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
11 October 2007
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and Janos Tisovszky, Spokesperson for the General Assembly President.
Briefing by the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Good afternoon. We’ll start with two statements attributable to the Spokesperson. The first is on Myanmar.
**Statement on Myanmar
Following the recent visit to Myanmar by his Special Adviser, the Secretary-General has decided to dispatch Ibrahim Gambari back to the region over the weekend for consultations with regional partners. Mr. Gambari will begin his consultations in Thailand on Monday before continuing to Malaysia, Indonesia, India, China and Japan, with a view to returning to Myanmar shortly thereafter.
The second statement I have is concerning the situation between Ethiopia and Eritrea.
**Statement on Ethiopia and Eritrea
The Secretary-General is concerned about the rising tensions between Ethiopia and Eritrea, including recent shooting incidents, as well as the building up of military forces in the border area. The Secretary-General calls upon Eritrea and Ethiopia to exercise utmost restraint, maintain their commitment to the Algiers Agreements, preserve the integrity of the Temporary Security Zone (TSZ), and facilitate the implementation of the delimitation decision of the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC).
The shooting incident to which the statement refers took place on 8 October, according to our Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea.
**Secretary-General in Washington
The Secretary-General is in Washington, D.C., today, where he is this afternoon addressing business leaders at the US Chamber of Commerce. He will tell the business leaders that there is currently no greater danger to our planet than climate change, and will discuss how innovative market mechanisms are one way of addressing climate change.
Then this evening, the Secretary-General will address the National Association of Evangelicals, which is gathered in Washington this week to call on lawmakers to enact “prudent and comprehensive climate legislation” to fight global warming. He will speak on the related issues of climate change and the Millennium Development Goals, emphasizing the contributions of Christian activists in key spheres of the UN’s work, particularly with respect to humanitarian aid and social and economic development.
The Secretary-General will also speak at the Peace Corps Director’s Forum tomorrow before he returns to New York.
Today, the eleventh Quarterly Human Rights report issued by the UN Mission in Iraq is out, and it says that civilians continue to be targeted by armed groups through suicide bombings, abductions and extrajudicial executions, and it warns that such systematic or widespread attacks against a civilian population are tantamount to crimes against humanity.
While the security situation remains grave, the report urges the Government and State institutions to do more to ensure better judicial oversight mechanisms for suspects arrested in the context of the ongoing Baghdad Security Plan. It also calls on the authorities to immediately address reports of torture in Iraqi government facilities, as well as those of Kurdistan Regional Government.
On the issue of military operations and allegations involving foreign security companies, the report urges that all credible allegations of unlawful killings by MNF forces be thoroughly, promptly and impartially investigated, and appropriate action be taken. The UN Mission also urges the US authorities to investigate reports of deaths caused by privately hired contractors, and establish effective mechanisms for holding them accountable whenever circumstances surrounding the killings show no justifiable cause. The report and an accompanying press release are available upstairs in the Spokesperson’s Office.
The UN Special Envoy for Darfur Jan Eliasson and Senior Adviser to the African Union Special Envoy Sam Ibok held today a joint press conference at UN Mission headquarters in Khartoum to brief on the recent activities of the AU-UN mediation in preparation for the Darfur peace negotiations scheduled to start in Libya, on 27 October.
In his remarks, Jan Eliasson indicated that he held a series of meetings in Khartoum with a number of government officials. He also indicated that a meeting was held with representatives of the regional partners, Chad, Egypt, Eritrea, and Libya to finalize preparations for the talks. He characterized the meeting as positive and successful in showing strong unity in purpose.
Mr. Eliasson expressed deep concern at the security situation on the ground and at recent military escalation. He stressed the need to end what he called the vicious circle of violence and to ensure an environment conducive to talks. He stressed that the mediation is staying on course regarding the political process and that the talks will start as scheduled. He warned that any delay would be tragic as it would mean more bloodshed and that any other alternative to negotiations is scary.
He expressed hope that the first outcome of the talks would be to have a formal declaration of cessation of hostilities soon after the negotiations start. And there’s more on this press conference available upstairs from the UN Mission in Khartoum.
**Democratic Republic of Congo
There’s an update on the humanitarian situation there in the eastern part of that country from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
There have been reports of rising numbers of internally displaced persons over the last few days in North Kivu. UN convoys have tried to deliver food and supplies to areas where the fighting is taking place, but many have been forced to delay operations because of insecurity. Several agencies have reached Mugunda, 15 kilometres from Goma, where an assessment has been under way since Monday. Internally displaced persons are reporting serious incidents, including pillaging, house demolitions, child recruitment and rape.
The working group on protection in Goma says the number of reported rape cases in North Kivu in September was more than 350, a 60 per cent increase from the month before. And there’s more on that upstairs.
Today the Security Council is holding consultations on Georgia. It received a briefing on the work of the UN Observer Mission in Georgia by the head of that mission, Jean Arnault, who presented the Secretary-General’s recent report.
The Security Council will also continue its discussions on the draft presidential statement on Myanmar. Council members revised the draft text late yesterday following afternoon consultations on Myanmar.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has published a new report stating that the education budgets of some individual European countries outweigh all education spending across sub-Saharan Africa. The report also adds that the United States is the single greatest investor in education. And there’s more on that in a press release upstairs.
And we have the “Week Ahead” for you, for your planning purposes, for next week. We also have Janos here who will brief you on the General Assembly.
And just to remind you that tomorrow the UN will be closed in observance of Eid al-Fitr. But, as usual, there will be a duty officer on call in case there is any breaking news or you need someone to contact in the Spokesperson’s Office.
Before I turn the floor over, I have one more statement. This is regarding the Special Tribunal on Lebanon.
**Statement on Lebanon Tribunal
The Secretary-General today sent a letter to the President of the Security Council informing the Council of his intention to appoint Judge Mohamed Amin El Mahdi, Judge Erik Møse, and Mr. Nicolas Michel as members of the selection panel for the Judges and Prosecutor of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. Pursuant to the document annexed to Security Council resolution 1757 (2007), the Judges and the Prosecutor are to be appointed by the Secretary-General upon the recommendation of a selection panel he has established, after indicating his intentions to the Security Council. The selection panel shall be composed of two judges, currently sitting on or retired from an international tribunal, and the representative of the Secretary-General.
Judges El Mahdi and Møse are distinguished jurists. Judge El Mahdi, of Egypt, formerly served on the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Judge Møse, of Norway, currently serves on the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. And Mr. Michel, as you know, is the UN Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, the Legal Counsel.
The Secretary-General remains committed to establishing the Tribunal in a timely manner, in keeping with resolution 1757 (2007). He continues to believe that the Tribunal will contribute to ending impunity in Lebanon for the crimes under its jurisdiction.
And that’s all I have for you. Before I turn the floor over to Janos? Yes.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Yes, regarding this report issued in Baghdad and on your website. Does the Secretary-General intend to take further steps to take up the matter with the United States about the private security guards? The implication in this is that the UN would charge these private security guards who are accused of random killing with war crimes. Does the Secretary-General intend to take up the matter directly with the United States Government?
Deputy Spokesperson: I encourage you to look at the report in its totality and also in the press release that is available upstairs. Regarding the security firms, as stated in the UNAMI documents, UNAMI urges U.S. authorities to investigate allegations of civilian deaths caused by privately hired contractors and establish effective mechanisms of accountability.
Question: UNIFIL is going to take part tomorrow in a military parade in Spain, in Madrid, for Spain’s national day, and my understanding is this is very unusual for a peacekeeping force. So I wanted to know if why was approved this time and if it has ever happened before, another ...
Deputy Spokesperson: Let me look into that for you. It’s the first I heard of it.
[She later added that Spain had invited the UN to be represented at the celebration of its National Day, in Madrid on 12 October, and to show its flag in the military parade. All 28 contributing nations to UNIFIL had been invited to come with their Colours and march behind the UN Colour party, with the Force Commander at the forefront of both. This exceptional event would be of particular significance to Spain and the UN as it would also serve to commemorate the recent tragic loss of six UNIFIL peacekeepers who had served with the Spanish contingent.]
Question: In a follow-up to what Mr. Ali has asked, last year, also, in this summary report the United Nations said that it’s unable to get any figures from the Iraqi Government or other, I mean, entities over there. Why is it still continuing to fail to get any figures at all, and how can you make a really qualitative determination one way or another?
Deputy Spokesperson: You’re talking about the mortality rates? Is that what you’re asking about?
Deputy Spokesperson: Regrettably, the report does not include the casualty figures the Mission has normally been reporting based on official statistics. The Government of Iraq has stopped making such figures available. We will continue to speak with the Iraqi authorities and urge them to resume providing us with the information from the Ministry of Health and the Medical Legal Institute of Baghdad.
Question: And the reason why they don’t give ...
Deputy Spokesperson: You’d have to ask them. This is what we are doing to follow up.
Question: Marie, two questions. First, does the United Nations have any position on what happened to the Armenians during World War I?
Deputy Spokesperson: I think you’re referring to ...
Question: I’m referring to a congressional committee vote in the United States.
Deputy Spokesperson: First of all, I would not comment on legislation that is still in process of being considered by a domestic legislative body. In regards to the UN’s position on this, the UN membership has not taken a position on mass killings of Armenian men, women and children during World War I. That occurred before the Organization came into existence. But I would like to draw your attention to the Secretary-General’s message yesterday, where he said that preventing mass atrocities is among the international community’s and the UN’s most sacred callings and, to deal with that task in the future, we must bring all our resources to bear: early warning; technical assistance; peacemaking; diplomacy; and, if ultimately necessary, military strength, and we must work with the UN Member States to give real meaning to the solemn promise that is the responsibility to protect. And that was a message he had yesterday on the prevention of atrocities. You had a second question?
Question: Yes, I had a second question. Based on this report which dealt with contractors, one of the UN officials in Baghdad, the UN human rights representative, talked about the UN possibly taking action or seeking action in terms of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Do you have any further information on this? Does the Secretary-General have any reaction?
Deputy Spokesperson: No. The Secretary-General, as you know, is in Washington now. I don’t have an immediate reaction from him and, as for the contractors, I don’t have anything beyond what I just read out to Masood.
Question: May I follow up on the first Edie’s question?
Deputy Spokesperson: Sure.
Question: Does the fact that the Secretary-General, although he didn’t mention the certain, congressional, legislative that is in the process of voting, U.S. congressional, does the fact that he mentioned what you just read yesterday is somehow connected with the timing of passing that resolution in the American Congress?
Deputy Spokesperson: You’d have to ask Congress about the passing of the resolution. The Secretary-General was speaking at an event here about an issue that he feels strongly about.
Question: So only because of that UN [inaudible], he mentioned that, not because of any connection ...
Deputy Spokesperson: That’s correct. He spoke at an event organized here at the UN. Matthew?
Question: One thing ... about that event. It was said at that event that Ed Luck is going to be the Special Advisor on “responsibility to protect”. Has he already gotten that position?
Deputy Spokesperson: I have no official announcement of that, so I can’t confirm ...
Question: It’s like, in his bio at the event. I wanted to ask two things. One was, this Kosovo, yesterday in Pristina, the bomb scare, or whatever it was, what was the outcome? What was concluded?
Deputy Spokesperson: I don’t have an update from yesterday. I know that there was a temporary suspension, or evacuation, but beyond that I don’t have anything. We’d have to look into that for you.
[She later added that, according to the UN Mission in Kosovo, the situation was back to normal today. Police were still investigating, but it did not appear that the object in question was an explosive.]
Question: And on the Capital Mater Plan, according to, I guess, the presentation, or these slides, that were shown to the Fifth Committee, it seems that the proposal now is to evacuate the ... not evacuate, excuse me, to empty the entire Building and fix it all at once. Is that the case?
Deputy Spokesperson: The Capital Master Plan situation is the following. When the new head of, the new Executive Director of the Capital Master Plan came to brief you, when Alicia Barcena of the Department of Management introduced him to you, he mentioned that he would look into all options given the delay in time line and in order not to go over budget. So he has done that. And what he is doing now, my understanding is that he is informally briefing Member States on the recommendations that he has come up with, and I believe that the Fifth Committee was in what they call, considered an informal briefing of Member States. What we’ve asked him to do, my understanding is that he will brief the Fifth Committee officially on 9 November, and maybe Janos could double check that for us, and then he has agreed to come and brief you immediately after that.
Question: And one last thing on Ms. Barcena, is it possible to get her to come? She had sent an e-mail saying that she would come next week, like, this week.
Deputy Spokesperson: Yes. She’s agreed to come, so we’ll try to nail down a date for that.
Question: Not in reference to the Capital Master Plan, just on other ...
Deputy Spokesperson: Yes, because the Capital Master Plan, really, the Executive Director, Mr. Adlerstein, is the one who should probably brief you in the details of that plan.
Question: I don’t know if this was asked before I came. It’s regarding [inaudible], just to alert you to that. There are reports that there’s a lot of interference on [inaudible] satellite [inaudible] work in Israel, and there are reports that the cause is UNIFIL affiliated ships off of Lebanon. Is there anything about that that you could tell me?
Deputy Spokesperson: This is the first that I’ve heard of it. I’ll certainly look into it.
Deputy Spokesperson: I will certainly look into it after the briefing.
Okay, if there are no other questions, Janos, on the General Assembly? Hope you all have a good three-day weekend.
Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President
Thank you very much. Good afternoon. It’s good to see you all. So just briefly, on the work of the General Assembly. First, I’ll start with the activities of the President of the General Assembly.
**Activities of the President of the General Assembly
The President of the General Assembly is in Brussels today, and he met with the President of the European Parliament, Hans-Gert Poetering, and with the High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy of the European Union, Mr. Javier Solana. Both meetings focused on the priority issues of the sixty-second session -- those are climate change, countering terrorism, financing for development, Millennium Development Goals and management reform -- with a particular look at the role the European Union can play in making progress on those issues. The General Assembly President, on his part, expressed his appreciation to both officials for the active engagement of the European Union in the work of the Assembly.
Tomorrow, as part of carrying out his public diplomacy functions and reaching out to civil society and academic circles, the President will be in Germany to deliver a lecture on "The Role of the United Nations General Assembly Today", to the Rotary Club in Muelheim.
On Saturday the President will be in Paris and is scheduled to meet with Jean David Levitte, the Diplomatic Counsellor for the French President.
**General Assembly Plenary
As regards the General Assembly, there is no plenary today. Yesterday, the Assembly had a good substantive debate on the first annual report of the Peacebuilding Commission, with close to 40 Member States making statements on that topic.
Let me flag two plenaries for next week: there is one on Monday on 15 October, a plenary meeting which is to take up the reports of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. And then on Tuesday, this is probably something that will interest you all, 16 October, Tuesday, the Assembly will meet in plenary to elect five non-permanent members to the Security Council.
A few words on the work of the Main Committees.
The First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) is continuing its general debate on that topic and that debate will go on until 16 October, and then the Committee will look at disarmament and security issues, but from a point of view of thematic discussions.
The Second Committee, which deals with economic and financial issues, concluded its general debate on that topic, on economic development in general yesterday. It will meet again on Monday to discuss specific agenda items in the framework of macroeconomic policy questions.
The Third Committee, which focuses on social, humanitarian and cultural issues, is continuing its discussions on crime prevention, criminal justice and international drug control, which it began yesterday. It is supposed to conclude that debate today, and on 15 October, Monday, it will take up the topic of advancement of women.
The Fourth Committee, which is special political and decolonization issues, is continuing the consideration of the petitioners -- hearing the petitioners on decolonization issues this afternoon. It began that two days ago, and yesterday it had 23 petitioners on the question of Western Sahara. It will actually conclude the item on decolonization on 15 October.
A little bit more on the Fifth Committee, which deals with administrative and budgetary matters, and you’ll see why. Yesterday, the Committee began its consideration of several reports by two of the Organization’s oversight bodies -– the Board of Auditors and the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS). It will continue its work today in informal consultations. Then on Monday, 15 October, it will meet again to take up its report on “pattern of conferences”.
One thing that happened yesterday in the Fifth Committee: the Committee approved a draft resolution, by which the Assembly would allow the Central African Republic, the Comoros, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Sao Tome and Principe, Somalia and Tajikistan, so seven countries, to vote in the General Assembly until the end of its sixty-second session, deciding that their failure to pay the full minimum amount necessary to avoid the sanctions under Article 19 of the Charter was due to conditions beyond their control. The Assembly is expected to take up this draft resolution on Monday, in order to allow the seven countries to vote Tuesday for the non-permanent members of the Security Council.
The Sixth Committee, and that’s my last note, here, is continuing its discussions on measures to eliminate international terrorism, which it began yesterday.
That’s all I have. Masood, yes.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Are we to understand that until the Committee decides, these seven nations will not be allowed to vote or will they be voting and the decision will take ...
Spokesperson: The Fifth Committee looked at this issue and then had a draft resolution but, as you know, that resolution is a draft until approved by the Assembly. That is why the Assembly is going to take this up on Monday and most likely take action on it. Probably not jumping the gun here by saying that most likely it will approve it. That will allow the countries to take part in the voting on Tuesday. That’s the whole idea of this procedure.
Question: I have two questions. One was, yesterday, in the Fifth Committee there was a statement by Singapore asking about a management report or audit by the Department of Management by OIOS and the statement that they made they said, you know, has it been delayed, what’s the reason for its delay, has it been scuttled? Is it the case? It’s a written statement. I guess what I’m wondering is how are question like that for Member States in the Fifth Committee ... are these answered? Does OIOS ... this was during the OIOS portion of yesterday. Did they answer that in writing? Did they answer it orally? How does one go about finding out the answer to the questions raised?
Spokesperson: You’re asking a procedural question ...
Question: I guess so. And also how is this ... what the answer to this particular question is, but also how are these questions answered? Do Member States raise their questions and OIOS gets back to them in writing? Does it ...
Spokesperson: I’ll find out for you on the procedural aspect. That’s what I would be looking at from the General Assembly working methods. Whether this is in the format of once these agendas items are closed, then OIOS goes back and answers on these particular issues, or is it done in writing. As to what the answer will be, that’s a different issue. That is related more to the Spokesman of the Secretary-General, which deals more with the OIOS aspect, the substantive element. I’ll get you the procedural aspect as to how this is done in this particular case. Very often, if you remember, what happens in the debates is that before the item is closed, usually there is reaction to what has been requested by Member States or on the issues that have been raised. So, it is not something that goes unanswered. But, I understand your question. What you’re looking for is whether it’s going to be in an oral form or is it going to be in a written form. I’ll get that for you. Yes.
Question: Please, help me understand the significance of these votes. How many countries were you mentioned that they’re going to be voted on Monday, to be allowed to vote on ...
Spokesperson: Seven, seven.
Spokesperson: Seven countries.
Question: They are considered now that they are not allowed to vote and they are going ...
Spokesperson: According to Article 19, the rule says that if you fall behind, two years of paying your regular budget dues to the UN, you’re not allowed to vote.
Question: Okay ...
Question: Good. Thank you. Is the Secretary-General going to be on Monday, excuse me, is the President of the General Assembly going to be on Monday and on Tuesday during the voting procedure, he’s going to be back?
Spokesperson: The President is coming back Monday. He’s definitely going to be here Tuesday.
Question: Okay. And also, is there is any significance or, would there be any kind of consideration, the two letters that are sent now by Fausto Pocar, the President of the ICTY, and the Prime Minister of Croatia, Mr. Ivo Sanader, that are still somewhere between rock and earth ... Are there any expectations that they could somehow shape and form the discussion on Monday or some expectations on that?
Spokesperson: As far as the letters are concerned, I’m under the understanding that I have not seen them being circulated. We talked about this, that as far as the General Assembly President is concerned -- that’s where I come in -- the letter that he received from the President of ICTY has been looked at by the Secretariat and it was decided that the format and the way it was sent is not according to the rules and procedures and practices that allows for this letter to be circulated. As regards the same letter -- I understand it is probably the same letter -- that has been sent to the President of the Security Council, that’s a different matter.
Question: So, it means that it’s not going to be on the racks at all, the first letter, the Pocar’s letter because they didn’t met the standards of the ...
Spokesperson: As far as the letter written to the President of the General Assembly, that is not going to be circulated. That is my understanding, yes. From ...
Question: From Mr. Pocar.
Spokesperson: From Fausto Pocar, that’s correct.
Question: So, it’s internal, rather, communication.
Spokesperson: I wouldn’t say “internal”, but it’s more of a case of not having a precedent, and not having a mandate on the basis of which such a letter is receivable and circulateable. That’s, I think, where the issue lies as far as the letter to the President of the General Assembly is concerned.
Question: I just wanted to ask you one thing about the Fourth Committee, the Western Sahara?
Question: They announced that the voting, or the resolution ... I guess there’s going to be a GA resolution on the various territories that are being discussed, that, as to Western Sahara, that somehow the time was extended, that other countries are going to be voted on Monday, but there was an extension on Western Sahara, so, I guess I wasn’t clear ... Somebody described Monday as a deadline. Is there a deadline of the Committee to address these territories, or what ... why was it extended?
Spokesperson: Matthew, I think, as you know basically, on these procedural issues, in a way, the Committee is kind of like a master of its own deliberations, as we tend to say, so, in this case what has happened was, yes, that there is, a delay, or a postponement as regards actions concerning that particular draft resolution on Western Sahara.
Question: He had said that it’s going to be at some date later to be announced. Do you not yet know the date of that one?
Spokesperson: I definitely don’t. But I’m sure that once it is decided it will definitely be announced. I tend to believe that, and you and I we had an e-mail exchange on this, I think, yesterday. I wrote something that you asked, and that sort of cuts into some of the other questions that you had and others had, on the work of the Committees. I’ve mentioned this, that not only do I believe the DPI press releases that cover the work of the Committees on a regular basis are pretty detailed and give you a very good idea of what is going on, what are the main issues, it also gives you a good overview of what has happened, plus a detailed look at the interventions of each and every Member State, plus a summary of the issues being discussed. Apart from that, I also urge you to look at the website of each and every Committee, because that gives a very good, detailed look at what the Committees are doing; what the procedures are; where things stand; what the status of documentation, etc. So there’s a pretty good, transparent way of tracking the process. It’s a bit labour-intensive, I must say, for everyone, but all the information is there.
Question: But, I mean, I’m sorry ...
Question: ... but, on the working of the Fifth Committee and who’s the coordinator of the OIOS ...
Spokesperson: Yes, for example, that’s ...
Question: I tried to find it. You told me to look at the website. I went to the website; I spent a lot of time and I didn’t find any ... I now know the name of the Belgian that’s doing it, but I didn’t get it from the website.
Spokesperson: I’ll show you ... I don’t have the URL, but I was able to find it relatively fast. We can go to your computer and do it together. Okay?
Thank you very much and have a great long weekend.
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For information media • not an official record
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