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DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL AND THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT

Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

24 January 2005

Following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Fred Eckhard, Spokesman for the Secretary-General, and Djibril Diallo, Spokesman for the General Assembly President.

Spokesman for the Secretary-General

Good afternoon,

**SG - GA Special Session

The Secretary-General told the General Assembly’s special session, commemorating the liberation of the Nazi death camps 60 years ago, that the world needs to be vigilant against all ideologies based on hate and exclusion, whenever and wherever they appear.

He said that we must watch out for any revival of anti-Semitism. But he added that we must also not remain indifferent to other examples of inhumanity.

The Secretary-General argued that “terrible things are happening today in Darfur, Sudan,” and added that tomorrow he expects to receive the report of the international commission of inquiry that will determine whether acts of genocide have occurred in Darfur.

Today, he said, is above all a day to remember not only the victims of past horrors, whom the world abandoned, but also the potential victims of present and future ones. He said, we must look them in the eye and say, “You, at least, we must not fail.” We have copies of his speech upstairs.

Today’s special session began with a moment of silence for the victims of the Holocaust. General Assembly President Jean Ping and Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel also spoke.

Elie Wiesel recalled the horrors of the Holocaust, and told the General Assembly that, as a teacher, he pays attention to one key question: “Will we ever learn?”

Former UN Under-Secretary-General Brian Urquhart, who was one of the first Allied soldiers to reach the Bergen-Belsen death camp, said that one of the problems in preventing genocide is that, for ordinary people, it is unimaginable -- until it is too late to prevent it.

Among the events marking the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the death camps will be a reception at the UN Visitors’ Lobby this evening, hosted by Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, for the opening of the exhibition “Auschwitz – the Depth of the Abyss”. The Secretary-General will speak at that reception.

The Secretary-General also will hold bilateral meetings with many of the senior officials attending today’s event, including the Foreign Ministers of Germany, France and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, as well as the President of the Italian Senate.

**Cassese Report

Once the report of the International Commission of Inquiry, headed by Judge Antonio Cassese, goes to the Secretary-General, he would, as is often done, submit it to the Government of Sudan for comment. Any comments that the Government of Sudan might have will not result in the report being changed in any way.

The report would then be processed as a document and submitted to the Security Council, most likely around the 1st of February.

It would be made available to you at about that same time.

**Sudan

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Sudan, Jan Pronk, is back in Khartoum after his meeting yesterday in Rumbeck with Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) Chairman, John Garang. During this meeting, discussions focused on the preparations for the implementation phase of the recently concluded peace agreement, particularly the preparations for the UN peace support mission's deployment.

Meanwhile, the UN mission in Khartoum notes several security incidents reported in Darfur last week, including clashes in south Darfur involving government forces and armed tribesmen with the rebel SLA, and that occured on the 19th of January.

**Iraq

From Baghdad, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq, Ashraf Qazi, has been holding intensive meetings with various Iraqi personalities and officials in an effort to identify specific mechanisms for advancing the political process ahead of the country’s crucial elections, set to take place on the 30th of January.

Talks also addressed the security and political environments and their impact on the elections, which will be conducted by the Independent Electoral Commission for Iraq.

In his special meetings with the President of the Independent Democratic Alliance, Adnan Pachachi, and the leading member of the United Iraqi Alliance Hussein Al-Shahristani, and other political personalities and groupings contesting the polls, Mr. Qazi stressed the importance of unifying the efforts of all Iraqis in ensuring a smooth transitional process that would lead to the building of a democratic, stable and prosperous Iraq. We have more information on that upstairs.

**Burundi

The Special Representative of the Secretary General in Burundi, Carolyn McAskie, deplores the murder of the Governor of the province of Bubanza, as well as of his bodyguard, yesterday.

Equally concerned by renewed threats against the Banyamulenge community, who have sought refuge in Burundi, Carolyn McAskie expressed her indignation in relation to any incitement to hatred and the demonization of any community living on Burundi’s soil.

McAskie re-emphasized that targeted violence, whether against individuals or ethnics groups, is not acceptable.

**Security Council

On the Security Council agenda today are back-to-back meetings with troop-contributing countries to UN peacekeeping operations.

The first is on the UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) and the second on the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).

**Kobe Conference

The World Conference on Disaster Reduction wrapped up on Saturday in Kobe, Japan, after 168 delegations adopted a framework for action. That plan calls on States to put disaster risk at the centre of their national policies for the next 10 years.

The conference also adopted a declaration that, among other things, recognized the relationship between disaster reduction, sustainable development and the fight against poverty.

Other key outcomes were the launch of the International Early Warning Programme, and delegates’ pledges of support for a regional tsunami early-warning system in the Indian Ocean. And we have more on that in press release upstairs.

**SG Message – Biodiversity

Biological diversity stabilizes the Earth’s climate, provides millions of people with livelihoods, and helps to ensure food security. Yet unsustainable patterns of production and consumption, exacerbated by poverty, continue to destroy habitats and species at an unprecedented rate.

Those remarks are part of the Secretary-General’s message to the International Conference on Biodiversity, being held at the headquarters of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), in Paris.

And we have the full text of his message upstairs.

**OCHA - Uganda

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports that UN agencies and their NGO partners are providing emergency relief in the wake of a series of fires in camps for internally displaced persons in Uganda over the weekend.

Three people were killed and more than 6,000 huts were destroyed in the fires, which occurred in the Lira and Guru districts.

**Guyana Floods

A four-member UN team of disaster experts has been dispatched to Guyana to help the Government respond to devastating floods that have forced thousands of people from their homes in the capital, Georgetown.

The Guyanese Government has appealed to the international community for food, boats, power generators and water pumps.

**Nepal

High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, today urged the Government of Nepal and the Maoists in that country to do more to tackle the grave human rights abuses that are taking place there.

Arbour began her official visit to Nepal today by participating in the Conference on Peace and Human Rights, which is being organized by the National Human Rights Commission of Nepal.

**Press Conference This Afternoon

We have a press conference at 12:45 today in this room, by the Foreign Minister of France, Michel Barnier. And he will be here following his address to the General Assembly.

**Press Conference Tomorrow

And one press conference to announce for tomorrow: 11:00 a.m., also in this room, Jose Antonio Ocampo, the Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, will be here to launch the report, “World Economic Situation and Prospects”, which provides an economic preview of 2005, as well as a review of 2004.

That’s all I have for you. Warren?

**Questions and Answers

Question: Fred, this may be a question for Djibril, not you, but we’ll try. Is 130 the correct number of countries who have endorsed today’s Holocaust commemoration? And is there a list of those countries; the ones that have endorsed it?

Spokesman: I’ll pass that one to Djibril. I don’t have that information. And if he doesn’t have it, one of us can get it for you right after the briefing. [He later announced that 150 Member States had formally endorsed the idea of a special session.]

Mark?

Question: I was just wondering if, given the importance of the findings of the genocide enquiry in Darfur to... (Inaudible), whether the UN would suspend protocol in this case and hand it out to the public at the same time that the Secretary-General receives it, or whether protocol remains paramount even in this case?

Spokesman: I’m afraid protocol is going to have to remain paramount. I realize that in light of today’s special session, it might have been appropriate to release the report as soon as the Secretary-General gets it.

But we have to process it as a document and that means translating it; and that takes about a week. In fact, it’s going very fast to get it done in a week. So, the best we can do is about the 1st of February, I’m sorry.

Question: The press can normally do it in an hour or two; translate from English to whatever language they want to report it in.

Spokesman: My understanding is the report is over a 100 pages, and for us it has to go into six languages. And I think probably our standards have to be a little bit higher than yours, doing a quick translation on your own.

Yes, Ma’am?

Question: Associated Press. There have been reports in Columbia that the UN representative there may be pulling out. That the Government there has lost faith in James LeMoyne, and that there are meetings going on on that today. Can you shed any light?

Spokesman: We don’t know what might be on the agenda when the Secretary-General meets with Colombian officials. To our knowledge, James LeMoyne is not at issue and the Secretary-General still has full confidence in him. But we could better give you some kind of read-out after those meetings actually take place.

If nothing else, I will ask Djibril... Yes, Ma’am?

Question: Do you have any reaction to the arrest of Abu Omar in Iraq, who is held responsible for the bombing of UN headquarters in Iraq?

Spokesman: I’m afraid I don’t have anything on that at the moment. No, I have nothing on that. I’ll see if we have anything to say a little bit later.

Djibril?

Spokesman for General Assembly President:

Thank you, Fred.

I’ll get back to you at the end of this session on the list of countries that endorsed the convening of this very, very historic indeed, special session on the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Nazi death camps, which opened this morning.

It takes quite a lot of doing on the part of the General Assembly to make this happen; and I will come back to that process in the course of my briefing. I’d also like to come back to the point that was made earlier, in other words, the fact that the General Assembly was invited to stand and observe one minute of silent prayer or meditation, after which the General Assembly heard the statement of President Jean Ping. We have the copy of his statement. But I’ll just come back to a number of points:

One, President Ping underlined the historic nature of the special session. It was the first time ever that the General Assembly convened such an extraordinary session. Secondly, the symbolic nature of the special session commemorating the 60th anniversary was also highlighted by the President. Through the session, the President said, the international community can at last exorcise the tragedy of the Holocaust and, beyond it, express its firm will to confront, in the most vigorous manner, tyranny and barbarism wherever they manifest themselves.

He paid a special tribute to Elie Wiesel, the Holocaust survivor; a Nobel Laureate, and to Sir Brian Urquhart, former Under-Secretary-General and veteran of the Allied Forces. President Ping also stated that, unfortunately, we have still not drawn all the lessons from this painful page of the history of humanity, and we need to think about all the genocides and crimes against humanity and other massive violations of human rights which have taken place since 1945 in all five continents.

President Ping also underlined the fact that such a special session could not have been held at a more opportune moment, since today the United Nations is engaged in a process of profound reform. And that reform will help to better equip the United Nations to face the multiple challenges and threats to collective security which our world is confronted with. “We have, therefore, the moral obligation to perform without reservation, what is henceforth called the ‘duty of memory’ for one of the most terrible crimes in the history of humanity.”

Finally, in the statement the President also underlined the duty of solidarity in this connection.

Following his statement, President Ping gave the floor to Secretary-General Kofi Annan. And you heard just a while ago his Spokesman’s own summary of that statement.

The General Assembly also heard the statements of the Holocaust survivor I mentioned earlier, Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, and also Sir Brian Urquhart. Other notable speakers will include the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Israel, a representative of Poland, the Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Luxembourg, the Speaker of the Senate of Italy and the Foreign Ministers of Germany, France, Argentina, Armenia and Canada.

As I said, on the organizational side, I would like to draw your attention to a number of points. One, regarding the credentials of the representatives to the 58th special session of the General Assembly -- upon the proposal of the Assembly President and following rule 28 of the General Assembly -- it was agreed that the Credentials Committee of the 28th special session will consist of the same members as those of the 59th regular session of the General Assembly. And since the session is a short one, it will most likely end this afternoon. The President said that it would be advisable that the special session decide, on an exceptional basis, to accept the credentials approved for the 59th session for the purpose of the special session without prejudice to the right of Members States to submit separate credentials. This would not set a precedent for future sessions.

The President of the Assembly was also elected as President of the special session; that is, the President of the 59th regular session, Jean Ping, was elected by acclamation as President of the 28th special session. The same went for the bureaus; namely the vice-presidents, the chairmen of the committees and the General Committee in general. And it was also decided that the Holy See and Palestine will participate in the work of the General Assembly. In the case of the Holy See, this is pursuant to resolution 58/314 of 1 July 2004, and in the case of the observer of Palestine, this will be pursuant to General Assembly resolution 3237 of the 29th session of 22 November 1974.

That’s all I have for you.

Any questions?

As I said again, I will come back to you as soon as this session is over, on the list of those countries that supported the resolution.

Okay. Thank you.

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