DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
14 May 2004
Following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Fred Eckhard, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
**Statement Attributable to Spokesman for Secretary-General
We’re going to start with a statement attributable to the Spokesman on the subject of Myanmar.
“The Secretary-General is disappointed to learn that an agreement has not been reached for the participation of the National League for Democracy (NLD) and some other ethnic nationality parties in the National Convention due to begin on 17 May.
“He believes that the opportunity represented by the National Convention should not be missed. He therefore urges all parties concerned, even at this late hour, to make every effort in the next two days to reach an agreement, taking into account suggestions made by the NLD and by other political and ethnic nationality parties, and to move the democratization and national reconciliation process forward.
“The Secretary-General reiterates his call for the removal of all the remaining restrictions imposed on Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her deputy, U Tin Oo, and the reopening of NLD offices, so that the National Convention can be reconvened in an all-inclusive manner with all political parties, including the NLD and ethnic nationality parties.”
The Secretary-General’s Special Adviser, Lakhdar Brahimi, today is in the northern Iraqi city of Erbil, where this afternoon he was scheduled to hold talks with Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani.
Also in Iraq is Carina Perelli, who heads the UN electoral mission to Iraq, and she spoke to the press in Baghdad yesterday saying that 15 May is the deadline to accept candidates for the independent electoral commission for Iraq. Anyone can be nominated for that commission, she added.
Meanwhile, Perelli said, her team will be holding public meetings so that Iraqis can have a say in the rules that are to guide the process for elections next January. They also have been dealing with the Iraqi Governing Council and its legislative committee dealing with elections, to obtain agreement on an electoral law.
**Security Council – Côte d’Ivoire
The first item on the Security Council consultations agenda today is Côte d’Ivoire.
Acting High Commissioner for Human Rights Bertrand Ramcharan briefed members on the report of the Independent Commission of Inquiry established by his office at the request of the Secretary-General on events which took place on 25 and 26 March in Abidjan.
The Security Council President will make a press statement on Côte d’Ivoire immediately after consultations.
Also on Côte d’Ivoire, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said today that, in accordance with the Linas-Marcoussis Agreement of January 2003, it was in the process of setting up an independent commission of inquiry to look into serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law which occurred in that country between 19 September 2002 and the signing of that agreement.
**Security Council - Other
In its consultations today, the Security Council is also expected to discuss the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and a presidential statement was introduced.
A formal meeting to vote on a resolution extending the mandate of the UN Mission of Support in East Timor is also scheduled.
**Gaza – Human Rights
The acting High Commissioner for Human Rights also says he is alarmed over the violence and death following Israeli incursions into Gaza this week.
Ramcharan urges all concerned to stop the violence in Gaza and to resume negotiations, in line with the calls of the Quartet, aimed at securing a lasting settlement and respect for all human rights.
He emphasizes the duty of protection of human rights even in armed conflict and appeals to all concerned to live up to this obligation. We have his full statement upstairs.
**CTC Executive Director
The Secretary-General, in a letter to the Security Council President, has informed members of his intention to appoint Javier Ruperez of Spain as Executive Director of the Counter-Terrorism Executive Directorate at the Assistant Secretary-General level.
The Security Council requested the Secretary-General to make the appointment in resolution 1535, which restructured the Counter-Terrorism Committee. The Executive Directorate was established as a special political mission for an initial period ending 31 December 2007, subject to a comprehensive review by the Council by the end of 2005, and will be headed by an Executive Director.
The appointment becomes formal when the Security Council responds with an official reply.
**Statement Attributable to Spokesman of Secretary-General
I have a statement attributable to the Spokesman on Eritrea/Ethiopia here:
“The Secretary-General is dismayed at the recent public attacks made by the Eritrean authorities against the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) and its staff, as well as the restrictions imposed on its operations. UNMEE has investigated each and every allegation made against its staff, and has taken action and shared their outcome, where appropriate, with the Government of Eritrea. However, the tone and scope of the recent unfortunate statements made by the Eritrean authorities can seriously impact on the effectiveness of the Mission in the performance of its mandated tasks, and could also endanger the security of its personnel.
“The Secretary-General expresses his hope that both parties, and in particular the Government of Eritrea, will engage UNMEE in a constructive manner, allowing the Mission the indispensable freedom of movement and the necessary cooperation to carry out its mandate in accordance with the Algiers Agreements and the relevant Security Council resolutions.”
**Western Sahara – Family Visits
On Western Sahara, UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, has expanded its family visit programme between refugees in Algeria and their relatives back in the Territory of Western Sahara. This morning, UNHCR started a month-long series of flights between Algeria's refugee camps and the city of Smarra.
Smarra is the third Western Saharan city to be included in the confidence-building initiative, which has been under way since 5 March.
To date, more than 420 people –- both refugees and residents of the Territory –- have participated in the weekly flights, many of them seeing family members for the first time in decades. We have a press release on that.
**Burundi - Humanitarian
There are half as many people in camps for internally displaced persons in Burundi as there were two years ago, according to a new survey led by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The results of the survey show that the number of the displaced persons dropped from 281,000 in 2002 to some 140,000 today. We have a press release on that.
**Secretary-General and Africa
The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for West Africa, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, will deliver a message on behalf of the Secretary-General at the Summit of the 18-member Community of Sahelo-Saharan States, which will take place in Bamako, Mali, from 15 to 16 May.
Ould-Abdallah is on his way back from Tunisia where, as a member of a tripartite delegation from Cameroon, Nigeria, and the United Nations, he had meetings with officials from the African Development Bank (ADB) as part of current efforts to muster financial and diplomatic support for the work of the Cameroon-Nigeria Mixed Commission.
The 2001 Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants enters into force on Monday, marking the start of an international effort to rid the world of some of the most toxic chemicals known to humankind.
The UN Environment Programme says the Convention will save lives and protect the natural environment, particularly in the poorest communities and countries.
It adds that under the Convention, more than $500 million will be channelled into an overdue and urgently needed initiative to ensure that future generations don’t have to live, as we do, with measurable quantities of these toxic chemicals stored in their bodies. We have more on this in a release upstairs as well.
The UN Environment Programme took part today in the launch of the WET-WASH campaign in Cairns, northern Australia, which is aimed at cleaning up our seas. WET-WASH stands for “Wastewater Emission Targets – Water, Sanitation and Hygiene for All”, but you have to put the “All” after water for it to spell out WASH. But, anyway they are calling it “WET-WASH”. This initiative calls for national and regional wastewater emission targets –- similar to targets used around the world to cut emissions of toxic chemicals –- and to have them backed up by better quality indicators and reliable monitoring.
**International Day of Families
This is the last item. Tomorrow is the 2004 International Day of Families.
In his message for the day, the Secretary-General notes that the well-being of families has become a central focus of all concerned with national development and poverty eradication.
He urges governments, civil society and individuals to keep working for policies that recognize and support the contributions each family makes to its members, its community and its society.
And we also have statements or messages from the UN Children’s Fund and the UN Population Fund.
**The Week Ahead at United Nations
And we have the Week Ahead for you to help you in your UN work next week. And I am going to have another swig here before I take your questions. Yes, Laura?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Fred, is there going to be a release of statistics of the number of people who have put in applications for the Iraqi election committee next week?
Spokesman: I don’t know that. I see no reason why they couldn’t give you that number. We’ll see what happens after tomorrow’s deadline as to how many they actually received. I am sure they will make that number public. We’ll try to get in touch with Carina Perelli and ask her. Bill?
Question: Does the Secretary-General have any reaction to the resolution adopted by the Staff Council requesting an independent investigation into allegations of impropriety by the Under-Secretary-General for the (Office of) Internal Oversight Services?
Spokesman: What charges of impropriety? First of all, I am not aware that anyone has charged the Under-Secretary-General of OIOS with impropriety. Second, I haven’t seen this resolution of the Staff Council. And I am sure when we do see it, if they can give us a clean copy of it, that we will study it and give them a reaction. Yes?
Question: Fred, this is a question about accreditation of journalists to the World Health Assembly, which starts on Monday next week. As I think you know, there has been a decision by the United Nations to deny credentials to all journalists from Taiwan, which is a reversal of policy of previous years. I am wondering if you could explain what the legal basis for that decision was?
Spokesman: We did get that question earlier and we’ve asked our Legal Office here for an explanation. We’re told that one is in preparation. Unfortunately, it wasn’t ready before the beginning of this briefing. Seeing this meeting starts on Monday, we’ll do our best to get something out of Legal Affairs in the course of the afternoon. And as soon as I get it, I’ll give it to you.
Question: If I can follow up? I was just wondering if this action was taken in response to a request from a specific Member State or if this was a UN initiative? And related to that, does the United Nations grant Member States the right to block credentials for individual journalists or groups of journalists?
Spokesman: I don’t know the origin of this, frankly. So, I can’t answer your question. I don’t think an administrative matter like the basis for accreditation would be subject to blockage or veto by an individual Member State. But this is an organization of Member States. So, we have to listen to Member States collectively on this matter. And when I can find out a bit more about the particular circumstances of this case, I’ll hope to give you a fuller and more specific response.
Question: Just one final point, if I may? I just wanted to put this in the context of the UN Correspondents Association’s view on this, which is that we understand the legal and political controversy of the journalists who work for media that are owned by the Government in Taipei. But journalists who work for independent media that are not owned by official government entities in Taiwan, we can see no reason why they would be denied credentials. Especially because, as far as the People’s Republic of China is concerned, those people are citizens of the People’s Republic of China, and, therefore, they are members of a Member State, if you like, and the decision to deny them their press freedom, their right to cover the World Health Assembly seems quite grotesque.
Spokesman: Well, we’ll see that those views are factored into whatever decision does come out of the Secretary-General’s Office, I hope this afternoon. [He later said there must have been an unfortunate misunderstanding, because there had been no change in UN accreditation policy.]
Thank you very much.
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