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
15 May 2007
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and Ashraf Kamal, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.
Briefing by Spokesperson for Secretary-General
Good afternoon. This morning, the Security Council adopted a resolution extending the mandate of the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) until the end of this year. The members of the Security Council will also hold their monthly luncheon with the Secretary-General. The Secretary-General has told us that after that luncheon he will talk to you at the Security Council stakeout position.
On Lebanon, the Secretary-General’s latest report to the Security Council on the implementation of resolution 1559 (2004), which concerns Lebanon, is out on the racks today. In it, he says that the enduring stand-off in Lebanon demonstrates that the country is in need of a comprehensive and consensual political framework, as manifested in the Taif agreement. The report notes that the Secretary-General has been provided with detailed information related to an extensive number of illegal crossing points between Syria and Lebanon, saying that it underlines the necessity of a full delineation of the Syrian-Lebanese border and of improvements in monitoring that border.
The Secretary-General voices great concern at the allegations coming from various sides and parties about illegal arms trafficking and the possible arming of a variety of Lebanese and non-Lebanese groups, and he says that a return to Lebanon’s darkest days “must not happen”. Yesterday, Security Council members also received copies of a letter by Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora to the Secretary-General, concerning the establishment of a special tribunal for Lebanon.
** Uganda Humanitarian
Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes today arrived in Kitgum district in northern Uganda, where he visited a new settlement site for people who had been displaced by conflict. Tonight, he is scheduled to visit a camp for internally displaced persons, where he will meet with aid workers, ex-combatants, elders, women and children who had been previously abducted, and community leaders. In his meetings with local authorities earlier today, Holmes noted that, while the security situation has improved, the problems are not yet over. He stressed that the international community needs to continue its support to the recovery process. Before travelling to Kitgum, Holmes met with the Prime Minister of Uganda, as well as the Minister for Disaster Preparedness and Refugees. We expect a press release from OCHA on this trip later this afternoon.
On Iraq, the Iraq office of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) is organizing a three-day conference this week in Amman, Jordan, that will establish a vision for the water sector in Iraq. The principal aim of the conference is to spotlight the major challenges to the water sector in Iraq and propose a course of action that includes identifying a long-term strategy, as well as sound policies for water resource management. We have a press release from UNDP on that upstairs.
Meanwhile, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says it is highly concerned about living conditions for hundreds of Palestinians stuck at the Al Waleed refugee camp, close to Iraq’s border with Syria.
** Sri Lanka
On Sri Lanka, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees reports that it is involved in the return of tens of thousands of displaced civilians to an area in eastern Sri Lanka that until recently was under rebel control. UNHCR is monitoring the returns and will report directly to the Government on any problems regarding the move’s voluntary nature. And starting tomorrow, UN agencies will be given full access to the area, to provide support to the returnees. UNHCR is looking at possible reintegration packages and is calling on the international community to help with assistance. It is also asking the Sri Lankan Government to speed up its rehabilitation plan for the areas of return. We have more on that upstairs.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is doubling the appeal that it had launched for cyclone-hit Madagascar two months ago.
According to OCHA, the food security situation in Madagascar has deteriorated, especially in light of the drought that had preceded the storms. Nearly $20 million is urgently needed before the next cyclone season, OCHA says. We have more on that in my office.
** Central African Republic
The World Food Programme (WFP) today urged the international community to redouble its efforts in support of the agency’s recently up-scaled lifesaving operation in the Central African Republic. WFP’s country director says that the current infrastructure cannot cope with the scale of its new operation, so WFP is going to have to do the job itself. The job includes necessary repairs to roads and bridges, which are crumbling in decay. You can read more about this in a WFP press release upstairs.
**World Health Assembly
Addressing the World Health Assembly, which is gathering in Geneva, the World Health Organization’s Executive Director, Dr. Margaret Chan, today called on global health leaders to build a “health legacy” for women and for the people of Africa. She said that women need special attention because of their role as caregivers and agents of change who can lift households and communities out of poverty. She added that Africa bears the overwhelming burden of disease and must not be left behind by development. We have more on that upstairs.
**International Day of Families
Today is the International Day of Families. The theme this year is “Families and Persons with Disabilities”. In a message to mark the occasion, the Secretary-General says that society has a responsibility to empower and enrich the lives of the persons with disabilities in their households. In his message, the Secretary-General says, “Let us dedicate ourselves to enabling the family, the most basic unit of society, to fulfil its role in ensuring that persons with disabilities enjoy full human rights and dignity, and flourish as individuals.” We have the full text of this message upstairs.
Also, just to flag you, this afternoon, from 1:15 to 2:30 in Conference Room 4, there will be a panel discussion in which experts will discuss the issue of families and persons with disabilities.
**Noon Guest Tomorrow
The guest at the noon briefing tomorrow will be Ms. Alicia Bárcena Ibarra, Under-Secretary-General for Management, who will be briefing you on the Capital Master Plan and the greening of the United Nations.
This is all I have for you today.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Can you give us the reaction of the Secretary-General to the letter by Mr. Siniora and the announcement by the United States Mission that they’ll have a draft resolution by the end of this week?
Spokesperson: You will get the Secretary-General’s reaction when he comes to the Security Council stakeout this afternoon, after he briefs the Council.
Question: Two questions. First, on the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. Yesterday at a press conference in this room, the head of the Forum said, one, that she didn’t even know if Ban Ki-moon would be meeting with them and, two, that she didn’t know what his position was on the passage of the draft declaration on the rights of the indigenous and on an issue about indigenous peoples being displaced by biofuels. I’m wondering if Ban Ki-moon has a position on either of those two and if he will be meeting with the proponents of the draft declaration.
Spokesperson: I don’t have a position right now and I’ll ask for you if there is a meeting planned.
Question: Have you received a letter from President [Émile] Lahoud of Lebanon regarding Mr. Siniora’s letter?
Spokesperson: We have not received the letter yet from Mr. Lahoud. We have received the letter from Mr. Siniora and, as you know, the Security Council has circulated that letter.
Question: What’s the status of the resolution on Kosovo which was circulated on Friday?
Spokesperson: I don’t know what the Security Council has decided at this point and when they will act on it.
Question: You may not have received the letter but how concerned is the Secretary-General at the increasing threats of violence and civil war and instability in Lebanon if the Council goes ahead with the tribunal?
Spokesperson: Well, he’s concerned about it and he will address that to you himself when he talks to you at the Security Council stakeout after the Security Council luncheon.
Question: I want to clarify something on climate change. In the September General Assembly, I’m hearing that you’re going to hold a high-level meeting on 24 September? I’m wondering if it’s fixed now.
Spokesperson: It is not part of the General Assembly meeting. It is a side event that will take place on climate change. It’ll be a high-level meeting, yes.
Question: And it’ll be on 24 September?
Spokesperson: I have to confirm the date.
Question: Do you know who’s attending it?
Spokesperson: Not yet.
Question: The media alert said the Secretary-General should be at the stakeout at approximately 3 p.m. Is that still regarded as reasonably accurate?
Spokesperson: It depends on how long the luncheon lasts. I cannot predict things like this. We give you an approximate time so you can be aware of it. That’s all I can do.
Question: Two questions. Mr. Guterres had spoken about the plight of Palestinians in Iraq and how that was a very difficult situation. He was also on BBC Speak Out this weekend and spoke about that as well. He gave no solution to that situation. I wonder if the Secretary-General is looking into that because it seems that is a particularly difficult situation, and if you could find out what is being done to begin to have some way to deal with that situation.
Spokesperson: It is an issue he has discussed with several people and with leaders in the Middle East during his trips to the area. It is of great concern to him.
Question: The second question is that the Secretary-General will be speaking this evening at the Korea Society fiftieth anniversary dinner. I wonder if that speech will be available here, either today or tomorrow.
Spokesperson: Yes, it will be, this afternoon.
Question: A small question. Is there any reason why the head of United Nations Field Procurement made an appeal recently to Belarus to procure more goods from Belarus for the United Nations?
Spokesperson: I don’t have that information. I’ll ask how true this is.
Question: On the audit of North Korea UNDP, first you said the ACABQ would be meeting on 14 May. Did that take place?
Spokesperson: Well, the ACABQ isn’t meeting just on that; it’s just meeting.
Question: Did it meet yesterday?
Spokesperson: You can ask Ashraf the question.
Question: Also, you’ve got this document where UNDP’s Bureau for Asia and the Pacific states that the North Korean Government told them on 26 March that UNDP could not expect the Government to agree to an audit of UNDP programmes. This is a letter the UNDP circulated to its own Executive Board. How does this relate to the idea that if they wanted to go they could go? This seems to make pretty clear that UNDP was told by the Government that they wouldn’t “agree to” an audit.
Spokesperson: This should be addressed to UNDP.
Question: I have a question pending there for eight days. That’s why I’m asking you.
Spokesperson: Okay. Yes?
Question: Another follow-up question. I know the Secretary-General will answer questions later on, but as far as you know, does he have any plan to go to Lebanon to mediate this thing himself?
Spokesperson: As far as I know, no.
Question: Does the Secretary-General have any reactions to demands by human rights groups that countries like Belarus should not join the Human Rights Council or, in general, about the use of the Human Rights Council by countries with bad human rights records?
Spokesperson: There is going to be a vote, which Ashraf will talk to you about. The Secretary-General has no position, really. It is a matter at this time for the General Assembly to decide.
Question: He doesn’t think that countries with bad human rights records should not join the Council?
Spokesperson: I did not say that. I just said I don’t have a reaction at this point and at this point it is a matter for the General Assembly to decide.
Question: Just a matter of information as I try to learn more about the creation of the 38th floor, and I don’t exactly know how that definition works but, for example, I would include in the 38th floor advisory departments attached to the Secretary-General’s Office and the Deputy Secretary-General’s. Is it possible to get a current organigram of who’s there and who’s working there? And I’ll be interested: how many professionals are working on the 38th floor and how many of them are Korean?
Spokesperson: We’ll give you that information as soon as I get it, but you’ll get it.
[The Spokesperson later noted that the staffing of the Executive Office of the Secretary-General, i.e., the 38th floor, was still ongoing.]
Question: Is it the case, as some people are saying, that some meetings as a matter of 38th floor policy, basically end up being held in Korean?
Spokesperson: This is not true.
Question: Is there any position on the part of the Secretary-General or someone in the Political Department as to the Taiwanese request to become a member of the WHO?
Spokesperson: We don’t have anything on that. Of course, as you know, it is a matter for the WHO.
Question: Right. But WHO is part of the United Nations system or family.
Spokesperson: At the same time, it has a separate set-up.
Question: Right. But since this is a political issue that involves Taiwanese representation anywhere, including in the United Nations, obviously, and it’s seen that way, I wonder.
Spokesperson: As you know, there was a decision taken by the General Assembly on the issue of Beijing-China and Taiwan. This decision by the General Assembly stands.
Question: A follow-up question asking for specificity. Could you find out if a fellow named Do-yun Park, who’d been an auditor with OIOS, has now been transferred to the Office of the Secretary-General on the 38th floor?
Spokesperson: I will get the information for you on the make-up of the 38th floor, yes.
[The Spokesperson later added that Ms. Do-yun Park, who worked for the Department of Management, had not been transferred to the 38th floor and had been a United Nations staff member since before the current Secretary-General’s arrival.]
Question: Thanks a lot.
Spokesperson: You’re welcome. Ashraf.
Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President
As previously announced, the Assembly is scheduled to hold elections for 14 members of the Human Rights Council this Thursday, 17 May, starting at 10 in the General Assembly Hall. Candidates along with their pledges are listed on the GA website, http://www.un.org/ga/61/elect/hrc/. Elections for the President of the sixty-second session of the Assembly, along with Vice-Presidents and Chairs of the Main Committees will be held next week, Thursday, 24 May.
** Rutgers University Panel Discussion
And the Assembly President, along with Iranian human rights lawyer and Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi, will take part tomorrow evening in a Rutgers University panel discussion on “Women and Human Rights in the Middle East.” We will make her statement available as early as we can tomorrow.
**Questions and Answers
Question: On the elections, first off, how does the election of the Human Rights Council work? How long does it take and what are the procedures? The other question is, who are the candidates for the next President of the General Assembly?
Spokesperson: To start with the second one, Mr. Srgjan Kerim, from the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is the only candidate. The first one, are you talking about the timeline?
Question: I’m talking about how the process works. Everybody presses a button? Just a technicality to get a sense of what happens. Is it that buttons are pressed or ballots filled in, etc. I just don’t know how it works.
Spokesperson: It’s ballots, secret ballot. How long it takes depends on the number of clean slates. If you have two clean slates you don’t have time wasted. If you have more than two and you have three candidates, then you have to see who gets the majority.
Question: I looked at the website this weekend rather extensively. Is the situation still prevailing that they are all clean slates?
Spokesperson: Except for Europe, Eastern Europe. Now you have one more candidate, Bosnia.
Question: So, now you have four for two seats?
Spokesperson: Three for two in both Western and Eastern Europe.
Question: So you’ve got races, as it were, in the Western Europe and Others Group and in Eastern Europe?
Spokesperson: Oh, yeah.
Question: I’d like to know about States with bad human rights records on the Human Rights Council.
Spokesperson: You shouldn’t ask me. Ask Member States. They vote.
Question: Generally speaking, what’s the use of a Human Rights Council if it’s going to have members who won’t protect rights?
Spokesperson: Again, it’s Member States who vote. It’s not the President nor the Spokesperson who votes, it’s Member States. Member States can decide whatever they want.
Question: The system was supposed to be different than some country bringing up a name and it’s automatically approved. The whole idea of the changed name or, as some called it, reform of the human rights mechanism, was that there will be some sort of General Assembly oversight over the regional decisions. The question is, is there such a mechanism?
Spokesperson: The mechanism exists. There is oversight. I’ll tell you how. The group can endorse two candidates but the whole Assembly’s voting.
Question: But, as you say, it goes very fast if there’s a clean slate.
Spokesperson: If Member States decide to endorse the clean slate then it doesn’t take time.
Question: So has there been, or is there expected to be, any situation in which a regional group brought two candidates and the GA would not approve one?
Spokesperson: I have not seen it yet. If you don’t get a majority you don’t get approved.
Question: Is a two-thirds majority required to get elected to the Council?
Spokesperson: I think it’s fifty per cent plus one, or an absolute majority.
Question: Which is 97?
Question: One more question. Bosnia jumped in at the last moment. Can you say whether the GA President had any involvement in requesting Bosnia to run?
Spokesperson: No, absolutely not. I can say that with absolute certainty that she had nothing to do with it.
Question: I wanted to ask you about the Permanent Forum.
Spokesperson: Yes, she received amendments yesterday from the African Group.
Question: Will those be released or not?
Spokesperson: I’m sure you can get them from the African Group. If the President decides to release them, you will get them.
Question: Did ACABQ meet yesterday?
Spokesperson: They met yesterday and I asked ACABQ last week, based on your question, to let me know when they will take it up and when they will finish it. We’re talking about your favourite subject, right?
Question: When will the audit be released to the public? Once the ACABQ reads it, is there a mechanism to release it to the public or do we have to rely on leaks?
Spokesperson: I don’t know if an audit like this is released to the public. It’s turned over to the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary). That’s the way it goes with everything the ACABQ discusses.
Question: So, not released to the public.
Spokesperson: I would not say not released to the public because it’s released to over 190 States.
Question: But no press. With regards to the peacekeeping reform, what’s the process now? Can you update us on that?
Spokesperson: Okay, the Fifth Committee will adjourn on the 7th of June. Depending on when the ACABQ turns its report over to the Fifth Committee, then that is the timeline you are looking at.
Question: So, no peacekeeping reform before the end of the year?
Spokesperson: The Committee may not discuss the proposed reforms for DPKO beforethe end of this session.
Question: So, we can say the General Assembly kicked this into the dust for the time being. And doesn’t the ACABQ have some role to read this report?
Spokesperson: ACABQhas to do it first.
Question: When is it slated to read this report?
Spokesperson: I can check for you the exact time, which part of the session they will do that. (ACABQ is expected to start examining the report on Thursday, provided they are done with the items they have before them by then.)
Question: This is a question to Michèle. Isn’t the Secretary-General disappointed that his key signature reform won’t take place until the end of the year?
Secretary-General’s Spokesperson: We’ll ask the question of when it’s expected to go through and what the status is.
Question: He expected it a couple of months ago, no?
Secretary-General’s Spokesperson: Of course. He was putting a lot of hope on this because it’s an important reform for him.
Question: On Security Council reform, what’s the next step the President is thinking of?
Assembly President’s Spokesperson: She’s continuing her consultations. She hasn’t finished them yet.
Question: And she won’t name any new facilitators?
Spokesperson: Once she finishes all the consultations with all Member States, then she’ll decide.
Question: When will that be?
Spokesperson: I don’t have a timeline.
Question: How long will it take until it’s achieved?
Spokesperson: I have no idea.
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For information media • not an official record
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