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
21 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 the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Good afternoon. The guest at the noon briefing is Dr. Djibril Diallo, Director of the UN-New York Office of Sport for Development and Peace, who will discuss Sport for Peace programmes in Liberia and Democratic Republic of the Congo and the follow-up on the first ever UN Global Youth Leadership Summit.
**Statement on Lebanon
We have a statement on Lebanon:
The Secretary-General is gravely concerned about the fighting in the last two days between Fatah al-Islam gunmen and the Lebanese Army. The actions of Fatah al-Islam are an attack on Lebanon’s stability and sovereignty. The Secretary-General welcomes the united stand taken by Palestinian factions in Lebanon denouncing these attacks on the Lebanese Army. He calls on all sides to do their utmost to protect innocent civilians.
The Secretary-General also strongly condemns yesterday’s terrorist bombing in Beirut. He urges the Lebanese to unite in the face of threats to their stability and security.
**Statement on Gaza
A statement attributable to the Spokesperson of the Secretary-General on the situation in Gaza:
The Secretary-General hopes that the ceasefire reached among Palestinian factions in Gaza holds, and he thanks Egypt for its vital work in brokering this agreement. He calls on the Palestinian Authority to take the necessary steps to restore law and order, and for all factions to abide by the ceasefire.
At the same time, the Secretary-General is deeply concerned that Palestinian militants continue to fire rockets at Israel, targeting civilians. These attacks are completely unacceptable and violate international law.
The Secretary-General is also deeply concerned by the mounting number of civilian casualties from Israeli military operations, especially the targeted attack on the home of a Hamas legislator in Gaza, which killed six members of one family. While recognizing Israel’s right to defend itself, he calls on Israel to abide by international law and to ensure that its actions do not target civilians or put them at undue risk.
This morning, the Secretary-General addressed the General Assembly’s session reviewing implementation of the Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS.
He stressed that AIDS would remain a system-wide priority for the UN during his term. He noted that, despite improvements in ensuring universal access, the number of people living with HIV has increased in every region of the world over the past two years. He called for scaling up prevention programmes and making them more accessible, as well as tackling diseases intimately linked to HIV, especially tuberculosis, and addressing gender inequality, stigma and discrimination. We have copies of his speech upstairs. The Secretary-General also met this morning with members of “UN-Plus”, a group of UN staffers living with HIV.
Also today, we can announce that the Secretary-General has appointed a Special Envoy for AIDS in Africa. Sixty-year-old Elizabeth Mataka was born in Botswana and has lived in Zambia for more than 30 years. A social worker with 16 years of experience in the HIV/AIDS field, Ms. Mataka is currently Executive Director of the Zambia National AIDS Network. The Secretary-General has also reappointed three AIDS Envoys through the end of 2008 -- Dr. Nafis Sadik of Pakistan as Special Envoy for AIDS in Asia and the Pacific; Professor Lars Kallings of Sweden, as Special Envoy for AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia; and Sir George Alleyne of Barbados, as Special Envoy for AIDS in Latin America and the Caribbean. We have a press release upstairs.
**Security Council - Humanitarian
The Security Council is holding a meeting this morning on the humanitarian situation in the Great Lakes region and the Horn of Africa. The meeting started with a briefing by Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes on his recent visit to Somalia and northern Uganda. On Somalia, Holmes said the recent massive displacement there has further compounded one of the most difficult humanitarian situations in the world, in a country affected not only by long-running internal conflict but also chronic food insecurity, alternating droughts and floods and endemic disease.
Holmes noted that, in his talks with Somalia’s President and Prime Minister, the discussion was complicated by disagreement on the severity of the crisis. At the same time, however, he also noted that President [Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed] had accepted his proposal of a visit to Somalia by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, to look into claims of human rights violations. Holmes told the Security Council that the UN had a responsibility not to turn its back on Somalis in their latest hour of desperate need. Turning to northern Uganda, which he called “more encouraging”, Holmes said the situation in the conflict-affected districts is improving and there is a degree of optimism in the air. We have his full statement upstairs. Holmes is expected to go to the Security Council stakeout when he leaves the Council.
On Sudan, the UN Mission in Sudan reports fighting over the weekend in North, South and West Darfur. The Mission also reports that it has been informed that a group of LRA rebels had recently abducted four civilians in south Sudan. The information is contained in today’s news bulletin issued by the Mission in Khartoum.
**Security Council - Burundi
At 3 o’clock this afternoon, the Security Council will be discussing the major recent developments in Burundi, as described by the Secretary-General in his first report on the UN Integrated Office in that country, which is out today as a document. In the report, the Secretary-General says that political tensions in Burundi have somewhat abated and the Government has taken corrective measures to enhance social cohesion, a development supported by two Peacebuilding Commission projects, for which the Secretary-General has allocated $35 million.
While there has been an overall improvement in the security situation, the Secretary-General hopes that an agreement will be reached soon between the UN and the Government, among others, on the legal framework for the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission and a Special Tribunal to probe atrocities committed during the civil war.
** Burundi - Human Rights
On Burundi, High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour is in Burundi on the second leg of her mission to Central Africa. Today she met Burundi's two vice-presidents, as well as the ministers for human rights, justice and foreign affairs. Among issues discussed were transitional justice, including the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission and a Special Tribunal. She also focused on the recent human rights situation and the need to ensure accountability and transparency in dealing with violations.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, in a statement today urged the Government of Myanmar for the unconditional release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and all political prisoners in the country. The human rights chief also said the release of all political prisoners would demonstrate a willingness of Myanmar’s Government to abide by universally accepted human rights standards. It would also facilitate national dialogue and free the Government and the people to focus on the need to unite the country. Arbour added that the United Nations is ready to assist the Government of Myanmar in any efforts towards democratization by addressing the complex human rights crisis faced by the country.
The Secretary-General, in a message yesterday, congratulated Dr. Jose Ramos-Horta on the occasion of his inauguration as President of Timor-Leste. He also congratulated the Timorese people, who have actively and peacefully embraced the democratic process in elections over the past six weeks. The Secretary-General reiterated that the United Nations remains committed to supporting Timor-Leste as it strives to develop a stable and sustainable democracy.
On Somalia, the World Food Programme (WFP) yesterday appealed for high-level international action to stamp out piracy in the waters off Somalia, warning that the flow of relief supplies to the country is under severe threat. The appeal followed the killing of a Somali guard who helped fight off a new pirate attack on Saturday, on a ship that had just delivered WFP food aid to the Somali port of Merka. As a result of that attack, the agents of another WFP-contracted ship yesterday refused to allow their vessel, which was loaded with food, to sail for Somalia. We have a press release on that in my office.
The UN Mission in Afghanistan notes that there have been 16 incidents over the past 11 months in which UN food convoys have been attacked and food and vehicles damaged or stolen. Most of these attacks have been in the south of the country. Of the 16, seven have occurred since the beginning of April. The UN Mission calls on those responsible to immediately halt these acts, which are robbing the people of Afghanistan of badly needed aid. You can read more about this in today’s briefing notes from Kabul.
On Rwanda, the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda has confirmed the convictions of Mikaeli Muhimana for genocide, rape and murder as crimes against humanity. The Appeals Chamber also confirmed Muhimana’s sentence of life in prison for these and other crimes he instigated, committed and abetted between April and June 1994 in Rwanda’s Kibuye Prefecture. We have more from the Tribunal upstairs.
In a message to ministers gathered in Almaty, Kazakhstan for the high-level meeting of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, the Secretary-General stressed the importance of achieving the Millennium Development Goals. The Asia-Pacific region is home to two thirds of the world’s population, he noted, and progress there is critical in the success of global efforts to reach the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). To that end, ministers at the meeting expressed strong support for a “road map” to help poor countries lagging in achieving the MDGs to get back on track. We have more in a press release upstairs.
There are two press conferences scheduled for tomorrow on the occasion of the International Day for Biological Diversity. At 11 a.m., Charles McNeill, UNDP’s Environment Team Manager of the Environment and Energy Group, and John Scott of the Secretariat of the Convention on Biodiversity will be briefing you on the importance of biodiversity in diminishing poverty and responding to climate change. They will also be presenting the Equator Prize. And, at 1:15 p.m., John Scott of the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity and indigenous representatives from Norway, Nepal and Canada will be briefing you on the indigenous peoples' vulnerability to climate change.
And then, at 2 p.m. tomorrow, there will be a press conference by Mr. Nejosa Radmanovic, Chairman, and Mr. Zeljko Komsic and Mr. Haris Silajdzic, members of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, on the occasion of the fifteenth anniversary of the membership of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the UN.
That’s all I have for you, and you have Ashraf in a few moments to brief you.
**Questions and Answers
Question: What is the Secretary-General’s reaction to the situation in northern Lebanon and what is the United Nations willing to do about the situation?
Spokesperson: You already have the statement that we issued today on Lebanon. It’s right here and I’ll give it to you when we come out of the briefing.
Question: Is there any follow-up on this WFP ship that won’t sail for Somalia unless it gets some kind of security escort? Is anything being done by the United Nations to try and provide this or try and get the Kenyans to try and provide this?
Spokesperson: What I gave you was the last update I had but we are in touch with WFP on this issue and I’ll give you more a little later when we have it.
Question: What was the content of the discussion between Senator Joseph Biden and the Secretary-General?
Spokesperson: Senator Biden gave an extensive briefing on that earlier. I know that they discussed Darfur, Kosovo, the Middle East, United Nations reform and United States-United Nations relations.
Question: On Lebanon, there were reports this morning that the United Nations personnel couldn’t move because of the gunfire. Do you have any update on the situation?
Spokesperson: No, we don’t have anything on that. As far as we know, they are still there and we will try to get more for you if there is a decision taken to move them. We’ll let you know.
Question: Couple of questions on Lebanon. First off, is there any update on any discussions with regard to United Nations monitoring of the border with Syria, between Syria and Lebanon, and something was said about a Syrian request for monitoring of the border? Also, in terms of analysis, does the Secretary-General think the latest events are in any way linked to roots here at the United Nations to try and establish a tribunal for Lebanon?
Spokesperson: I don’t think he wants to speculate on what the causes were. On the Lebanon issue, he has gotten in touch with several leaders in the region to try to get to a solution. At this point, we don’t have anything beyond that.
Question: And nothing new on the border?
Spokesperson: Regarding the request? We don’t have that yet.
Question: On Darfur, an article in the Washington Post over the weekend talked about an incident in which a United Nations worker was sexually assaulted and others were arrested. What is the Secretary-General’s follow-up? Can you confirm the letters that are described in the article and what’s he done since the last letter, which was some time ago, and when’s the last time he spoke with President Bashir by phone?
Spokesperson: He hasn’t spoken to President Bashir for two or three weeks now. However, you had an update, a pretty extensive update, on the political front and what is being done. And, on Friday, Mr. Eliasson said we had the beginning of a credible negotiating process. It was an extensive briefing so you were updated on the political process. In terms of what else is being done, as you know there is a lot of work being done on the hybrid force and the heavy support package before that.
Correspondent: The Washington Post article describes this incident where these people were arrested and one United Nations worker was sexually assaulted.
Spokesperson: We are aware of that.
Question: So that account is confirmed?
Question: I’d like to ask a hopefully final question on this list of staff of the United Nations Secretariat. I’ve since learned that even Public Information staff within the United Nations aren’t allowed to see it. So, I’m wondering, who can see it within the United Nations? The press and public, as you said, can’t see it, this listing of staff by nationality. But who can see it?
Spokesperson: Okay, the information you got is in the document I wrote to you about.
Correspondent: That didn’t give actual names.
Spokesperson: It didn’t give actual names because of privacy reasons, as I explained to you.
Correspondent: I’ve seen directories of people’s names.
Spokesperson: Not with their ranks and exactly their responsibility in each office. The directory is just a directory that just tells you where to find that person. However, people’s ranks and other things that are listed on that document that I mentioned to you, I mean the document that you mentioned, has the list of names with specifics. And those specifics cannot be seen for privacy reasons.
Question: Okay, I don’t want to go on, but can you just provide me later today, who within the Secretariat can see the list and who can’t? Maybe the list is confidential but who can see it should not be confidential.
Spokesperson: Well, people who are in charge, obviously.
Question: You can see it?
Spokesperson: I can see it.
Correspondent: Okay, because there are Public Information Officers and other United Nations offices… they work for DPI, but they can’t see it.
Spokesperson: Yes, I’ve seen it.
Question: Just a couple of follow-up questions. Does the Secretary-General think that it would help if there were any kind of international protection of World Food Programme ships to deliver food, like humanitarian sea corridors, I guess? Are there any ideas like that in the air?
Spokesperson: I’ll try to find out for you if anything further will be done on this. You know the Somalia situation’s a particularly difficult one in terms of security and there is no United Nations presence because of the security in Somalia. The people who can ensure security are the AU forces and, as you know, there are very few of them at this point, just the Uganda forces there.
Question: Will the Secretary-General be meeting with any Lebanese delegates later?
Spokesperson: I’m not aware of this for today.
Question: Has he met any this morning?
Spokesperson: No, he hasn’t.
Question: I wanted to follow up on two things. Colum’s article had nothing to do with the political process but the treatment of humanitarian workers and when the United Nations spokeswoman mentioned it in Khartoum, there were attacks all over the place by certain parts of the Sudanese press. So the question is, what has the Secretary-General done about this? Has he mentioned it to Bashir or not mentioned it to Bashir? And the second thing is, I’m very confused as to why, perhaps except for a handful of security people -- this is a public institution-- why who does what is such a secret.
Spokesperson: What do you mean? I didn’t get your second question.
Question: On the list of people of who does what specifically in the Secretariat, why is this such a secret, except perhaps for some security people? This is a public institution.
Spokesperson: I think you misunderstood. I gave Matthew another document, which is open to the public. You can have it. I gave him the number of that document, where you can have the number of nationalities of people, their nationality, their post, their gender, and all this information is there. The only thing that is not there is the names.
Spokesperson: Simply because of privacy reasons. Those are statistics.
Question: But this place is not private. It’s not a secret institution. Except for some security people. I’m also curious about your answer on Sudan.
Spokesperson: About the protection of humanitarian workers. Yes, I’m aware and we’re all aware of the attacks that were done in the press against the spokesperson for the mission because she had signalled these incidents. And you’re asking me what’s being done about it?
Question: Well, what was being done with the egregious January incident against humanitarian workers, which they’ve written about, but I didn’t know if anything was done on the Secretary-General level.
Spokesperson: Well, you ask about the Secretary-General and the Secretary-General spoke about humanitarian issues several times. Every time he spoke to President Bashir, he mentions exactly that, the protection of humanitarian workers. This is always one of the subjects he discusses with President Bashir. So it’s an ongoing thing and it’s not now or yesterday that it’s been done. Steadily the Secretary-General has been doing that. Thank you very much. Ashraf?
Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President
**Plenary Meeting on HIV/AIDS
Good afternoon. I have not seen that document.
The Assembly is meeting in plenary today to discuss implementation of the Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS. Noting that, in sub-Saharan Africa, HIV/AIDS infections are up to six times higher for young women than for young men, the Assembly President, in opening the meeting, expressed the hope that the feminization of the epidemic will be a major element of the Assembly’s deliberations. She continued: “We must constantly ask ourselves, what are we doing to fight this global emergency and what more can we do? Whether we continue to act and give the highest priority to this matter, future generations will either praise us, or hold us accountable for our failure to prevent the spread of this disease. This is a make or break time, but beating this disease is entirely within our reach.”
Tomorrow, the Assembly will elect two members of the Organizational Committee of the Peacebuilding Commission. One seat for Eastern European States and the candidate is Georgia (endorsed). One seat for Latin American and Caribbean States, candidate is Jamaica (endorsed).
As previously announced, the Assembly will also elect this Thursday the President of the sixty-second session, Mr. Srgjan Kerim of The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Mr. Kerim has agreed to give a press briefing that day, right after the noon briefing.
That’s all I have. Thank you.
* *** *
For information media • not an official record
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