capability to analyse its contents. There was apparently something like a serial number or a tag, they sent out inquiries on the basis of the number, they got no confirmation from anywhere that this box belonged to a particular plane. It was a very busy time for peacekeeping. There seemed to be no reason at the time to attach significance to this thing. It went in a drawer and it was forgotten for 10 years.
Question: As a follow-up, how frequent is it that the United Nations receives a black box, whether it be DPKO or anyone else for that matter, because it would seem to me to be a very rare occurrence.
Spokesman: Yes, it’s probably very unusual. I can’t say unique, but I think it’s safe to say it’s very unusual.
Question: And so by virtue of that, wasn’t there someone out there that said, even if we sent out the serial number, we need to get to the bottom of this right away, because this is such a rare occurrence.
Spokesman: In their judgement, there was no link to a crash. It was just a scientific object that seemed not to have been used. There was no information that we can see about how it ended up in the Peacekeeping headquarters in Kigali. Cambodia was on,Somalia was on, Bosnia --
Question: In the intervening period, did not the French magistrate investigating this request the United Nations for help in identifying the whereabouts of the reported black box?
Spokesman: I don’t believe so. I don’t believe that previous inquiries from the French Magistrate –- but let me check that –- but I don’t think there was any specific reference to the black box. Yes sir?
Question: On the terrorist attack in Madrid, did the Secretary-General receive any communication from the Spanish Government, and if so, is there any indication of who was the author of this criminal act?
Spokesman: No, I don’t think we would have any idea of who carried out this act. That would have to be determined, or investigated, by Spanish authorities. To my knowledge, the Secretary-General had no contact with any Spanish officials this morning. I didn’t check his entire phone log before coming down. I can do that for you if you want to ask me after the briefing.
Question: Fred, just back to the black box for one more moment. You illustrated a little while ago with numbers how busy a period that was. Can you just repeat those numbers for me, how many peacekeeping missions and the number of people on them?
Spokesman: I would have to double-check, but it was something like 17 missions and between 70,000 and 80,000 United Nations personnel. And I believe the size of the Peacekeeping Department was something like 200, which if you went to any ministry of defence they would find that a laughable ratio.
[He later corrected that to say it was 16 missions with a total of about 70,000.]
Question: Just once again, could you walk us through what the modus operandi will be from here on in, in other words, what happens from here on in with this black box and with this investigation.
Spokesman: Two things, because there was initially an allegation that this box was connected to the plane crash of 6 April, we will send it out to the competent authorities to analyse its content. Second, the Secretary-General wants to know exactly what went on 10 years ago that this matter wasn’t reported up the chain, and he’s asked the Inspector General to do an investigation.
Question: When you speak of competent authorities, what does that mean? Who are we talking about? Is it a United Nations internal or an external body?
Spokesman: We don’t know. This happened just in the last few hours, and as soon as we determine who is competent in an impartial way to break open this box and listen to the tapes and see if there’s anything on the tapes, see if it had ever been used, we would send it to those authorities. As soon as I know whom we’re going to send it to, I will squawk it.
Question: Just to make it very clear for the record –- and I would appreciate it if you spell out with the names attached –- did Kofi Annan or Jean-Marie Guéhenno know that this black box was in the United Nations?
Spokesman: No, no idea.
Question: So could you spell that out, who didn’t have any idea, on the record?
Spokesman: Kofi Annan, as Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, as Head of the Peacekeeping Department before that had no knowledge. Iqbal Riza, the Chief of Staff and previously number two in the Peacekeeping Department had no knowledge. Hedi Annabi, Mr. Riza’s Deputy in the Peacekeeping Department at that time, had no knowledge. General Baril, the Military Adviser in the Peacekeeping Department at that time, had no knowledge. General Dallaire, the Commander of the Peacekeeping Mission in Rwanda, had no knowledge.
Question: And Jean-Marie Guéhenno?
Spokesman: I don’t know. I would have to ask him, but there’s no reason to think he would know if all these other people didn’t know. I mean, these were people who were on the scene, in responsible positions, at the time. Mr. Guéhenno came in afterwards. But I would have no reason to think he would know. But I’ll double check for you, and I’ll give you that on the record, too.
Question: Do you know who actually handed over this black box in 1994, 10 years ago? Do you have any names?
Spokesman: Yes, that name was in the Le Monde report. I think the name was Roger Lambo, and I believe he was head of the air safety unit, or Air Operations Unit for the peacekeeping mission in Rwanda. And I believe he has also worked, I know he’s worked subsequently; he may have worked previously, for the International Civil Aviation Organization in Montreal.
Question: So he handed it over to whom here at the United Nations?
Spokesman: He sent it by pouch on the instructions of the head of the air safety unit here in the Peacekeeping Department at Headquarters, whose name was Andy Sequin.
Question: Can an organization or an individual for that matter hold such a thing as a black box for an extended period of time, just leaving it in a drawer? Isn’t there some kind of international legal framework, that says, if you’ve got a black box, you’ve got to tell us, somebody has got to get to the bottom of what’s in the black box as soon as possible. In other words, I’m just of sort playing around with the idea as to whether the United Nations could be held liable for having held on to such an instrument for so long without anybody else knowing about it.
Spokesman: I don’t know. We’ll have to ask the lawyers that. This apparently was sent to New Yorktwo to three months after the plane crash, which means two to three months into the genocide, which means time when the Security Council was downsizing the United Nations mission, but I don’t have an answer to this legal question.
Question: Is it possible at this stage to tell us what the markings are on this particular black or orange box?
Spokesman: No, I don’t have that information. I understand there was some kind of an index number, and some kind of a tag, but that’s really all I have right now.
Question: Could we find that please? That would be very helpful. And could we also have a briefing from the air safety unit of peacekeeping to explain what happened?
Spokesman: We’re not going to know what happened until the Inspector General concludes his report, so I think what we’re asking now is for you to give us time to investigate it. We hope to have very soon an expert opinion by some international body on what’s inside this orange black box.
Question: Two last things, will that report be made public once the investigation is completed?
Spokesman: I assume so, but then I don’t know about the procedures of whatever body it is we’re going to give it to, but we will let you know what their conclusions were. Whether we can give you a piece of paper that they produce, or not, I can’t tell you.
Question: Yesterday, in the National Review Online, Claudia Rosett, in a long piece on the United Nations “oil-for-food” programme raised again the connection between Kofi Annan, United Nations Secretary-General and his son, who was connected to Cotecna, which was the agency that overviewed the oil-for-food programme. Did the United Nations ever do any investigation into a possible conflict of interest of the Secretary-General’s son working for the organization that got the contract –-
Spokesman: The Inspector General at the time did something, and the Director of Management at the time, Joseph Connor, issued a statement. I mean, this is old stuff. I think we answered quite fully and amply any questions regarding Kojo Annan’s relationship with Cotecna. I can dig that stuff out of the file for you and share it with you.
Question: One last question if I may on the black box issue, what is the more urgent priority right now for the Secretary-General? Is it to find out what the paper trail is, in other words the Inspector-General’s report, or is it to find out what is in the black box?
Spokesman: The latter, and I think that’s the information we’ll get first.
Question: On Guantanamo, the Secretary-General said earlier today that he doesn’t sense any movement on the part of the Security Council to handle the issue of the Guantanamo detainees. Does that mean that the Security Council will not at any given point deal with that issue or does it mean that the Security Council does not have the authority to deal with that issue?
Spokesman: I think you’d better ask the Council President that question. The Secretary-General was giving you his personal view, his sense of the mood of the Council. But what the Council was going to do or feels empowered to do, you’ll have to ask the Council.
Question: In terms of the United Nations Charter, is that something that the United Nations Charter in any way deals with?
Spokesman: We’ll have to ask the Legal Counsel. I don’t know that.
Question: On another topic, there is a woman in Maryland today who was arrested and indicted in this case involving the two sons of a former Iraqi diplomat who alleged to have been spying out of the United Nations Iraqi mission from 1999 to 2002. Is the United Nations cooperating with United States officials on this investigation at all and has the Secretary-General had any reaction on this development today?
Spokesman: I’m not aware of what you’re telling me now. I’d have to look into it. I assume that we would cooperate with any investigation but I don’t know the particulars of this case that you mention. If you check with me afterwards, we’ll see what we can find out.
Question: I was just wondering that if in the period of renegotiating the contract, the Office of the Iraq Programme found any evidence supporting the allegations that there was a regular surcharge of 10 per cent put on procurement contracts by Iraq under the oil-for-food programme, and whether the United Nations has gone any further in responding or cooperating with the investigation now under way by KPMG in Iraq on questions surrounding possible corruption in the oil-for-food programme.
Spokesman: I don’t have any information on your first question. I think I’d have to refer that to the oil-for-food programme, if we can find anyone left in those offices…
Question: The oil-for-food programme regularly just says, look at the Web site.
Spokesman: Now that it’s closed down. On the second, I’ll have to ask.
Thank you very much.
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