DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
5 April 2005
Following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Fred Eckhard, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
**Secretary-General’s Meeting with Staff
The Secretary-General this morning told United Nations staff that it is important for the United Nations to look forward and to become more relevant to the challenges of the twenty-first century.
In a meeting with staff, which he entered to a standing ovation, he discussed the investigation of the “oil-for-food” programme, saying, “I know this has cast a shadow on all of us”. He said he has experienced personal pain, as a Secretary-General and as a father, and reiterated his belief that the committee headed by Paul Volcker will get to the bottom of the allegations surrounding the programme.
The Secretary-General also outlined proposals for United Nations reform. Among them, he said, the United Nations will establish an oversight committee, to ensure that the recommendations of the Office for Internal Oversight Services are implemented. Also, he said, it will set up a board to monitor managerial performance; guidelines on treating whistle-blowers will be circulated to staff shortly; and a strong policy to deal with sexual misconduct has already been put in place.
The Secretary-General also emphasized the reform proposals he has presented to world leaders, calling them “bold, but achievable”, and urging heads of State to act on them when they come to the United Nations this September.
Asked about reports that some whistle-blowers have been harassed by their managers, the Secretary-General said that managers have to be held accountable. If individuals are harassed, he said, they should come out with the facts, which would have to be investigated.
He added, in response to another question, that accountability should apply across the board, regardless of rank or level.
Asked how the United Nations can handle the recent negative news about it, the Secretary-General said that it should take the necessary measures to strengthen its management and administration and carry out reform efforts, while rebutting any unfair accusations. Ultimately, he said, we should “do what we do best, and serve the people of the world that we are here to serve”.
**Previous Secretary-General Staff Meetings
I was asked yesterday how many times in the past had the Secretary-General met with United Nations staff, and how many of those meetings took place in the General Assembly Hall.
Today was the Secretary-General’s tenth meeting with staff since he took office in 1997. And five previous meetings also took place in the General Assembly Hall, the last one was on 19 September 2003, when a memorial service was held there to honour the staff who lost their lives in the bombing one month earlier at the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad.
**Sudan – ICC
The Secretary-General met a short while ago with Luis Moreno Ocampo, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. At that meeting, he transmitted to the Court Prosecutor the sealed list of names given to him by the International Commission of Inquiry that reported to him on Darfur this year.
Earlier today in The Hague, nine boxes of materials and 11 CD-ROMS of materials collected over a period of three months by the Commission was handed over to the Prosecutor’s office. Mr. Ocampo will be speaking at the Security Council stakeout. I think he’s there right now, actually.
Meanwhile, in Khartoum, the United Nations Mission reports that tens of thousands of people demonstrated against the most recent Security Council resolutions relating to Sudan. Public statements and media comment have specifically repeated the Government’s refusal to allow any Sudanese citizens to be tried in foreign courts.
Some of today’s protesters attacked the perimeter fence of the United Nations Development Programme compound. When that failed, they ended up throwing stones into the UNDP compound, before a group of elders and community leaders passed a letter into the building to be sent to the Secretary-General. Earlier in the day, a group of students had thrown stones at a rental car with United Nations markings. No casualties were reported.
A similar demonstration was planned for Port Sudan today and, on Sunday, a protest against the Council resolutions took place in El-Fasher in North Darfur.
In Darfur today, Special Representative Jan Pronk continued his tour of that region, where continued insecurity is being reported. In North Darfur, some 800 people at the Abu Shouk camp for displaced persons have staged a demonstration to protest the continuous insecurity and high level of rapes around the camps.
And in South Darfur, tribesmen entered Kalma camp this past weekend, and harassed the population. The local police, claiming there was no wrongdoing, refused to take action. Later, members of the African Union Civilian Police unit dispersed the armed men, following requests from humanitarian organizations. The Mission says the Nyala town police continue to demand incentives in the form of fuel and food for carrying out security patrols, in spite of a clear understanding that this is a responsibility of the Government of Sudan.
**Secretary-General and Reform
Following the meeting with the ICC Prosecutor, the Secretary-General has a meeting scheduled with his Special Envoys for United Nations Reform whom he named yesterday.
Mark Malloch Brown, the Chief of Staff, will be joining us tomorrow at the noon briefing to introduce two of the four envoys -- Dermot Ahern, the Foreign Minister of Ireland and Ali Alatas, the former Foreign Minister of Indonesia.
**Statement Attributable to the Spokesman on Zimbabwe Elections
We issued the following statement late yesterday regarding the elections in Zimbabwe.
“The Secretary-General notes that parliamentary voting held in Zimbabwe on 31 March was conducted peacefully, without the violence that has marred previous elections. He’s concerned, however, that the electoral process has not countered the sense of disadvantage felt by opposition political parties who consider the conditions were unfair. He believes the government has a responsibility now to build a climate of confidence that will be essential for national unity and economic recovery in Zimbabwe. He calls on all sides to engage in constructive dialogue in the period ahead.”
Terje Roed-Larsen, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for resolution 1559, continued his meetings in Beirut today. He met with government officials, including the Ministers of Interior and of Defence, Suleiman Franjieh and Abdelrahim Mrad, as well as the Chief of Staff of the Lebanese Armed Forces, General Michel Sleiman.
Roed-Larsen also had the opportunity to meet with Druze leader Walid Jumblat and the Maronite Patriarch of Lebanon, Nasrallah Sfeir. And he also saw the family of the late Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri. Roed-Larsen is also expected to meet other opposition politicians. In his various meetings, he underscored the importance for the stability of Lebanon that free and fair elections be held by their scheduled date.
While in Beirut, Roed-Larsen visited the Beau-Rivage Hotel which had served as the headquarters of the Syrian Intelligence services in Lebanon. He wanted to see for himself that the building had in fact been vacated. As you’ll recall, last month in Allepo, the Syrian President had made a point of promising Roed-Larsen that the intelligence services would leave the Beau-Rivage and Lebanon.
There are no meetings or consultations of the Security Council for today.
The Security Council President for this month, Ambassador Wang Guangya of China, told reporters at the beginning of the month briefing yesterday that few meetings had been scheduled for this week since many permanent representatives would be involved in informal consultations of the General Assembly to discuss the Secretary-General’s reform report.
The United Nations Office for West Africa says that, following fruitful consultations held in Abuja, Nigeria, with the head of the Nigerian delegation, the Chairman of the Cameroon/Nigeria Mixed Commission, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, is pleased to announce that demarcation work on the boundary between Cameroon and Nigeria will resume without delay. We have a press release with more details.
**UNHCR – Colombia
The United Nations Refugee Agency has sent a team to assess the situation in Bojaya, western Colombia, following fighting between armed groups there. Some 250 Colombians who spent the last two weeks caught in the crossfire between the armed groups were able to flee this past weekend -– bringing the number of people displaced in the area in recent weeks to more than 2,000.
The Refugee Agency has issued repeated warnings about the worsening humanitarian situation in the Bojaya area -– and is again calling on the Colombian Government and the international community to take urgent action to avoid a potential humanitarian disaster.
**Arab Human Development Report
The United Nations Development Programme today released its third Arab Human Development Report in Amman, Jordan. The report calls for the rapid acceleration of democratic reform in the Arab world, with specific proposals for new regional human rights institutions, robust and freely elected legislatures, and truly independent judiciaries.
It adds that, by twenty-first century standards, Arab countries have not met their people’s aspirations for development, security and liberation. And it says that, unless Arab governments move much more quickly towards reform, they could face “chaotic” social upheaval. We have a press release with more information on that.
Finally, the United Nations television programme World Chronicle will be shown today with guest Sadako Ogata, former United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The topic will be the refugee crises of the 1990s and you can see it on in-house television channels 3 and 31 at 3:30.
Richard, you were first with the hand.
Questions and Answers
Question: I’ll make it a question at the top since we’re supposed to. How screwed up is the press operation here -- it doesn’t really include your office -- if the United Nations wants, or as the Secretary-General did, blame a lot on the press it seems like they’re working harder to make the press angrier.
The decision to not allow broadcasters to use the United Nations television feed of the Secretary-General’s meeting -- I’d like to protest on the record that that was not allowed after being told that it was allowed. Thus, everybody’s telling their supervisors, everybody’s making plans, the decision is reversed minutes before. Print and others can still use it. Why not just cut the whole feed off? When someone approached me of a higher rank saying, well, we don’t show CNN’s internal meetings. The United Nations is very different. He’s talking about transparency; he may have come off well looking at it. Who made the exact decision? Why, when we knew that this was taking place for a week, was it then, at 9:58, decided to not put it out?
And then Mr. Ocampo just comes to the microphone –- and we’re talking about transparency and war crimes –- he makes a five-minute speech and then walks off without taking any questions –- runs away. Whoever coordinates visitors, people should be told if you are going to approach the mike, if we’re going to spend the time to put you down on all these lists and paperwork -- you want to improve the efficiency of the United Nations. They should be told, you should take questions or else do not go to the microphone.
Spokesman: On the Secretary-General’s meeting with staff, we had to broadcast it on the Web so that United Nations offices around the world could watch it. We realize that anyone with a computer could then watch it. And we decided that to make it a little bit easier for you, we would broadcast it on in-house television so that, at least, you could watch it on a clear picture.
We said, well, that’s practically the same as making it public. Shouldn’t we allow journalists in the General Assembly Hall, and shouldn’t we allow you to have a live feed. And the feeling was that the staff could possibly interpret that as our doing a public relations stunt instead of what we intended, which was a sincere exchange of views between the Secretary-General and his staff at this troubled time.
I frankly don’t know how the decision was made yesterday to allow you to have a live feed. So that’s an inexcusable error on our part. Our office had been told that by United Nations television and we told you. But apparently that decision had never been made on the 38th floor. And, this morning, the 38th floor reaffirmed their earlier decision not to allow the feed to go live after many of you had already made your broadcast arrangements. So, that was a real cock-up and I can only apologize.
On the Prosecutor, we have no control over him. We did arrange for him to come down because we knew you wanted to speak with him. If he didn’t take questions, I apologize again, but I have no control over him.
Question: ... to use the feed that went out?
Spokesman: After I realized there was this confusion, I did talk to the Chief of Staff and then with UN television and they now agree to let you use the video of the event. So, you can have the whole thing from DPI.
Question: Just a follow-up on that, Fred. I mean, I understand that we’re going to get the video now, that’s fine. But, we’ve raised this problem before, and the problem with having the decision overturned two minutes before he actually starts to speak is that some broadcasters sometimes take this feed live, and so what do we tell our audience if all of a sudden we say, “now we take you to the UN live and the screen is black”? I mean, it’s just really, it put us in an enormous bind that I don’t think a lot of people understand. Like, it’s just not a matter of “well, we’re not going to get the picture and we don’t have a story”. It’s that we oftentimes book satellite time, we tell our audience that we’re going live, and then two minutes before it happens, we get...
Spokesman: I heard the screams...
Question: Yeah, it’s just...
Spokesman: ...which is the first I was aware that someone had said to you yesterday that this would be held live, would be broadcast live. I still haven’t gotten to the bottom of why you were told yesterday, including by my own Office, that this would be held live. It’s a cock-up. I’m sorry. David?
Question: [inaudible] ... The topic of some of our discussion this morning. Richard’s point still hasn’t been addressed. It’s very hard to be angry at you because you presented a good case and you rectified it, and we’re appreciative of that. The point of the lack of parity between broadcasters and print journalists is something that has not been addressed. Is that something that ever will be addressed, or how can we address that, that problem?
Spokesman: Well, why don’t I just convey your views here to the information department’s TV unit and ask them to address it, and maybe the head of that unit could come and talk to you about it. James?
Question: Fred, even in his address to the staff, the Secretary-General said that his son was, I think the quotes were “associated somehow with the oil-for-food” programme. Can you say, has he ever acknowledged before that his son was associated somehow with the oil-for-food programme, and what does he mean? I did ask you last week whether he was aware of any other business dealings on the oil-for-food programme with his son. It seems he is aware of something. Can you tell us what that is?
Spokesman: He has told everything he has to tell on this subject to Volcker, and Volcker has investigated it, and I have nothing to add to that.
Question: That’s a piece of news.
Spokesman: He has told everything to Mr. Volcker. We’re not going to reopen this issue.
Question: In the staff meeting, there were two questions about the Arabic translation department. Do you know what these refer to?
Spokesman: I frankly don’t, but we can try to find out for you. Richard?
Question: How was it decided that Human Resources would conduct the moderator role, and don’t you think someone would perhaps say that that is an intimidating factor to staff members looking at someone calling on them? And, the third point is, there was a complaint that people who were known to be more eloquent, more open about their questions, and their views were not called on.
Spokesman: The event was what it was. I think a good cross-section of staff got to ask questions. Obviously, everyone couldn’t. I really have nothing to add to what took place this morning.
Question: Do you know how the HR person was chosen to moderate?
Spokesman: No, I wasn’t involved in the planning of the choreography. Yes?
Question: Fred, I’m hoping that little piece of paper that Stefan just gave you is the list of the one-dollar-a-year people?
Spokesman: Yes, in fact, in fact, it is. So this note is, I’m just looking at it for the first time, but it does list the names of all the people at Under-Secretary-General and Assistant-Secretary-General rank appointed to dollar-a-year contracts by the Secretary-General, and a paragraph each on visa status, payment of taxes and privileges and immunities.
Question: [inaudible] I just want to thank everybody who was involved in putting that together because I’m sure it was a lot of work. Secondly, since there are a lot of questions about the administration of the UN and the oil-for-food programme since the Secretary-General took over, it would be helpful for us to have a complete list going back to the Secretary-General’s tenure as Secretary-General, i.e., back to January 1st 1997, of the dollar-a-year people, in case there are any people who are not currently dollar-a-year people who might raise questions in our eyes?
Spokesman: They’re going to love you for that question. It took them a week to put this list together. I’ll relay that to them. Joe?
Question: If I could follow up on James, if I read the report, the interim report, I don’t recall, I could be wrong, the Secretary-General ever admitting or saying that Kojo had something to do with Iraq at all. So, if he did say that today for the first time, and that’s what we’re asking you -- is that the first time, is that new -- then you can’t say that’s all been said to Volcker. That’s the question, was it said to Volcker? Was it in the report?
Spokesman: Whatever he had to say on his son, he said to Volcker, so I mean...
Question: So, today what he said was not new? He already told them that...
Spokesman: It’s for you to judge whether something is news. I did not hear anything new today.
Question: The question is, Fred, has the Secretary-General ever publicly acknowledged before that his son had some connection to the oil-for-food programme?
Spokesman: Whatever he had to say on his son, he said to Volcker.
Question: The Secretary-General, when he met ICI, to give them the list that was sealed –- are the names being made public, or are they going to be kept secret?
Spokesman: That’s now for the Prosecutor to answer. But, the Secretary-General did not open that envelope.
Question: And, did he (the Prosecutor) open it, (on the spot?) himself?
Spokesman: I don’t know. You’ll have to ask him. I’m sorry he didn’t take any questions. Richard?
Question: I don’t know, did he get a chance to speak to the SG after the meeting? It would be interesting to know what he thought. There was a lot of applause about questions that were critical of the internal structure of the Organization, reprisals here, you know, complaints that have never been listened to, intimidations, the type of stuff it seemed like he didn’t hear at a normal staff meeting.
Spokesman: I didn’t get to speak to him, but I noted that he occasionally responded in the Hall to the applause, so I think he heard the staff loud and clear. Joe?
Question: You said when the procurement department gives a contract, do they also have a duty afterward to monitor that contract, or does it end once they award the contract?
Spokesman: That’s a technical question. I’ll have to...
Question: In other words, does a field procurement officer oversee how the contract is being fulfilled, if there are any problems...?
Spokesman: I’m sure there are procedures for that, but that’s an arcane administrative issue. I don’t know, we can check, we can check for you. Yes?
Question: Not to beat a dead resolution, but senior UN officials, we all know, were kind of gloating -– UN six, press nothing after the meeting. For those watching, I think it’s still important for you to acknowledge the big mistake, and we know it’s not your fault, the impact of a repeated television problem –- our hosts, our bosses, our supervisors -- it just is another nail in the head where they tune out the UN, can’t trust any information, anything can be planned, they’re busy with the Pope -- it’s huge damage that does not surface. They may think they kept the feed out, or they had... and we couldn’t have cared less if the meeting was closed, as I think you understand. We’re not trying to snoop around, but that, I’m sure my colleagues would agree, it does, it just makes them pull the trigger that says “no, we’ll plan for something else, there’s no need to” -- whether the SG wants to make a reform speech or anything else.
Spokesman: Heard you loud and clear. David?
Question: I would just add to that, it also gives those who want the opportunity to cast the UN in a negative light have a perfect opportunity to do so. On another point, the General Assembly meeting is tomorrow -- I know that’s a General Assembly matter -- and I’ve talked to their reformed press office there -- but can you -- but can you make a note that there is interest in, at least, getting a photo op of the discussion of the Secretary-General’s report that will occur tomorrow.
Question: One question that was asked in the Hall about a certain member of the Security Council that they said they didn’t want to be a member of the Council, is the Secretary-General concerned that his reform plans are being met with too much resistance from governments and, therefore, may not make it in time for the [inaudible].
Spokesman: It’s just the beginning of the process, and probably one of the stickiest things in this whole agenda is going to be Security Council reform. Member States have to slug it out and make the hard decisions at the end.
Question: Just a follow-up. The Chinese Ambassador said yesterday that he does not think there should be a deadline as the Secretary-General obviously put. Can you address that concern?
Spokesman: The Secretary-General’s recommendation was only a recommendation. It’s up to the Council to deal with this matter as they see fit.
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