DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICES OF THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL AND THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
7 February 2007
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and Frehiwot Bekele, Special Assistant to the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President.
Good afternoon, all.
Briefing by the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
** Democratic Republic of the Congo
There is a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the Democratic Republic of the Congo:
“The Secretary-General welcomes the announcement yesterday of the formation of the Government in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This marks an important new step in the country’s progress towards establishing institutions that serve all the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo by guaranteeing respect for human rights and the rule of law.
“In this connection, the Secretary-General deplores the violent incidents which took place recently in several towns of the Bas Congo province and reportedly led to the deaths of more than 100 people. He calls for an immediate end to the violence and for an investigation, as well as for humanitarian assistance to the victims and their families.
“The Secretary-General appeals to the Government and the opposition to work together to resolve the present situation, and to bring the perpetrators to justice. He calls on security forces to refrain from the disproportionate use of force, and on opposition parties to pursue their electoral grievances through peaceful and legal means. He reiterates the call for inclusiveness, transparency and dialogue in the political process.
“The United Nations remains committed to helping stabilize the situation in Bas-Congo. To this end, the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) has deployed a special team to the region.”
The Security Council held consultations today on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), on which it heard a briefing by Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Marie Guéhenno. Council members also received the text of a draft resolution concerning the extension of the mandate of the UN Mission in that country. The current mandate is set to expire on 15 February.
Also, the President of the Council, Ambassador Peter Burian of Slovakia, just read a statement to the press concerning the DRC.
Speaking to reporters just a few minutes ago, Guéhenno said that a report was being prepared to deal with the question of the major tasks the UN Mission in the DRC will face during the next phase. He also spoke of the need for nations to provide troops for a hybrid force in Darfur, and how progress on the ground would make the deployment of such troops easier.
On the Sudan, the UN Mission in Sudan reports a number of security incidents in North Darfur, involving a break-in by armed gunmen into a camp housing displaced persons and a shooting incident at a market place.
Meanwhile, negotiations for safe access in South Darfur have not yet resulted in a resumption of humanitarian activities in Gereida, due to insufficient safety guarantees.
Finally, the Mission reports that an epidemic of meningitis has spread to eight states in Sudan since the end of 2006. As of 1 February, about 780 cases have been reported with 76 deaths. The Ministry of Health, WHO and their partners are responding to the outbreak with mass vaccination campaigns.
On Lebanon, yesterday afternoon, we put out a statement noting that the United Nations had signed the agreement between the United Nations and the Lebanese Republic regarding the Establishment of a Special Tribunal for Lebanon. The accord was earlier signed in Beirut by the Director-General of the Ministry of Justice on behalf of the Lebanese Republic. The Secretary-General designated Nicolas Michel, the Legal Counsel, to sign on behalf of the United Nations.
It is up to the competent Lebanese authorities to take the steps necessary under the Lebanese Constitution for the approval and ratification of the agreement, to allow it to enter into force. The Tribunal would then be made operational with the full support of the United Nations.
On Nepal, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, today expressed her deep concern about continued violence in southern Nepal.
She said that UN Human Rights Officers in the Terai region had observed violence by protestors, as well as incidents of excessive use of force by the Armed Police Force and the Nepal Police. Recognizing the challenges that police are facing -- including attacks on them -- she said that the security forces must employ force only in proportion to the actual threat faced.
Arbour expressed particular alarm over reports of human rights defenders and journalists being threatened or obstructed from doing their work. We have a press release on that in my Office.
On Indonesia, at the request of the Indonesian authorities, the World Food Programme (WFP) today started providing food aid to flood-displaced people in the capital, Jakarta. WFP dispatched an initial shipment of enriched noodles and high-energy biscuits, and is using its own trucks to get the food to the flood survivors who need it the most. We have a press release on that.
On Bolivia, a five-person UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination Team has arrived in Bolivia to help that country respond to recent flooding. In addition, the UN Development Programme is providing fuel to transport urgently needed shelter supplies to hard-hit areas, and UNICEF is working to provide children’s food supplements, tents and mosquito nets.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization is helping to coordinate public health activities and provide medicines, and the World Food Programme is distributing food aid. We have a press release on that in my Office.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) today announced that just under $85 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) will be used to fund life-saving programmes in 15 countries. This is the first of two annual rounds of allocations for underfunded humanitarian emergencies. We have more on that upstairs.
This is all I have for you. Let me say that, at 1:15 here, there will be a press briefing on full employment and decent work, on the occasion of the opening of the forty-fifth session of the Commission for Social Development. The Chairman of the Commission and the Governor of the Barbados Central Bank will brief you on the subject to be addressed in this session.
And, at 11 a.m. tomorrow, there will be a press briefing with Mr. Martti Ahtisaari, the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for the future status process for Kosovo.
The guest at noon tomorrow will be Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, who will brief on her visit to the Sudan.
This is all I have for you. Questions? Yes? We’ll start in back.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Can we have the content of the letter, Siniora’s letter, to the Secretary-General? Also, do you have anything to say about President Lahoud’s letter to the Security Council? Can we have also this letter? Is it out on the rack?
Question: Both of them are not official documents?
Spokesperson: No, they’re not.
Question: Can I [talkover]…
Question: We physically can’t see them then?
Spokesperson: No, no, I’m sorry. I mean, they can be disclosed by the person who sent them, the sender. We cannot disclose the content. But [a senior United Nations official] yesterday specified to you there was no mention of Chapter VII in the letter that Mr. Siniora sent to the Secretary-General.
Question: But, in terms of accuracy of reporting though, if we could actually physically see the letters, I mean, could this be a request on behalf of all of us to…?
Spokesperson: I asked, and they are not going to be disclosed -- the two letters.
Question: Michèle, we just asked the Slovakian Ambassador about the letter of Mr. Lahoud and he said it’s still with the Secretariat and is still being translated. And, if I might ask, why is it taking such a long time? I mean, because you already knew about it from the press in Lebanon a few days ago, and until now, Security Council members are saying “we did not get the letter”?
Spokesperson: So, I think you should ask the Security Council.
Question: [talkover]…Secretariat, right?
Spokesperson: No, the secretariat, not us, the Security Council secretariat.
Question: Can I follow-up on that?
Spokesperson: Well, wait. Yes, go ahead.
Question: Michèle, just as a curiosity -- a few moments ago, Mr. Guéhenno said that, actually, they are talking about restructuring the DPKO through consolidation, so I guess that my understanding of the word consolidation is, and some of my colleagues, is something different than the widening of the Department. Can you clarify something on that?
Spokesperson: Well, you know, there have been a number of questions from all of you concerning the SG’s proposal on DPKO, and I had a number of questions yesterday on the unity of command. And, I would say, in the case of unity of command, in the case of the restructuring, the objective is to make it more efficient. The unity of command was never in doubt, and one of the principles, and it is one of the principles on which the proposal is based. You heard Mr. Guéhenno at the briefing earlier -- the proposal is aimed at improving the unity of command at all levels -- in Headquarters as well as in the field. And, the feeling is that there should be, and will be, according to this proposal, a clearer reporting line of authority and delegation. And, this proposal is being explained right now in detail to the Member States, and you should get more details on it pretty soon. I will try to get someone to actually brief you on the project itself, after the consultations. Yes?
Question: There is an outcry from the Arab and Islamic world about the actions taken by Israel to start construction close to the “Al-Quds” Mosque; the Secretary-General received a letter from the President of the Committee on Quds from the King of Morocco, Mohammed VI, and other leaders. Did he take any action?
Spokesperson: I don’t have a reaction on this yet. Yes, Benny?
Question: On the letter: in his letter, Lahoud said that he opposes Chapter VII, and you say that, on the other hand -- he opposes Siniora’s idea for Chapter VII -- but you say that Siniora didn’t even mention it. Could you clarify… [talkover]?
Spokesperson: That’s the clarification I got, that Siniora did not mention it. I did not see the letter.
Question: But Lahoud said he opposes Siniora’s idea for Chapter VII, so was Lahoud just… [talkover]?
Spokesperson: No, Lahoud was not referring to the letter by Siniora. I’m saying what was in the letter, or was not in the letter.
Question: …Lahoud was… did mention in his letter… the Siniora letter did mention Chapter VII. I mean, maybe he based his assertion on something that was in the Lebanese press?
Spokesperson: Maybe, but, that’s not the reading I’m getting. I did not see the letter myself.
Question: Well, I did, so…
Question: You did see the Lahoud letter? Where’d you get that?
Spokesperson: If you can get the parties to give you the letters, this is fine.
Question: Michèle, still on the restructuring, you indicated yesterday in answer to some questions that the Secretary-General will soon announce the appointment of senior officials. There are indications that some Governments have asked senior officials here not to submit their resignations. Is this making the decision of the Secretary-General more difficult? And, second, what criteria is the Secretary-General going to use in appointing or letting go some senior officials?
Spokesperson: Well, there are a number of criteria to be used, and essentially, the first one is the ability to carry on the reforms that he wants to have carried on. I don’t have… as I said earlier, he has received responses right now from everyone -- every single USG and ASG -- so, what he’s going to decide, when he’s going to announce new appointments, you just have to wait. It’s going to come soon. Yes?
Question: Two questions: one on Georgia and one on the pension fund. On Georgia, it’s been reported that that Deputy SRSG for the Georgia-Abkhaz conflict has been told that Abkhazia will not be attending the upcoming talks. I wanted to know, one, if that’s the case, and if the talks could go forward without Abkhazia present?
Spokesperson: I don’t have that information, but I’ll try to get it for you.
[The Spokesperson later added that an Abkhaz delegation will indeed be attending the upcoming meeting in Geneva, to which the correspondent was referring.]
Question: Thank you. And on the Pension Fund, in the last couple of days, there’s been a lot of action. There’s a meeting today of the Staff Union to endorse the Staff Council resolution that was passed, which, among other things, calls on the Secretary-General to, as a fiduciary of the Pension Fund, to at least stall, if not stop, the outsourcing of management of parts of the pension. So, I’m wondering, one, if the Secretary-General is aware of that Staff Council resolution, has any response to it? And also, there seems to be an OIOS audit, which names individuals that still work for the Pension Fund actually, that was recommended that action be taken. We understand that Burnham, Chris Burnham, before he left asked that the action be taken. I don’t know if Ms. Bárcena has followed-up on that? What’s going to happen with that? So, I’m sorry… there’s two different questions: overall, what the Secretary-General is going to do about outsourcing the pension; and number two, is there any follow-up to the OIOS investigation?
Spokesperson: Well, an answer to your question is contained in the briefing given to staff on the Pension Fund on Tuesday by Mr. Warren Sach, the Controller. This is on “ISeek”, and you can have all the information you want on this. All the information you ask me for, it’s there, it’s public.
Question: I guess, after that meeting, the Staff Union is now voting to take an additional step, so that’s why I’m, you’re just saying the Secretary-General stands behind the outsourcing?
Spokesperson: Well, so far, no. I’m not saying this. I’m saying that you had information on it given by the Controller, and the Secretary-General has not reacted yet, nor has Ms. Bárcena, who, as I said earlier this week, is coming back from her trip to Nairobi. And she should be coming to speak to you when she gets back. She has accepted to come and respond to your questions.
Question: Michèle, I’d like to see if you have any updated information on the situation on the Iranian diplomat that was taken by the US troops. Is the UN basically following-up? How are they helping? Are they visiting? Do you have any information regarding that situation in Iraq?
Spokesperson: Well, we have none at the moment -- on the UN side.
Question: Are they going to follow-up this, at the Iranian Mission’s request to follow-up on it? Are they going to do anything about it, are they doing something?
Spokesperson: Well, I don’t know yet. I can ask for you, whether anything was done after that letter.
[The Spokesperson later added that no United Nations assistance had been requested.]
Question: There was a Boston Globe article, I think it was yesterday, that mentions how the funds are being spent in Iraq when they get their aid, and one of the things that’s mentioned in here is a fellow by the name of Yahya Said, who was, I guess, leading a UN team to Iraq to try to work out an aid agreement with the Iraqi Government -- is he part of the Iraq Compact group, and what exactly is the Iraq Compact group? Do you know what they’re up to in terms of aid for Iraq, and how does it get its funding and run as an organization?
Spokesperson: I’ll get more information on that for you.
Question: You don’t know anything on that?
Spokesperson: No, I don’t have anything, in terms of updating. I don’t have anything new. I will try to get some more information for you.
[The Spokesperson later said that Mr. Said had been employed as a consultant to help draft the Iraq Compact, but had not been extended after his contract expired.]
Question: And where is the Iraq Compact group? Are they in UNDP, or where are they and what are they? Where do they get their funding? Do you happen to know?
Spokesperson: Okay, I’ll get the exact information for you.
Question: Okay. And, could you also, following-up on that, could you also find out whether former Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch Brown is a member of the Compact group?
Spokesperson: As far as I know, no, but I’ll inquire for you. Yes?
Question: Michèle, President Kabila of the DRC has now appointed his Government. What is the reaction of the Secretary-General to the structure of the Government?
Spokesperson: This was the first statement I read, on the Congo. I just read a statement about this, on the Congo. He is satisfied on the fact that we’re moving ahead towards establishing a stable Government in the Congo. Everything else is up to the people in the Congo.
Question: Michèle, how long will Mr. Ahtisaari stay at the United Nations, to whom will he talk? He was invited by whom?
Spokesperson: He is coming to talk to the Secretary-General. He met the Secretary-General recently, and he’s coming to talk to the Secretary-General about his recent consultations.
Question: And, he was invited by whom -- by the Secretary-General?
Spokesperson: Well, he’s always invited by the Secretary-General.
Question: I’m asking this because the Eastern European Group here apparently was talking to have him to brief them, so it’s my understanding that they extended, that their invitation is also to him.
Spokesperson: Well, I can check for you exactly how many people invited him.
[Immediately following the briefing, the Spokesperson’s Office announced that Special Envoy Martti Ahtisaari, along with the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Kosovo, Joachim Rücker, will be here for a Policy Committee meeting with the Secretary-General, which will take place tomorrow. Mr. Ahtisaari will remain in New York until Friday.]
Question: There was a story yesterday in the Boston Globe about the Global Fund for Malaria, Aids and Tuberculosis. Could you clarify exactly how that Fund is affiliated with the UN and what role it has, because they now say… the Global Fund’s answer to lots of the allegations compare the situation of the main guy in the story to that of a USG. So, is he actually a UN USG or is that just comparable? What is the relationship?
Spokesperson: As you know, we don’t react to press reports as such. However, on the actual substantive facts of it and the relationship between the Fund and the UN, we’ll get that for you. Yes?
[The Spokesperson later added that the head of the Global Fund is not a UN Under-Secretary-General. The Global Fund is not a UN body, although it works closely with the UN.]
Question: The Deputy Secretary-General with the head of the Office of Drugs and Crime -- was that just a routine meeting? What was that? And can we speak with Mr. Costa? Will it be possible? Is he in New York?
Spokesperson: I’ll try to get Mr. Costa for you. He’s in New York now, yes.
Question: Can we have the OIOS brief us, maybe?
Spokesperson: You have asked, and I promised that, as soon as I get an answer, I will inform you. You know, asking for it 10 times, will not make it faster. And, I have put forward your request…
Correspondent: We were told in December last year that it was going to happen.
Question: Basically, nothing so far is… [talkover].
Spokesperson: …yes, we love that calendar, that you ask at a specific time today, yesterday and the day before.
Correspondent: And, tomorrow, by the way.
Question: There’s a lot of speculation that the Secretary-General is going to announce a summit to discuss the issue of global warming and the environment and what not. Is this all speculation at this point, or is there really something to all these…?
Spokesperson: In terms of the summit itself, it’s all speculation right now. The Secretary-General has given a lot of emphasis on his trip, as you know, on the subject of climate change and climate issues, but, in terms of the summit itself, nothing has been decided yet.
Question: But is he actively trying to establish a…?
Spokesperson: He is examining the possibilities, yet, but he has not decided on it, and he’s, you know, the different departments that take care of climate issues have not decided on whether a summit is feasible at the date that it was announced in the press; it has to be worked out before I can give you an answer.
Question: Is he likely to revisit the Middle East soon?
Spokesperson: No, it’s not yet planned.
Question: Michèle, [inaudible] that it might happen. Is that a direct response to the Paris call for action, because 46 or more countries signed for that action? Is the Secretary-General thinking he should move in that direction because it’s a huge action that’s going on in the UN?
Spokesperson: As you know, it was one of the first questions that the Secretary-General named as his priority. It was one of his priorities -- African issues and climate change were two of the issues that he brought forward. So, I’m sure he’s studying the results of the different conferences that took place and he’s studying the possibility of a summit. However, between being favourable to an idea and being able to put it forward and have it become a reality is another story, altogether. So, I think they’re working on it, they’re thinking about it, they got the recommendations, and I cannot announce at this point that there is going to be a summit, no.
Question: In that light, is he going to meet soon Mr. Al Gore? And, since I understood that the Secretary-General is fond of films, did he watch his film, Inconvenient Truth, Mr. Gore’s film?
Spokesperson: I can ask him. You did ask him quite a few things about films, didn’t you?
Question: I would like to have his answer, whether he’s seen his film.
Spokesperson: I will ask him. Yes, the last question, because we have our guests here.
Question: Also on climate change: any reaction to what the European Commission calls a tax on the environment?
Spokesperson: No, not yet. Not on specifics, no.
Question: The last question I have, again, on the Iranian and US troops. I read that there was another missing diplomat in [inaudible] a couple of days ago. Is the UN aware of it -- because the US, I think, is denying that they are holding the person? Are you aware of that, or has anyone informed you of that? Is a UN peacekeeper following-up in this case, in Iraq, on that in general, or no?
Spokesperson: I don’t know whether the UN has been formally informed of it, whether the Secretary-General has been formally informed of it. No, I don’t know. This I can check for you, whether there was a letter sent and whether there was a specific request from the Iranian Government. I will inquire for you.
Thank you very much.
Before we have our guest, Freh is coming for the General Assembly.
Briefing by the Special Assistant to the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President
**GA President - Washington DC
As I mentioned yesterday, the President of the Assembly, Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa, is in Washington today, and she will address, later this afternoon, a meeting on gender issues, organized by Ambassador Shereen Tahir-Kehli, the Senior Adviser to the US Secretary of State on the Empowerment of Women.
Participants at the meeting include members of the Women's Empowerment Action Team, which consists of a number of women ambassadors active on gender issues. The President’s statement focuses on two Millennium Development Goals, gender equality and empowerment, and universal primary education, in the context of the Arab world.
The President points out that it is not enough to pass laws on gender equality and that it is of paramount importance to work to change deeply ingrained attitudes and cultural mores that have been in place for generations.
If the status of women is to improve in the Arab world, “Governments must begin by making primary education for all, particularly for girls, an urgent national development priority. It is not enough to merely raise the enrolment and literacy rates, if we continue to, explicitly and implicitly, teach our children notions of inferiority and stereo-typing,” she states.
“Until we invest in quality education, which questions certain interpretations of religious doctrines and their cultural implications, we will continue to deny women equal opportunities.” The full text of her statement will be posted on the website later this afternoon.
**Security Council Reform
On Security Council reform, tomorrow morning, the President will chair an informal meeting of the Assembly’s Open-Ended Working Group on Security Council reform.
In this context, she met yesterday and on Monday, upon their request, with representatives of the “G-4” and members of the group known as “Uniting for Consensus”, who wished to express their support for the process of consultation that the President is launching.
The President is expected to announce at the meeting tomorrow facilitators for deliberations on five key issues: the size of an enlarged Security Council; categories of membership; regional representation; the veto; the working methods of the Council; and the relationship between the Council and the Assembly.
Finally, in an all-day plenary session yesterday, the Assembly discussed progress achieved in the work of the Peacebuilding Commission. Many speakers recognized the Commission’s early achievements in Sierra Leone and Burundi, while all agreed that faster progress was needed.
In her statement opening the meeting, the Assembly President emphasized the strong connection between poverty, weak State capacity and instability, which in turn leads to relapses into conflict. It was critical that the United Nations played a leading role in helping countries build and strengthen institutional capacities, so as to promote coexistence and the peaceful and sustainable resolution of conflicts. She also announced that she would write to new and emerging donors to encourage them to meet the $110 million financing gap for the Peacebuilding Fund.
Summaries of statements made during the meeting are available in press release GA/10570.
That’s all I have. Yes?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Have the “Group of 4” submitted any new proposals to the Security Council President?
Special Assistant: No, they have not.
Question: So, they are going to proceed, and they are all the same, policy or requests -- their ideas about enlargement of the Security Council? We are talking about the “G-4” -- Japan, India, Brazil and Germany?
Special Assistant: I’m not aware of any new proposals that they expressed to the President. Both groups, the G-4 and “Uniting for Consensus”, just wanted to express their confidence in the process that she’s launching. So, at the working group meeting on Thursday, she will announce facilitators who will lead consultations on these five issues that I mentioned, which are related to reform of the Council. And, then we’ll have to see how the process unfolds. The facilitators are supposed to come back to report to her by the end of March.
Question: Is this the first time that the item of regional representation has been outlined as an item on reform of the Security Council?
Special Assistant: I’m sure it has been dealt with before.
Question: [inaudible]… can you find out?
Special Assistant: Okay. I will find out.
Question: Are they going to increase members of the Security Council as a whole, or no, is this a part of [talkover]?
Special Assistant: That’s what they have to discuss. Each facilitator will lead consultations on the topic assigned to them.
Question: But, is this on the table or no? On having…?
Special Assistant: This is part of the ongoing discussion that has been taking place for over a decade.
Question: Because the person asked the question of Governor Richardson at the stakeout, and he was very happy to increase, to actually increase the members of the Security Council. I want to see if the United States actually changed its position with respect to the previous Ambassador here.
Special Assistant: That has been part of the discussion all along, enlarging the size of membership of the Council and deciding what privileges and powers the new members will have.
Question: These five items, do they have the consensus of the membership [inaudible] the President [inaudible]?
Special Assistant: Yes, she communicated in a letter to Member States a few weeks ago that she was going to do this, and I’m sure this was following consultations… after she listened to what kinds of ideas people wanted to be discussed.
Question: [inaudible] any reservations with respect to the five items inscribed on the…?
Special Assistant: I’m not aware of that. In any case, at this closed meeting tomorrow, I’m sure delegations will be able to express their sentiments if they have any to express. Yes, Matthew
Question: Something a little different: the Staff Pension Fund reports to the GA, is a creature of the GA in relationship to it. So, I’m wondering, there’s been an OIOS investigative report that has been titled “Conflict of Interest, Favouritism and Mismanagement in the UN Staff Pension Fund”. I’m wondering if this was ever turned over to the GA, and if the GA has taken action on it.
Special Assistant: I’m not aware. I can try to find out.
Question: I’d appreciate that. Thank you.
Special Assistant: Okay. Thank you.
* *** *
For information media • not an official record
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