DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
9 December 2004
Following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Fred Eckhard, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
We have some unfinished business from yesterday.
I was asked about the Iraqi elections, and we’re still waiting for an update on that. I hope to have it by the end of this briefing.
I was also asked about the Palestinian elections, and I can say that, as part of our effort to keep you updated on our involvement in the Palestinian Presidential elections, I wanted to let you know that the UN electoral personnel will be opening two offices, one in Ramallah and one in Gaza.
We’ve been asked by the Palestinian Authority to coordinate the hundreds of international observers who are expected to participate in this process. The UN will certify and accredit organizations that want to observe the elections and will also draft a code of conduct for them.
Each of these organizations will issue their own separate statements based on their observation. Since the UN is heavily involved in the organization of the presidential ballot, we will not be acting as observers. The senior international advisor to the Palestinian Central Electoral Commission is the UN electoral expert, Pascal Soto.
On the Sudan, we continue to receive reports of fighting in Darfur. The UN mission says that, according to the African Union, fighting took place between Government forces and the rebel Sudan Liberation Movement/Army yesterday in the town of Thabit, 50 kilometres south-west of El Fasher in north Darfur. The mission says unconfirmed reports indicate that Government helicopter gunships bombed the area. No information is available yet on casualties.
Also yesterday, there were unconfirmed reports that Government helicopters attacked a village located 70 kilometres south-east of El Fasher. Meanwhile, UNICEF reports that the population in villages around Tawilla, which has previously been the scene of fighting, is scared of new attacks and is ready to leave at any time.
In South Darfur, the UN Mission says, the African Union confirmed renewed fighting between Government forces and the rebel SLA and Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) that took place yesterday in two villages 50 kilometres south-east of Nyala. No further information is available.
The Secretary-General, in his latest report on the Sudan that is out as a document today, warns that chaos is looming as order is collapsing in Darfur. He calls on the parties to abide by their commitments, by urgently providing the African Union with information on the exact location of their troops and by exercising full control over those troops, to put an end to civilian suffering.
I do have that item on the Iraqi elections now. You’ve been asking me for updates on the Iraqi elections, in which we serve as advisors, only advisors, to the independent electoral commission for Iraq. As far as the technical preparations for the balloting are concerned, we are on track, albeit with a tight calendar.
The UN is continuing with its training of Iraqi electoral workers at locations outside of Iraq. And as I mentioned to you yesterday, some 6,000 Iraqis have now been either directly trained by the UN or have followed courses developed by us. The electoral commission has extended until 15 December the registration deadline for political entities. So far, some 241 political entities – comprising more than 5,000 candidates –- have registered. None have been rejected.
As far as our own staffing is concerned, there are 19 UN electoral staffers currently in Iraq, with more on the way. There are also eight other international electoral experts, not from the UN, but working under our coordination.
The process of voter registration is continuing in a systematic fashion, with a few disruptions attributed to the precarious security environment. Eighty-five per cent of the registration centres are up and running.
The Security Council, held an open meeting this morning on the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Briefing the Council was Romanian Ambassador Mihnea Motoc in his capacity as Chairman of the so-called 1540 Committee.
The Committee was established by Security Council resolution 1540 by which it decided that all States shall refrain from supporting by any means non-State actors that attempt to acquire, use or transfer nuclear, chemical or biological weapons and their delivery systems.
On Côte d’Ivoire, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative there, Albert Tevoedjre, has left Abidjan for New York to attend scheduled Security Council consultations on the situation in that country on Monday. The Special Representative travelled yesterday to Bouaké where he met the Secretary-General of Forces Nouvelles, Guillaume Soro. They had a broad exchange of views on the current situation, including legislative reform and the disarmament of combatants.
From UNICEF, childhood is a brutal experience for half the world's children, with crucial years being destroyed by poverty, conflict, and AIDS, according to UNICEF’s tenth annual report on the State of the World’s Children. The report –- entitled “Childhood Under Threat” -– was launched today in London by UNICEF’s Executive Director, Carol Bellamy.
The report also notes that 640 million children do not have adequate shelter, 400 million have no means of getting safe water, and 270 million don’t have access to health care services. We have a press release on that in my office.
**UNODC –- Corruption
Today is the first anniversary of the signing conference of the UN Convention against Corruption. To mark the occasion, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime launched a new initiative aimed at assisting the Governments of Kenya and Nigeria to recover assets stolen by corrupt officials. The project involves technical assistance, which will help those countries’ legal institutions overcome obstacles to recovering assets. We have a press release on that upstairs.
**UNESCO –- Doping Treaty
UNESCO reports that top sports officials from 89 countries have reaffirmed the will to overcome the last remaining differences over a draft international convention against doping in sport. The officials had been meeting in Athens, at an international conference on sports which ended today, and the finalized draft convention is to be submitted for adoption by UNESCO in 2005.
UNESCO says that progress made in the drafting –- and the political will of Member States backing it –- gives hope that this new legal instrument could even be ratified in time for the Winter Olympics of 2006 in Turin, Italy. And there is more in a press release on that upstairs.
**Human Rights Day
Tomorrow is Human Rights Day, and the General Assembly will use the occasion to proclaim a World Program for Human Rights Education. The Assembly is devoting a plenary session to mark the end of the UN Decade for Human Rights. Also tomorrow, there’ll be two panel discussions on human rights, at 1:15 p.m. and then at 3 o’clock, both of those in Conference Room One.
Meanwhile, in the Visitor’s Lobby, we have a new exhibit, “Lest We Forget: The Triumph over Slavery,” to mark the International Year to Commemorate the Struggle against Slavery and its Abolition.
**Iraq –- Compensation
Today in Geneva the UN Compensation Commission for Iraq concluded its fifty-fourth session. The Commission’s governing Council approved a new batch of awards for compensation.
As you know the Commission was established by the Council in 1991 to process claims and pay compensation for losses resulting from Iraq's invasion and occupation of Kuwait. Its governing council is made up of all 15 members of the Security Council and is presided over by the Permanent Representative of Germany to the UN Offices in Geneva, Michael Steiner.
**Press Conferences Tomorrow
Press conferences tomorrow. Following the noon briefing, the Mission of Slovenia will be hosting a press conference to present a global appeal by world leaders on human rights learning towards peace, development and human security. Speakers will include Shulamith Koenig, recipient of the 2003 UN Award for outstanding achievement in the field of human rights, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Danilo Turk, and Minar Pimple of the People’s Movement for Human Rights Learning.
At 4:45, a group of African Ambassadors led by Ambassador Roble Olhaye of Djibouti will hold a press conference in this room following their meeting with the Secretary-General.
**Press Conferences Today
And two press conferences for today: At 12:30, the President of the fifty-ninth session of the General Assembly, Jean Ping, will be here to brief you on the work of the General Assembly with regard to the report of the High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change.
And then at 1 o’clock, Ambassador Oswaldo de Rivero of Peru will hold a press conference to present his book “The Myth of Development”.
That’s all I have. Yes, sir?
Questions and Answers
Question: Fred, is Ambassador Negroponte going to speak to the press as he leaves the building?
Spokesman: I am not aware. He is meeting with the Secretary-General. He’s free to stop at the stakeout on his way out, but we haven’t been given any information about his intention. Yes, Linda?
Question: Fred, now that Negroponte, as well as Mr. Qazi, have met with the Secretary-General at separate meetings, ostensibly it’s about the upcoming elections in Iraq, could you give us any further information?
Spokesman: No. We can always try to get a read out for you. Our read outs are not very fulfilling, as you are aware. But, we’ll do our best.
Question: And just one little follow-up. You said that there were 19 UN electoral staffers now in Iraq; is the lid still 59?
Question: For UN workers?
Question: But you said more electoral workers would be on their way. Can you shed some light on that?
Spokesman: I think we’ve been saying for some time that we’re looking to get the number up to 25, which we feel is the minimum that we need to carry out the work we’ve undertaken there. Lee?
Question: Is Danforth still planning to speak to us at the stakeout?
Spokesman: You have to ask the U.S. Mission. They did ask us to announce that he would be going to the stakeout microphone. And then we announced a delay. But I really don’t know what their intention is, or the timing issue. You’ll have to ask them. Jonathan?
Question: From what you were saying about the helicopter bombings and what not in Sudan, it’s starting to look pretty bad. Does the SG have a new initiative in the works or something to put an end to this?
Spokesman: I don’t know what can be done. You’ve heard members of the Security Council say that they’ve tried everything from carrots to sticks in Sudan without much result. The Secretary-General’s belief for a long time has been, if they can secure an agreement between north and south, in other words complete the Naivasha peace talks, that would give momentum to the peace talks on Darfur. But, as you see from the reports in the news accounts, the situation in the ground just gets worse and worse. Massoud?
Question: Fred, the situation in Iraq continues to be bad. Is there anything you can say, latest thoughts about the Iraq situation? Is there a change? Anything visible has changed?
Spokesman: I don’t know what you would like us to say. We don’t have a substantial number of staff there. Those who are there are in Baghdad, within the green zone for the most part, and we really aren’t in a position to comment on the security situation in the country as a whole.
Question: I just wanted to ask, the electoral list -- I mean the list of voters, so to speak -- how are you voting to determine who are the voters? Is it the same formula like we (Inaudible)…will be allowed to vote?
Spokesman: They have been… (Interrupted).
Question: Have they prepared the list?
Spokesman: All… (Interrupted).
Question: Have they prepared any list?
Spokesman: All of this was laid out in the Iraqi electoral law and they have largely based themselves on the ration card system set up by the UN for the distribution of food and other supplies, which reached virtually every Iraqi family. If you check with our office after this briefing, we can give you more specific detail.
Question: I have one more question. The Iraq Compensation Commission; do you have a list of nations or entities which have been compensated or we’ll get the list later on?
Spokesman: I think they have been producing lists of the specific compensation awards that they have given out. So, check with my office afterwards to see if we can get that for you. Jonathan?
Question: Let me ask you a question about the petition that was circulated within the UN calling for support for the Secretary-General. We’re a little confused back at our station as to who was responsible for sending out that petition. We were told at one point that it was just a concerned staffer. But we’re learning that it actually came from Kofi’s office itself. Can you explain what exactly transpired there? And also, why did that petition only give the option of saying “Yes” to supporting this SG, as opposed to giving people a real option to say “Yes” or “No” why they support… (Interrupted)?
Spokesman: I can’t speak for the people who organized that petition. I frankly don’t know the circumstances under which it was started. I am told that something like 50 to 70 staff members got together to request that their petition be put on the web site. And there may have been among those 50 or 70, someone who is on the Secretary-General’s staff.
I believe that Georg Kell, who heads the office that deals with the Global Compact, and is therefore on the Secretary-General’s staff, was among the prime movers. We didn’t know about that until after it had happened. So, I think I would argue rather strongly that the Secretary-General’s office, as an office, had nothing to do with starting this petition. It was the initiative of a group of people, one whom happened to be on the Secretary-General’s staff, Georg Kell. Yes, sir?
Question: Can you tell us as much as you can about the staff meeting with the Secretary-General yesterday? What did the Secretary-General say and what does he plan to do?
Spokesman: I don’t want to go into much detail there. The exchange seemed to be, I would characterise it as “respectful”. I think the Secretary-General acknowledged that more contact with the staff and the Staff Council is desirable. He indicated that there have been problems in the past between the Staff Council leaders and some of the management leadership who meets with him regularly. And he encouraged them to resolve those problems as he seeks ways to meet more actively with them.
They focused, apart from the communications issues -- and I really think I should leave them to speak for themselves -- but one of the things that struck us was that they were very critical of the new promotion and placement system in the UN, which switches primary responsibility more to the manager and eliminated a lot of the cumbersome and time-consuming review processes involving staff committees and so on, which they felt tipped too far the other way.
So, the head of personnel was at that meeting, I believe. At least the head of management was, Catherine Bertini. And I assume we would have further conversations with them about the new personnel system. I think a good beginning to try to revive and re-invigorate our exchanges with the staff generally, and with the Staff Council in particular.
Let me take Mohamed.
Question: Fred, as a result of the destruction of the telecommunication system in Iraq, how can your electoral experts apply and coordinate any electoral classes in Iraq?
Spokesman: Well, the electoral work in Iraq is being carried out by the Independent Electoral Commission. So, the advice we are providing is primarily to that body directly. You would have to ask them what logistical problems they might be facing in organizing elections. But I don’t think that detracts from what I said earlier that, in our view, the technical preparations for the elections are on track. David?
Question: Fred, I understand because of the timing this might sound a little hypothetical but it wasn’t intended. But how highly would the UN and the Secretary-General value any sort of voice of confidence in the Secretary-General by the United States, if it was expressed?
Spokesman: Well, the United States has not officially expressed a lack of confidence. Those expressions have come from some members of Congress and some media in the United States. I think any Secretary-General needs the full confidence of all the Members, and in particular the five Permanent Members of the Security Council. He has always felt that, despite this rocky period we’ve been through most recently, that he’s had a good working relationship with the U.S. administration and he hopes to continue to do so. Mr. Abbadi?
Question: Fred, the press conference to be given tomorrow by the four African Ambassadors; what is the subject matter?
Spokesman: I don’t know. Just check with me afterwards, I’ll try to get that for you. There was someone else? Linda?
Question: Fred, has the SG been in regular contact these days with Secretary of State Powell? And would you characterize the continued relationship with the U.S. as business as usual, or has there been some kind of shift on the working level?
Spokesman: No, I would say... Well, first of all, specifically on contacts with Secretary of State Powell, I think there has been maybe one phone call in the last week. And a phone call a week is probably about average. So, I don’t think there has been any noticeable change in our relations with the principal figures in the administration that we normally deal with.
Are we done? Okay, then Djibril, do we want to bring up your boss?
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