DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
23 June 2005
Following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Marie Okabe, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General. Ms. Okabe was joined by Djibril Diallo, Spokesman for the President of the General Assembly, for the question-and-answer period.
**Secretary-General - Quartet
Earlier today, the Secretary-General joined other members of the Middle East Quartet for a meeting at the U.S. Ambassador’s residence in London.
Also joining the meeting were U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov; Deputy Prime Minister of Luxembourg Jean Hasselborn, representing the European Union(EU) Presidency; EU High Representative for a Common and Foreign Policy Javier Solana, and European Commission External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner; Quartet Special Envoy James Wolfensohn, and U.S. Security Coordinator Lt. Gen. William Ward.
The Quartet, in a joint statement, reaffirmed its support for the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and parts of the northern West Bank, and reiterated that this moment of optimism should not be missed to revitalize the Road Map
It encouraged Palestinians and Israelis to take full advantage of this opportunity to work cooperatively and directly with each other. It urged both Israelis and Palestinians to avoid any escalation of violence so that the withdrawal can take place peacefully.
Quartet members also reiterated their full support for Wolfensohn’s efforts to strengthen the overall capacity of the Palestinian Authority. They also urged Israel to take immediate steps to relieve the economic hardship of the Palestinian people.
The members of the Quartet said they would convene again before the withdrawal.
Here at Headquarters, the Security Council today is holding consultations on Guinea-Bissau and Côte d’Ivoire.
On Guinea-Bissau, Council members received a briefing from Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Tuliameni Kalomoh on the elections that took place there over the weekend.
The Council is now discussing Côte d’Ivoire, on which it was briefed by Pierre Schori, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for that country.
We expect Mr. Schori to speak to you at the stakeout once consultations adjourn, and we’ll squawk that before it happens.
The Secretary-General, in his latest report to the Security Council on Côte d’Ivoire, warns of “protracted and dangerous delays” in implementing key provisions of the Pretoria Agreement dealing with that country’s peace process. Only limited progress has been made in implementing that agreement in the past three months.
The Secretary-General says that the United Nations will support the electoral process by providing technical support, and that he intends to appoint shortly a High Representative to ensure the credibility of the elections, currently scheduled for the end of October.
Meanwhile, he warns, widespread human rights abuses are continuing in the north and the south of the country, with few steps being taken to combat the prevailing climate of impunity.
The report is out on the racks today. As I said, Mr. Schori will be able to brief you more on that at the stakeout.
In Haiti yesterday afternoon, a Brazilian peacekeeper was shot in the chest by unknown gunmen during a routine patrol in the Cite Soleil area of Port-au-Prince. He was first treated at the Argentine hospital, and subsequently underwent surgery in the Dominican Republic, where his condition is reported to be stable.
On the same day, Brazilian peacekeepers in the Bel Air district assisted in the rescue of a Haitian customs officer who had been kidnapped two days earlier.
We have press releases in French on both these incidents.
Meanwhile, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean Marie Guéhenno continues his visit to Haiti, where he will meet with UN mission leadership, as well as members of the Transitional Government.
Turning to Afghanistan, the UN mission there condemned an attack that took place against an electoral convoy two days ago, which resulted in the death of one person and the wounding of another. The attack occurred in Kandahar province as the convoy was transporting electoral materials to Helmand.
The UN mission condemns any violence that undermines the electoral process, and especially that which harms individuals working for or supporting the elections. Anyone disrupting September’s parliamentary and provincial council elections is working against the interests of the Afghan people, the mission said.
We have more details in today’s briefing notes from Kabul.
**Statement Attributable to Spokesman
on Uzbek Asylum-Seekers in Kyrgyzstan
Late yesterday, we issued a statement attributable to the Spokesman on the fate of Uzbek asylum seekers in Kyrgyzstan. In that statement, the Secretary-General said he is seriously concerned about the fate of Uzbek asylum-seekers in Kyrgyzstan and, in particular, reports about their possible forced deportation to Uzbekistan.
Such a decision would contradict the commitments currently given to the Secretary-General by the Kyrgyz authorities, and would constitute the violation of the 1951 UN Refugee Convention to which Kyrgyzstan is a signatory.
We have a full statement upstairs, for those of you who haven’t seen it.
**Deputy Secretary-General – General Assembly Hearings
Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette today spoke at the General Assembly’s hearings with civil society representatives, calling the event a significant step in the way the United Nations relates to civil society.
She noted that, through a decision of the General Assembly, time has been reserved in its formal deliberative process to bring in the views of civil society in an organized fashion. She said she hopes that the format will be used again, as part of the Assembly’s efforts to open up and interact much more with non-State actors.
The Deputy Secretary-General also discussed the UN reform effort, saying we are entering the must crucial phase of the reform process for this year.
We have copies of her remarks upstairs, as delivered.
**Mine Action Service
The Department of Peacekeeping Operations is announcing the appointment of Modibo Touré of Mali as the new Director of the UN Mine Action Service. Mr. Touré, who served most recently as Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Ethiopia, is replacing Martin Barber, who retires at the end of July.
We have more information on this appointment, as well as a bio-note on Mr. Touré, upstairs in the Spokesman’s Office.
Turning to the tsunami, it was almost six months ago that the Indian Ocean tsunami devastated communities throughout the region. But while the immediate relief effort has been extraordinary, the job ahead remains daunting. That’s what former U.S. President Bill Clinton said at a press conference in Geneva yesterday.
Speaking as the UN’s Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery, he noted that remaining challenges include how to quickly restore livelihoods, where to rebuild housing, and what are the priorities now that the relief phase is over.
So far, the World Food Programme (WFP) has managed to bring food to 2 million people in Indonesia, Sri Lanka and the Maldives, and UNICEF (United Nations Children's Fund) has been providing daily drinking water to more than a million survivors. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) has supplied health kits for nearly 2 million people, and the UN Development Programme, the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization are helping fishermen and farmers to rebuild their businesses.
We have a press release on this upstairs.
Four independent experts of the UN Commission on Human Rights issued a statement today saying that, a year after it first requested access to visit detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan or the Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba, they deeply regret that the Government of the United States has still not invited them to visit the detainees.
Due to the seriousness of the allegations made about the detainees’ conditions and the lack of cooperation, the experts say they will jointly conduct an investigation based on all credible sources regarding the situation of the detainees in GuantanamoBay.
**United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime – Africa Report
Antonio Maria Costa, head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, today launched a study on crime and development in Africa, at the WoodrowWilsonCenter in Washington, D.C.
The report shows that Africa has a very serious crime problem, which may be interfering with the continent’s development.
It also notes that Africa has become a transit area for international drug traffickers, who have contributed to the development of cocaine and heroin problems in some urban areas.
There’s a press release with more information on that.
Turning to the General Assembly, today is United Nations Public Service Day. At a brief ceremony this morning, United Nations Public Service Awards were presented to eight winners by General Assembly President Jean Ping and Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs José Antonio Ocampo.
The winners are from Canada, India, Mexico, Morocco, Spain, and Singapore.
Djibril Diallo is here today, if you have any questions on the General Assembly.
**Commemoration on Signing of United Nations Charter
Finally, on the UN’s sixtieth anniversary, the Department of Public Information wanted us to announce that it has organized a commemoration on the signing of the United Nations Charter, which took place in San Francisco on 26 June 1945. The event will start at 9:30 a.m. in the General Assembly Hall on Monday, 27 June 2005.
The President of the General Assembly and the Secretary-General will speak. Three United Nations tour guides will read the Preamble of the Charter and the United Nations Singers will perform. The Under-Secretary-General of the Department of Public Information will introduce the programme.
That’s all I have for you today. Any questions?
**Questions for the Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Question: You made a list of some of the topics the Secretary-General went over with Condoleezza Rice. Did she talk about GuantanamoBay when they met?
Associate Spokesperson: I don’t have the readout of the entire meeting, so I will look into that afterwards for you.
Question: The Staff Council passed a resolution last week, expressing concern about the changing of contractors for UN telecommunications services. Apparently, in the past, all of the staff has been retained by new contractors. In this case, staff members with a lot of seniority are being told that they may not be kept on, and that everybody is going to be re-interviewed for their positions.
The Council has requested the Secretary-General to ensure that all current workers are retained by the new contractor. Could you check on whether there is any official reaction to this resolution?
Associate Spokesperson: Absolutely.
Question: I understand that some of what Edie alludes to might impact on the activities of UNTV, including coverage perhaps of services that they provide. Is there any sort of impact on us as broadcasters as to what UNTV will be able to provide? I ask more so in the context of the upcoming September Summit, another high-level event, for which we are going to need such service.
Associate Spokesperson: I have not heard anything on this until right now when Edie read me this. Whatever we find out, taking into consideration your concerns, we’ll make the announcement on whatever it is we have in reaction. [The correspondent was later told that we did not expect any disruption in the television service.]
Question: Just as a follow-up, apparently the change in contractors according to the Staff Union resolution is to take place on July 1.
Question: I have a question about the human rights investigation you talked about in Afghanistan and Iraq. Can you say what kind of cooperation you expect from the Americans in terms of access to staff, interviews, documents, that kind of thing?
Associate Spokesperson: This is what I just mentioned about the Guantanamo situation. The first part of your question I don’t have any guidance on, but in terms of the make-up of the experts, they are rapporteurs on the independence of judges and lawyers, on the rights to health, on torture and arbitrary detention. They are independent experts who speak in their own capacity and report to the Commission on Human Rights. [She later referred the correspondent to a press release issued by the experts containing details.]
Question: A couple of questions. Alexander Yakovlev [a UN Procurement Officer, who has recently resigned], it turns out was involved in the process of the selection of an Italian architecture firm that got the job working on the Capital Master Plan. Can you share with us whether OIOS or anybody else is looking into the way and methodology by which Mr. Yakovlev worked out that the Italian firm would get this job. Could you share this with us at some point, if not now?
Associate Spokesperson: I have nothing further on Mr. Yakovlev’s case. As you know, yesterday, we gave you information on his resignation, and we followed up on the factual questions after the briefing. Because the IIC [Independent Inquiry Committee] is now involved in this, we obviously won’t have anything further to say on that score.
Question: What I’m talking about is something that is out of the points of reference of the IIC, obviously, the actual renovation of the United Nations itself, the building. Can you please find out whether this is something that OIOS is actually looking into as part of their overall responsibilities?
Associate Spokesperson: The OIOS investigation, as you know, started last week, and it is not up to us to inform you on the details of what the OIOS investigation is looking into. I think we have to let the investigation proceed and then we’ll find out what exactly they’re looking into.
Question: Just as a follow-up, could you get some clarification on the process and procedures that took place in the selection of the Italian firm. That would be very useful to know, especially in the context of what we’ve learned about Mr. Yakovlev.
Another question. Congressional investigators are apparently looking at U.S. State Department communiqués with international companies that were doing business during the “oil-for-food” programme. They’ve come across cables that show that UNDP was actually encouraging certain international firms to pay kickbacks and bribes and some other form of appeasement to Saddam Hussein’s regime in order to secure contracts in the oil-for-food programme. Do you have any comment on that?
Associate Spokesperson: I think UNDP would categorically deny that they did such a thing. Of course, if this is something that is being looked at by the Commission, we obviously can’t say anything more until the investigation is over. Should anything come out, I’m sure appropriate measures will be taken. That’s what I have on that. Did you have a question? [Regarding the selection of the Italian firm, she later told the reporter that the procurement was conducted through normal international competitive bidding in accordance with standard UN procedures.]
Question: I just wanted to know if Kofi Annan levelled the same criticism at the U.S. for failing to give access for the GuantanamoBay investigation?
Associate Spokesperson: Today’s reaction is simply based on the fact that the independent experts can’t get in. I don’t have an immediate reaction from the Secretary-General on this. He’s on a plane. I’m not sure he’s aware that this has happened.
Question: On Haiti. The Security Council took a trip over to Haiti a couple of months ago. Are there plans for yet another Security Council meeting over there ahead of the elections there to lend some support?
Associate Spokesperson: We’ll ask the Security Council President if there’s something in the works. I know that for the next month, there are no Security Council missions, but I’ll look into that for you. [The correspondent was told later that at the moment there were no plans for another mission to Haiti following the one in April.]
Questions for the Spokesman for the President of the General Assembly
Question: Over the last couple of days, there have been all these speeches on the reform process. First of all, why was the meeting closed? Why on earth would the UN, which is supposed to be talking about the future of world governance, be shut up in its deliberations on that?
Number two, in terms of the actual speeches given by the delegations, why do we have absolutely no support at the time to provide us with the speeches that the delegations were giving? Why did everyone have to hang around outside the meeting trying to sneak in afterwards to get whatever little titbits were left? Can we please improve the access to the discussions about the UN reform process?
Spokesman: The decision to keep the meeting closed was a decision of the General Assembly. We had the President here yesterday at 2:30 to give you an early reading of some of the discussions that were going on to help you with your work. If it is a closed meeting, obviously one cannot take the statements of Member States and share them with the media, unfortunately.
The General Assembly decided that the meeting ...
Question: How can you justify the decision of the General Assembly? Why did Jean Ping not stand up and call on all Member States to have it open? I mean, Europe has just learned the price of trying to put through major reform processes without actually consulting and involving people adequately. Why is the head of the General Assembly not trying to conduct a tireless campaign to keep everything open and transparent on this?
Spokesman: The ground rules that are established by the General Assembly are beyond the President himself.
Question: Who within the General Assembly was pushing to have this a closed session?
Spokesman: There’s no specific individual, per se. The ground rules of the General Assembly are decided by the Bureau, and I’ve had the opportunity in the past to brief you on some of those, and I can come back to you on earlier statements on this.
Question: Two things. First, perhaps you could tell the Bureau it’s the consensus of the media that at a time when the United Nations is seeking to be more transparent and to conduct its operations more openly, to close a meeting on a very important issue such as UN reform raises the question of what Member States are trying to hide.
Secondly, today there was an open meeting with some of the NGOs. Can you make sure that we have copies of the speeches of their interventions, because that was a public meeting?
Spokesman: Okay. On your first point, I take note, and I will transfer the message to the Bureau. On the second point, I will work with you for the ...
Question: Well, this was a meeting organized by the General Assembly in the General Assembly chamber, so we should be able to have access at least to those speeches.
Spokesman: Yes, I remember stating that.
Question: Are we to understand as we go through the next weeks until the meeting in September, we will be encountering, if not exclusively all the meetings being closed, that the majority are going to be closed to journalists?
Spokesman: No, I don’t think so. Every meeting has its own specific requirements, and as I said, we’ll try and make sure we work with you on your own requirements. That’s why while consultations were going on, we had the President here at 2:30 yesterday to give you an early reading on some of the consultations that were going on.
I don’t think that it’s extraordinary to have this combination of closed and open meetings in the General Assembly. But I take your point and I will transmit it to the Bureau.
Question: Just a follow-up. It’s not extraordinary, it’s unacceptable. Would Jean Ping, the President of the General Assembly, issue an appeal to the General Assembly to ensure that all future discussion on reform of the UN are open and that we can have access to those discussions? Will he put his moral leadership behind that call to keep this process transparent?
Spokesman: Okay, your request will be transmitted to the President.
Question: It’s actually a question. Does he call for this process to be transparent?
Spokesman: I have to get his guidance on it.
Question: As a follow-up, if so, will he then come at least to [Press Conference Room] 226 here and give us an update or briefing on what took place in the closed session, so that we’re not out of the loop.
Spokesman: Sure, the President I think has been available to you beyond normal Presidents. If that’s what you require, I will again transmit that.
Question: It’s very good that he comes here to give us his assessment, because he’s the person who’s actually putting the documents together, but it’s also important that we hear what the individual Member States are saying.
Spokesman: Alright. Point taken.
Question: When you go to make that point, it’s about a healthy debate about reform. If we’re out of the loop of what the debate is, then it’s not going to be a healthy outcome.
Spokesman: Alright. Point taken. David, do you have a question?
Correspondent: No, I think they’re doing just fine.
Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General: If there are no more questions, no more comments, then have a good afternoon, and Mr. Schori will be at the stakeout on Côte d’Ivoire.
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