DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
2 June 2005
The following is near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Associate Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
**Secretary-General on Côte d’Ivoire
Good afternoon. Starting off with a statement on the situation in Côte d’Ivoire:
“The Secretary-General strongly condemns the attack by Ivorian armed elements on the village of Guetrozon near Douékoué in western Côte d’Ivoire. The Secretary-General urges the Ivorian authorities to conduct a full enquiry into the incident and ensure that the perpetrators of the attack are quickly brought to justice. He calls on all parties concerned to refrain from any action that may lead to an escalation of tensions between the various communities in Côte d’Ivoire.”
And the full statement is available upstairs.
We’ve also just received the following update from the UN Mission in Côte d’Ivoire. They report that seven more people were killed last night in Douékoué, bringing the number of those murdered in the violence since Tuesday to 57, with some 65 people injured. According to the Mission, aid workers have described the scenes of the killing as grisly, with some people burnt in their houses and others slashed with machetes. The extent of the damage is massive and cannot be quantified at the moment. Humanitarian organizations have reported that 15,000 people are currently sheltering at the Catholic Church compound, as thousands of others were seen leaving the town yesterday. The UN operation in Côte d’Ivoire now has 250 troops deployed in and around Douékoué, with French Licorne forces also positioned around the town, where the situation remains tense and unpredictable.
I also have a statement on Lebanon:
“The Secretary-General strongly condemns the killing, in a blast in Beirut, of Samir Kassir, a prominent and outspoken Lebanese journalist, and another person in Beirut earlier today. He expresses his condolences to the families of both victims. The Secretary-General calls on the Lebanese Government to bring to justice the perpetrators and the instigators of today’s terrible crime and to ensure an end to impunity and the continuation of press freedom. He urges all parties to preserve national unity and calm during this important electoral period.”
**Secretary-General to General Assembly on AIDS
Earlier today, the Secretary-General addressed the General Assembly’s High-Level Meeting on HIV/AIDS, a day-long meeting which is reviewing the progress made in realizing the commitments set out in the 2001 Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS. In his speech, the Secretary-General said there’ve been some success stories but the epidemic continues to outrun efforts to contain it. He said there’s a need to build on gains made so far, and this will require increased resources, better planning, more vocal leadership and the empowerment of women and girls. We have copies of the speech upstairs and the Secretary-General will be here at 12:30 to speak to you about progress made towards meeting the targets set out in the 2001 Special Session. He’ll be joined by Dr. Peter Piot, the Executive Director of UNAIDS, and Richard Feachem, the Executive Director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
I also have a statement on Guatemala:
“The Secretary-General joins the High Commissioner for Human Rights in welcoming the approval by Guatemala’s legislature, of the opening of an Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in that country. The Office, which is expected to start operations in July, will advise the Guatemalan Government, State institutions and civil society on all matters related to the promotion and protection of human rights. The High Commissioner’s presence will continue the work begun by the UN verification mission in Guatemala, known as MINUGUA, which completed its mandate in 2004.”
Turning to the Security Council, they met in closed consultations this morning under the French Presidency for the month of June and those consultations are now over. On the agenda were the programme of work and a briefing by Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Tuliameni Kalomoh on the Central African Republic. Côte d’Ivoire also came up under “other matters”. Then at 3 p.m. this afternoon, the Secretary-General will brief the Council, in closed consultations, on his recent visit to Sudan and Addis Ababa, in Ethiopia, where he attended a conference to raise support for the African Union operation in Darfur.
The Council President, French Ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sablière, will then brief the press on the programme of work for June immediately after the AIDS briefing right here in 226.
Turning to Cyprus, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Kieran Prendergast left Cyprus for Athens earlier today, continuing his regional tour. From there he will head to Ankara before returning to New York. While on the island, he had the opportunity to meet several times with both His Excellency Mehmet Ali Talat and His Excellency Tassos Papadopoulos. He also had discussions with a number of political leaders on the island. Speaking to reporters a short while ago, Prendergast said he was leaving with a better understanding of the situation. While he is neither a pessimist nor an optimist, he remains a realist, he said. He added that the UN is in Cyprus to encourage and facilitate, but ultimately it is a matter for the two sides to arrive at an agreement for a settlement.
On Sudan, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Sudan, Jan Pronk, left today to Darfur for a two-day visit, which will include a trip to Nyala, where he is expected to meet with a high-level delegation of the Arab League headed by its Secretary-General, Amr Moussa. He is also expected to attend a tribal reconciliation meeting that the First Sudanese Vice-President Taha is also expected to attend. Pronk will be back in Khartoum tomorrow, where he is to meet with US Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick, who is conducting his visit to Sudan. Meanwhile, the UN mission in Sudan and the Sudan Liberation Movement held ongoing discussions on issues relating to the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, including deployment of UN troops to the south.
**Democratic Republic of the Congo
Turning to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the UN Mission in that country reports that a UN human rights team came under fire during a verification mission in the village of Lugo in the north-eastern district of Ituri. The team had flown in by helicopter to investigate allegations that members of the militia, known as the FNI, had abducted and raped women in a local chapel last month. While the team was in the village, the militia leader, Paul Karim, sent en envoy to see why the team was actually there. A senior UN peacekeeper with the team said they were there to speak with the residents and invited the militia leaders to meet with them.
Then, while the UN helicopter was taking off, the UN team came under a hail of fire that lasted several minutes. They were able to take off. No one was injured although the helicopter was damaged. Nepalese peacekeepers, who were providing security for the team, returned fire and a helicopter gunship and more peacekeepers were sent in to reinforce the initial UN team. Four peacekeepers were injured in the exchange. There’s no word on casualties from the militias, but we do hope to have more information later today.
The UN Mine Action Centre for Afghanistan says that it’s temporarily suspending all its demining operations in the Kandahar-to-Herat section of the country’s national ring road and on some secondary roads in the area. The suspension follows a bomb attack yesterday, which killed two Afghan deminers and injured five others. This bomb attack was the third of its kind against demining organizations in the past two weeks. And we have more information available upstairs.
**WFP in Zimbabwe
The World Food Programme’s (WFP) Executive Director, James Morris, who is travelling through Southern Africa as the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Humanitarian Needs, says he had a good meetings yesterday with Zimbabwe’s President, Robert Mugabe, Government ministers, the UN Country Team, NGOs and donors. WFP said the Government would welcome food aid from the United Nations and other agencies. In response, WFP says it is now preparing to mobilize between 200,000-300,000 tons of maize to assist at least 3 million people in Zimbabwe.
Just a couple of more notes. Two weeks ago, as Niger’s lean season neared and indications emerged that the country faced a looming “silent crisis”, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs launched a four-month Flash Appeal for $16.2 million. The appeal will help 3.6 million individuals, including some 800,000 children under the age of five, who have all been affected by the nation’s food crisis. Some 150,000 children are currently suffering from malnutrition in that country. To date, not a single dollar has been pledged to that Flash Appeal. And you can read more about it in a press release from OCHA upstairs.
Heads-up for tomorrow, the President of the General Assembly, Mr. Jean Ping, will tomorrow submit to the Assembly the first draft of the outcome document for the September summit, and tomorrow at 11 in this room, Mr. Ping will hold a press briefing to go over that draft with you.
And that is it for me. Any questions?
**Questions and Answers
Question: On Mr. Stephanides, he’s said he’s not guilty of the crime for which he’s been dismissed summarily. Is there an appeals process he will now have to go through?
Associate Spokesman: Yes. The Staff Rules are very clear on the appeal process. He has two months to submit an appeal to the Joint Disciplinary Committee, and then that can be taken to a further appeal to the UN Administrative Tribunal. So he has avenues of appeal that are open to him.
Question: As far as Mr. Sevan is concerned, you told us yesterday that his contract has been extended. Do you know if he’s in the country?
Associate Spokesman: What I do know is that his contract was extended on 19 April, but I don’t know if he’s in or out of the country.
Question: President Bush yesterday determined that the situation in Sudan amounts to genocide. Since there’s a convention against genocide that necessitates action, wouldn’t it be helpful for Secretary-General Annan to reassess his determination that the situation doesn’t amount to genocide?
Associate Spokesman: The Secretary-General is fully behind the findings of the Commission that went to Sudan a few months ago. The Commission said the offences such as crimes against humanity and war crimes that had been committed in Darfur may be no less serious or heinous than genocide. The Security Council then referred the names of several suspects to the International Criminal Court, which the Secretary-General welcomed. And as you know, he was recently in Darfur to see things for himself and described the situation as “remaining unacceptable”.
Question: There’s no convention against heinous crimes but there is one against genocide and that word necessitates action. Isn’t it the next logical step?
Associate Spokesman: The Commission that went to Darfur did a thorough job and the Secretary-General fully stands behind its conclusions.
Question: Some questions about Stephanides. Why wasn’t Mr. Stephanides given what is normal operating procedure, as I understand, a chance to have a hearing. And if he does have a hearing, how will there be some assurance that it will be transparent and his point taken into consideration in full? Another thing, in reading the statement you released yesterday, I didn’t see any revelation that came up that justified the dismissal over the course of the internal investigation here. Exactly what came about in the investigation that’s new in the four months he was being investigated? Also, why does Mr. Stephanides get summarily dismissed but Sevan gets rehired? Why does it appear as a double standard, of sorts?
Associate Spokesman: There is no double standard. The Volcker Committee continues to look into the activities of Mr. Sevan and, therefore, it was decided that the UN’s own internal administrative proceedings against Mr. Sevan would be suspended until the Volcker Committee concluded its work on Mr. Sevan. The Volcker Committee completed its work on Mr. Stephanides. We, therefore, proceeded on the administrative proceedings against him. The Staff Rules are clear and transparent. You can get them after the briefing. It is within the Secretary-General’s authority, according to the Staff Rules, that if he finds a serious breach of UN regulations, he can move to summarily dismiss an employee. Then that employee, as I explained, has the right to appeal through the Joint Disciplinary Committee and then if, necessary, through the UN Tribunal. These procedures are not made up as we go along. They’re all clearly written down in the Staff Regulations.
Question: Will Mr. Stephanides be given a chance to have a hearing?
Associate Spokesman: If he decides to appeal -- and I understand from the reporting that he will appeal -- there will be a hearing with the Joint Disciplinary Committee, which is made up of representatives named by the Secretary-General and representatives of the staff.
Question: Is there anything on this case that’s fresh from what was in the interim report, some facts that we don’t know, because all we have is what was written up in the interim report from Volcker and many of us feel from reading the report that what Mr. Sevan is accused of having done seems to be more egregious, so it’s very confusing to us.
Associate Spokesman: We looked at the evidence and the Secretary-General took a decision that there was a serious breach of staff rules and then moved to dismissal. Again, to go back to my earlier point, the case against Mr. Sevan is ongoing with the Volcker Committee and that’s why we have suspended the proceedings against him until Volcker finished his work.
Question: I’m sorry to harp on this but I want to get it clear. The central contention of Mr. Stephanides is that he was not acting alone, that it was a political decision that was taken by the UN Steering Committee. And Volcker’s report says that the Steering Committee took a decision not to award it to the lowest bidder because it was French since the French already had the BNP deal. Two questions: Does the UN believe and assert that Mr. Stephanides was acting on his own and should, therefore, carry responsibility for it? Or, does the UN now have intentions of summarily dismissing the rest of the members of the Steering Committee, which took the decision Mr. Volcker identified?
Associate Spokesman: Each case is looked at on its own merits. We looked at the evidence provided in the Volcker Committee and a decision was taken. Now Mr. Stephanides has the right to appeal that decision. I won’t hypothesize into what other cases may come up but obviously, as in the case of Mr. Sevan, other actions may be taken.
Question: Just to clarify: does the UN believe or not believe that Mr. Stephanides acted on his own? Is the UN investigating other members of the Steering Committee?
Associate Spokesman: We looked at the evidence concerning Mr. Stephanides and a decision was taken on him, on his actions, that there was a serious breach of Staff Rules and dismissal then ensued. The Volcker investigation continues and we will act on the findings of the Volcker Committee as they come out.
Question: You keep using that word “serious breach”. It seems this is something Annan decided on his own, since you’re basing it on the Volcker report, and Volcker also reported that Nair hired someone for reasons that had nothing to do with oil-for-food money. He also determined that Riza shredded documents the day after the Council decided the whole documentation should be handed over. Those were not deemed serious breaches for some reason, while this is deemed a serious breach. Why the difference?
Associate Spokesman: Each case was looked at on its own merits.
Question: When you say looked at --?
Associate Spokesman: Looked at the evidence on its own merits.
Question: And the decision is made by --?
Associate Spokesman: The decision was taken by the Secretary-General, based on –
Question: So the Secretary-General looked at each case and decided this is a serious breach and this is not a serious breach.
Associate Spokesman: They were looked at, one after the other, each on their own merits. And we’ve explained the issue of Mr. Nair here, as we did with Mr. Riza.
Question: Are there any other UN staff members, either mentioned in the Volcker report or not mentioned, who are under investigation for allegedly wrongdoing in relation to oil-for-food?
Associate Spokesman: As people are officially notified of administrative charges against them regarding oil-for-food, we’ll let you know.
Question: Please, if the US issues an indictment, they give an explanation for that. Most legal or disciplinary systems issue an explanation. All we have is the “serious breach”. Would it be possible for the UN to explain exactly what it considers to be the “serious breach” and why Mr. Stephanides bears responsibility for that “serious breach” and not anybody else?
Associate Spokesman: The evidence is based on what’s in the Volcker report. This case is obviously not closed, because Mr. Stephanides intends to appeal. So that process needs to go forward and I don’t want to say anything that may prejudice that.
Question: What’s the criteria for “serious breach” and not serious breach? Sounds arbitrary. And why wasn’t he given a hearing before being dismissed in a serious step that affects his life?
Associate Spokesman: The Rules are very clear and a decision was made to summarily dismiss him. He has the right to a hearing, if he appeals.
Question: Shouldn’t he have had a hearing first?
Associate Spokesman: A charge letter was sent to him, a reply was sent back from him or his attorney and then a decision was taken. That’s the process and how it’s always done, as clearly explained in the Staff Rules. Due process was followed.
Question: For clarification, you keep citing the Volcker investigation as the source of the information from which the decision was taken to summarily dismiss. Were there any findings made by the UN internal investigators that made more of an argument?
Associate Spokesman: We had the evidence we had and a decision was made. There’s nothing more for me to add to this. Thank you very much.
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