|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.
Good afternoon everybody, and welcome to the briefing.
Members of the United Nations Secretary-General’s panel tasked with monitoring the upcoming referendum on self-determination in Sudan have arrived in Khartoum. The three-member panel will be travelling around the country this month as they monitor the polling, counting and aggregation of results phases of the referendum on the future of Southern Sudan. They will also meet with key stakeholders, including senior officials from the Government of Sudan, the Government of Southern Sudan, the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission, international and domestic observer groups and the diplomatic community.
Alain Le Roy, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, briefed the Security Council this morning on the preparations for the referendum on Southern Sudan that is to begin on 9 January.
Some 3.9 million voters have been registered to take part in the referendum. The polling is expected to end on 15 January, and the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission is expected to declare the final results on or about 6 February. We have some fact sheets available in my Office with more details on the whole process and the UN support for that.
**High Commissioner for Human Rights on Sudan Referendum
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has called on the authorities in both Northern and Southern Sudan to ensure that Sunday’s start to the crucial vote on the future status of South Sudan “is not marred by any abuses of voters’ rights before, during or after the referendum”.
“This is a critical moment in Sudan’s history,” Pillay said. “It is essential that the vote is free and fair, and that the national Government and the Government of Southern Sudan take swift and effective measures to halt any attempts to intimidate any groups or individuals, or to subvert the result.”
The Joint Special Representative of the African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), Ibrahim Gambari, told UNAMID staff members in El Fasher, in North Darfur, that their “key priorities for 2011 will be to continue working towards a more secure and stable environment, including the protection of the civilian population”.
He urged the staff to continue to support the Darfur peace and political process and the search for a comprehensive and inclusive political settlement which addresses the root causes of the conflict in Darfur.
And this should include supporting the process of voluntary return of internally displaced persons and refugees to their homes, so that they can start living a normal life, Mr. Gambari said. And he also emphasized that security remains a top concern.
So that’s what I have for you, and I’m happy to take questions. Yes, Matthew?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Mr. [Alassane] Ouattara in Côte d’Ivoire has said that he’s written to Ban Ki-moon, asking for some sort of an ICC [International Criminal Court] investigation in Côte d’Ivoire. Can you confirm receipt of that letter? And also, he’s also called for a special operations action against Laurent Gbagbo, presumably to remove him from the country or otherwise. What does the UN think of that call?
Spokesperson: Well, on the first one, we’re checking to see whether there’s been a letter, but what I would mention is that, as I think you know, the Secretary-General spoke to President Ouattara by telephone, and — that was on 1 January — and on the readouts, we said that the Secretary-General took note of President Ouattara’s call, during their conversation, for an early International Criminal Court investigation as a credible signal for accountability. On the second point, we’ve seen those reports. As we’ve repeatedly said, we support the diplomatic efforts of ECOWAS [Economic Community of West African States] and the African Union. They’re working hard to find a political solution to what is obviously a very difficult situation, and we think it’s important that they are allowed to have the time to make that diplomatic process work.
Question: Would it be fair to say that the UN doesn’t look favourably on the idea of special operations? Is that what you’re saying?
Spokesperson: I’m saying that the diplomatic process is an important aspect here. ECOWAS and the African Union have been playing an important role, which the Secretary-General supports. And, as I’ve mentioned, he is in close touch with ECOWAS and the African Union on this matter. Yes?
Question: Amnesty International issued a report today on sexual violence against women in Haiti. It cites a number of things as being factors: sexual violence and rapes were very high before the earthquake; they are that much higher now. And they cite, number one, that the camps are increasingly becoming slums, the longer they stick around, and they also cite the lack of security within those camps, in part, because neither Haitian police nor UN police really are there at night, when most of these rapes are taking place. Without getting too much into the nitty-gritty of it, what has the Secretary-General called for, particularly in relation to these camps — both the security and the longer-term nature of it?
Spokesperson: I can tell you that the Secretary-General remains very concerned about sexual violence in Haiti, including in the camps. Last year, as you know, the Deputy Secretary-General also visited the camps to underscore the United Nations support for the people who were then living — and many still living today — in camps, not least, of course, women and girls who live in fear, particularly at night. There have been stepped-up patrols. It’s never going to be enough. I know that my colleagues in the Mission, in MINUSTAH [United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti], police and troops who do these patrols, are doing their level best with the Haitian National Police to be present. But I think it’s fair to say that it’s very difficult to do enough in those circumstances. The Secretary-General this morning had a video-conference call with the Mission for an update on the situation on the ground. Sexual violence is a concern, and it was raised during that videoconference. Yes, Mr. Abbadi?
Question: On Côte d’Ivoire, the world knows now that the Secretary-General has taken a very clear and unequivocal stand that the President — the current President, [Laurent] Gbagbo — should step down. Will this create a precedent in the future of the United Nations? Will the Secretary-General take a similar stand each time and every time a President is elected — duly elected — but for some reason does not find herself or himself in position to assume power? Will the Secretary-General then take the same stand?
Spokesperson: As I’ve repeatedly said, this is not about the Secretary-General; this is about the international community, and very importantly, the Security Council. The Mission in Côte d’Ivoire is operating under a very clear mandate from the Security Council, if you like, embodying the will of the international community. In that context, the Secretary-General has been playing the role that he has. Other people, including the Special Representative, have also been playing their part. I think that’s where I would leave it. Yes, Masood? We have limited time today, so I’d like to be able to ensure that people who have questions can ask them.
Question: Martin, in view of this alarming report on rising food prices by FAO [Food and Agriculture Organization] in Rome — which has also been reported in the New York Times and so forth — when it happened about three years ago, the Secretary-General sprang into action and called in some meetings and so forth. What does the Secretary-General plan to do now, now that this report is substantiated that there is a crisis which is brewing? There is a crisis that is going to happen. What is [it] that can be done by the United Nations to stop or to somehow forestall this crisis?
Spokesperson: Well, the United Nations obviously has many different parts, important parts, including the FAO and World Food Programme, and I would say that the Secretary-General is extremely aware — keenly aware — of these reports. And I imagine that he will be able to address that in part when he speaks to you at a press conference at the end of next week. And, as I’ve said to you, the United Nations has specific parts that are dealing with this, and that’s obviously where this alarming report came from, the disturbing figures that there are. I think it’s important that the Secretary-General is fully briefed on that. As you know, and as you rightly said, he did spring into action in 2007, if I remember correctly, and I think that he will be wanting to fully understand the whole picture and then be able to give his assessment on the expert advice that there obviously is within the United Nations system.
Question: So you’d say that, so far, he’s still formulating a plan of action?
Spokesperson: He’s aware of the reports, obviously, because they are from within the United Nations system. He needs to be fully briefed on the advice from within the right parts of the UN system — the FAO, in particular — on what would be the right course of action. When I have more, I will let you know. He’s obviously extremely concerned about food security. He was three years ago, and he is now. He worked hard at that time to help to address that, and I don’t doubt that he’ll be wanting to look at how he can help this time around. Yes, Khaled?
Question: Can you talk, Martin, please, about the letter sent by the Lebanese Foreign Minister to Mr. Ban Ki-moon about the border — maritime border — with Israel? Whether you can confirm to us whether the Secretary-General has received it or not?
Spokesperson: I can confirm that the letter was received in Arabic; it’s being translated. That’s what I can tell you.
Question: You said you would seek some advice yesterday about the situation, if two countries seek advice on maritime issues — whether…
Spokesperson: I did seek advice, and I know that colleagues with a far greater understanding of these matters than I have will be providing that advice. Yes, Mr. Abbadi?
Question: Yes, regarding Côte d’Ivoire, there have been talks about military operations. But there have also been talks about the peaceful movement in the country. President [Nicolas] Sarkozy has declared that French forces will not intervene in domestic matters of Ivory Coast. There have also been talks about the possibility — just the possibility — of sharing power in Ivory Coast. Should this be the case? Would that complicate the stand taken by the United Nations?
Spokesperson: We’ve said very clearly that power sharing is not acceptable. The Secretary-General has said that very clearly. What we have said is, and what the Secretary-General has said is, that the will of the people needs to be respected. We know what that means, and also, with regard to the military side of your question, the Mission we have in Côte d’Ivoire is there, as I’ve repeatedly said, under a Security Council mandate with a very clear mandate and role to carry out. And it’s doing that under very difficult circumstances. Okay, yes, Matthew?
Question: I wanted to ask a Sudan, and then, a Secretary-General question. Just on Sudan, yesterday during a background briefing, a senior official said — about Sudan — said of Sudan that there had been, during the fighting in Khor Abeche in Darfur, that a Tanzanian battalion had fed IDPs [internally displaced persons] with their own rations and had been unable to be re-supplied due to Government restrictions on the re-supplying, it seemed to be, of the peacekeepers. Can you confirm that there was a time during that fighting that even the UN peacekeepers were unable to get their supplies in? And if so, was that ever said publicly, and — it seems like in other countries, they complained when its peacekeepers were being in any way blockaded. Did that take place in Khor Abeche, as it seemed to be said yesterday?
Spokesperson: Let me find out.
Question: And then there’s this article in the Korea Herald, in which an unnamed senior UN official, and also Han Seung-soo, say that it’s better that Ban Ki-moon not be listed in polls or otherwise for the Korean presidency in 2012. I guess I wanted to know, is that a concerted — are those two quotes in concert? Is Han Seung-soo still a UN official, or adviser on climate change? And is it, does this officially mean that Ban Ki-moon will not be, in no circumstances will be a candidate for President of South Korea in 2012?
Spokesperson: I think we’ve said quite clearly, and the Secretary-General has said quite clearly, that he’s focusing on the job in hand. And he has quite a lot to attend to — the questions that you have been asking, collectively here in this room, on a manner of topics, Haiti, Côte d’Ivoire, Sudan — all indicate that there is plenty that needs to dealt with — food security — and the Secretary-General needs to give that his full attention, and I don’t think that he’s going to be distracted by that particular report. Yes, Masood?
Question: From all the reports that you’ve, we have been having for a long time, it seems that the Middle East peace process is totally stalled, and nothing is happening. What does the Secretary-General, as a member of the Quartet, or anything else, does he have any plan that he can put into action to bring the Middle East peace process forward at all? Or is it just that he is waiting for a signal from Israel, or United States, to move forward?
Spokesperson: Masood, it’s your assumption that nothing is happening. I can tell you that the Secretary-General this morning spoke to Amr Moussa, the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, and with Baroness [Catherine] Ashton of the European Union on precisely this topic.
Question: Does he have — can you specify — does he have a plan? It seems that…
Spokesperson: We’ve repeatedly said, the Secretary-General has said, that he would welcome a Quartet meeting. Given when such a meeting is arranged, then we will be able to say. We don’t have anything at the moment.
Question: May I follow up? Would the Secretary-General back the current efforts now to adopt a new resolution regarding the peace process, in the Security Council, to take action?
Spokesperson: I think you know that it’s not for the Secretary-General to back or otherwise. This is a matter for the Security Council, and for the Member States within the Security Council, to look at. It’s not — he’s obviously aware of what’s happening — he’s obviously aware of that — but it’s not for him to preempt, to prejudge, the actions of the Security Council.
Question: The phone calls that the Secretary-General made this morning — I know you said you have nothing specific, but does it indicate that the Quartet meeting might be pretty soon?
Spokesperson: Well, no, I didn’t characterize the details of those conversations. I would hope to be able to give you some more details later in the day, but I don’t have them at the moment. But I think that it’s safe to assume that he will have been speaking about the Middle East peace process. I think that’s safe to assume. And we have to call it a day for today, because, as I think you know, the Secretary-General is going to be coming to say happy New Year to you in the Press Room right now. So thanks very much and have a good afternoon.
* *** *For information media • not an official record