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 **Guest at Noon Good afternoon, all. The guest at the noon briefing today is Dan Toole, UNICEF’s Acting Deputy Executive Director and Director of Emergency Programmes, who will be briefing you on the situation of children in Iraq.
** Middle East Quartet Next Wednesday, in Berlin, the Secretary-General will be attending a meeting of the Middle East Quartet. The Secretary is expected back in the office in New York on Thursday. As you will recall, the Quartet brings together the Secretary-General, along with the Foreign Minister of Russia, the Secretary of State of the United States, the External Relations Commissioner of the European Commission, the High Representative for Common Security and Foreign Policy of the European Union, as well as the representative of the rotating Presidency of the European Union – in this case, the Foreign Minister of Germany.
** Iran Director General Mohamed ElBaradei of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has circulated his latest report to the upcoming meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors on the Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and Relevant Provisions of Security Council Resolutions in the Islamic Republic of Iran. The report, submitted in parallel to the UN Security Council, covers developments since Dr. ElBaradei’s report of 22 February 2007. The IAEA says the 35-member Board will consider the report at its next meeting beginning in Vienna on 11 June.
**Security Council The Security Council is holding three meetings this morning. The first, a private meeting on Afghanistan during which the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Tom Koenigs, briefed Council members, just wrapped up. The Council is now holding an open meeting on Iraq. That meeting will deal with funds in the escrow account of the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC). After that, the Security Council will hold a meeting on Timor-Leste. It is expected to adopt a presidential statement on that topic.
**Democratic Republic of Congo The Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) is currently conducting an investigation into allegations that, in 2005-2006, a contingent of peacekeepers serving with the UN peacekeeping Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) was involved in mineral resource exploitation and weapons trading in the town of Mongwalu, in the Ituri District of the eastern DRC. The Secretary-General’s Special Representative in the DRC, William Lacy Swing, requested an immediate OIOS investigation after an internal MONUC inquiry brought these allegations to light. That investigation began in early 2006.
OIOS informs us that the investigation is well advanced and is expected to be completed in about three weeks. Upon its completion, OIOS will transmit its findings to the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the UN Mission in the DRC for action. As per normal procedures, once the OIOS report is released, Member States will be provided with the report upon request. The Secretary-General looks forward to the early completion of the investigation. He will act upon its findings expeditiously and transparently. If wrongdoing is found to have occurred he will hold those responsible accountable. The Secretary-General calls upon any concerned Member States to do the same.
**UNODC The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) warns that violent crime and drug trafficking are posing a serious threat to economic development in Central America and plaguing the region as a whole. In a report released today, UNODC highlights the need for greater international support for the region if development efforts are to have any long term impact.
** Rwanda High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour is heading today to Rwanda on the final leg of her 12-day mission to Africa's Great Lakes region. That mission also took her to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burundi.
** Swaziland The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) are calling for urgent assistance for Swaziland. The country had its worst maize harvest on record following high temperatures and a prolonged dry spell. Almost half a million people, more than a third of the country’s population, need food aid, the agencies say. We have more information upstairs.
**Bird Flu A last-minute agreement has been reached at the World Health Assembly in Geneva for Member States to share samples of the bird flu virus. A resolution adopted at the close of the Assembly asks the World Health Organization to establish an international stockpile of vaccines for this and other influenza viruses of pandemic potential. The agency has also been asked to draw up guidelines to ensure fair distribution of such vaccines at affordable prices if a pandemic occurs. We have more information in a press release upstairs.
**Press Conference And at 11 a.m. tomorrow, there will be a press conference by Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, on the current state of climate change negotiations and the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali, Indonesia, in December. This is all I have for you.
**Questions and Answers Question: While waiting for that answer on the silence of the United Nations on the judgment of the verdict of the International Criminal Court on the former Yugoslavia, I would like to ask you, there are rumours that Matthew Nimetz, the Special Representative [of the Secretary-General in talks between Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia], is going to resign. Is that true?
Spokesperson: It is not.
Question: It is not. The Secretary-General has full confidence in him? He didn’t ask him to…?
Spokesperson: And your other question, your first question, I have received it and you should get an answer this afternoon.
Correspondent: Thank you very much. I would appreciate it to be on the record here since we are using it for the radio.
Spokesperson: Sure. We’ll have it on the record for you tomorrow. Okay?
Correspondent: Okay. Thank you.
Spokesperson: Sure. Yes?
Question: Michèle, human rights activists and non-governmental organizations in the region have been complaining that Morocco has been lengthening prison terms for Western Sahara activists. Also, there were a number of trials that were postponed by peaceful protesters, their trials were postponed. How is this action on the ground affecting the talks, the organization for the talks between the Frente Polisario and Morocco?
Spokesperson: Well, I cannot say at this point how it is affecting the talks. The [preparations for the] talks are going on, as you know, and at this point I don’t know what impact what is happening on the ground is having there.
Question: Michèle, does the Secretary-General have any reaction regarding the suicide bombing in Ankara that killed six people and injured dozens?
Spokesperson: He’s very aware of it and also very concerned about the violence in the whole region. He has made a number of phone calls on that issue, because it has now become a regional issue of violence in the region.
Question: According to a Guardian newspaper report that the United States is trying to seek support from the United Nations in finding a solution in Iraq, do you have any confirmation on that?
Spokesperson: Well, as you know, there were two meetings that were held in Sharm el-Sheikh and the US participated in those meetings of the neighbouring countries of Iraq, and, of course, the role of the United Nations was also discussed there. As you know, the role of the United Nations is limited by security issues but the United Nations has been actively involved in at least one issue, which is the Iraq Compact. So there has been increased involvement of the United Nations.
Question: One question. In the Ivory Coast, President [Laurent] Gbagbo has said that he requested and obtained the departure of not only Mr. [Pierre] Schori, but Mr. [Gérard] Stoudmann, the envoy for the elections. Is that true, that he’s obtained his ouster and does Ban Ki-moon still stand behind Mr. Stoudmann? Will he be returning to Ivory Coast to oversee the elections?
Spokesperson: Well, I don’t know. I will ask about Mr. Stoudmann and whether he will go back there. As far as I know and as far as the Secretary-General knows, Mr. Schori left at the end of his regular mandate.
Question: The Secretary-General’s 14 May report on Côte d’Ivoire says all Ivorian parties recognize the importance to maintain the United Nations responsibility for international certification. It seems that Mr. Gbagbo no longer agrees with that. He was saying that Mr. Stoudmann overstepped his power and wanted to be a co-President. So I guess I’m just, has Ban Ki-moon received a letter from Mr. Gbagbo since he wrote this report?
Spokesperson: No, he has not. However, you know, if you want an update on the situation in the Ivory Coast, we can certainly get one for you.
Question: I have a question. I could have two. One is in regard to the Indigenous Forum that’s going on. Yesterday, I went to an event by a group of indigenous people from Siberia and they brought a tent they wanted to erect on the garden lawn. They spent $100,000 transporting it here and they were told they couldn’t do it for security reasons. It seems like any time you want to tell somebody no, you blame it on security. They also asked for the Dag Hammarskjöld Auditorium. They needed a stage to put this on and they were given Conference Room 2, which was not comfortable enough for them. And number three, there were no interpreters at this meeting. They spoke either Russian or their local language. Fortunately, I had a Russian fellow interpreting for me or else I wouldn’t have known what the hell was going on.
So my question is, are all these things true? Can you check to see if these requests were made and if they were turned down and why? And it appears that it looks good for the United Nations to have these people coming here, but, in a way, they’re treated like second-class citizens here, as they are in the rest of the world. Why is that?
Spokesperson: Well, you know, I will certainly inquire about those requests, whether they made those requests, and whether the tent was requested beforehand, whether they had the permission to put [up] the tent… they did not ask for permission?
Correspondent: They’re too polite to complain about this, but I’m not, and that’s why I’m asking.
Spokesperson: Okay, we’ll inquire about it. You know, as for the interpretation, interpretation is given only in the case of Member States participating in a meeting.
[The Spokesperson later added that the Secretariat is not aware of any controversy surrounding the group’s tent exhibit. It was taken down by the group at the conclusion of its allotted time.]
Question: First-class Member States?
Spokesperson: The NGOs don’t get interpretation. But I’ll ask what…
Correspondent: These are sovereign peoples in many parts of the world, indigenous people, even if they’re not Member States.
Spokesperson: So we’ll try to get some input on this.
Question: Couple of questions. One is about the Secretary-General’s Special Representative to Iraq, Ashraf Qazi, who spoke with Mr. [Masoud] Barzani today in northern Iraq. Can you please give us some detail, maybe topics, of what they spoke? And also, my second question is about Native Americans in Canada. I actually read a story saying that the Canadian Government put some of the tribes on terror lists in Canada, and they were going to ask for help from the United Nations. Have you received any official request on that?
Spokesperson: Well, this request would probably go first to the President of the General Assembly. I don’t know if they have received such a request, but I can inquire for you along the line of the same question that Joe asked, sure. And on Mr. Qazi, I’ll check for you. We don’t have any readout of his conversation at this point, but we’ll try to get it for you.
Question: On the [Democratic Republic of the] Congo, Human Rights Watch, which had given a lot of information to the United Nations and was instrumental in this being publicized, according to our story, and what was not in your statement, was that OIOS had done the inquiry already, or a lot of it, and it was stifled, not shut down, but resources taken away from them because it was politically sensitive. And that’s 18 months. This investigation’s been going on for 18 months. And I’m just wondering why an investigation takes this long on something this serious. According to our information and Human Rights Watch, the allegation is that it was $2.5 million in gold out of Ituri, and colluded with the Congolese military, local armed groups and Indian businessmen.
Spokesperson: As you know, the OIOS investigation has been on for a while. The first draft of the report was produced at the end of March. It is currently going through the final stages of a very rigorous due diligence and quality assurance process, which is the way OIOS functions. It is expected to be finalized, I was told, in about three weeks. It will be submitted to DPKO management with recommendations for action. So that’s what we are expecting. As you know, the report, all OIOS reports, are confidential and privileged documents, but any Member State can require access to that report, so the report is open to Member States.
As far as I know, I asked for information, up to seven OIOS staffers operated in very difficult circumstances on what was a very complex investigation in an area where, as you know, witnesses are very easily… well, security is a very real concern and you have very limited transportation options. In early 2006, after receiving information from the United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, OIOS opened its investigation and they followed up with Human Rights Watch -- because you talk about Human Rights Watch -- and Human Rights Watch gave them quite a few information that they based, they started investigation on the information that Human Rights Watch had provided.
The field part of the investigation lasted almost six months. It’s now complete. And, as I said, the report should be submitted in about three weeks. Your question is a legitimate one: Why does it take so long. I would simply stress the difficulty of working in that part of the world, where a large number of witnesses have to be interviewed and in difficult security circumstances. As you know, OIOS is an independent body. We cannot determine for them the duration of an investigation. I just can tell you what the status is. That’s what I found out today, what the status is, at this point.
Question: First of all, while proper judicial investigations take time, you can take management measures to ensure that the alleged abuse does not continue. What measures did the United Nations take in this case? Second question, how can anybody trust United Nations peacekeeping when the only time it ever admits that abuses have taken place is when it’s revealed by the press?
Spokesperson: I think you underestimate the work done by peacekeepers throughout the world. You do have cases, of course, which are investigated. And those investigations go on on a routine basis and quite often.
Question: You only ever talk about them when they come out through the press. How can we believe a word you say? Seriously, the only time there’s ever an admission that everything’s not rosy in the Garden of Eden is when the press comes out with a revelation.
Spokesperson: Well, I think there are a number of investigations that are started without the press being on them, you know, and there are quite a few, in fact the majority of investigations, are done outside of the press and they are done before the press puts out anything on it. So what was your question?
Question: What measures did the United Nations take?
Spokesperson: The battalion that was investigated, the group that was there at the time, was on a rotating basis and had already left when the investigation started. And there will be measures taken as soon as there is a result of the investigation.
Question: So, so far nothing?
Spokesperson: So far, nothing, no.
Question: One follow-up on that and one on Joe’s. The militia group that was supposedly involved in the gold smuggling, the FNI, MONUC has just recently said that it has fully demobilized and had become part of the Army. So, I guess I wondered, did anyone in either MONUC or OIOS speak with FNI? Who did they speak with in this investigation?
Spokesperson: Well, I don’t have that information. Only OIOS can give you that information and, as you know, the investigation is going on. I cannot report on who they talked to. What I do know is that they met with a number of witnesses in the field about the situation. As for the disarmament thing, the disarmament was done. You know, the allegations that we’re talking about date back about a year and a half, two years ago.
Question: Can OIOS give us a briefing?
Spokesperson: As soon as they are willing to do it, yes.
Question: There’s a follow-up to Joe’s question. There was going to be a film about the Hmong people in Viet Nam as a side event to the Permanent Forum on the Indigenous. And the filmmaker and others say that, at the request of Viet Nam, the event was cancelled. Somehow, they say that DESA was involved in ruling on those complaints. I guess I’m asking you to find out if DESA in fact did decide that this film couldn’t be shown and if it was at the request of Viet Nam. And also, why? Who runs the Permanent Forum and the side events?
Spokesperson: Okay, we’ll find out for you.
Question: Michèle, is the Secretary-General confident that something will come out of the next meeting of the Quartet?
Spokesperson: He’s hoping so, because the situation is so fragile on the ground and I think it’s important for him that the Quartet meeting is held at this time, at a time when, as you know, violence in the region has caused serious concern.
Question: Michèle, since when is Mr. Ahtisaari here? I saw him yesterday. How long will he be here? Why is he here? Whom is he meeting? Is he concerned? Is he frustrated because the process on Kosovo is going slow now?
Spokesperson: Well, he’s meeting the Secretary-General, as you know, today. And those are part of his regular consultations with the Secretary-General. He met the Secretary-General when he just arrived in New York. Now he’s meeting him again before he leaves.
Question: When did he arrive?
Spokesperson: I’ll check for you. I don’t have the exact date.
Question: And how long will he stay?
Spokesperson: He’s going to leave very shortly.
Question: But he’s not going to brief us, though?
Spokesperson: No, no, I don’t think so.
Question: And I interrupted you. You wanted to say something more.
Spokesperson: No, no, that those are just consultations with Mr. Ahtisaari, that’s all.
Question: Follow-up on that question about the Guardian story. It quotes an unknown US official saying that, for political reasons, the Bush Administration, saddled with this unbelievably difficult problem they started in Iraq, wants to palm it off on the United Nations, and you said that, for security reasons, obvious to everyone, and the reason the United Nations hasn’t gotten that involved, even though they are involved a little bit more, can you envision anything in the near term when that would change, that the United Nations would in fact come to the rescue of a problem that the US created by ignoring United Nations objections, of the Member States? Why would Member States also want a peacekeeping force? Is this grounded in reality at all or just a pure fantasy?
Spokesperson: The American authorities have requested the Secretary-General to be a little more active in Iraq. So I think the Secretary-General is thinking very seriously about how we can better work with the Iraqi people.
Question: Has the US approached anybody at any level about that?
Spokesperson: No, not specifically.
Briefing by the Spokesperson for theGeneral Assembly President I’ll be very brief and you’ve probably exhausted your questions with Michèle.
**Security Council Reform The Assembly President informed Member States yesterday that she had appointed Ambassadors Heraldo Muñoz and Christian Wenaweser of Chile and Liechtenstein, respectively, to conduct consultations with the membership on how to move the Security Council reform process forward. The President has asked them to use the Facilitators’ report as the basis for these consultations, and to report back to her on the outcome by the end of June. The Ambassadors of Tunisia, Cyprus, Croatia and the Netherlands will continue to advise the President on the issue. We will circulate the President’s letter on this, and will also make copies available upstairs.
**Election of Next President and Seating Order for Sixty-Second Session As announced previously, the Assembly will elect tomorrow morning its President for the sixty-second session, Ambassador Srgjan Kerim of The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Immediately following the election, the Secretary-General will draw lots in the GA Hall to determine the Member State to occupy the first seat during the sixty-second session. The President elect will brief the press here around 12:30.
**Questions and Answers Question: The question I asked of Michèle was about the Native Americans of Canada. I read that the Canadian Government put a lot of tribes on terror lists, just because I think they were trying to defend themselves against the corporations that were cutting the forest and putting up mines. And I read in the story stating that they would ask for help from the United Nations. Have you received any request from them?
Spokesperson: Since you asked Michèle that question…
Correspondent: She actually referred me to you.
Spokesperson: No, we have not received anything like this.
* *** *
Communications and Public Information, P.O. Box 30552, Nairobi, Kenya