DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
3 May 2004
Following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Fred Eckhard, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
**Guest at Noon
Joining us today is Carina Perelli, the Director of the Electoral Assistance Division in the Department of Political Affairs. And she will be briefing you on the electoral process in Iraq in a few minutes.
**Secretary-General in Washington
The Secretary-General was in Washington yesterday briefly, where he was interviewed by Tim Russert on NBC’s “Meet the Press” and also had a brief press encounter at the NBC studios on leaving, in which he mentioned his concerns about recent allegations concerning the abuse of Iraqi prisoners.
He emphasized that international humanitarian law must be respected, and added that he was encouraged that the US Government is taking the allegations seriously and intends to discipline those involved. It is important, he said, that it should be seen as dealing very firmly with this matter.
Asked about the 30 June deadline for the handover of power, the Secretary-General said he believes that we should do everything to make sure that the deadline is met.
**Iraq – Human Rights
The rapporteur for the UN Commission on Human Rights on the right to health today wrote to the Coalition Provisional Authority strongly recommending an independent and impartial inquiry into the health situation of the civilian population of Fallujah.
The rapporteur, Paul Hunt, notes serious allegations of the use of indiscriminate force, of the blocking of civilians from entering Fallujah’s main hospital and of firing upon ambulances. We have a press release with more on that upstairs.
The United Nations has warned that without immediately improved security, as well as access for humanitarian agencies, the crisis in Darfur, western Sudan, will worsen dramatically.
The warning came after a UN mission led by World Food Programme Executive Director James Morris wrapped up a visit to three states in the Darfur region last week to gather information on the humanitarian situation there.
The mission called upon the Government of Sudan to accelerate its efforts to control armed militias, provide security and protection for displaced people and facilitate humanitarian access.
A press release on this subject was issued in Khartoum over the weekend. And James Morris is scheduled to hold a press conference tomorrow in London at 3 p.m.
Pakistan has assumed the presidency of the Security Council for the month of May. There are no consultations or meetings scheduled for today.
The Council President, Ambassador Munir Akram of Pakistan, is holding bilateral consultations on the Security Council programme for the month.
Ambassador Akram is planning to brief you on the May programme at 3 p.m. here tomorrow.
The Secretary-General says that the United Nations still has work to do to help Timor-Leste attain self-sufficiency, and recommends that the UN peacekeeping mission in that country be extended by one more year.
In his latest report to the Security Council, the Secretary-General suggests that the UN Mission stay on for a one-year “consolidation phase,” during which it would support Timor-Leste’s public administration and justice system, its law enforcement efforts and its security and stability. He recommends keeping 310 troops, as well as a special unit of 125 gendarmerie, who would be on hand to complement, rather than replace, Timorese capability.
He also says that Timor-Leste and Indonesia should complete agreement on their land border and resolve the problems of the refugees, and notes the importance of progress between Australia and Timor-Leste on developing the mineral resources in the Timor Sea.
**Secretary-General – Trinity Lecture
The Secretary-General reflected on the nature of evil in relation to international affairs in his keynote speech at the Trinity Institute’s annual conference last night. The theme of the think tank’s conference was “Naming Evil: An Interfaith Dialogue”.
In his speech, the Secretary-General said he found the term “evil” to be too absolute, in that it seems to cut off any possibility of redemption or coexistence. He added that applying the word “evil” to another person is the moral equivalent of declaring war. We have copies of his speech upstairs.
**Press Freedom Day
The Secretary-General marked World Press Freedom Day by attending a panel on press freedom this morning, and paid tribute to the journalists killed in the line of duty –- 36 of them last year, and 17 in the first three months of this year.
He also drew attention to stories around the world that people need to know about, including the mounting emergency in northern Uganda, the turbulence in the nearby Central African Republic and the situation in Tajikistan. Those crises, he said, are each at a critical moment, when outside attention could make a real difference. We have his remarks available in my Office.
Also today, acting UN human rights chief Bertrand Ramcharan drew attention to the 133 journalists in prison around the world, and the more than 1,400 journalists physically attacked or threatened last year. In too many places, he warned, those in power are not ready to be held to account for their actions.
The Italian journalist and UN Messenger of Peace Anna Cataldi yesterday began a 10-day official visit to Afghanistan, where she will focus on the mine action work being done in that country. She will visit demining sites in and around Kabul, and in four other provinces, as well as a number of non-governmental demining and educational projects.
**Press Conference Tomorrow
Finally, on press conferences. Tomorrow at 11 a.m. in this room, Ambassador Philippe Djangone-Bi of Côte d’Ivoire, will be in this room to brief you on the situation in his country.
And then at approximately 12:15 p.m., the Secretary-General will be joined by US Secretary of State Colin Powell, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Irish Foreign Minister Brian Cowan, EU High Representative Javier Solana, and EU External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten at a press conference in the Trusteeship Council Chamber following a meeting of the Middle East Quartet.
Since this press conference will be taking place, we will not a have a noon briefing tomorrow. But we will be posting highlights on the Spokesman’s Web site as usual.
That’s all I have for you. Yes, Colum?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Yes, on oil-for-food and the Secretary-General’s remarks yesterday, NBC had presented this paper from OIP saying that that company Saybolt -- the company that worked with the UN shouldn’t provide documents to governments asking for those documents. Can you sort of explain to us what the policy is; why OIP is sort of, which is under investigation is sort of, has authority to make these kinds of decisions and also the person who wrote that letter what authority is he operating under? Is Benon Sevan still directing the policy? Is this coming from the Secretary-General’s Office?
Spokesman: This is standard procedure. So, the letter, which I am happy to show you, was signed by someone on Benon’s staff, but on the advice of the Office of Legal Affairs. So, it was an institutional response following the standard UN legal practice on the work of contractors. So, the practice with all UN contractors is that documentation held by the contractor relating to UN business can only be released to the United Nations unless otherwise authorized.
This letter didn’t say “no”, it just said consult us, consistent with our contractual requirements.
Question: It did say to say “no” about OIOS internal audits, though the position of the UN is that these should not be turned over. I understand GAO and some of the congressional committees have been trying to get their hands on these audits, 55 of them. Can you tell us what the policy is on those audits, and if you won’t turn them over, why? What’s the reasoning?
Spokesman: I’d have to ask about the audits. I don’t know that. But going back to this Saybolt letter, it was sent out just before the Volcker Committee was set up. Now that Volcker has taken charge of all these documents, they are in his hands. And as I said, I’d be happy to show you the letter after the briefing if you are interested in looking at it. And I’ll look into ... (Interrupted)
Question: ... that means he now has all the authority to decide whether to share with governments ... (Interrupted)
Spokesman: ... he requested that he take control of all the documentation. We are not opposed to sharing this documentation. We just ask to be consulted consistent with our contractual requirements.
Question: Yes, but we understand there are restrictions on the UN providing information, documents to other governments? There are no similar restrictions on the UN deciding on its own back to provide it to the press. So, I’d like to ask on behalf of my colleagues or myself for the (inaudible) to release to the press the 55 internal audits and the complete list of all the contractors and contracts that in fact may at one time have been commercial information, but that information is now well out of date and the programme is ended, so I can’t see any reason why you wouldn’t be willing to release that information?
Spokesman: I’ll relay your request and I’ll let you know what their reaction is. Yes, sir? [He later said that external audits were made available to members of the Security Council. Internal audits are management tools and are not made public as standard practice.]
Question: Will the Secretary-General meet with the Turkish Cypriot Prime Minister tomorrow? Can you confirm? I believe it says there is such a meeting tomorrow. And secondly, when do you expect the Secretary-General will release his report on Cyprus?
Spokesman: I don’t know about the report on Cyprus, and check with me later about tomorrow’s programme. I don’t have any details, but I can find out for you right after the briefing. Yes, Mark? [The meeting with the Turkish Cypriot leader was scheduled for 6 p.m. today. There is no time set yet for the Secretary-General’s report to the Security Council on Cyprus.]
Question: But what is factual is, is the report on Darfur available?
Spokesman: Let me check for you, I don’t actually know. [James Morris will brief the Council on Darfur later this week.]
Question: It says that the situation with the allegations and the protests and so forth, mistreatment of prisoners. Does the Secretary-General, is he satisfied that (a) an internal US investigation will unearth the truth on this or is there a reason to call for (inaudible) external or even an international investigation into what’s been happening?
Spokesman: I am not going to go beyond what he said yesterday, that he was satisfied that the US was taking the allegations seriously, would investigate it thoroughly, would punish those found guilty. And he said that the impact of these photos is causing great damage, and so, it’s important that the US be seen to be dealing with it seriously. That’s as far as he is ready to go right now. Evelyn?
Question: On the Middle East, the vote in Likud yesterday, is there a reaction and how is this going to have an impact on the Quartet talks?
Spokesman: We’ll have to see what happens in the Quartet talks. So, I don’t want to anticipate that. All we can say on the Likud referendum was that we noted with interest the referendum; we wait to see how the situation develops. The UN has welcomed the Gaza withdrawal plan. As you know, the Special Representative, Mr. Roed-Larsen, elaborated in detail on our views in his last brief to the Security Council. In principle, any withdrawal from occupied land is a positive development and they hopefully contribute to a revival of the peace process.
The Secretary-General believes that any withdrawal should clearly lead to an end of occupation and be carried out as part of the Quartet’s Road Map in cooperation with the Palestinian Authority and the international community. And all I can say is it’s safe to assume that these matters will be discussed by the Quartet when they meet tomorrow. Edie?
Question: Fred, is there a timetable for the talks? I know we know when the briefing is, but when are they starting?
Spokesman: I don’t have those particulars. They’re starting in the morning; they’re going to have this press conference and then they’re going to have a lunch. I think that’s the overall architecture. But the specific times, check with Stephane in my Office. [The morning meeting will be from 10 a.m. till noon.]
Question: As a follow-up, the experts met in London. Was there any read out from that meeting? I know Terje Roed-Larsen was there.
Spokesman: It was in preparation for this meeting tomorrow. I don’t think there is any read out. I’ll ask to see if they have anything to tell you. James?
Question: When Jalal Talabani was here on Friday after meeting the Secretary-General, he said in Baghdad they have a list of cash payments that perhaps included cash payments to UN officials. First of all, I believe the UN team led by Mr. Brahimi was shown that list when he went to Baghdad. Is that list, they showed cash payments within the scope of the Volcker investigation; if so, have they obtained any information on it? Do they even know about this list?
Spokesman: I don’t know if they know about it. I don’t know if Mr. Brahimi was shown it on his last visit. If such a list exists, then certainly that would be within the scope of Volcker’s investigation.
Question: Just a question on procedure within Volcker’s investigation. Are you the spokesman for Volcker’s investigation or there is some other special person in charge of the investigation?
Spokesman: No, I think Volcker is independent of the secretariat. I don’t know that he has a spokesman. There is an assistant, Walter McCormick, who has been handling inquiries from the press that we’ve passed on to him, and we have his number in my Office if you’d like it.
Question: Because there are going to be situations like this, which is, you may not know whether Volcker knows about this list of ...
Spokesman: ... that’s right.
Question: ... cash payments, and it would be good for us to have a check directly with Volcker.
Spokesman: That’s correct. Mr. Abbadi?
Question: The Secretary-General reflected on the term “evil” and you said that should be used in conjunction with actions, rather than with people. President Bush said that Saddam Hussein was an evil man. Does he, the Secretary-General disagree with that characterization?
Spokesman: The people who organized this conference asked the Secretary-General to reflect on evil; he did so in a general way. And applying that in individual cases is not going to be for me to speculate about. He is on the record saying what he said. Yes?
Question: What is the reaction of the Secretary-General concerning the maltreatment of Iraqi detainees by the soldiers?
Spokesman: It’s in the transcript of what he said yesterday in Washington, I read it out in part this morning. Bill?
Question: Is Mr. Sevan now officially retired?
Spokesman: No, his retirement date is the end of this month, and he is expected to be kept on so that he will be available to cooperate with the Volcker Committee for, I think an initial period of three months. I don’t know if those contractual details have been worked out. But he is expected to be extended to work with the Volcker Committee.
Question: In what capacity will he be?
Spokesman: I believe it’s a kind of a dollar-a year retainer. Just keeping him on the staff and in town so he will be available to work with Mr. Volcker as required.
Question: Can we request he comes to room 226 to speak with us?
Spokesman: I could ask. I don’t think he would want to speak to you before he speaks to Mr. Volcker. But I’ll ask.
Question: When he is going to meet Mr. Volcker?
Spokesman: I don’t know that any date has been set for that. I was making an assumption that Mr. Volcker would want to talk to him. I don’t know for a fact that he does. I assume he will. Yes?
Question: Fred, when asked yesterday about Mr. Brahimi’s comments on the Middle East, the Secretary-General said that probably Mr. Brahimi himself will not use those words again. Was he trying to prevent him from speaking his mind or just a matter of principle (Inaudible) ... content?
Spokesman: I think he preceded that comment by saying that he had spoken to Mr. Brahimi about his comments. And so, I think he was relaying the sense of their discussion and that he felt that probably Mr. Brahimi would not be using those words again. Bill?
Question: I need to clarify on Mr. Sevan. Three months from now he is being extended?
Spokesman: I’d have to check, but I believe his contract ends at the end of this month, May. And so, I believe what they’re working out with him now is a three-month extension beyond the end of May.
Question: That’s still August 30th, roughly?
Spokesman: Roughly. And it can be extended if necessary. We will probably ask Mr. Volcker and Mr. Sevan if that would be acceptable to them. Yes?
Question: Can I ask a further question, Tun Myat was at a point during a time when all these allegations were made was the Resident Coordinator; and he’s been fired now. Is there any similar thing going with him to make him available to the Volcker enquiry?
Spokesman: I’d have to check, or you ought to check with Mr. Volcker whether he would have any interest in talking to Tun Myat, I don’t know. Mr. Abbadi?
Question: Mr. Ramcharan, the interim Commissioner for Human Rights, issued a report on the situation in Ivory Coast and he said that 101 people were massacred and he implicated the highest authorities. Has the Secretary-General got in touch with Laurent Gbagbo on that subject?
Spokesman: No, that report, as far as I know, is in the Secretary-General’s Office now. And I am not aware that any action has been taken on it yet. David?
Question: I understand that the Secretary-General’s visit to Washington was for the occasion of an exclusive interview, a private interview. But I wonder, since that almost has the status of a public event, given the popularity of these types of shows, is it possible that your Office could put that information out on his schedule? I am not aware that that was put on his either written schedule or notified in the briefing.
Spokesman: Okay. We can do that in future. We thought we let everyone know, but I guess we didn’t. Yes?
Question: I would understand if ... (Inaudible) ... Stefanopoulos rather than Russert on Sunday. (Inaudible ... there was some change over there. I got (Inaudible).
Spokesman: That’s our planning. I can’t comment on that. Are we ready for Carina? Good.
* *** *
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|