DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICES OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL AND THE SPOKESWOMAN FOR THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
5 December 2006
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General, and Gail Bindley-Taylor Sainte, Spokeswoman for the General Assembly President.
Briefing by the Spokesman for the Secretary-General
The UN Mission in Sudan is reporting heightened security concerns in the town of Al Fasher, in north Darfur that has already been the scene of clashes in recent days, and an increased Janjaweed presence as well as armed movements. In addition to destabilizing the situation, these developments may force humanitarian organizations to seriously curtail their life-sustaining operations.
The humanitarian agencies, meanwhile, are reporting deteriorating situations in Sudan’s neighbouring countries. The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, says that the fragile lifeline to refugees in eastern Chad is stretching even thinner. The deteriorating and volatile security situation in the east is forcing UNHCR to find alternative means to assist refugees. And as violence continues to spread terror and displacement in the northwest of the Central African Republic, the World Food Programme today urged the international community to support its food operations in a region which is already volatile due to fighting in Chad and the Sudan.
**Human Rights Council
Also, on a related note, the Human Rights Council will hold a special session on the situation of human rights in Darfur, next Tuesday, on 12 December, in Geneva. The special session, the fourth one to be held by the Human Rights Council, is being convened following a request of Finland. That request was signed by 33 Member States. And we have more details in a press release upstairs.
Back here in New York, the Security Council began its consultations this morning with a briefing by Demetrius Perricos, the Acting Executive Chairman of the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission for Iraq, better known to all of us as UNMOVIC, on the work done by the Commission. Last week, in a report, the Secretary-General detailed UNMOVIC’s recent activities and state of preparation. The Council then received a briefing by Dimitry Titov of the Peacekeeping Department on the situation along the Sudan-Chad border.
** Democratic Republic of the Congo
In the neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo, the UN Mission in that country says that Jean-Marie Guéhenno, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, will be arriving later today in Kinshasa to represent the Secretary-General at tomorrow’s inauguration of President-elect Joseph Kabila. While in Kinshasa, Guéhenno will hold a series of meetings with Congolese and international interlocutors on the situation in the country and the UN Mission’s efforts to support the transition process there. And we have a press release from the Mission upstairs.
Also available today on the racks is the Secretary-General’s report on Cyprus, and that’s a report to the Security Council, obviously. In it, the Secretary-General says that UN mediation efforts have led to the agreement and signing of a set of principles and decisions between the Greek Cypriot and the Turkish Cypriot leaders with a view to a comprehensive settlement of the dispute between the two communities. The Secretary-General says the UN operation in Cyprus is working to promote the confidence-building measures between them. Meanwhile, a new member of the Committee on Missing Persons took up his duties on the island in July, a move it is hoped would strengthen the communities’ commitment to peaceful settlements of their differences.
From Liberia, the UN Mission there reports that the Liberian Government, together with the UN and other international partners, launched a national campaign to combat sexual exploitation and abuse through greater awareness and sensitization. Speaking at the launch ceremony in Monrovia, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Alan Doss, said that “zero-tolerance is the norm. We have a duty of care for UN staff and to help the people of Liberia and not contribute to the trauma they have suffered; this is why we must be part of the solution and not a cause of the problem.” We have a press release on that upstairs.
Couple of humanitarian notes for you. From Ghana, the World Food Programme today opened a major logistics hub for humanitarian operations in Accra, expanding its emergency response capacity in the West Africa region. The depot in Accra is one of a network of five planned hubs located around the world. Brindisi and Dubai have already opened, and Panama and Malaysia will be inaugurated next year.
And from the Philippines, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is considering an application for funding from the Central Emergency Fund (CERF) for the purchase of emergency supplies to deal with the destruction caused by Typhoon Durian in the Philippines. Meanwhile, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says it has dispatched emergency supplies for some 10,000 people, which will be good for up to three months, and provided 4,000 family packs consisting of rice, canned goods, mattresses and blankets. UNICEF also led a joint UN inter-agency assessment mission to the province of Albay today. And according to information received from the Philippine authorities, the typhoon has caused widespread destruction across 13 provinces, with 526 confirmed dead, 740 missing, and some 1,000 people injured. And we have a press release for that upstairs.
From our colleagues at the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East -- UNRWA tells us twenty-three donors pledged nearly $100 million to the 2007 budget during a meeting of the General Assembly’s Ad Hoc Committee for Voluntary Contributions.
**Chemical Weapons Convention
The eleventh session of the Conference of States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention opened earlier today in The Hague. In a message, the Secretary-General said that since its entry into force in 1997, the Convention has contributed to the steady destruction of declared chemical weapons stockpiles worldwide, with 180 countries, home to 90 per cent of the world’s population, who are now party to the Convention, but several key actors remain outside its framework. He urged all States that have not yet done so to ratify or accede to the treaty without further delay.
**Secretary-General in Washington
Lastly but not least, later this afternoon the Secretary-General will travel to Washington, D.C., to attend a dinner in his honour hosted by US President Bush at the White House. The Deputy Secretary-General, Mark Malloch Brown, will also be attending the dinner, as well as a number of other invitees. And we do expect the Secretary-General to be back in the office tomorrow.
**Press Conference Today
And at 1 p.m. this afternoon, the UN University’s World Institute for Development Economic Research Programme (UNU-WIDER) will brief on a project entitled, “Global Distribution of Wealth”.
And truly lastly, I was just handed a statement on Fiji, which I will now read out.
“The Secretary-General strongly deplores the seizure of power in the Republic of Fiji by the military leadership. The Secretary-General calls for the immediate reinstatement of the legitimate authority in Fiji and its return to constitutional rule through peaceful means and inclusive dialogue. The Secretary-General is fully supportive of the efforts by the Pacific Islands Forum and other regional and international actors towards that end and remains in close consultations with them to work together to resolve this crisis.”
That statement is available upstairs. I’m done and I will take your questions.
**Questions and Answers
Question: On Fiji, will the Secretary-General follow up on a veiled threat to no longer accept peacekeepers from that country if there were a coup?
Spokesman: I don’t think it should be characterized as a threat. It is clear that any coup will damage the reputation of Fiji. Fiji’s been a very valued contributor to UN peacekeeping operations. However, obviously depending on developments on the ground, the events today could have an effect on future deployments and rotations.
Question: What role do you see New Zealand playing in resolving this crisis?
Spokesman: Obviously New Zealand is one of the important regional actors who are working with the Pacific Island Forum, and the Secretary-General is very much supportive of the efforts of New Zealand and the other neighbours of Fiji to help settle this crisis.
Question: What will happen to the subsidies Fiji receives from the UN?
Spokesman: I think it’s a little early to tell but it is clear that any forcible removal from power of a democratically-elected Government will have consequences for a country and its standing in the international community.
Question: A letter was sent to the Secretary-General over the weekend from the Polisario requesting an international investigation into the people who’ve been drowning off the coast of Western Sahara. Could we get a copy of the letter and has the Secretary-General written back to them? Will he open an international inquiry?
Spokesman: Let me see. If we have received a letter, we’ll take a look at it.
[The Spokesman later informed the correspondent that the SG had just received the letter this morning. As of now, no action had been taken.]
Question: Following up on a very important point, do you see any impact of a Fiji coup?
Spokesman: Let me say clearly, there is no discussion of removing Fijian soldiers and armed personnel who serve with the UN and do an admirable job at protecting our staff in Baghdad.
Question: What role does UNMOVIC play in Iraq?
Spokesman: The mandate of UNMOVIC is given to it by the Security Council. They report to the Security Council. It would be up to the Council to decide if there were to be any change or if there were to be something to affect UNMOVIC’s work. They have been periodically reporting to the Council, and the latest report was out last week.
Question: Will the UN follow up on the Fox News report yesterday of improper payments by Guido Bertucci, the Director of the Division for Public Administration and Development, to Catherine Gazzoli?
Spokesman: We’ve seen the report. I’m told by DESA that contrary to what was published and reported, Mr. Bertucci was neither the certifying, nor approving, officer on those contracts. Having looked at the files, DESA says no rules were violated in the granting of these consultancies. Obviously, they’re continuing to look at the file as it is.
Question: The Secretary-General had described the situation in Iraq as a civil war. Would the obligation to protect ever be invoked? Would the Secretary-General ever go to Member States with it?
Spokesman: The responsibility to protect exists. It is, as we’ve seen in other parts of the world, up to Member States to follow through on those promises. The Secretary-General is extremely concerned about the violence going on in Iraq. He has strongly encouraged all the political parties and all the factions to work together to come to national reconciliation. But he is extremely concerned about the situation. This allows me to answer one of your long-standing questions. Ashraf Qazi, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Baghdad is currently in New York. He will brief the Council early next week and we will have him speak to you either here or at the stakeout.
Question: The question still exists. Will this responsibility to protect be enacted? It’s a killing field over there.
Spokesman: That is no doubt and the UN has reported the civilian deaths we’ve seen. It is a tragic situation. We’ve seen a vicious cycle of violence worse than a lot of places around the world. We continue to have our presence there and work with the Iraqis and to reach out to Iraq’s neighbours to try to find some sort of way out of this crisis.
Question: Is there news of the assessment team to Chad?
Spokesman: They should be back in not too long a time. They will brief the Secretary-General, and then the Security Council.
Question: Is there a transition team for the new Secretary-General? And is there any substance to the rumours that he might start making appointments as soon as he takes office?
Spokesman: I can only speak for the outgoing side, so we’re continuing to work with them, providing them with whatever information they need, whether it’s technical or substantial briefs. But he is scheduled to hold a press briefing after he is sworn in on the fourteenth. Beyond that, I can’t answer for him.
Question: On Somalia, the Transitional Government has said it will not speak with the Islamic Court. Also, an adviser to the President of Ethiopia has said that Ethiopia is at war with Somalia. Does the Secretary-General or Mr. Fall have a comment? Do they think the resolution introduced might embolden the Government not to speak with the Courts?
Spokesman: We would encourage the Federal Transitional Government to speak to the Islamic Courts, as we would the other way around, and to resume a dialogue. I will see from Mr. Fall’s office if there’s a more formal response.
Question: Yesterday I asked you about the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). I did receive a response that UNDP paid $567,000 to produce the book. But I’ve also gotten a message that you’ve gotten as well from UNDP, complaining about what’s essentially a book review, saying that reporting on what employees of UNDP say is somehow reprehensible and asking to speak to my superiors. As a UN agency, is this an appropriate use of funds? Can you find out if these are core funds meant to assist low-income world citizens and also whether that’s appropriate press relations because my intention is to ask you questions about UNDP from now on. You get the answer and quibble about how it’s characterized, but it’s not working for me.
Spokesman: I think UNDP has been extremely, extremely responsive to all your questions. You have submitted some 50 or more questions to them and they have responded to them, not always in the time frame that you allow them to respond because you ask very detailed questions and they respond to them. You have printed on your website, in full, emails that may or may not be from UNDP staffers airing grievances. Some of them are slanderous to a number of UNDP staffers. That is obviously your right, but you may also want to extend the same courtesy to UNDP by publishing, in full, their responses to you, notably on the book. I think it is totally appropriate for a UN agency to commission a book about its activities. As they told you, the author had full editorial freedom in writing, in researching and writing the book.
Obviously, there is a very good system in place at UNDP on whistle-blowing, through which staff can air their grievances. Obviously, people are free to use the press to do so; it is their right. But I think if you are going to publish, in full, emails that are completely slanderous, you owe it to UNDP to put out their answers in full. Again, they have been extremely, extremely responsive to you. I noticed on your site you document the amount of time it takes them to answer questions, sometimes eighty hours. When you ask very detailed questions on a Friday, maybe it takes until Monday to answer. If you want to put a time log on how long it takes to answer every one of my questions, that’s your right. But I think it’s completely unfair.
Question: Can you confirm that Mrs. Gazzoli is the daughter of Frederick Gazzoli, who served as the officer in charge of UNDP’s auditing department back in 2002?
Spokesman: I do not have the family tree of UN consultants in my head. Paternal links can only be confirmed by family members so I can’t answer that question.
Question: What is the progress of the withdrawal of the Israelis from Gaza?
Spokesman: It is continuing. The discussions are ongoing. As I said yesterday, United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) hopes to have some progress by early next week.
Question: I’ll give you ten seconds to answer this one. How exactly could the “responsibility to protect” apply to the situation in Iraq? Would you advocate an invasion to save the invasion?
Spokesman: At this point, we look at the concrete situation on the ground, which is violence and death of civilians rarely seen in these past years. It has become an increasingly violent place for civilians. It is the role of the Iraqis, of the political leadership, to come together and save their own country, with the assistance of the neighbours and the international community. That’s where our efforts are focused.
Question: The responsibility to protect doesn’t really apply to this situation?
Spokesman: It’s not a matter of whether it applies or not. This was adopted by the Member States. It would be for them to invoke it.
Question: Back to Fiji. What tangible measures is the Secretary-General contemplating, or is he simply monitoring the situation?
Spokesman: At this point, we are supporting the political lead in trying to solve this issue with the Pacific Island Forum and Fiji’s neighbours. We are supporting that process.
Question: On the Secretary-General’s schedule going up to the end of the month, is there going to be anything happening here on the thirty-first? Will this place be closed? What can we envision?
Spokesman: I will let you know if it’s worthwhile for you to come.
Question: Are we spending New Year’s Eve here?
Spokesman: I’ll let you know if we have a date on the thirty-first.
Question: Can you state when UNDP’s Kemal Dervis will be coming for a press conference?
Spokesman: I believe it is around the eighteenth or nineteenth of December.
Question: You’ll announce it when you know the date?
Question: About Lebanon, recently the militias supported by the Government killed a couple of the peaceful demonstrators in Beirut and it’s obvious from the footage we saw on local television that the army did nothing on that. Are you worried that this situation could deteriorate further? Or, are you getting any reports from your representative in Beirut about how democratic the Government’s tactics are?
Spokesman: We, obviously, are very concerned about the situation in Lebanon. As I mentioned yesterday, Mr. Pedersen has been reaching out to both the Government, and the Opposition, to try to find some way for them to return to the negotiating table. As for the particular death of the demonstrator, that’s obviously a tragic event, but I have no specific information on exactly what happened.
Question: In your experiences, is half a million dollars typical for a UN agency to produce a book? Just so I can get a contract to do the next one. Is that typical? I’m serious.
Spokesman: I can’t answer that question. I can’t compare it to anything.
Question: There are reports from eastern Congo of renewed fighting involving renegade General Nkunda, not the town of Sake this time, but Bunagana. What does the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) have to say about continued fighting in eastern Congo?
Spokesman: I will try to get you something from them. On that note, I will leave you in Gail’s hands. I was about to wish you a happy weekend, but unfortunately, it’s not Friday.
Briefing by the Spokeswoman for the General Assembly President
Good afternoon, everyone. The General Assembly is not meeting this morning. It met yesterday and adopted 15 resolutions and decisions as it considered the reports of the Sixth Committee. One of the important decisions taken was the establishment of an Ad Hoc Committee to consider criminal accountability of the United Nations officials and experts on mission.
In a day-long meeting the Assembly also adopted resolutions on matters ranging from conflict diamonds to cooperative arrangements between the UN and a number of regional and other organizations, the culture of peace, the return or restitution of cultural property, and HIV/AIDS. All but one of these actions was taken without a vote. A recorded vote was taken on a draft resolution introduced by the Ukraine on cooperation between the United Nations and the Preparatory Committee for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization. Details on the resolutions adopted can be found in Press Release GA/10544. Tomorrow, the Assembly will hold a meeting on development as part of the follow-up to the outcome of the Millennium Summit.
On news of the Committees, the Second (Economic and Financial) and Fifth (Administrative and Budgetary) Committees are continuing to meet in informal consultations on issues on their agenda. The Fifth today is discussing Human Resources Management. On Monday, it concluded its debate on the Capital Master Plan. You can see details of the exchange in Press Release GA/AB/3777.
Just for your information, the President of the Assembly on Friday informed Member States that, in the context of the resumed tenth emergency special session of the General Assembly, a meeting is scheduled to take place on 15 December to consider the report of the Secretary-General (A/ES-10/361) concerning the register of damages by Israel’s construction of the wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem. The meeting is taking place in response to requests from the League of Arab States, the Non-Aligned Movement and the Organization of the Islamic Conference.
That’s basically what I have for you today, except to let you know that the summary of the General Assembly’s thematic debate is now up on our website. So, if you’re interested in some of the subjects we cover there, it’s on our website.
**Questions and Answers
Question: About the damage caused by the wall, we were supposed to vote on that in the Assembly today. Why was there a delay?
Spokeswoman: If you remember the last time we had a resolution at the special session, there was a problem because it included financial implications, and those had not been considered, and they had to stop the meeting to then have them considered. To avoid that happening a second time, this resolution also has financial implications, if you read the resolution you’ll see [A/ES-10/L.20]. Therefore, it is now being considered by the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), and it’ll be considered by the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary), who will then take a decision before the meeting. It’s to avoid what happened last time.
Question: What are the financial implications? How much are we talking about here?
Spokeswoman: I’m not sure what things cost, but I know there is the establishment of an institution, [an office of the register of damage], which has to be put in place, and that has to be costed.
Question: Can you tell me a bit more about this ad hoc committee on accountability of officials in field missions?
Spokeswoman: That is part of this whole question of sexual exploitation and abuse. One of the issues has always been: what happens when someone, especially a UN official or an expert, commits that kind of criminal act on a mission and [in some cases may even] leave and go back to the home country. The whole idea is that the home country should then be able to take action. If you remember the Prince Zeid report, which is promoting that idea [of accountability on these matters], and this is one of the first steps that would allow that to happen.
Question: How many people are sitting on this committee? What are they doing? How long does it sit for, all that kind of stuff?
Spokeswoman: They have just decided on the establishment of the committee. The details I don’t have, but I can find out.
Question: So it’s not sitting now.
Spokeswoman: No, this is just establishing it, the first step, deciding to establish a committee to consider [the report of the group of experts established by the Secretary-General to look at this issue of] the criminal accountability of United Nations officials and experts on mission.
Question: What mandate and what powers will it have?
Spokeswoman: That I’ll have to find out for you, because I don’t have all the details. It was something discussed by the Sixth Committee (Legal) and, of course, that Committee made a recommendation to the Assembly. But, I can check if any of the details are available.
Question: So we’re not at a stage to discuss what the committee will look like, is that correct? So, at the moment, it hasn’t even been decided what the committee will be?
Spokeswoman: What I do know, is that it went forward as a recommendation to have it [the ad hoc committee] established. What it will look like, the shape, who will sit on it, that I’ll find out and get back to you, because I don’t have the details on that. But, I know that this is a first, major step.
[The Spokeswoman can confirm that the ad hoc committee, as per the resolution of the Sixth Committee [A/61/450], will be open to all Member States of the United Nations or members of specialized agencies or of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Its mandate will be to consider the report of the group of legal experts, in particular, its legal aspects. It is expected to meet from 9-13 April 2007.]
Question: This report that came out on the damages from the Israeli wall. Is that an available document?
Spokeswoman: Yes it is. We’ll give you the document number because we have copies of the resolution. Okay, thank you.
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For information media • not an official record
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