DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
22 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.
The Secretary-General has appointed two Deputy Special Representatives, Mr. David Shearer of New Zealand and Ms. Henrietta Joy Abena Nyarko Mensa-Bonsu of Ghana.
Mr. Shearer will succeed Mr. Jean-Marie Fakhouri of Lebanon as the Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative for Iraq on Humanitarian, Reconstruction and Development, and he will also serve as the UN Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq.
Mr. Shearer has many years of experience leading humanitarian operations for the UN, as well as several years with NGOs and the New Zealand Government. His most recent position was as head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Jerusalem.
Ms. Mensa-Bonsu will succeed Mr. Luiz Carlos Da Costa of Brazil as the Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative on the Rule of Law for Liberia. She has a wide range of experience in dealing with issues of international law and is currently serving as the Acting Dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Canada.
We have more information on both appointments upstairs.
In his latest report on the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between northern and southern Sudan, the Secretary-General regrets that the deadline for completing the redeployment of the Sudanese Armed Forces from southern Sudan has not been fully met. He calls on the Armed Forces to immediately remove all remaining military elements from the south.
The Secretary-General welcomes the recent progress made by both parties in reintegrating the former members of other armed groups, as well as the progress in efforts to resolve outstanding disputes over wealth sharing. The pace of preparations for elections, however, has been disappointing so far, and both parties have to accelerate work dramatically on the necessary legislative reforms. The UN Mission in Sudan remains ready to assist in that effort.
The report, which is out on the racks today, also mentions the adoption by the Security Council of resolution 1769 (2007) concerning Darfur as a major step forward in UN efforts to assist the Sudanese people in resolving that crisis.
** Middle East
The UN’s Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Michael Williams, is currently in Jerusalem. Today he had meetings with Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. Tomorrow he is slated to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Yesterday he met with Israeli Vice-Premier Haim Ramon.
The meetings have been focusing on dialogue between the Israelis and Palestinians and preparations for a future meeting of the Middle East Quartet.
During this visit, Williams has also discussed the implementation of Security Council resolution 1701 (2006), concerning Lebanon, with officials from Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Israeli Defence Forces.
With the security situation in Timor-Leste improving to a calm state yesterday, most schools and government administration offices in the Baucau, Lautem and Viqueque regions resumed normal schedules, following days of closure. The overall situation throughout the country is generally calm, despite 18 minor disturbances reported in the past 24 hours.
In Peru, the World Food Programme (WFP) will provide food assistance for 80,000 people most affected by last week’s earthquake and who will feel its effect for many months to come. The WFP is calling for urgent funding from international donors to support this $6.1 million operation.
WFP’s efforts will focus particularly on children aged 6 to 24 months, women and other high-risks groups such as the elderly. The agency will also support reconstruction activity through food-for-work programmes.
The World Food Programme (WFP) is also starting a third round of emergency food distribution in districts affected by flooding in Bangladesh. WFP will deliver 2,500 metric tons of rice to more than 800,000 people. It expects to complete its food distribution at the end of the month.
WFP says that, without this assistance, thousands of families would remain destitute due to the loss of their crops, livestock and in many cases, family members. We have more information in a press release upstairs.
The UN Refugee Agency has appealed to the Government of Pakistan to suspend temporarily the closure of the Jalozai camp, which houses tens of thousands of Afghan refugees.
With only six working days to go before that camp is scheduled to close, UNHCR is deeply concerned that the Afghan refugees are being pressured to leave in a manner that could lead to a humanitarian crisis this winter. We have more information in a press release upstairs.
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) on Tuesday completed the distribution of basic supplies to some 5,000 displaced people living in makeshift shelters in the southern Somalia town of Baidoa. The aid went to many people who have fled recent fighting in other parts of the country, including the capital, Mogadishu. The distribution of plastic sheeting for shelter, blankets, jerry cans and kitchen utensils started last Sunday and was completed on Tuesday morning.
You can find more details on UNHCR’s website. That website also mentions that scores of Eritrean asylum-seekers now cross into eastern Sudan every week, joining some 130,000 of their compatriots living in 12 refugee camps, as well as in urban and rural areas.
**AIDS in Asia and Pacific
At the eighth International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific, taking place in Colombo, Sri Lanka, countries in the Asia-Pacific region today received a new UN handbook that focuses on the role of human rights in responding to the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
Produced by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), the handbook is designed to assist the region’s national human rights institutions to integrate HIV into their human rights mandates.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour says the Handbook is “an essential guide for national institutions in their efforts to ensure that States are held accountable for protecting the rights of people living with HIV”.
**Democratic Republic of Congo
On a different note: the mission sent to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to investigate the causes of the recent slaughter of nine gorillas in Virunga National Park concluded its work today. During the visits, the members of the mission observed the importance of including local communities in efforts to preserve the gorillas. On this 10 day trip, the mission visited, among others, the location of the recent gorilla killings, met with different NGOs, as well as with local communities and traditional leaders.
In Kinshasa, the experts also met with William Lacy Swing, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and with the Environment Minister Didace Pembe. The mission will now present its findings to the World Heritage Committee. We have more information in a UNESCO press release upstairs.
This is all I have for you. I am sorry to say that Ms. Margareta Wahlström, as we announced today, will not be able to make it to the noon briefing today.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Can you have some more information regarding Mr. Michael Williams’ trip to Israel, and also on 1701?
Spokesperson: Well, on 1701 we don’t have more. And on the trip we spoke to them this morning, and those are the details they gave us on the visit that Michael Williams had. I don’t think that we give additional information. He is just meeting different people and, as I said, they are preparing for the discussion that will take place during the next Quartet meeting.
Question: How long will he be staying in Israel?
Spokesperson: Not very long. He is supposed to get back to Headquarters.
Question: Would he be discussing the issue of the visiting of the cartographer to the Shebaa Farms when he is...
Spokesperson: I don’t know.
Question: The Israeli’s said unequivocally that they would allow for the cartographer to visit. When would that happen?
Spokesperson: Yes, they have said that they would. I don’t have a specific date, but they have said that they would. He is allowed to go.
Question: Recent press reports from Israel say that they are reluctant to withdraw from Shebaa Farms, even if it is identified as Lebanese territory.
Spokesperson: As I said before, we do not comment on press reports.
Question: When will the naming of the replacement of Michael Williams take place?
Spokesperson: I don’t know, I think it will take a few weeks.
Question: And for Mr. Ashraf Qazi?
Spokesperson: I don’t know yet. I don’t have information at this point. A choice has not been made at this point.
Question: Last Sunday, the houses of several opposition leaders in Burundi were attacked by forces that were thought to be inspired by the Government of President [Pierre] Nkurunziza. There were some injured. There is fear that the country might slide into the conflict between the Tutsis and the Hutus of 1993-94. In addition to condemnation, what is the UN doing? Is there a concern that this situation might get aggravated and need serious attention between the two communities?
Spokesperson: I think there is concern, which, I think, was expressed in the joint declaration made by the Integrated Bureau of the United Nations in Burundi and the African Union about this. In fact, they said, “Now it is time that dialogue takes precedence and we should not all fall back into intimidation acts and violence.” This was the position that they took. As you know, there is a reconstruction effort being done in Burundi. Of course, that worry is there.
Question: On his visit in Jerusalem during his talks with Israelis, will Mr. Williams ask them to release those 11,000 Palestinian prisoners who are still in jail at this time?
Spokesperson: I don’t know what he will say in the future. He is undertaking these meetings and I don’t know what will be said. I cannot predict what will be said. If I find out, I will let you know, of course.
Question: Will he seek this as confidence building measures of the Israelis?
Spokesperson: I don’t know what he will be doing, as I said. Let us wait for all those meetings to take place, and I’ll try to get more for you.
Question: On Iraq, does the Secretary-General believe that the security threshold has been reached where the United Nations can go back into Iraq. [inaudible]
Spokesperson: So far, I think, this is still being examined by our security services to find out whether and when we will be able to deploy the people who are supposed to go there. As you know, the number was raised to 95, and right now they are still assessing the situation in terms of security.
Question: On the UNDP story, where are we know with the Secretary-General? Has he spoken with his Ethics Officer Mr. [Robert] Benson over the last couple of days? Can we have some kind of update whether he is going to stand behind his Ethics Officer and make the same recommendation as the Ethics Office has made?
Spokesperson: At this point, he has discussed this with Mr. Benson and he has discussed this with UNDP. He accepts the idea that UNDP has different rules and a different governing board. He welcomed the fact they decided to appoint and independent reviewing body to cover the issues not covered by OIOS. At this point, he is satisfied with this. As you know, and as I said yesterday, legally, the Ethics Office does not have jurisdiction over UNDP as things stand now.
Question: Are you saying that we don’t anticipate Secretary-General Ban to come out and make any recommendation to UNDP on how he would like to see this...
Spokesperson: He has listened to UNDP saying that they are going to have some review by some independent person -- and we should know who it is in the next few days -- as I said. He is satisfied with the fact that UNDP Executive Board to appoint someone.
Question: So he is not standing behind his Ethics Commissioner in giving him the power, or at least fighting for him to have the power, to intervene, to have jurisdiction in one UN or in a variety of agencies? Is that...
Spokesperson: Yes, it is a fact that he does not have the jurisdiction. As I said yesterday, it is a matter for Member States. The Secretary-General cannot change the mandate that the Secretariat has or the mandate that UNDP has, or UNICEF. The Secretary-General cannot himself do it.
Question: Is he backing down, or is he giving up this opportunity now, to speak out about his personal views about this issue and what he would like to see happen.
Spokesperson: He has said over and over and over again that he wants ethical norms applied throughout the UN-system. How it is done, is a different story, depending on which organization we are talking about. In the case of the UNDP, as I said yesterday, it’s a different intergovernmental body, it is a different executive board. So legally, the Ethics Office does not have jurisdiction over them. They have suggested an alternative way of dealing with this and we are expecting UNDP to announce very shortly who is going to do that work.
Question: On the same subject, I understand what you said, legal jurisdiction... I know the agencies would have a turf battle with the centre and so forth. But both the UNDP and the Secretary-General are standing on legalities [inaudible]. When a major nation like the United States starts intervening in this, it would seem to me that somebody has to say that whistle-blowers are protected. In this case they should come under the Ethics Office. Hopefully they would come under the Ethics Office, because there is political fallout because of these legal distinctions.
Spokesperson: This is a legal decision but it is not a legal issue only. I mean, the Secretary-General wants, and the UNDP has also said, that they wanted to go all the way in this investigation. And there have been discussions over and over again in the last few days, with -- we are talking about the United States -- of course with the people at the US Embassy about this. Everyone at this point seems to be waiting for UNDP to give the name of the independent review board or person or agency to start doing the work that is not covered by OIOS.
Question: I don’t understand why the Ethics Office even started to go into this. It seems that once they started, the UNDP did not raise any objection to the jurisdiction issue. Otherwise, why would the Ethics Office take up the case?
Spokesperson: The Ethics Office took up the case from the complainant, not upon request by UNDP.
Question: Sure, obviously he has some jurisdiction. Otherwise he would not have looked at this. It was not a secret either. The whole place knew that the Ethics Office was dealing with this. Why is it that UNDP raised this jurisdiction issue only after it was clear that he was going to rule...
Spokesperson: That was when they found out what was being done.
Question: They never objected to it, at least publicly, before the ruling. So, I mean... The fact that he continued to doing his work, indicates that there was a green light, at least a yellow light, from UNDP to continue working. Otherwise they would have said you can’t work and they would have sent him a letter without the fact that says I have rule this way... [inaudible]
Spokesperson: May I finish? You asked a question, didn’t you? Or was it not a question? Was it a statement? If it was a statement, that is fine. Then let us...
Question: Answer the statement, or the question, or whatever you want to answer.
Spokesperson: All I said is that we don’t know whether there was a discussion about this issue between UNDP and Mr. Benson. Mr. Benson spoke to the complainant; that we know. And Mr. Benson came to his conclusions. That is all I can say.
Question: However, it seems he also seems that he spoke to UNDP at the end of the process. Because he said, UNDP says I have no jurisdiction that [inaudible]. So basically, we know that there was discussion but at the end of the process. Otherwise, there would...
Spokesperson: At the end of the process, when the letter came out, yes. It was a confidential letter which was issued by the complainant to all the journalists in this room.
Question: Could you check with Legal or whoever, how many agencies, programmes, funds of a major size would be excluded from the Ethics Office.
Spokesperson: Okay, I can find out for you.
Question: Because, you know, who is left?
Spokesperson: Well, the Secretariat, which is pretty big.
Question: Who is currently at UNDP and these other places then... If there is a whistle-blower that feels that they are facing retaliation, where are they supposed to go?
Spokesperson: Well, I asked UNDP that question yesterday, and they gave me the answer that I gave you yesterday, which is that they have a whistle-blower protection policy and that it exists.
Question: [inaudible] actually run through the Office of Legal Affairs and that it has not been approved yet. That is why Mr. Benson’s letter says, “...an absence of an applicable protection from retaliation policy within UNDP”. So that is Mr. Benson saying there isn’t one. So I guess I am still asking that question: if, according to the UN ethics expert, there is no policy in place there, where should a whistleblower go? Because not every whistleblower is going to get an independent inquiry or expert appointed.
Spokesperson: This is the reason why we are having this external review. The whole whistle-blower issue -- not only this case, but the whole whistle-blower issue -- is going to fall under the review of that one independent group or person.
Question: From the statement that UNDP gave, it sounded like this independent group is just going to apply to and to the North Korea affair, as opposed to the whole issue of whistle-blowers.
Spokesperson: I can ask for additional information, but you can also ask directly to UNDP. UNDP has a spokesperson.
Question: Okay, here is a formal request. Can we have a press conference...
Spokesperson: No, there is a spokesperson right now at UNDP.
Question: Can we have a press conference with Kemal Dervis [Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme]. It has been... This entire year he has not held one here. And since he has been in, he has held two, in his almost two years of service. So I guess this is a formal request, because this letter of Benson is directed to him and says, please, for the good of the UN, do certain things. He has not done them. So...
Spokesperson: It is not his prerogative. There is an Executive Board that takes decisions.
Question: I guess what I am saying is it seems like it is enough of a UN controversy between Mr. Ban’s Ethics Office and the head of UNDP disagreeing on what is good for the UN. That would be a good time for him to...
Spokesperson: I will transmit your request, but you can also transmit it directly to the spokesperson at UNDP, which is not my role really.
Question: I second that motion.
Question: Regarding the visit of Mr. Michael Williams to Israel, I remember you mentioned that Mr. Ban Ki-moon supports all efforts to regain the unity of the Palestinian territory. So what are his plans to get the movement of Hamas and the Palestinian President Abbas together? And also, what does Mr. Ban Ki-moon expect from the peace process while the Palestinian Territories are still divided?
Spokesperson: I am not going to give you his grand vision of the issue -- that we can certainly discuss in another setting. If you want to find out, we have had discussions going on in the last few days about this. As you know, there is going to be a Quartet meeting to be held in September here at Headquarters. So these will be continuing further in the next few weeks -- those discussions.
Question: Well, Hamas is still isolated, and this is not something Mr. Ban Ki-moon is looking forward, as far as I understand.
Spokesperson: No, he has already expressed his feeling about that, wishing that there would be one Palestinian entity.
Question: A Rwandan exile group has accused the general who has been nominated to be the Deputy Commander of the AU-UN force of human rights abuses. I was wondering what’s the UN’s response to that and how it is following up on the accusations.
Spokesperson: Well, as you know, General Karenzi Karake’s selection was announced by the African Union on August 14 in Addis Ababa. We heard the allegations against him. We find these allegations disturbing, as I said earlier during the week. For the time being, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations is discussing this issue with the Rwandan Government. As any troop-contributing country, they have the primary responsibility of vetting the candidates that they submit for choice to any peacekeeping mission. As you know also, Rwandan troops play a vital role right now within the existing African Union Mission in Darfur. They also contribute to other peacekeeping missions, where they have played an important role.
This case is being discussed with the African Union. It is being discussed with the Rwandan Government, as I said earlier, two days ago. We also have other inputs from other organizations. General Karake has not been formally recruited and has not signed a contract with the UN. That’s all I can say.
Question: A quick follow-up to another question: does the Secretary-General consider an expert appointed by the UNDP to be genuinely independent, because I am not sure how it works?
Spokesperson: Why don’t we wait for you to know the name of the person?
Question: I don’t understand how that is independent.
Spokesperson: It’s the Executive Board of UNDP that takes that decision.
Question: Okay. Just what regards to general appointments. I mean, there has been a lot of discussion in the past couple of years of how you might professionalize or create a more serious system of identifying good candidates to be SRSGs and all the rest of it. Can you explain what the Secretary-General who came in on a sort of reform of management has done to update that rather ad hoc and confusing system that currently exists?
Spokesperson: What I can tell you is that a number of candidates are considered for every single appointment and a discussion takes place around every single appointment.
Question: If, for example, in other organizations you put an ad out, or something like that, -- the UN doesn’t. So could you explain the process of how, you know, appointment X -- Special Rep or Envoy -- you want one -- what is the process? Do you send a letter to every Government to propose that people… how does that work?
Spokesperson: I can get someone to explain the whole process to you.
Question: Has it changed in any way?
Spokesperson: It has not changed. However, what you are talking about -- Organization putting ads in the papers -- it’s one thing to do that for a Professional post in specific areas, and this is done by the UN, just as well. You know, we have ads in the papers about specific posts. Is this being done for the USG-ASG level? No. It is not being done that way. It is being done in a different way. A number of recommendations have been made either by professional organizations or by... It isn’t ad hoc process. How does it go to the final choice? That I would have to get someone to explain to you the whole process.
Question: The Head of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change made a very controversial observation. He said that the rich countries can be absolved over their responsibilities regarding emissions, if they pay developing countries to cut their own carbon emissions. Does the Secretary-General approve this observation?
Spokesperson: Well, the Secretary-General is not responding specifically to this. He has been on the climate change issue intensively for the last four or five weeks. He will certainly continue to be until the climate change summit takes place. Then you will have the possibility of asking questions, for a number of experts will be here and will be certainly willing to answer your questions. We are planning to have a number of people come to you, or go to Conference Room 4, wherever we can have them, to discuss these different issues.
Question: Making this observation, does Mr. Yvo de Boer reflect the views of the UN?
Spokesperson: Mr. de Boer reflects his own views, but I have to find out what the Secretariat personal views are on it.
Question: Did Mr. [Geir] Pedersen discuss with Mr. Ban Ki-moon the possibility of having two governments in Lebanon, or split in the coming weeks? And how would that affect UNIFIL operations in south Lebanon?
Spokesperson: Mr. Pedersen just gave his mission report verbally to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, like every person responsible of a mission comes and makes a report. And there was no specific agenda -- it was a general report on the situation in Lebanon.
Question: But can you give us just a fair idea of how he assesses the situation?
Spokesperson: Well, we can try to have Mr. Pedersen come and talk to you.
Question: Speaking of people coming to talk to us, if we can have Dervis -- that’s a third motion, or fourth -- that would be great. But is...
Spokesperson: He is going to be travelling. Within the next few weeks, he is going to be travelling, so it is not going to be now.
Question: Why not?
Spokesperson: Well, he is travelling and won’t be back until ... know where [inaudible]
Question: Can we have Mr. Benson come here, as well? That would be very helpful.
Spokesperson: I can ask.
Correspondent: No, Mr. Benson, though, would be very helpful. We haven’t spoken to him before -- would be good to meet him. Thank you.
Question: On this round of negotiations to be held in Vienna next week on Kosovo, who is going to attend from your end?
Spokesperson: In Vienna? I can check for you who is going to be there. I don’t think there is someone specifically assigned yet, but I can find out. Well, there is an office in the Department of Political Affairs that takes care of that, but I’ll find out for you.
Question: [inaudible] from Mr. Ahtisaari’s office -- I would like to know his name.
Spokesperson: I will try to find out, yes.
Question: This is about last week. Last week, Secretary-General met with the North Korean Ambassador. Did he raise the question of whether the UNDP audit will be allowed in North Korea? [inaudible]
Spokesperson: I don’t know whether this was raised specifically. I could ask for you.
Question: In Burma, there are demonstrations that have been cracked down upon. So I am wondering, given this, from Mr. Ibrahim Gambari or Mr. [B. Lynn] Pascoe, who was just here... in the UN system, is there any comment on the arrest of opposition leaders in Burma? And does this change Mr. Gambari’s approach at all? And when is he actually going to the country?
Spokesperson: I could ask Mr. Gambari. [The Spokesperson later said that the United Nations is monitoring the situation on the ground in Myanmar.]
Question: And another one. This, I think, is directly in your shot. In MONUC -- you mentioned the Mission in the Congo -- there was some indication that the national staff have called for a work stoppage for tomorrow. And it said it was because MONUC was using casual day-labourers to do most of the work. Most recently, staff representatives were not allowed to use the e-mail system to speak with other staff. One, can you confirm -- is the UN aware of this planned work stoppage? If someone can explain why more than half of MONUC’s civilian staff are day-labourers?
Spokesperson: The question can be answered only by MONUC, and we’ll get in touch with them.
[The Spokesperson later confirmed that the national staff at the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo would stop work tomorrow. She added that the United Nations Special Representative for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, William L. Swing, met with representatives of the national staff for two hours today and was expected to meet with them again tomorrow.]
Question: I believe that Jane Holl Lute -- I mean, it would seem that it has reached their level, as well.
Spokesperson: Okay, I will get that for you.
Thank you very much.
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For information media • not an official record
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