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
22 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. A statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Lebanon:
The Secretary-General deplores the criminal attacks carried out over the past several days against the Lebanese Army and security forces. These actions constitute an assault on Lebanon’s stability and sovereignty, and have seriously endangered civilians. They must halt immediately.
The Secretary-General also deplores today’s attack on UNRWA’s [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East] humanitarian supply convoy, and expresses his grave concern about the conditions for Palestinians living in Nahr el-Bared refugee camp. He calls for the immediate establishment of safe corridors to allow medical staff to assist and evacuate those in need. He is deeply saddened by the civilian casualties that have resulted and appeals to all concerned to do their utmost to avoid further bloodshed.
The Secretary-General also strongly condemns the second terrorist bombing that took place yesterday in the Verdun district of Beirut. He appeals to the Lebanese people to unite in confronting the challenges facing their country.
The Secretary-General is continuing to monitor the situation very closely and he’s in contact with Prime Minister [Fouad] Siniora and other regional leaders to help alleviate the situation.
On the humanitarian front, the Lebanon Director for the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), Richard Cook, has expressed deep concern about the worsening humanitarian situation and the loss of civilian lives in the Nahr El Bared camp for Palestinian refugees. Working in close cooperation with the Lebanese Army, the Lebanese Red Cross, UN agencies and other parties, Cook said that UNRWA is attempting to provide essential care, food and water to the camp residents and to evacuate the injured and the dead. Just a few hours ago, a six-vehicle UNRWA convoy was struck on the perimeter of the camp, causing heavy damage to three vehicles and destroying the water tower and bladders, as well as milk for children, bread and medical supplies. An estimated 31,000 people live in the camp. And UNRWA provides basic services including primary health care at a clinic where, under normal circumstances, UN doctors examine some 500 patients daily.
** Middle East
On the Middle East, the Secretary-General is dispatching his new Middle East envoy, Michael Williams, to the region for consultations. Mr. Williams is en route and is expected to begin holding meetings on Thursday with senior Israeli and Palestinian officials. He plans to travel from there to Cairo for further consultations.
A statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Myanmar:
The Secretary-General has designated his Special Adviser on the International Compact with Iraq and Other Issues, Mr. Ibrahim Gambari, to continue to pursue the good offices mandate on Myanmar entrusted to the Secretary-General by the General Assembly, effective immediately.
In the discharge of his functions, Mr. Gambari will work in coordination with relevant parts of the UN system in order to support Myanmar’s efforts in implementing relevant General Assembly resolutions.
The Secretary-General looks forward to the continued cooperation of the Government of Myanmar and all relevant parties to the national reconciliation process, with a view to making tangible progress towards the restoration of democracy and the protection of human rights in Myanmar.
** Central African Republic
On the Central African Republic, the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court [ICC] this morning announced that the Prosecutor has decided to start an investigation in the Central African Republic. After a review of the available information, Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo says he believes that grave crimes falling within the jurisdiction of the Court were committed between 2002 and 2003 in the Central African Republic. Civilians were killed and raped, and homes and stores were looted in the context of an armed conflict between the Government and rebel forces, he says. This is the first time that the ICC is opening an investigation in which allegations of sexual crimes far outnumber alleged killings. And we have a press release from the Court upstairs.
Still on the Central African Republic, the United Nations has firmly condemned the capture of two international health workers in the north-western Central African Republic, and is urging their captors to free them. The UN is highly concerned by the recent decline in the security situation in the northwest, which is threatening humanitarian work.
Meanwhile, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports that the humanitarian crisis in the northeast and centre of the country persists and has even worsened, with more internally displaced persons than before. At the same time, however, the humanitarian response is improving with 18 NGOs now operating in the region, as opposed to just six back in November 2006.
Today the Security Council is holding an open meeting to hear briefings by the Chairmen of the Council’s subsidiary bodies. As you’ll recall, Panama chairs the Counter-Terrorism Committee, Belgium heads the Al-Qaida and Taliban Sanctions Committee, and Slovakia chairs the so-called 1540 Committee, which deals with the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. At the conclusion of this morning’s meeting, the ambassadors of those three countries will go to the stakeout to take your questions.
The Government of the Maldives has appealed for international aid following a series of wave swells that hit at least 35 islands in 13 atolls in the country. Except for the 2004 tsunami, the Maldives has never before faced such widespread and simultaneous flooding of so many islands, according to Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes. For its part, UNICEF is providing water tanks and rain-water harvesting kits to the hardest hit atoll. Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation has been coordinating with the Ministry of Health on possible assistance that may be required, and the UN Development Programme is providing support in the areas of livelihoods recovery and coordination. We have a press release on that upstairs.
High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres has arrived in Nepal. He’s on a four-day mission to the region to focus on the plight of more than 100,000 refugees from Bhutan who have been living in camps in eastern Nepal since the early 1990s. Guterres is expected to visit one of the camps, as well as meet with Nepalese officials, UN agencies and donors. On Thursday, he heads to Bhutan for discussions with government officials there.
Today is the International Day for Biological Diversity. In a message to mark the occasion, the Secretary-General noted that biodiversity is being lost at an unprecedented rate and called for greater global efforts to address the causes -- climate change and shifting land use patterns. We have the text of his message upstairs.
Meanwhile, the UN Environment Programme says it has completed -- seven months ahead of schedule -- its one-year global campaign for promises to plant one billion trees. The campaign now shifts to turning those pledges into plantings by the end of the year. We have more information upstairs.
To mark International Biological Diversity Day, there will be a press conference here in room 226 at 1:30 p.m. Briefing will be John Scott of the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, as well as indigenous representatives from Canada, India, Norway and the US to discuss indigenous peoples' vulnerability to climate change.
**Secretary-General Meets with Staff Living with HIV
We mentioned to you that the Secretary-General yesterday met with a group of UN staff living with HIV from across regions and UN agencies. Afterwards, he described the meeting as one of the most moving experiences in his life. He told colleagues that he has met many people in his life -- presidents, kings, diplomats. But this was one of the most important events, for him, of his life. He said that he was very touched by their courage and, more, by their directness in talking about their lives. The Secretary-General spoke about the discrimination those with HIV often face in many parts of the world, including in Asia and his own country, Korea. “I felt ashamed on their behalf," he said. He said that on his next trip to the region, he would make a point of visiting an AIDS clinic or similar facility, the better to speak up for those living with HIV and help fight the stigma so often associated with the disease.
Just to flag to you -- tomorrow, the head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) is scheduled to launch that agency’s latest report on drug-related crime and violence in Central America, and how it affects development there. We have an embargoed press release upstairs.
And the guest at the noon briefing tomorrow will be Dan Toole, UNICEF’s Director of Emergency Programmes, who will brief you on the situation of children in Iraq.
And then at 12:45 today, there will be a press conference by Mr. Nejosa Radmanovic, Chairman, and Mr. Haris Silajdzic, Member, of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, on the occasion of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s fifteenth anniversary as a member of the UN. This is all I have for you.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Did the Secretary-General contact the Lebanese authorities on the situation in Nahr el-Bared and possibly asking them to stop the shelling so humanitarian aid can go in?
Spokesperson: Yes, he has been making a flurry of phone calls today and he made a call to Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, as I mentioned earlier, and he spoke also to the Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia, Prince Saud al Faisal, and also to the Foreign Minister of Syria, Walid Moallem. We expect two or three more phone calls this afternoon to other leaders in the region.
Question: Anything in particular on allowing the United Nations convoys to go into the camp, because there are reports of people dead and injured inside?
Spokesperson: Well, it was about the humanitarian situation and how we can alleviate the human suffering there.
Question: Regarding the escalation of violence between Israelis and Palestinians, today Israel announced it would target the life of the Palestinian Prime Minister, Ismail Haniyeh. What is the response of the Secretary-General and does he believe such remarks can help alleviate the tension between the two parties?
Spokesperson: The Secretary-General will not comment on statements of intended actions by any leaders or any person in the region.
Question: Is the Secretary-General concerned that the violence in Nahr el-Bared camp could spread to other camps in south Lebanon and in Beirut itself?
Spokesperson: He’s certainly very concerned about that and I think this is one of his topics of discussion with leaders in the region.
Question: Do you have any details on the meeting of the Secretary-General with the group of people living with HIV/AIDS? You said they were United Nations staff?
Spokesperson: United Nations staff, yes.
Question: And do you have any details of what was covered at that meeting?
Spokesperson: I told you everything about it.
Question: Any suggestions or any pleas that they have?
Spokesperson: No, this was more personal and human contact for the Secretary-General. The Secretary-General stated in front of the General Assembly his views and his approach to the whole HIV/AIDS syndrome. However, what he wanted to say was that it was important for him to meet the people behind the disease and really talk to them as people.
Question: Will UNAIDS cover this meeting in one of their press releases?
Spokesperson: I don’t think so. It was mostly a closed meeting between the Secretary-General and people affected by HIV/AIDS in the building.
Question: This may be a follow-up to that, and then I have, two questions. I noticed that the Secretary-General is meeting with somebody from Gilead Pharmaceuticals this afternoon. What’s that meeting about?
Spokesperson: I don’t know but I’ll find out for you.
[The Spokesperson later added that the topic was AIDS.]
Question: Okay. Then on counter-terrorism, with Mr. Rupérez resigning and the office sun-setting by the end of this year, does the Secretary-General intend to seek out and nominate another candidate, ever given the sunset? Is it his position that the office should be continued past the sunset? I know that he’s going to write a report on that, but…
Spokesperson: I’m going to arrange for you to have a briefing on all the efforts being done on the counter-terrorism front.
Question: Would that be Mr. [Robert] Orr?
Spokesperson: He will be one of them but he won’t be the only one. There will also be ambassadors of the countries involved in the recent meeting in Vienna.
Question: As I understand, there are many groups alleged to be receiving finances from either the Siniora or Hariri group in Lebanon. And we talked a lot about militias established in Lebanon. Is Mr. Ban Ki-moon raising this matter with Mr. Siniora, to stop such supplies of weapons to such militias in the north as part of the weapons race in Lebanon?
Spokesperson: As we always say, we do not comment on allegations.
Question: In the recent report on [Security Council resolution] 1559, the report speaks clearly about a weapons race in Lebanon, an arms race.
Spokesperson: It speaks about weapons; it does not speak about a link of this group to specific sources of funding.
Question: During the recent clashes in Tripoli, the (inaudible) militias went out on the streets and Mr. Hariri took a long time to pacify them, not to get involved in fighting alongside this group in particular.
Spokesperson: I have no further comments on this.
Question: You did not receive any reports from Beirut about that?
Spokesperson: No, we have nothing new to report on that.
Question: Yesterday, Congressional leaders of the United States Congress met with the Secretary-General and we talked with some of them at the stakeout. Senator Biden told us that with what he knows now, he’s growing more encouraged regarding Kosovo than he was previously before meeting Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. What does it mean? What did they talk about on Kosovo? What did the Secretary-General tell him to encourage him on that?
Spokesperson: Well, they also met with other representatives of different countries in the house, so it’s not just his meeting with the Secretary-General that explains his optimistic view on it. The Secretary-General just reiterated his position and his support for his Special Envoy’s recommendations.
Question: Besides the dissonance in the Security Council, various views and everything?
Question: Just briefly, this public document, the copy from the Secretariat that you referred me to, it seems to not include consultants or dollar-a-year or when-actually-employed people. They’re not included in the count.
Spokesperson: Which count? What document are you referring to?
Question: The public composition of the Secretariat document doesn’t include in the count consultants, and explicitly excludes dollar-a-year officials and when-actually-employed people. So I was wondering, first of all, if there’s some reason why they’re excluded but also, how many consultants the Secretariat or Secretary-General has?
Spokesperson: If they’re dollar-a-year people, they would not be included here. We’re talking about people who are employed on a regular basis with the Secretariat.
Question: Well, I guess with consultants, that’s where it seems… It seems that somebody who’s a consultant can be working for the UN virtually full time but they’re not going to show up in these places. It’s just a factual question. I wanted to know how many consultants there are.
Spokesperson: I can check for you but you can always check for yourself.
Question: That’s what I’m saying. The public document doesn’t have that information. That’s why I can’t check.
Spokesperson: Okay, we’ll check on that. But you know, we’ve spent a lot of time on that list.
Correspondent: If it were released, we wouldn’t be spending any time on it.
Spokesperson: No, you would spend a lot more time on it because as I mentioned to you, the list you want to see is simply a directory of people with simply, next to them, their nationality and their level.
Correspondent: But it also lists whether they’re a dollar-a-year or whether they’re when-actually-employed.
Spokesperson: No, dollar-a-years are not there.
Correspondent: I’ve seen the first page of it, which has, like, a code. Here’s my thing, and this may be the last thing I say on it, I hope. I appreciate it. I got your thing saying it could be seen unofficially or on background. One, I wasn’t clear if that meant it could be reported on.
Spokesperson: No, it cannot be reported on, not by name. Everything that you can report on is right there on the document, Matthew, the document you have in your hand.
Question: Okay, final question. To whom should the request be addressed that the list of staff of the United Nations Secretary-General be made a public document? To who should such a request be made, because I’m not going to keep --
Spokesperson: It’s not going to be made a public document. If you want to consult it and you need permission to consult it, we’ll give you the necessary information.
Question: Ms. [Alicia] Bárcena said there’s a movement afoot to put in a freedom of information policy at the United Nations. Even in the absence of such a policy, is there a place where one can make a formal request that a document that seems like it contains all public information be released? I don’t want to keep doing it here. I agree with you. So to whom is such a request made?
Spokesperson: I’ll find out for you. I think that’s really enough on the list. I think it’s making --
Correspondent: I’m aware that there are other reporters here who’d told me they’ve asked for this document for five years. That’s the only reason --
Spokesperson: This document that you have is available. Every year it comes out.
Correspondent: It’s this document I want made public. That’s the request.
Spokesperson: So you have it? I’m glad to see that.
Correspondent: And I think it should be made public.
Spokesperson: That’s your opinion. And it’s for reasons of privacy, as I said, that it’s not public. You cannot report on it, it does not circulate publicly, it is for background information only. Okay? Thank you very much. Yes?
Question: The letter of Mr. Lahoud to Mr. Ban Ki-moon, which was sent on the fourteenth, was documented as released on the seventeenth. Did you establish where it was stuck for those days?
Spokesperson: It was, on that same day, transferred to the Security Council. I don’t know what happened to it afterwards.
Question: It left Beirut on the fourteenth. It was published in the media on the fifteenth. But it was only circulated on the seventeenth here. So where did it stay? Why did it take four long days to arrive at the Security Council, whereas Mr. Siniora’s letter was available on the fourteenth?
Spokesperson: As I said, the date it was received was the seventeenth. It was immediately referred to the Security Council that same afternoon. I gave you the time, 5:35 p.m.
Question: Was it delayed in Beirut or here?
Spokesperson: I have no idea, whether it was delayed in Beirut. All I can say, which is a fact, is the date it was received and when it was actually released to the Security Council.
Question: I understand, Michèle, but this has influenced, Mr. Ban Ki-moon had access only to Mr. Siniora’s letter on the fourteenth, when he passed the tribunal onto the Security Council. He did not have access to Mr. Lahoud’s letter and of course, probably, had he read Mr. Lahoud’s letter, he may not have taken the same decision. Who’s responsible for delaying the letter between the fourteenth and the seventeenth?
Spokesperson: The decision of the Secretary-General was based not on letters received only, it was also decided upon after, as you know, Mr. Nicolas Michel met with all the parties and came to the conclusion that we had reached an impasse. And this was said by Mr. Michel right in this room.
Correspondent: Mr. Ban Ki-moon also said clearly that it was also upon the request of Mr. Siniora, and he did not allude in any way to Mr. Lahoud’s letter or mention his remarks, and this did not happen for the first time. We know that back in February, the letter of Mr. Lahoud was delayed extensively for many days for translation and it never appeared as a document in the Security Council.
Spokesperson: The reason is, as I explained to you, Mr. Siniora is the Head of Government.
Correspondent: Mr. Lahoud is the President who signed the decree of Mr. Siniora to become a Prime Minister. Without Mr. Lahoud, Siniora is not the Prime Minister. The Secretary-General knows that very well.
Spokesperson: I have no further comments.
Correspondent: This is biased, by the way. I need an explanation for that.
Spokesperson: This is all I am going to say about this. I think I have gone through this whole letter business with you over and over again. This is all I am going to say on this.
Correspondent: (inaudible) This is bias and it’s affecting Lebanon and it’s probably one of the reasons Lebanon is in strife at the moment.
Spokesperson: I have no comment on this.
Correspondent: I need a comment from the Secretary-General on this.
Spokesperson: No, you will not have a comment of the Secretary-General on this. Thank you very much.
Question: It seems obvious that the deadline on the Security Council resolution to stop its nuclear activities was ignored by Iran, which is after tomorrow. What’s the position of Mr. Ban Ki-moon on next steps to handle the issue?
Spokesperson: This issue being with the Security Council, the Secretary-General will not comment on it.
Question: Is there any thought of withdrawing UNRWA staff from the Palestinian refugee camps [in Lebanon] for safety reasons?
Spokesperson: Not at this point.
Question: I would like a clarification. When the Secretary-General started, he said he would talk to all sides and always try to facilitate communication. I wonder, is that still his position or is there a change, that he feels he has to support the position of the people who he feels are -- of the representatives of the government? I’d like to understand that.
Spokesperson: Are you referring to the situation in Lebanon?
Question: Yes, but I think there are other situations --
Spokesperson: So, the position of the Secretary-General is always the same, he’s talking to everyone. Okay? Thank you very much.
Correspondent: He doesn’t seem to be talking to everyone.
Spokesperson: We are not doing editorials here. Please, Nizar. You’re asking questions. I’m answering factual questions. And now I leave you with Ashraf.
Briefing by the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly
**Plenary Meeting Today
The Assembly met in plenary this morning to elect two members of the Organizational Committee of the Peacebuilding Commission: Georgia, for the Eastern European seat; and Jamaica for the Latin American and Caribbeanseat. It also elected 30 members of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law. There was no voting in any of the elections. All the elections were done by consensus.
During the same meeting this morning, the Assembly also concluded the discussion it began yesterday on the implementation of the Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS, and adopted a decision welcoming the Secretary-General’s recommendations for setting national targets for universal access to HIV prevention programmes, treatment, care and support. The recommendations are in document A/61/816; the decision is in A/61/L.58.
**Seating Order for Sixty-Second Session
Immediately following the election of the President of the Assembly’s sixty-second session on Thursday in the GA Hall, the Secretary-General will draw lots to determine the Member State that will occupy the first seat in the sixty-second session. That’s all I have.
**Questions and Answers
Question: There was no voting for Croatia so Croatia is out, from today it’s not a member of the Peacebuilding Commission? Did I understand correctly, that Georgia is for Eastern Europe right now?
Spokesperson: There were two seats up, one for Eastern Europe and one for Latin America and the Caribbean. Those were the open seats.
Question: Is there any update on the DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] document in the ACABQ [Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions]?
Spokesperson: ACABQ started discussing that on Friday and I’ll probably have more information for you by Thursday on where they are. But initially, the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) has it on its agenda for 25 May; that’s the target date for the ACABQ to finish and hand it over to the Committee.
Question: And how long will the Committee take on something like that?
Spokesperson: I’m not going to speculate. The last time I speculated I got in trouble.
Question: Is there a date yet for reform of the Security Council?
Spokesperson: The President is still conducting her consultations,and there may be movement on naming facilitators to the next stage.But she’s still continuing the consultations, so we’re not saying anything.
Question: On that draft declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples, she got this list of proposed amendments.
Spokesperson: Yes, she received some proposed amendments from the African Group. This was a week ago.
Question: But now I’m told that wasn’t really from the African Group. Is it your understanding that that’s an official African Group proposal or just some countries in the group?
Spokesperson: Again, it’s not an official position proposal because you have the draft declaration and what they’re trying to do now is introduce amendments to it. So she still has to consult with a few parties on whether this is possible or not. You have to take aboard everybody’s concerns. But this will take some time.
Question: Did she write to all Member States about “make or keep”, either circulating the amendments or saying something about this?
Spokesperson: If the amendments were circulated, then we would have circulated them to all of you. We always post letters from the President forwarding documents to Member States. Okay?
* *** *
For information media • not an official record
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