DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
19 July 2005
Following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon. I’m sorry, I’m a little late. I was waiting for a statement on Iraq attributable to the Spokesman.
**Statement Attributable to the Spokesman on Iraq
“The Secretary-General has learned with shock and dismay of the assassination today of Mijbil Sheikh al-Issa, a member of the Constitutional Drafting Commission of the Transitional National Assembly of Iraq. An advisor to the Commission was also tragically killed in the same attack. The Secretary-General notes that Mr. Issa was one of the 15 Sunni representatives who had recently joined the Commission with the purpose of drafting a new Constitution through an inclusive process that is responsive to the needs of all Iraqi constituencies. The Secretary-General strongly condemns this criminal act and hopes that it will not deter the Constitutional Commission from completing its important task on time.”
The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, Ashraf Qazi, also condemned the recent killings and suicide attacks across the country.
“These are unacceptable acts of violence under any circumstances”, he said. “These heinous acts are against the principles of Islam and human rights of all religions and beliefs, and must be condemned.” And there’s a press release upstairs with more details.
Qazi also met with Hachem al-Hassani, the Speaker of Iraq’s Transitional National Assembly, to discuss the constitution-making process and other developments.
Because of his work in Iraq at this time, Mr. Qazi will not be able to come to New York this week, as we had hoped, and, consequently, he will not be the guest at the noon briefing on Friday.
The Security Council today has no meetings or consultations scheduled. It wrapped up its open meeting on AIDS and peacekeeping yesterday by adopting a presidential statement welcoming the collaboration between the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, UNAIDS and its co-sponsors to address HIV/AIDS awareness among peacekeepers.
The Security Council, the statement said, recognizes that UN peacekeeping personnel can be important contributors to the response to AIDS, particularly for vulnerable communities in post-conflict environments.
I have an appointment by the Secretary-General. The Secretary-General has decided to appoint Louis Frederick Reuter IV of the United States as his Assistant Secretary-General and Executive Director of the Capital Master Plan. Mr. Reuter succeeds Toshiyuki Niwa of Japan, who left to join UNICEF.
Mr. Reuter has played a number of principal roles in architectural and health-care consulting firms and has had extensive planning and project development experience in the United States, the Middle East and South America. He recently served as Executive Vice-President of Administration for the New YorkPresbyterianHospital, during which time he was responsible for the rebuilding of the New YorkWeillCornellMedicalCenter.
**Secretary-General Statement on Civil Society Conference
The Global Conference on the Role of Civil Society in the Prevention of Conflict and Peacebuilding began here this morning. In a message to the Conference, delivered by Special Adviser Stephen Stedman, the Secretary-General said what was lacking in our conflict prevention efforts was full recognition of our increasing interdependence.
A new security consensus, he said, would require us to respond to violent conflicts far more equitably -- wherever they erupt. He noted that if peace agreements had been successfully implemented in only two countries, Rwanda and Angola, millions of lives could have been saved. The Secretary-General said he hopes the establishment of a UN Peacebuilding Commission will help to prevent such tragedies in the future. We have copies of that message upstairs.
**WFP/UNHCR – Tanzania
And the World Food Programme (WFP), together with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), today warned that continued food cuts are hurting Burundian and Congolese refugees in western Tanzania.
UNHCR and WFP are especially concerned about increasing sexual exploitation and violence against refugee women, who have to go outside the camps to look for work. Unless an additional $5 million is pledged soon, ration reductions will continue through December 2005. And there is a press release and a briefing note from Geneva on that subject.
In other refugee-related news, the UN refugee agency also reports that more than 5,000 eastern Liberian refugees in Côte d'Ivoire have chosen to return home under the agency’s voluntary repatriation programme. And there’s more of that in the briefing notes as well.
And also an item that the European Commission and diplomats from five donor countries completed an emergency mission to south-eastern Bangladesh to see for themselves the plight or more than 6,000 people from Myanmar who are living in extremely risky and deplorably squalid conditions there.
And from UNICEF, Ann M. Veneman, the Executive Director will visit Africa this week. She will take part in a harvest festival in a Kenyan village being aided by the UN Millennium Project, and she will visit children affected by fighting in northern Uganda. UNICEF also reports that it will join UN-HABITAT in a project to provide shelter for some 2,400 Somalians left homeless by the tsunami last December.
There are press releases on both of those items upstairs.
And then, at 12:45, the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict will brief on the role of civil society in the prevention of armed conflict and the goals of the Global Conference on Conflict Prevention, which we just reported to you on. And there are a number of speakers and that should start in about 30 minutes. Jody Williams, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and Campaign Ambassador for the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, is one of the speakers.
And then tomorrow, at 11:15, the Women’s Rights Caucus will brief on the role of women in preventing armed conflict at the regional level.
And at the noon briefing we will have Mrs. Inga-Britt Ahlenius of Sweden, the Under-Secretary-General of the Office of Internal Oversight Services will be a guest at the noon briefing and she will be introduced by Mark Malloch Brown, the Chief of Cabinet. And that’s tomorrow at the noon briefing.
And that’s all I have for you. Yes, Mark.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Does the UN consider what is happening in Iraq to be a civil war?
Deputy Spokesperson: I don’t think we’ve characterized it as such. I think the statement today again reflects the concerns that we do have of the ongoing violence and the need for everybody to pull together to try to bring the parties together and –
Question: Does that mean the UN does not consider what’s happening in Iraq to be a civil war?
Deputy Spokesperson: I have not seen that characterization, no.
Question: I just wanted to add that there are reports that 25,000 people have been killed in the last one year in Iraq. It is drifting toward a civil war, if it’s not already there. I just wanted to find out if there is a report since the press conference over here. The UN Compensation Commission paid, overpaid about $5 billion. Can you please find out if that is true? Was there ever a budget for the UN oil-for-food programme?
Deputy Spokesperson: Your question, I’m sorry. You’re reporting –
Question: The Compensation Commission overpaid the recipients by $5 billion.
Deputy Spokesperson: You’re referring to -- if you’re referring to press reports, recent press reports on some linkages between the Compensation Commission and the Volcker Report, we, we would not be commenting, if it’s something that the Volcker Commission is looking into at this moment.
Question: The Compensation Commission I don’t think falls under Volcker Commission’s (inaudible). What I’m saying is, that’s why you’re not going to be commenting on Compensation Commission?
Deputy Spokesperson: That’s, if it’s linked to the press reports that I think you’re referring to, then it quotes, I think it quotes findings or revelations from the Volcker Commission and we would not be commenting on anything that they would be looking into.
Question: Do you know if there was a budget for oil-for-food programme ever wherein all the allocations were made?
Deputy Spokesperson: Of course there was a budget for the oil-for-food programme.
Question: There was.
Deputy Spokesperson: Yes, Laura and then –
Question: Marie, I just wanted to ask, apparently the Government of Afghanistan is considering a war crimes court and a truth commission to document human rights abuses. And part of it is based on a plan by UN human rights officials. Has the Government of Afghanistan contacted the Secretary-General recently -- I know he’s in the hospital -- to go over this?
Deputy Spokesperson: I have not seen anything in the last few days. Yes?
Question: Marie, the drought situation in Mali is worsening and famine is taking place. Children, old people, women are dying now. This situation was anticipated months ago. What have the UN and the UN system done to deal with this situation?
Deputy Spokesperson: Let me find out from the Office of the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs on that one.
[Shortly after the meeting it was announced that there is a joint UN assessment mission currently under way to evaluate the food security situation in Mali, as part of an effort to determine the regional scope of the crisis.]
Question: Does the Secretary-General believe that by inviting an American as the new head of the CMP (Capital Master Plan) that can help get this through? I mean, I know it’sCuba who’s holding up the loan. Is there any political action at play? There’s a lot of opposition in UN Congress to the loan and to the UN estimates on how much CMP is going to cost. So what was the political play at appointing an American the head of CMP?
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, he was obviously the best qualified candidate for the job. We generally don’t go into the reasons for the final choice. In terms of what is going on, in terms of the loan for the Capital Master Plan, the Secretary-General hopes that they can come to a quick decision, as quickly as possible on the loan so that work on this plan can start as quickly as possible.
Question: You don’t think it’s a little odd that there’s so much criticism in the United States towards the UN? Many leading UN officials are American – Chris Burnham, Bob Weir? , this guy Reuter, Veneman, they’re all over the place. (Laughter) They’re in positions of great power, yet criticism is so strong. Does he think that there’s a bit of a disconnection there?
Deputy Spokesperson: I think the Secretary-General thinks that the criticism towards him is a minority one. And I think he will say that he works with Americans across the field, including those at the United Nations.
Question: Marie, can you give us the reason that the UN did not renew the contract with Mr. Maurice Strong? Can you give us a reason why? And do we know where Mr. Benon Sevan is right now? The question has been raised yesterday by some reporters.
Deputy Spokesperson: The question about Mr. Benon Sevan you raised to me, I have passed it on upstairs. I do not have an answer for you right this very second. But, as you know, the United Nations does provide a $1-a-year contract to Mr. Sevan. It’s to facilitate his cooperation with the Independent Inquiry Committee. And if the Committee has had any problems securing his cooperation, they would alert us with, then we would become involved. The Committee has not alerted us with any problems, but, yes, that question has been put forward from yesterday’s briefing.
Your other question about Mr. Strong, I was asked about his status yesterday at the briefing. Afterwards, I announced that his contract had expired last week and it had not been renewed. I did not announce a reason but, as you know, Mr. Strong had put himself on suspension -- so to speak -- in April, pending the outcome of the Volcker inquiry. He had also indicated earlier that he did not want to continue to work at the same operational pace as he had been but that the Secretary-General has valued the service of Mr. Strong, who for many years served with distinction. He valued his advice and expertise on Korean affairs and that he would, you know, see about any future informal role for Mr. Strong following the findings of the Volcker inquiry.
Question: Is there any more information about Mr. Brahimi’s work in Nepal? By the way, I looked for the statement upstairs yesterday. They couldn’t find it, the statement you had given here.
Deputy Spokesperson: Mr. Brahimi is now back from Nepal. And as I mentioned -- I’m sorry that you didn’t get the statement yesterday. What it was was that he gave a statement in Nepal on Friday before his departure, and he met on the ground with a variety of actors there. He had a six-day visit. His visit is part of the Secretary-General’s efforts to find a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Nepal. And he is now writing an internal report, but a report to the Secretary-General with his recommendations. And, as I mentioned, the Secretary-General himself has been on the record saying that the UN would be at the parties’ disposal, should they require assistance. I have the statement here so you can pick it up from me afterwards.
Question: Sorry, just to clarify your answer about Benon Sevan. Are you saying that the UN does not know where Mr. Sevan or the UN is not going to say where Mr. Sevan is?
Deputy Spokesperson: I don’t know where Mr. Sevan is and I have passed on the question to the 38th floor asking for a response and I’m waiting for that.
Question: This question was asked last week. So how long does it take to get a response to something like “Where is Mr. Sevan?”
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, I posed it yesterday after the noon briefing.
Question: So, it hadn’t been posed last week?
Deputy Spokesperson: I posed it yesterday so that’s all I can tell you. I’m waiting for an answer. If I get it, I’ll pass it on to you.
Question: I wanted to ask you if you could comment on the contents of a memo that was submitted by the North Korean State delegation to the experts on the CEDAW committee. It was allegedly attacking the credibility of the South Korean NGO that had appeared to testify on the situation in North Korea last Monday.
Deputy Spokesperson: Why don’t you provide me with a few more details of that later and we’ll look into that after the briefing.
[CEDAW's Chairperson, Rosario Manalo, later confirmed that a note verbale was received by the Committee from the Permanent Mission of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, referring to the participation of a non-governmental organization in CEDAW proceedings. The Committee maintains that NGOs play an important role, and welcomes reports from them, written or oral.]
There are no other questions? Have a good afternoon.
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