DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
6 May 2005
Following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Associate Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
**Statement Attributable to Spokesman for Secretary-General
I will start off with a statement regarding the elections that took place yesterday in the United Kingdom:
“The Secretary-General expresses his warmest congratulations to Prime Minister Tony Blair on the results of the elections held in the United Kingdom yesterday. He greatly values the close working relationship he has established over the past eight years with Mr. Blair and his Government. The Secretary-General looks forward to continued collaboration with the British Government in dealing with the many challenging issues before the United Nations, including the critical process of reform of this Organization, which it is undertaking.”
And the statement is available upstairs.
I’d like to announce an upcoming trip by the Secretary-General. He leaves for Moscow this weekend to participate in the commemorations entitled “The 60th anniversary of the victory in the Great Patriotic War”.
While in Moscow, the Secretary-General may hold a number of bilateral meetings with some Heads of State and Government, who are also participating in these commemorations.
On the sidelines, the Secretary-General will join the other members of the Middle East Quartet for a working meeting. Also attending the meeting will be the Quartet’s Special Envoy James Wolfensohn, as well as the US Security Coordinator General William Ward. They will brief the Quartet members on the situation on the ground and the latest developments regarding the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and parts of the West Bank.
The Secretary-General will then travel to Geneva, where, on Wednesday, he will host a mini-summit with President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria and President Paul Biya of Cameroon to discuss the BakassiPeninsula.
The Secretary-General will be back in New York towards the end of next week.
And also on the subject of history, on Monday, 9 May, the General Assembly will hold a plenary meeting in observance of the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War and in commemoration of all victims of the war.
On Thursday, 12 May, a special closed meeting will be conducted by the Secretariat to draw up a preliminary list of speakers for the September 2005 General Assembly summit.
**Background Briefing on Sudan – Monday
The Secretary-General’s report on how the UN can support the African Union mission in Darfur, Sudan, as requested by the Security Council, is expected to be released on Monday.
In that connection, following Monday’s noon briefing, senior UN officials from the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, the Department of Political Affairs, as well as the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs will hold a background briefing on the complexities and challenges facing Darfur, and what the UN is doing to address those issues.
And the Security Council has no meetings or consultations scheduled for today.
Yesterday, Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette concluded two days of meetings in which she received feedback from more than 50 different UN department representatives around the world, to follow up on the findings of the integrity survey that the United Nations commissioned last year.
The talks included a dialogue with UN staff on the reform initiatives that are being rolled out in the coming months, and developed this year.
On a specific reform proposal -- the draft policy on whistleblower protection posted on the internal website three weeks ago -- the Deputy Secretary-General also received constructive suggestions and input from staff on that proposal. This is the first time that a major policy decision goes through this kind of process of informal staff consultations. It does not replace the formal consultative process with the official UN Staff bodies.
In a report to the General Assembly, the Secretary-General says the number of allegations of sexual exploitation or abuse within the UN system in 2004 totalled 121, up from 53 allegations in the previous year.
Most of the allegations occurred in peacekeeping missions.
The report also details what’s being done to deal with the issue, and you can find copies of the report out on the racks or up on the Internet.
The UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, says it is supporting the emergency vaccination of children in a district near Jakarta, Indonesia, in an attempt to halt the spread of an outbreak of polio.
It also says that an immunization campaign against measles, mumps and rubella was launched today for 1.2 million children and young people in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
**Lebanon Stakeout Reminder
Just an advisory, as you know, Lebanese Prime Minister Mohammed Mikati, and Foreign Minister Mahmoud Hammoud will be meeting with the Secretary-General at 3:30 this afternoon. Following their meeting, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister will proceed to the Security Council stakeout on the 2nd floor to speak to the press. And we will announce when they’re on their way down.
**New MALU Chief
And at the end of this briefing, I wanted to introduce to you the new chief of the Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit, Gary Fowlie.
**The Week Ahead at United Nations
And today being a Friday, we have the Week Ahead for you.
That’s it from me. Any questions?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Stéphane, on this row with Congress over the Parton documents. In the correspondence that Mr. Volcker released yesterday, he made it clear that decisions on it on diplomatic immunity were decisions to be taken by the UN administration, not by him. The question then is, is the UN going to sue Robert Parton for either breeching his confidentiality agreement or taking documents that maybe he wasn’t entitled to take?
Associate Spokesman: The issue of confidentiality and the documents that Mr. Parton apparently handed over to Congress is something that Mr. Volcker is dealing with. That is between Mr. Volcker and the Congress.
As for any legal action, I can’t answer any hypothetical legal issues.
Question: That’s exactly not what Mr. Volcker said in the correspondence that he released between him and Mr. Parton’s lawyer. He said it was a question for the UN. Who... (Inaudible) would they consult him. So, my question is, the UN...(Interrupted)?
Associate Spokesman: It is a fact that the issue of functional immunity as it belongs to the Organization can only be lifted by the Secretary-General. That’s a statement of fact.
In any eventual lifting of immunity dealing with staff from Mr. Volcker’s committee, we will be guided by Mr. Volcker in his efforts to protect the integrity of his investigation.
Question: So, is it possible to break functional immunity? It’s not something that you can break, is it?
Associate Spokesman: The immunity belongs to the Organization.
Question: But has Mr. Parton done anything wrong in the UN’s view?
Associate Spokesman: I don’t have a legal answer to that question. Yes, Nick?
Question: Steph, I was wondering if you can speak a little bit to the frustrations within the UN and from the Secretary-General on the fact that he’d established this Volcker committee to serve as this very credible arbiter of what went wrong in oil-for-food, and now it’s being dragged into controversy itself, and has sort of been hijacked by what appears to be a very political game between Republican members of Congress, who have their own agenda, and the UN itself.
Is there frustration that the Volcker committee may also be losing its authority; especially with such a crucial final report coming up on the Council and that it might not get the cooperation that it needs? What’s the feeling from the Secretary-General?
Associate Spokesman: You know, the Volcker panel was established close to a year ago to go give us in-depth answers to what happened during the oil-for-food programme. Not only the behaviour of UN staff, but looking at the actions of the Security Council and MemberStates as a whole. We feel that the Volcker panel has the tools for an investigation which needs to be deep and wide, and we hope that they are able to conclude their work.
Question: But with all these, you know, subpoenas from the Hyde committee and possibly more subpoenas from Coleman and Shays; and who knows what else? You don’t think that this process is being hijacked by the US Congress?
Associate Spokesman: I can’t speak to the motivations of the US Congress. Mr. Volcker is trying to protect the integrity of the investigation and we are trying to do that as well. And it is of concern to us. Yes, James?
Question: The interviews that Mr. Annan had with the Volcker commission, were they audiotaped or videotaped?
Associate Spokesman: The records kept by the Volcker panel of the Secretary-General’s interviews were all kept by the Volcker panel. Whether they are written or taped interviews, I don’t know. You’d have to ask them
Question: Presumably, the Secretary-General knew how they would be recorded. So, I am asking you as the UN Secretary-General’s Spokesman...(Interrupted)?
Associate Spokesman: The investigation is being led by Mr. Volcker. You should ask them that question. The Secretary-General made himself available a number of times to them. Made all his files available. How they recorded those interviews, it’s a question for them.
Question: When do you expect the UN to have a legal view on whether Mr. Parton has done anything wrong?
Associate Spokesman: I don’t know. Yes, Massoud?
Question: You know, in this particular instance it seems that Mr. Parton’s handing over of the documents to the US Congress... Has it undermined the integrity of the Volcker committee? And does the UN have any position on that, at all -- legal, or otherwise?
Associate Spokesman: We would like to protect the integrity of the Volcker panel. The issues between the Volcker panel and the US Congress are being dealt with directly between Congress and Mr. Volcker. Yes, Mohammad?
Question: I have two questions, Stéphane. Do you have any information about Ms. Perelli’s negotiations with Israeli officials, and could she have some progress in this regard? And another question is about the investigating team about Rafik Hariri’s killing.
Associate Spokesman: On the second question, we are still actively looking for someone to head that commission. We did have an administrative team on the ground for about a week. They have prepared the ground on logistics, security, communications matters so, when the commission is named, they can hit the ground running. Ms. Perelli is there. I don’t have her programme, but I can try and get you an update after the briefing on that. Yes, Lauren?
Question: Just a question: the UN worker that was detained yesterday, referencing the bomb at the U.K consulate; any comment on that?
Associate Spokesman: Throughout the day yesterday, we were in very close contact with the NYPD concerning the explosion at the Consulate. The Police informed us that a UN staff member had been taken into custody for questioning.
We were later informed that the staff member was released. And that’s all the information we have right now. Yes, James?
Question: Stéphane, it’s just not true what you’re telling us that the legal issues are being addressed directly between Mr. Volcker and the Congressional committee. In the correspondence that Mr. Volcker released, he referred Mr. Parton’s lawyer to Bruce Rashkow in the Legal Department, because, he said, that was the competent department. So, we’re trying to get an idea of what Legal Department to...(Interrupted)?
Associate Spokesman: We did receive a letter from Mr. Parton’s lawyer, which we answered on the same day. And we stated the facts -- the experts from the committee are covered by “functional immunity” as defined in the Convention on the Privileges and Immunity of the UN. We informed him that should he receive a subpoena, or any other legal process, from the any Government entity, he should forward that document to the United Nations. It was a statement of fact.
Question: Okay, let me ask you a question then on something else you just told us: Let me ask the question: Does immunity prevent a person from handing over documents or testifying before the Congressional committee if they want to do that?
Associate Spokesman: I can’t answer that question.
Question: When will the UN be in a position to answer that question?
Associate Spokesman: That’s an issue of not only international law, but national law, and I am not sure we’re at this point able to answer that question.
Question: What do you think of the fact that (Inaudible), received the subpoena for Mr. Parton last week -- several days before informing the United Nations that he had received that subpoena? Do you think there is something fishy in that?
Associate Spokesman: We’ve asked them to forward any legal instrument or subpoena as they’re received. But, whether or not there is something fishy, I will not venture.
Question: So, I believe that they have now forwarded the subpoena to the UN, is that correct?
Associate Spokesman: I am not aware that they have forwarded the subpoena to us, but I can check. Yes, sir?
Question: Could you tell me more about what is going to happen in the General Assembly on Monday, including the list of the speakers who are...(Interrupted)?
Associate Spokesman: I’ll check if we have a speakers’ list right after the briefing. Yes, Bill?
Question: On the verification team in Lebanon. Can you tell us what the timetable is for their work to be completed, when they will be back, stop, for starters?
Associate Spokesman: No. They’re setting their own timetable. They’re going about their work, verifying the withdrawal, working closely with the Lebanese authorities. When they have something to report to us, they will. But I have no update for today.
Question: Will they be returning to the site where shots were fired in the air?
Associate Spokesman: What’s important for us is that they have free and unfettered access throughout the territory. They will go wherever they want, when they want. And we’re not getting a daily programme from them. And when they’re satisfied that they have something to report, they will report back to us.
Question: Can you say how many places they have visited so far?
Associate Spokesman: No, I do not have that information.
Question: Have they encountered any other problems other than the one...(Interrupted)?
Associate Spokesman: No. If they do encounter problems they will try to be resolved locally. And again, once they’re ready to share some information and update, we’ll get a report from them.
Question: Has the Lebanese Government, though, addressed the issue of the camp where they were unable to go? Or else has there been an appeal to the Lebanese Government to sort of turn around that situation and make sure that they have access?
Associate Spokesman: The appeal to the Lebanese Government is that they the team be given complete and unfettered access throughout the territory. They’re continuing their work. When and if they will go back to that camp, I don’t know. But, the important thing is that they’ll determine when they think they have enough information to report back to us.
Question: Has the Secretary-General been in contact with any officials of the Lebanese or Syrian Government over this matter?
Associate Spokesman: Well, he will see the Lebanese officials this afternoon at 3:30.
Question: Does that mean a no, so far?
Associate Spokesman: I am not aware of any contact between him and Lebanese authorities before that? Yes, James?
Question: Does the Secretary-General object to his testimony to the Volcker committee being made public?
Associate Spokesman: This is of concern to us; the handing over of documents. But I think we need to be clear..., the information..., what the Secretary-General told the Volcker committee is in the report. He was open...(Interrupted)?
Question: A précis of it is in the report.
Associate Spokesman: Excuse me?
Question: A précis of it is in the report.
Associate Spokesman: The Volcker committee included what they wanted to include in the report. It’s in there. He was completely open with the panel members and he had nothing to hide from them.
Question: So, is the Secretary-General willing himself to publish his testimony to the Volcker committee?
Associate Spokesman: No. The Volcker committee has not concluded its work. It needs to be allowed to conclude its work. And that’s what Mr. Volcker is doing -- trying to protect the integrity of his investigation. Yes, Mohammad?
Question: The Lebanese Government considers Hezbollah the symbol of resistance against Israel. May I have the point of view of the United Nations?
Associate Spokesman: The issue of the militia and other armed groups that exist in Lebanon is something that will be dealt with in the upcoming Larsen’s report. They’ve already had some discussions on those issues, but they have not
reached an operational level yet. And that’s something that he will be examining.
Gary, would you like to join us? Welcome.
Gary Fowlie: Thanks very much. I’m Gary Fowlie, the new Chief of Media Liaison and Accreditation. I just want to thank Stéphane. I also want to thank the media for the very kind and maybe gentle -- too gentle -- an introduction in the last two weeks. It’s much appreciated.
I also want to tell you that I look forward to continuing the very open door policy that Liaison and Accreditation has had for you. If there are any issues that come up, of course we want to hear them. We want to help you resolve them and we want to help you do your job. So that’s why we’re here. And in light of that, we’re going to do what we can to increase and improve the information flow. We’ll be putting the media alert on the website, sending you it electronically, and trying to update it in a more timely manner, in a real time manner.
So just to say again, thanks for your welcome. And I look forward to working on your behalf and working with the very strong team that already exists, of which you know most of them.
Associate Spokesman: Thank you. Any questions for Gary?
Question: I have a comment. I’m fortunate. I only have to renew my pass once a year. But whenever I do, I’m struck by the fact that the same form has been used for at least 20 years. It asks things like, how do you file your stories? by telegraph? for instance. It might be a minor change to update that form.
Gary Fowlie: Not necessarily minor. I think it’s time to relook at the questions we ask. And as I said, we’re going to try to streamline the procedure, make it a little more 2005.
Question: (inaudible) closed down several years ago?
Gary Fowlie: (inaudible) code.
Question: I’d like to reinforce Ian’s decision. It’s pretty (inaudible) what we have to go through, which is really trivial.
Gary Fowlie: Well, I’ll assure you that the next time you have to renew that won’t be there.
Question: (inaudible) short as well?
Gary Fowlie: We’ll do that.
That’s it? Thank you.
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