DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
17 August 2007
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon all.
At 3:15 today there will be a press conference by the Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, Margareta Wahlström, again. She will provide an update on the flooding in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea since you had so many questions about it yesterday.
** Baghdad Bombing Anniversary
UN staff around the world held events to mark the fourth anniversary of the bombing of the UN compound in Baghdad, in which 22 people were killed and more than 150 wounded.
The Secretary-General said that the bombing of the Canal Hotel on 19 August 2003 remains one of the UN’s darkest days, and he told those paying tribute at UN Headquarters, “Four years on, our hearts remain heavy.” He added that the bombers shook us to the very core, yet they could not shake our ideals, our values, our commitment, our resolve.
The Secretary-General said that he understands the fears and concerns some staff may have about any expansion in Iraq, and affirmed that any such measure remains strictly subject to conditions on the ground. At the same time, the terrorists who struck so cruelly in Baghdad must, one day, be brought to justice.
He later told CNN that he felt moved by what happened, adding, “I am very much committed to work for those families and friends of the victims, and friends who were there.”
The ceremony at UN Headquarters included a minute of silence to remember those who died, and a wreath was laid in honour of the fallen staff.
In Geneva, the Director-General of the UN Geneva Office said of those who died, “We vow to take forward their quest for peace as the most appropriate tribute to their memory”.
Staff in Geneva and Nairobi, among other duty stations, also marked the day with a minute of silence.
The United Nations has vigorously pursued the coordination of an accurate account of the tragic crime of 19 August 2003. All the elements of that account are now complete, and we look forward to sharing the account as soon as possible with the families of victims and other concerned parties.
In order that we do not prejudice or impair the legal interests of families or friends, we are consulting with the Member States whose nationals are the deceased victims and where we are aware of possible legal proceedings.
I know you will understand that we would not wish to provide a list of lessons learned, which would assist terrorists, but this process has been exhaustive and has led to significant developments in UN security. The creation of a new Department of Safety and Security has been one of these steps.
**Statement on Lebanon
We have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.
The Secretary-General was pleased to receive on 15 August 2007 a letter from Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende informing him that the Government of the Netherlands is favourably disposed to hosting the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.
As you know, the Tribunal was created to prosecute those responsible for the attack that killed former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and others. Pursuant to Security Council resolution 1757 (2007), the Secretary-General is taking the steps and measures necessary to establish the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in a timely manner.
In his letter to the Government of the Netherlands last month, the Secretary-General emphasized that the experience and knowledge gained by the Netherlands in hosting several international courts and tribunals was invaluable. He cited the unique and essential role of the Netherlands in the development of international justice and the rule of law.
The Secretary-General will dispatch a delegation to the Netherlands in the coming weeks to discuss practical arrangements required for the establishment and operation of the Special Tribunal.
In Peru, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that early data concerning the earthquake that struck the country on 15 August reveals that Canete, Chincha and Pisco are the most damaged cities. So far, authorities have confirmed that 510 were killed and 1,000 wounded, with over 16,500 homes destroyed. OCHA expects those figures to climb in coming days.
A United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) Team is being deployed and should arrive in the country shortly.
The World Food Programme (WFP) has already started distributing food to the victims of the quake. In all, it will provide $500,000 worth of supplies drawn from in-country food stocks.
For its part, UNICEF has also started distributing water purification tablets, oral hydration salts and water containers. The agency is also providing prevention and education materials to teach families how to handle safe water, to prevent diseases and encourage food hygiene practices.
UNICEF has donated $200,000 for assistance in the response phase and will allocate $300,000 more for reconstruction.
And we have more information in a press release upstairs.
**Democratic People’s Republic of Korea Flooding
We have an update on the UN’s response to floods in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
This morning, the World Food Programme sent several assessment teams to sites in eight counties in the South Hamgyong and North Hwangae provinces. WFP has 4,000 tons of pre-positioned food stocks in the country for immediate use, and it is prepared to begin an initial emergency feeding operation for 320,000 people.
Meanwhile, UNICEF has provided pre-positioned supplies of essential medicines for waterborne diseases and water kits. It is also working with the Ministry of Education to support the resumption of classes next month in the affected areas.
Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, Margareta Wahlström, as I announced earlier, will have much more information when she briefs you in this room at 3:15 p.m.
**South Asia Floods
In South Asia, the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF are expressing their deep concern about the continuing threats from hunger, disease and malnutrition faced by the millions of people affected by flooding in the region.
The two agencies report that the incidence of diarrhoeal and other waterborne diseases continue to rise. They say relief and recovery efforts are well under way -- with WHO providing, among others, rehydration serums and antibiotics -- but that the needs remain very important. Access to freshwater, food and shelter remains the primary concern.
According to UNICEF, almost 3,200 people have lost their lives, and nearly 50 million people have been affected by the flooding across the subcontinent -- with yet more rain forecast for the coming weeks.
We have more on this upstairs.
** Nepal Food Distribution
Over in Nepal, the United Nations World Food Programme yesterday began food distributions to the people in the most flood-affected districts of the Western Terai region.
With the quick response from the donor community and the Nepal Red Cross Society, the world food body, in just two weeks’ time, was able to start delivering food to the most flood-affected areas. The victims are receiving an emergency relief package of rice, oil, lentils and salt.
Based upon the request by the Nepalese Government, WFP’s initial response was to provide some 60,000 people with three months of food rations.
But since the initial request, the number of flood victims across the country has increased to over 400,000, and the WFP is already in the process of appealing to donors for additional funds to cover the increased needs.
**OCHA -- Humanitarian Envoy
The UN’s humanitarian chief has welcomed the appointment of Abdulaziz bin Mohamed Arrukban of Saudi Arabia as the Secretary-General’s Special Humanitarian Envoy.
“The humanitarian community has much to gain from the expertise of Mr. Arrukban,” says Under-Secretary-General John Holmes.
Mr. Arrukban is tasked with strengthening linkages between the UN’s humanitarian efforts and the humanitarian aid provided by Governments and organizations in the Middle East and North Africa.
There is more information in a press release upstairs.
On Timor-Leste, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Timor-Leste, Mr. Atul Khare, at a high-level meeting in Dili this week, has outlined four key elements in working towards the reform of the security sector in the nation.
In the meeting, Mr. Khare stated the need to improve relations between the police and the army, strengthening the legal framework, increasing police capacity and enhancing civil oversight as the four priority areas in building an effective and accountable security sector that serves the needs of the Timorese people.
He also stressed that the strengthening of the army and police would be crucial to the development of Timor-Leste as a modern State.
In Sudan, the United Nations Refugee Agency this week has stepped up the pace of voluntary returns of Sudanese refugees, by opening up a new major return corridor on the southern tip of Sudan’s border with Uganda.
According to UNHCR, the new route links the refugee settlements in Uganda with Eastern Equatoria State in Sudan, where security has gradually returned following the recent withdrawal of the Ugandan rebel group -- the Lord’s Resistance Army -- in the area, boosting the confidence of many Sudanese refugees to return.
Uganda hosts one of the largest populations of Sudanese refugees. Some 70 per cent of the 160,000 Sudanese refugees living in a string of 11 camps in Uganda originate from Sudan’s Central and Eastern Equatoria States.
**The Week Ahead
We also have upstairs for you The Week Ahead. Just to flag what we have tomorrow -- Saturday. Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Lynn Pascoe will be in Nepal to visit the UN mission there and meet with senior leaders.
On Tuesday morning, the Security Council is scheduled to hold consultations on Chad and the Central African Republic.
And on Thursday in Geneva, the World Health Organization launches its World Health Report 2007: “A Safer Future”.
You have The Week Ahead upstairs in my Office.
This is all I have for you. Thank you.
**Questions and Answers
Question: As a follow-up on the Tribunal, do you know anything about the Nicolas Michel report? Would it be due, as it was expected in June, the 28th, to be debated -- on 28 August -- and to be debated on the 31st?
Spokesperson: Well, I couldn’t get that information for you yesterday. You asked yesterday. I couldn’t get the information exactly when he will be reporting in the Security Council, but I will check. [The Spokesperson later added that the meeting of the Security Council on Lebanon’s Tribunal has not yet been scheduled.]
Question: In view of the existence of the Hariri Tribunal as an example, who, may I ask, is in charge of the investigation of the Baghdad bombing? Is there any talk of an international investigation or tribunal, or is this thing being handled by the homicide bureau of the Baghdad Police?
Spokesperson: Well, you are talking about the Canal Hotel bombing?
Correspondent: The Canal Hotel bombing. Exactly.
Spokesperson: As I said, the report on the different investigations that were led is ready to come out. It will come out as soon as the families have been informed of the full details. That’s what I said earlier. That is what I read.
Question: So there may be recommendations flowing therefrom?
Spokesperson: Yes, definitely. Of course, all the aspects of the reports will not be public, as you can guess, for security reasons. And for how it happened, who was responsible, all those data are in.
Question: But there will be some public report, which may include some classified information?
Spokesperson: Yes, yes.
Question: There will be a public report?
Spokesperson: There will be a public report. And as I said, the families are going to be informed first of the details. Then you will certainly have access to the report, which, as I said, will not have, of course, the security details in it.
Question: Michèle, don’t I recall that several weeks ago, there was an announcement that there had been, I think, an execution?
Spokesperson: There was an execution, an execution in Iraq. That was -- let me check the date for you -- he was sentenced to death. It was [Awraz Abdel Ali] Mahmoud Sa’eed; he was sentenced to death by the Central Criminal Court of Iraq on 30 March 2006. His case was referred to the Court of Cassation on 6 June 2006, and the death sentence was confirmed. And he was executed, indeed, even though the Secretary-General has always encouraged States to abolish the death penalty.
And there was an appeal by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Iraq, Mr. Ashraf Qazi, directly to the President of Iraq, requesting that the death sentence be commuted to life imprisonment. On 13 November , by presidential decree, he was executed.
Question: If they’re executing people in Iraq, perhaps then there’s no possibility for a similar tribunal, as in the case of Hariri, to bring justice to the people who have four years ago done this massacre?
Spokesperson: Well, the justice is being brought in individual courts in different countries. In the US, in the UK, in France, you have a number of legal proceedings going on on these specific cases. The different nationals have applied for justice in their own courts, and that’s why you have investigations led by those different countries into what happened at the Canal Hotel. So what the Department of Security and Safety has done is to bring together all the results of those investigations, and this is what is being communicated to the families -- on a first [informed] basis.
Question: You mentioned that 350 people lost their lives. Is that the total number of casualties, or the partial?
Spokesperson: You’re talking about where?
Correspondent: In the floods in South-East Asia.
Spokesperson: The South-East Asia floods. I don’t have the complete count. I said almost 3,200 people lost their lives according to UNICEF. That’s what I read. And about 50 million have been affected by those floods on the sub-continent. That’s the numbers I have.
Question: So the total casualties are?
Spokesperson: As far as UNICEF goes, 3,200 people have lost their lives, and 50 million people are affected. Those are the last numbers I have.
Question: I understand what you’re saying about this future report, that it should be shown to the families of the victims first. But there’re some issues around a previous report. There was the threat assessment report that was done before the bombing took place. But I think it has never been realized, and I’m not sure why, given that it’s been outdated. Even some Member States complained that they haven’t seen it. So I guess I’m requesting if that document can be released. It was called the threat assessment. It was done in 2003 prior to the bombing.
Spokesperson: Well, I think if it contains information that can jeopardize the lives of our own people right now in Iraq -- no, it will not be released.
Question: But I think it was all about --
Spokesperson: If it was about what happened at the building, I would be surprised if it hasn’t been released. I know a number of things were released in 2004. I can check for you what was released but a threat assessment, I don’t think will be released as such.
Question: But it was an assessment done before the bombing, you see what I mean? It’s all about the building. Some people have said that the problem was that it had assessed the threat as low. I don’t know if that’s true or not. That’s why I’m asking. That’s why I would like to see the report.
Spokesperson: I’ll try to find out for you.
Question: And also, at today’s event, I think that -- this is unrelated, but it’s connected in this way -- that the head of the Ethics Office, Mr. [Robert] Benson, was there and is back in town. There have been various questions. Jonathan of Fox, and I, had asked you, for example, on the whistle-blower. It was supposed to be done in 45 days, now it’s like 80 days. There were a couple questions that weren’t answered, maybe because he was travelling.
Spokesperson: He was travelling, so we’ll try to get him now for you.
Question: And also it’s on Ban Ki-moon’s schedule that he met with Kemal Dervis of UNDP at 11. Is there a readout? Do you know what the topic of that meeting was?
Spokesperson: I don’t have the readout, but, you know, there are so many issues to discuss about UNDP’s work.
Question: I guess there are two things I would like to know, you could either find out if they were on it or not. One would be the whistle-blower and that whole situation of the UNDP whistle-blower. And the second would be North Korea and UNDP not being in the country, given the UN’s new commitment to provide all this aid.
Spokesperson: I will try to get a readout for you, but, essentially there are so many issues concerning UNDP programmes across the world. I don’t think that specific issue will take centre stage, but I will ask for you.
Question: And how long did the meetings last? Whatever the readout is.
Spokesperson: Okay. Sure.
Question: I wanted to find out about two things. One is that the Secretary-General also met with the Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia. Did you get a readout on that as far as what was discussed?
Question: Yes, today, in the morning, with the Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia. Do you have a readout on that?
Spokesperson: What’s your other question?
Question: The other question is why is it taking such a long time for the Secretary-General to make the decision to appoint a new Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq? And do you have a shortlist of candidates for that?
Spokesperson: On the last question, the new SRSG on Iraq. I don’t have an answer for you yet. I’ve been told that it will be announced shortly. If there is a shortlist, it would not be communicated to you until the decision is taken.
Question: Last time there was -- I mean it was communicated last year before that, when Kemal Dervis was appointed. And before that, the shortlists were being communicated to the press. Obviously, maybe the policy has changed. But why is taking such a long time for [inaudible] --
Spokesperson: Because it’s a very serious matter, and they are going through a number of discussions about that appointment. And you will know shortly.
Question: And also --
Spokesperson: You had the first question about the meeting with the Saudi Foreign Minister yesterday. The discussion focused on upcoming meetings mostly -- upcoming meetings mostly at Headquarters, regarding Afghanistan, Iraq and Sudan, Darfur. Saudi Arabia, as you know, took a leading role on the Darfur case. They facilitated a meeting in Riyadh last May on Darfur, so they have a particular interest on the Darfur issue. They also discussed the next meeting of the Middle East Quartet and the situation in the Middle East. So those were the main topics that they discussed.
There is one thread of what to do to strengthen the peace process in those different regions. In all those regions, Saudi Arabia has shown special interest, and that’s what they discussed.
Question: And also, has he changed his determination on Iraq, as to -- does the United Nations deem that the situation is genocide [inaudible] in Iraq at this point in time, because there are so many killings? The report last year said that 7 million Iraqis have been killed since the US invasion of Iraq. And now, since then, there are a million more. So, for far less being killed, we declare an area as genocide. Why not Iraq?
Spokesperson: Well, you’re talking about the term “genocide” you want to be used. You know, I’ll get back to you on that. The Secretary-General has several times repeatedly said how worried and concerned he is about the security situation in Iraq, about the people dying on a daily basis. Whether it is called genocide or not, is another topic altogether. The fact is people are dying, and it is something of great concern to the Secretary-General -- the increase in the level of civilian deaths. He has addressed that issue several times.
Question: I just wanted to follow up on the Saudi issue. Did he also raise the matter of the Tribunal, Saudi finance for the costs of that court -- the Saudi Foreign Minister and Mr. Ban Ki-moon?
Spokesperson: Not that I know of.
Question: Okay. Then I have a second question concerning the UN policy on sending staffers to Iraq. Is that an obligatory matter, or could staffers say, citing the security situation, they don’t want to go and that their will be respected?
Spokesperson: Anybody going to a mission is volunteering for the mission. And of course, no one would be sent to any place, even if they request so, if the security conditions are not met. I think the Secretary-General stressed this morning how important it was for him that the security conditions exist for the staff to be deployed.
Question: So if someone is offered a job in Iraq and he doesn’t or she doesn’t go, they are not going to be kind of punished or…
Spokesperson: Of course not.
Question: …or administrative measures [talkover] because it’s assigned --
Spokesperson: Of course not.
Question: On the security thing, are the living quarters going to be beefed up in Iraq? I heard a rocket hit them a couple of weeks ago, although nobody was injured. And then I just wanted to know what plans were there.
And then something totally different that I just wanted to have go through the building. In the cafeteria this morning, a good size cockroach was around the coffee and the milk, which of course can happen in New York. It wouldn’t be the first cockroach. The problem is that when I politely tried to find a supervisor, or point it out to anyone, everyone just shrugged and went about their business.
Spokesperson: Okay. I will certainly transmit your concern about the cafeteria to the people in charge. Personally I don’t think it is the matter really for this briefing.
About the building, measures are being taken to reinforce the security measures in Iraq. I’m not going to give specific information on it. Okay? Thank you.
Any other questions? Thank you very much, and for those who wanted so very much to have information about the DPRK, the briefing is at 3:15 by Margareta Wahlström.
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For information media • not an official record
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