9 December 2010
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General


The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


So, good afternoon, everyone.  Welcome to the briefing.


**Noon Guests


My guests today, as you can see are Valerie Amos, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, and Catherine Bragg, who is Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator.  And they are here to brief you on their recent missions to Pakistan and to Afghanistan, respectively.


I understand we have until about half past.  I will immediately pass the floor to Ms. Bragg, who will tell you a little bit about her trip to Afghanistan; and then Ms. Amos will speak a little bit about her trip to Pakistan.  Then we’ll take questions.  So, Ms. Bragg.


[Briefings by Ms. Bragg and Ms. Amos issued separately.]


Spokesperson:  So, I have another few items for you, and I am happy to take some questions.


** Côte d’Ivoire


The Security Council issued a statement to the press last night on Côte d'Ivoire, in which Council members noted the recognition by the Economic Community of West African States of Alassane Ouattara as President-elect of Côte d'Ivoire.  Council members called on all stakeholders to respect the outcome of the election.


The members of the Security Council condemned, in the strongest possible terms, any effort to subvert the popular will of the people or undermine either the integrity of the electoral process or the free and fair elections in Côte d'Ivoire.


Security Council members reiterated the readiness of the Security Council to impose targeted measures against persons who attempt to threaten the peace process, obstruct the work of the United Nations Mission (UNOCI) and other international actors, or commit serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.


And in Côte d’Ivoire itself today, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Choi Young-jin, met with Alassane Ouattara to discuss the post-electoral situation.  This was their first meeting since the certification of the election results by the Special Representative.  And speaking to reporters afterwards, Choi said that he was also ready to meet with Laurent Gbagbo at any time.


**Security Council


The Security Council discussed the situation in Burundi this morning, receiving a briefing by the Secretary-General’s Executive Representative for Burundi, Charles Petrie.


Petrie told the Council that there is a particular concern about threats and intimidation against opposition members in Burundi.  He noted that the Secretary-General, in his recent report, speaks out about the climate of impunity in Burundi and restrictions on freedom of association, as well as reports of extrajudicial executions.  At the same time, he described relations between the United Nations and the Government of Burundi on human rights issues as being on the right track.


Petrie said that Burundi has made progress, but its transition is fragile and reversible.  The Security Council continued its discussion with Petrie in closed consultations, as well.


And then the Security Council will discuss Sudan at 3:00 p.m. this afternoon.


** Afghanistan


The United Nations Mission in Afghanistan, UNAMA, released a report today on harmful traditional practices that affect women in the country, including forced marriage, child marriage, the giving away of girls to settle disputes, honour killings and other forms of violence against women.


The report says that such harmful traditional practices are pervasive in the country and that laws that guarantee protection against these practices should be implemented quickly.  The report also describes the Government’s response to these practices and makes recommendations to end them.  We have a press release with more information in our office.


**Stakeout Today


Today at 5 p.m., Luis Moreno-Ocampo, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, will speak to correspondents at the Security Council stakeout position, following consultations.


**Noon Guests Tomorrow


And my guests tomorrow will be Mark Bowden, the United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, and Ms. Kiki Gbeho, Head of the Somalia Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.


That’s what I have.  Questions?  Yes, Khaled.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Can you just tell us, when was the meeting between the Israeli Defence Minister Barak and Mr. Ban Ki-moon put on the schedule; and what are the topics they are supposed to be discussing?  Because we asked you yesterday and there was no mention at all of the possible meeting between Barak and Ban Ki-moon…


Spokesperson:  Had I had the details, I would have given them to you.  I did not have the details at that time.  The meeting is this afternoon, and we’ll certainly be aiming to give you a readout on that meeting as soon as possible after it.


Question:  Was it Mr. Barak who requested the meeting, or how... [inaudible]? Is it going to be about the Shab’a Farms issue, or is it the Ghajar news and the Ghajar issue, or the settlements freeze business?


Spokesperson:  I haven’t seen the agenda.  I think let’s wait and see what the readout says.


Question:  Just one last:  I tried to ask you yesterday what’s the Secretary-General’s position towards this new obvious shift in the peace negotiations and the Americans saying that they’re not going to concentrate now on the settlements issues.  And I was wondering whether the SG [Secretary-General] has a position on that or whether he agrees with the new American approach, or he sticks to the Quartet statement.


Spokesperson:  Well, I think, as I said to you yesterday, that we expected a statement later in the day, and there was a statement later in the day.  And I think it spells out quite clearly, reiterates, of course, that there is a Quartet position; the Secretary-General obviously is in line with that Quartet position, which is clearly urging Israel to fulfil its Road Map obligation to freeze all settlement activity in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in East Jerusalem.  I’d also note that he said that he is looking forward to these matters being discussed in the days to come among Quartet members.  And obviously he believes that it’s really extremely important for there to be a negotiated settlement, and he is encouraged that the United States has said that it is determined to push ahead to continue its efforts in this direction.


Question:  Yes, Martin, I am sure you saw this report in the New York Times from India that a solution to the Kashmir crisis is in sight.  Since this is an international dispute and on the agenda of the Security Council, has the Indian Government kept the Secretary-General informed of the developments?


Spokesperson:  I’d have to check.  But as I have said to you before, we have, and the Secretary-General has, made a comment, and that’s where we are.  If there is anything to add, then I will surely let you know.


Question:  There were two significant developments in this case.  Number one was the statement by the chief minister of Indian-occupied Kashmir that Kashmir is not an integral part of India.  And secondly, a non-Muslim member of his cabinet said that the Kashmir issue — that Kashmir should be bifurcated along religious lines and Kashmir should be declared independent, and the rest merged with India.  Does the Secretary-General take note of these statements?


Spokesperson:  Well, I know that the Secretary-General reads the New York Times very closely, right. [Laughter.]  Any questions?  Yes.


Question:  Yeah, sure.  I wanted to ask several questions.  One is on…


Spokesperson:  Let’s get them one at a time, okay, because I think that others have questions, so, we’ll take one and then we roll around the room.


Question:  No problem at all.  One is, I just wanted to know, and again I am not sure, I am never sure what UNAMID’s [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur’s] role or timeframe of reporting is.  There is now — the Sudanese Government itself has claimed that it attacked and, they claim, defeated Minni Minnawi, who is the Darfur rebel who just signed a peace agreement with them, the Darfur Peace Agreement.  Can this fighting, stated by the Government of Khartoum, what does UNAMID say about it, how many people have been injured, what’s the peacekeepers’ role as these things happen?


Spokesperson:  I think I have already mentioned this to you, that the only significant activity that the Mission has received reports on over the past few days has been of alleged fighting in the vicinity of Kafia Kingi, in South Darfur, between SAF [Sudanese Armed Forces] and SLA [Sudanese Liberation Army]/Minni Minnawi.  The area is located approximately 300 km south/southeast of Nyala; I think I have already told you this.  And indications on the intensity and the duration, we don’t know at this point.  Neither do we have details on casualties or destruction and damage.


Question:  Has UNAMID made any effort, as this Darfur Peace Agreement in which it played some role is unravelling, to speak to the two parties?  What’s its take on Minni Minnawi…?


Spokesperson:  I think we’ve also said that the Mission is taking this up, trying to find out more information from the Government and from others in the region, including SLA/Minni Minnawi.


Question:  No, I saw a phrase inserted into the transcript saying that the UNAMID is analysing the actions and said, “and comments”.


Spokesperson:  That’s right.


Question:  But does that mean that they have spoken to Minni Minnawi?


Spokesperson:  Trying to find out, I think is the answer.  Trying to find out. 


Question:  What, UNAMID is trying to find out?


Spokesperson:  Yes, UNAMID is trying to find out more.  But, if we have more, we can tell you.  That is obviously part of their role, as you point out, part of their role is to be able to ascertain what is happening — if there are reports, to check on those reports; and to be in contact with parties there.  That is obviously part of their role.  If I have anything extra to report back, then obviously I’ll do so.


Question:  I just want to know, is it your understanding, you just said that the United States is determined to remain engaged.  But yesterday, you were very clear that they are abandoning the process because Israel is not budging on the settlement issue.


Spokesperson:  I really don’t think that’s the case.  Far be it for me to speak for the U.S. Administration, but I do know that it was announced yesterday that Senator [George] Mitchell will be going back to the region.  And I have mentioned to you, the Secretary-General is seeing Ehud Barak this afternoon, and he has also said — the Secretary-General — that he looks forward to these matters being discussed in the days to come among all members of the Quartet.  Things are still moving, and I think that that’s an important point to make.  Yes, Khaled?

Question:  May I follow up please, Martin.  But obviously it’s the U.S. that sets the rhythm, not the Quartet.  So the U.S. says the settlement is a priority; the Quartet says, yes, settlement is a priority.  Now the Americans say we don’t want settlements, we’re going to try a different path, and then they will discuss with the Quartet.  So, obviously the Quartet, and the United Nations, has no input on this at all.


Spokesperson:  Well, that may be your view.


Question:  But, chronologically, was the Quartet consulted first about this new American approach before it was announced?


Spokesperson:  As I have said to you, the Secretary-General is always in close contact with the players in this.  And as I also said to you, he has said that he looks forward to these matters being discussed further in the days to come.  Catherine?


Question:  Yes, I had a question on UNAMA, the report on Afghan women.  Nine years after the Taliban were ousted and considering the fact that the international community and the United Nations has invested so much money in Afghanistan, does the Secretary-General see the outcome of this report as a failure of the United Nations and the international community in Afghanistan?


Spokesperson:  I think the United Nations, in the form of the Mission, has made very clear that a lot remains to be done.  And I think everybody recognizes that progress has been made in some areas, but there are pervasive practices, the ones that have been mentioned here, for example, that remain, and nobody is pretending that this is good.  A lot of work needs to be done, absolutely.  Yes, Khaled?


Question:  Yes, I just have another question, Martin, New York Times stories — also there was today a story on the Western Sahara, and there was a figure mentioned by the United Nations, the POLISARIO UN representative saying that about 20 to 30 civilians were killed in El Ayoun in these clashes between the Moroccan Army and the civilians there.  Does MINURSO [United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara] have any figures on its own about how many people died in El Ayoun in Western Sahara in those clashes?


Spokesperson:  Let me check for you.  Let me check.  Yes, Matthew?


Question:  I want to ask about Haiti, Sri Lanka and Cancún.  But then you can divide it up however you want.  In Haiti, it is said that four protesters at least have been killed since the results were released, and there is a photo saying that people are covering their eyes from tear gas thrown by UN peacekeepers.  I wanted to know, first can you confirm this use of tear gas and what’s the United Nation’s — either does it have, what casualties has it caused or what is it doing to make sure that the National Police with which it works are acting responsibly?  And these four deaths, what can it say about them?


Spokesperson:  Let me check.  I know that my colleagues in the Mission and in DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] are actively pulling together information to provide on precisely that point.


Question:  You know when I said — on the Secretary-General’s Sri Lanka panel, there is a story on something called News Now Sri Lanka, quoting some type of a release or response by the secretariat of the panel, saying, among other things, that they chose not to speak to anyone orally, but only to take written submissions.  One, I wanted you to confirm if this is true that the panel never spoke to anyone, as it seems to say.  And two, what’s the process for putting in, for media organizations interested in this topic, putting a request to the secretariat and getting an answer, as apparently News Now Sri Lanka did?


Spokesperson: Well, on the last point, you can ask us at any point.  That doesn’t mean that we will necessarily be able to answer, or that the panel will be able to answer, because, as we’ve said from the outset, the panel has a job to do in a certain timeframe, and when they have something to say to the media they will typically do that through us.  That’s the first point. On the other point that you raised about the procedure, let me check.  I think some of that is available on the web, where they have information about how people can submit material to the panel.


Question:  Because they are quoted now saying an e-mail to News Now Lanka from the secretariat of the panel, saying that they didn’t speak to anyone early.  So, that’s why I am wondering…


Spokesperson:  As I said, I believe, as I understand it, there was an announcement that submissions could be made by anybody.  And I think it’s in that context that a reply may have been sent.  But let me check.


Question:  Okay, that would be great.  The other thing, this is a factual one, there is at least one report that this prominent indigenous environmental activist, Tom Goldtooth, has been, whose credentials and his, to attend Cancún, has been somewhat critical of the process has now been, he’d been excluded and barred from the grounds.  Can you find out if that’s the case and, if so, why that’s taking place?


Spokesperson:  I will certainly endeavour to find out.  What I can say is that you will have seen that this is a large conference with very varied attendance and that there has also been, and you will have seen this reflected in remarks made, input from the NGO [non-governmental organizations] community into what’s going on there.  Let me find out on this specific incident.


Question:  And I just wanted, actually I just thought of this in terms of barring from grounds, that after you read out the Security Council’s statement yesterday supporting ECOWAS [Economic Community of West African States], which recognized Mr. Ouattara as the new President of Côte d'Ivoire; I just wondered, what does this mean toward, for the UN treatment of the existing Côte d'Ivoire diplomats who were appointed by no longer President, apparently in the international view, [Laurent] Gbagbo?  Are they still, what’s the process, I guess?  Do they continue to be viewed by the United Nations as the legitimate representatives of Côte d'Ivoire?  The former Ambassador here is now the Foreign Minister under Gbagbo.  So, I just wondered.


Spokesperson:  I think there is a set process; there is a Credentials Committee that handles these matters.  And I think that that’s the route — speaking in general terms, not about this specific case.


Okay, thank you very much, everyone.  Thanks.  Good afternoon.


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For information media • not an official record