23 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 Farhan Haq, Acting Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon.


** C ôte d’Ivoire


The UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) reports that severe violations of human rights and acts of intimidation continue to be noted in many neighbourhoods of Abidjan and in the west of the country.  These acts include identifying dwellings by marking them with distinctive signs.


As the violence goes on, the number of dead, wounded and missing persons is increasing rapidly.  UNOCI will continue to do all in its power to ensure the protection of the population, while documenting the facts so as to help the competent bodies to take measures to ensure that those responsible will be held accountable.


Meanwhile, the UN mission reports that the heavily armed forces of Laurent Gbagbo’s camp, supported by masked individuals armed with rocket launchers, continue to block the road to Anyama, around N’Dotre, the village just outside Abidjan where allegations point to the existence of a mass grave.  At times this obstruction is backed up by masked individuals armed with rocket launchers.


Impediments to UNOCI’s activities persist, particularly in Abidjan and in the west of the country.  UN supply trucks and patrols continue to be blocked.  Similarly, UN patrols continue to be followed by armed men travelling in vehicles.


** C ôte d’Ivoire — Human Rights Council


Meanwhile, in a special session of the Human Rights Council on the situation in Côte d’Ivoire, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kyung-wha Kang expressed her deep concerns over the violations of rights in the West African nation.  Following the proclamation of election results, the political stalemate has been characterized by the excessive use of force by Laurent Gbagbo’s supporters to repress public gatherings and carry out extrajudicial killings, among other violations.


Ms. Kang emphasized that these acts are blatant violations of obligations under international human rights law.  The Deputy High Commissioner also repeated the UN’s call on Ivorian leaders to prevent violations of all human rights and to refrain from any incitement to violence and hatred.  And her full statement is available in my office.


** Middle East


Following the recent escalation of tensions in Gaza and southern Israel, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry, and his team have been engaged in efforts to help de-escalate the situation.


Serry said that the UN does not want to see any renewed intensification of conflict and has been sending a message of utmost restraint and concern for the protection of civilians in Gaza and Israel.  Serry was encouraged to hear a clear desire from all concerned to de-escalate the situation and respect calm and he appeals for an end to acts of violence.


**Secretary-General on START


In a statement we issued yesterday afternoon, the Secretary-General welcomed the vote of the United States Senate to support the ratification of the new START Treaty.  This sends a firm and clear message in support of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.


The Secretary-General believes that the United States ratification will help maintain the hard-won momentum in recent years for nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament.  The Secretary-General reaffirms his full commitment to working towards achieving nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.  And the full statement is available online.


**Secretary-General Appointment


I have an appointment.  The Secretary-General has decided to appoint Major General Raul Gloodtdofsky Fernandez of Uruguay as Chief Military Observer and Head of Mission of the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP).  Major General Gloodtdofsky will replace Major General Kim Moon Hwa of the Republic of Korea, who completed his assignment on 27 November 2010.  And we have more information on the new appointee in our office.


**Press Conferences Today


Today at 1 p.m., Ambassador Ruhakana Rugunda, Permanent Representative of Uganda to the United Nations, will hold a press conference to brief correspondents upon completion of Uganda’s two-year term in the Security Council.


**Next Week


And as for next week, I’d just like to remind you that UN Headquarters will be closed tomorrow for the Christmas holiday.


This is also the last scheduled briefing for this year.  Next week, unless there is a particular need to resume the briefings, we won’t have any noon briefings, but will continue to update our web page each day to reflect the latest developments at the United Nations.


And there is no “Week Ahead” document for this week.  As matters now stand, no Security Council meetings or consultations are scheduled for next week.  The Secretary-General will continue to be in New York through that week.


The noon briefing will resume on Tuesday, 4 January 2011.  So until then, have a Happy New Year!


Are there any questions?  Yes?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Farhan, could you expand a little bit about what was meant by the… that there are certain dwellings in Côte d’Ivoire were marked with distinctive signs?  What was the sign?  What is the purpose?  How many?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  We have a press release from UNOCI that has some more details, but there is a worry that different households are designated with different signs depending upon the ethnicity of the person who is living in that household.  And that is a clear worry to us given past experience where, in other countries this had been a precursor to ethnic-based killings.  And the Secretary-General does view that with particular concern.


Question:  So, these distinctive markings have an ethnic ramification?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, they could have an ethnic ramification, yes.


Question:  And have the people in those dwellings been targeted?  Have they been subjected to violence?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  We believe that the very marking of these houses is an act of intimidation and is possibly a precursor to future violence.


Question:  So not yet then?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  We are aware of instances where people have been attacked and killed, but…


Question:  [inaudible]?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson: …but we don’t know whether it’s based on these signs.  But these signs do seem at the very least, at the very least to be an act of intimidation.


Question:  How widespread is this as far as the country is concerned, do you know?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t know whether it is widespread, but it is a cause for alarm.


Question:  Is it also clear that this is being done by forces loyal to Gbagbo?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  It is being done by forces that we believe to be aligned with Laurent Gbagbo’s camp, yes.


Question:  [inaudible] concerning the strong condemnation of the Hamas firing of rockets on the cities bordering Gaza.  And Hamas and other groups in the Palestinian territories criticized that statement saying that there wasn’t an equal condemnation of Israel’s shelling of areas in which civilians could be killed.


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, yes, since that statement, he has come out with a new statement which I just read.  The point is that he and his team have been talking to all sides, including Israel and the people in Gaza.  And as I said in today’s statement, he was encouraged to hear a clear desire from all concerned to de-escalate the situation and respect calm.  And he appeals for an end to all acts of violence.


Question:  So is this a retraction of his statement yesterday?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  No, this is in addition to it.  Yes?


Question:  Farhan, when the Secretary-General gave the last press conference here, he said that he was glad to announce that his Panel of Experts on Sri Lanka was going to be able to travel to Sri Lanka.  And I’ve seen now this quote of yours — maybe you can confirm it or deny — that “we can’t confirm if the Panel will travel to Sri Lanka or will meet the LLRC [Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission] in some other location”.  Is that… What’s the… Are they travelling there?  Isn’t that sort of what he announced?  And what led to this change?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  At this stage, there is nothing to announce.  We’re working on potential arrangements, so we are in touch with the Sri Lankan authorities.  The Panel, that is to say, is in touch.  I have talked to the Panel and I know that those discussions are continuing.  But at this stage we don’t have an announcement to make on this.


Question:  Aren’t they going to speak to no one else in Sri Lanka, or about the topic, other than the members of the Government’s, the Government-appointed LLRC?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Like I said, I think that will become clear once we have some sort of announcement to make.  It’s clear that the Panel’s work is broader than simply dealing with the LLRC, however.


Question:  And I just… I am sorry because, I mean, I understand it’s like a holiday season, but is your Office going to be open to answer, who is going to be answering questions there during this coming time?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Oh, there is a bunch of us.  It won’t be me, but Martin, in fact, will be back this weekend, so there is a lot of us around.


Question:  And if there is a need [inaudible] Côte d'Ivoire to have a briefing, you will have a briefing?  So that there is more than just a press release?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  If circumstances warrant the briefings will resume.  We’ve done that in the past.  Normally, the week between Christmas and New Year — also as a favour to many of you, some of whom request not having to have to come in…


Correspondent:  Don’t look at me.


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  …we tend not to… we tend… What?


Question:  [inaudible]


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I wasn’t looking at you in particular.  No, it’s not about you, Bill.  But, there have been some reporters who said:  “Well, do we have to come in that week?”  And the thing is whenever there are crises, we do in fact resume the briefings.  And there will be a number of us.  And in any case, the website will always be updated each day at about the same time as we do the briefing.


Question:  [inaudible] about the budget today, like if this budget is not done.  When it is done is there going to be somebody from the Secretariat that is able to answer, you know, if they are happy with the outcome or…?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Sure.  Although budgetary questions, I think, would more properly be handled by my General Assembly colleague, Jean Victor Nkolo.  But there are some things for which we may have statements even later today or over the weekend, as circumstances warrant.


Question:  Okay, I am just thinking, many of the proposals are proposals of the Secretariat on human resources, on number of posts for sexual violence…


Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Oh, yeah.


Question:  …so, it just seems like…


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  We are aware of that, and we’re certainly hopeful for the passage of the budget.  But yes, there is, the office has still got a bunch of people, as we always tend to.  Yes?


Question:  Farhan, is there any update on where things stand on appointing the investigative panel to look into the cause of the cholera outbreak in Haiti?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  No, there is nothing to announce just yet.  We’re looking [into that].  At this stage it is clear tht we will need people with expertise in a variety of fields.  That is to say, epidemiologists, microbiologists and experts on water and sanitation, and we’re just working out what that would entail.  But we don’t have any announcement to make just yet.


Question:  Would you expect that to be completed before the end of the year?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t know when we can expect that.  The work on that is proceeding.  Yeah?


Question:  Maybe just two, kind of, I guess, press freedom or protection-of-journalists questions.  One is that in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, there is this radio reporter [inaudible] who has gone missing and arrested in Uvira.  And since the UN has such a big presence there, is MONUSCO [United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo] doing anything to, to…  He apparently was arrested by the Government for criticizing the Government.  Is MONUSCO doing anything either to secure his release or to investigate his case?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  We can check with MONUSCO.  The other party for you check with, however, is UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization], which I think might be following up on this.


Question:  There is also, there is a case in Kosovo of a journalist that was beaten right in front of the UNMIK [United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo] headquarters.  A regional press group has put out call saying that, you know, this is a… that attacks on journalists must cease in Kosovo.  But I am wondering, particularly given [that] it happened in front of UNMIK, whether UNMIK has had anything to say about that?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I am not aware of any recent communications by UNMIK, but we can check with them.


And with that, I wish you all a Happy New Year!


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For information media • not an official record