DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
25 February 2005
Following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Fred Eckhard, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
**Statement Attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary-General
We’ll start with a statement on the incidence in the DRC today:
“The Secretary-General strongly condemns the murder of nine United Nations peacekeepers from Bangladesh today during an ambush by unidentified militia groups near Kafé in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) who were part of a company protecting a camp for internally displaced people.
“He extends his deepest sympathy and condolences to the Government of Bangladesh and the families of the victims, who have sacrificed their lives in the service of peace.
“The Secretary-General calls on the Transitional Government of the DRC to make every effort to find and hold accountable those responsible for this reprehensible and criminal attack. He reaffirms that this attack will not deter the UN Mission from carrying out its mandate in helping move the peace process forward in the DRC.”
**DRC - Peacekeeper Ambush
These troops were part of a larger group of blue helmets which has been in the area protecting people fleeing harassment by local armed militias, as well as fighting among those militias. The patrols had been on their way to local camps believed to belong to a militia group which has refused to take part in the disarmament and reintegration process. Two platoons were sent by helicopter to reinforce the patrols’ survivors and secure the area.
At this stage, it’s unknown who’s responsible for the attack, and the UN Mission in the DRC is investigating. The Mission believes that the premeditated attack was in response to efforts by peacekeepers to neutralize the militias, which have been terrorizing the local population, in addition to looting and carrying out illegal tax collection.
The Secretary-General was asked about this incident by a reporter today, and he said he was extremely saddened by the loss of the peacekeepers. He added: “They are good peacekeepers, and I am sorry it had to end like this.” He also called on the DRC’s government to work with the UN in tracking down the perpetrators of the attack.
As part of a new approach in recruiting leaders of international organizations, the Secretary-General is writing to Member States for suggestions of candidates to fill the post of High Commissioner for Refugees. These names would be in addition to those that might emerge from the Secretary-General’s own consultations.
In the letter, the Secretary-General says that he can only be sure of finding the best person for one of the most important jobs in the UN system if the best qualified candidates come forward and are judged against transparent selection criteria.
In outlining some of the necessary criteria, the Secretary-General says he wants someone with a thorough knowledge of refugee issues and of unimpeachable personal and professional integrity. He or she must have proven skills in the management of a complex organization and, of course, be an unflinching champion of the cause of refugees, not only by providing for their relief but also by firmly upholding the international principles which entitle them to protection.
The Secretary-General’s Chef de Cabinet, Mark Malloch Brown, will be sending a similar letter to major non-governmental organizations involved in refugee issues, also soliciting names for the post of High Commissioner for Refugees.
**SG to London
The Secretary-General will leave for London on Monday afternoon. On Tuesday morning, he will address the London Meeting on Supporting the Palestinian Authority, hosted by UK Prime Minister Tony Blair.
In the afternoon, he will participate in a ministerial-level meeting of the Middle East “Quartet”, which also includes US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana. He is expected to have a number of bilateral meetings in the margins of the all-day conference. He will then return to New York on Wednesday morning.
The Deputy Secretary-General is winding up her visit to the European Union today.
Among Commission members she spoke with were Jose Manuel Barroso, the President of the Commission; and Louis Michel, the Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid. She also met with Javier Solana, the Secretary General of the Council of the European Union and Foreign Policy chief.
Issues discussed at these meetings included the preparation for the 2005 General Assembly event to review the implementation of the Millennium Declaration, development and humanitarian issues, the situation in the Middle East, in Iraq, in Darfur, and in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Next week, the Deputy Secretary-General will visit UN peacekeeping missions in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Côte d'Ivoire and Kosovo. The purpose of her visit is to meet with military and civilian members in the missions and to reaffirm the zero-tolerance message of the Secretary-General on sexual exploitation and abuse.
This will be the first in a series of visits by the Deputy Secretary-General to peacekeeping operations worldwide to reinforce that message. Her next mission will be to Haiti.
An update now on the investigation into the rape allegations made by a Haitian woman against UN civilian police officers serving there. The preliminary inquiry has ended and a board of inquiry is under way to investigate the claim in depth. At this stage, two Pakistani police officers have been suspended. They will be repatriated if the board confirms the initial findings. The board is expected to make a decision in two weeks.
The UN Mission of Inquiry that is examining the 14 February Beirut bombing began its mission in Lebanon today. The head of the mission, Peter Fitzgerald, held warm and constructive meetings with Lebanese Interior Minister Suleiman Franjieh, and Justice Minister Adnan Addoum, to discuss cooperation between his team and the Lebanese authorities.
Fitzgerald also met with the sons of the late former Prime Minister, Rafic Hariri, who was killed in the bombing, and expressed his condolences and sympathy.
Prior to those meetings, Fitzgerald issued a statement to the press, saying that his team understands the gravity of the task at hand and that it would work with absolute impartiality and professionalism. He promised that the team would carry out its mandate in a timely manner. He said he looks forward to working closely with the Lebanese authorities and to learning about their progress “in investigating this terrible crime.” We have copies of his statement available upstairs.
The Security Council is holding an open meeting on cross-border issues in West Africa.
The Secretary-General, in his opening remarks, welcomed the recent efforts of members of the Economic Community of West African States to address the complex challenges facing the region. He said there is growing cooperation among security agencies to crack down on cross-border crime. Efforts are also under way to protect children, stem small-arms flows and involve civil society groups more regularly in peace-building and other initiatives.
The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for West Africa, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, noted that Togo, where a clumsy alternation to power was followed by great confusion, is a clear illustration of the fragility of peace and stability in parts of West Africa.
He went on to say that Togo should also remind us that unless we address “small crises” in a timely and coherent manner, these could easily be transformed into bigger and more complicated issues, as happened in Côte d’Ivoire. He concluded by saying that the support of the Security Council remains a precious asset in helping the West African people and States overcome the challenges ahead.
Two months have passed since last December’s tsunami wreaked havoc throughout South Asia and East Africa. But whereas some UN agencies -- such as UNICEF and the World Food Programme -- have received 100 per cent of their flash appeal requirements, others -- like the UN refugee agency and the UN Development Programme -- still remain underfunded.
Currently, in Indonesia’s Aceh province, the World Food Programme is providing monthly rations of rice, fortified noodles, biscuits, canned fish and vegetable oil to 455,000 people, most of whom are living in camp-like settlements.
For its part, the UN refugee agency reports that its distribution of some 10,000 tents to 11 locations along Aceh’s west coast is well under way. And UNICEF is helping with teacher training, since the province’s education department lost 10 per cent of its staff to the tsunami.
Meanwhile, the UN Development Programme, which recruited 1,870 local workers through its Cash-for-Work programme, was able to reopen Banda Aceh’sGeneralHospital and Islamic University.
Here at Headquarters, the UN Staff’s relief committee for tsunami victims is holding a fundraising event tonight, in the Visitors Lobby, from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m.
The event will feature musical performances, and all proceeds will be donated to tsunami victims. The UN Foundation will match, dollar for dollar, all funds raised by the Committee. We have more information on all of these items upstairs.
For the fourteenth year, the United Nations is welcoming a delegation of US congressional staff members for a day of briefings, here at Headquarters.
These staffers will hear from, among others, Mark Malloch Brown on UN reform efforts, Robert Orr on the progress of the Millennium Summit, and from Margareta Wahlstrom on the UN’s relief effort to tsunami-affected areas. This visit is organized by the Humpty-Dumpty Institute.
**UNHCR – Afghanistan, Iran
The UN Relief Agency, UNHCR, says it is providing additional assistance to some 200,000 people in Afghanistan, to help them cope with the unusually harsh winter. The Agency has been providing blankets, plastic sheets, sleeping mats, lanterns, soap and disposable diapers to affected families.
Meanwhile, in Iran, UNHCR is sending relief supplies, including family-size tents, to thousands of people who have been left homeless in the town of Zarand following the earthquake earlier this week. More than 5,000 Afghan refugees are registered as living in and around Zarand. We have more details in UNHCR’s briefing notes.
In order to halt the resurgence of polio in Africa, a mass immunization campaign spanning 22 countries and reaching 100 million children is being launched today. The campaign, initiated in part by the World Health Organization and the UN’s Children’s Fund, gained even greater urgency from reports that a child has contracted polio in Ethiopia, the first case there in four years. That makes Ethiopia the fourteenth country to be reinfected with polio since last year’s outbreak.
Other countries being reached by the campaign are Liberia, where almost 1 million children will be immunized, as well as Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. With the disease now in its low-transmission season, the next few months are critical to stopping the epidemic. We have press releases on this upstairs.
**Central African Republic – Elections
We also have a press release from the UN Office in the Central African Republic on its efforts to increase the participation of female candidates for the legislative elections taking place there later this year.
The Information Department asked me to tell you that World Chronicle programme no. 966, hosted by Mary Alice Williams, will be shown today at 4:00 p.m. on in-house television channels 3 and 31. And the guest there will be Noeleen Heyzer, the Executive Director of UNIFEM. And the theme of the programme is “Gender Equality: Beijing + 10”.
**Press Conference this Afternoon
And immediately after this briefing, there will be a press conference by Kyung-wha Kang, the Chairperson of the Commission on the Status of Women. She will be joined by Rachel Mayanja, the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and the Advancement of Women, and Carolyn Hannan, the Director of the Division for the Advancement of Women. And they will be here talking also about the 10-year review and appraisal of progress in achieving gender equality since the Beijing Conference.
And I see them all here in the first row. So, welcome.
**The Week Ahead at the United Nations
And we have The Week Ahead to help you in your coverage of the UN next week.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Two questions: ON UNHCR, the tradition in the past has been that the person comes from a country that’s a big contributor to the agency. Has this now changed with this? And secondly, what are the rules for sexual exploitation that the DSG is going to tell people? Every country has different under-age rules. There is legal prostitution, I assume, still allowed. I am getting very confused on that.
Spokesman: On your first question, I think this could be the first time that the Secretary-General has asked all Member States for candidates. So, it looks to me like a new regime. It’s a wide open search for the best possible candidate. And I don’t think that preference would necessarily be given to the nationality based on contributions to UNHCR.
I think it could be the first time, as well, that we have openly solicited recommendations or nominations from the major non-governmental organizations who deal with refugees. So, I think that’s new. So, it’s a broad search.
On your second question, the age of an adult, legally speaking, does vary from country to country. But we go by the international standard of 18. So, it doesn’t matter whether, in the Congo, for example, where I believe a woman is considered to reach maturity at the age of 14, that we would go by the local measure. We go by the international standard. The Congo regime is tougher than what we have imposed on other peacekeeping missions. But, we don’t exclude we could extend the same set of rules to other peacekeeping missions as well.
So, in the Congo now, and only in the Congo, there is a rule of non-fraternization. In other words, no contact with local people of a social nature. We have always had a rule throughout peacekeeping on soliciting of prostitutes. Now, it may have been that in different missions and at different times, this has not been strictly enforced. But I think what the
Secretary-General is bringing to all of these missions now is that everyone has to live by the book.
Question: When soliciting prostitutes, does that mean forced prostitution or any prostitution?
Spokesman: Any prostitute.
Question: Fred, I just wanted to ask you quickly about the US Congressional staff members. First of all, I didn’t hear when they were coming. And second, they’re not Congressmen and -women; they’re people who serve them administratively or...?
Spokesman: I think we have the list that was made available to us by the Humpty Dumpty Institute that is sponsoring the visit. So, we have the list in my office. They are staffers, not members. And it’s, as I said, I think now for the fourteenth year, this non-governmental organization has been inviting Congressional staff to the UN, and we put together a programme for them, and they’re here today. It started -- I think their first appointment was 11:30; and they will be here all day.
Question: Fred, going back to the murder of these UN peacekeepers. I know that, obviously larger numbers of peacekeepers have been killed in plane crashes. But in terms of on an actual military mission, how does this rank in size? I don’t recall...(Interrupted)?
Spokesman: I think there might have been a comparable or larger number of victims in Sierra Leone [in 2000]. And there was that horrific attack on the Pakistani contingent in Somalia that killed something like 23. But, we’d kind of have to go back into the history books and see what the precedents were. But, nine peacekeepers killed in one military operation by a hostile attack is an unusually large number.
Question: Were there any survivors? I mean, you talked obliquely about survivors, how big was the group that they were a part of?
Spokesman: I don’t have that number. But I understand that there was also a number wounded; and I was still getting the details. So, if you check with my office after the briefing to get the very latest, we’d be happy to give it to you. [He later said they were part of a 21-soldier patrol.]
Question: Fred, lately the Secretary-General has decided on the new recruitment policies and would seek the best candidate; in this case the High Commissioner. Would this policy also apply to the selection of the heads of departments, and what would happen to the concept of geographic representation?
Spokesman: Well, geographical distribution is a Charter requirement. So, we will never be getting rid of that policy. But the Charter also says “the best qualified”. The best qualified and with geographical distribution. That’s what we strive for in every case. This is being done now for one agency. I expect it will be followed with other agency openings, as they occur.
Whether it would also extend to heads of department, I’d have to ask. I don’t know.
Let me take Mohammad and then we’ll get back to Edie.
Question: Fred, will Mr. Fitzgerald visit other country or countries, and how many experts are in his team?
Spokesman: There are at least three. Let me check to get the exact number. I think there are three principals. There might be support staff and others. The plan is to start in Lebanon and then to see where that takes him. And if he feels he needs to go elsewhere; he will seek to do so. But I believe his mission has been welcomed by both Lebanon and Syria. [He later said there were five principals.]
Question: Just following up on the UNHCR letters. How is that different from the search for a new executive director of UNDP to replace Mark?
Spokesman: We’ll have to see whether the same procedure now is applied to the United Nations Development Programme. I have to assume that it would be same.
But I believe with UNDP there might also be a constitutional requirement that their executive board be solicited first. So, I am not sure there is perhaps, not an internal constraint to how we would do that with UNDP. Let me get back to you to confirm that fact. [He later confirmed that the Secretary-General had, as a UNDP constitutional requirement, sent a letter to the President of the UNDP Executive Board, asking her to consult with Member States regarding a new administration.]
Okay. Well, thank you very much. Now, I’ll ask our guests to come up and begin their briefing on Beijing + 10.
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