17 January 2011
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.


Good afternoon everybody.


**Secretary-General’s Travel


The Secretary-General is in the United Arab Emirates where he spoke to reporters earlier today.


He said he was closely monitoring developments in Lebanon and reiterated his strong support for the independent work of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.  He also said that the independent judicial process should not be linked with any political debate and that it was important not to prejudge the outcome of the investigation.


On Tunisia, the Secretary-General said he was encouraged by the dialogue between the caretaker Government and a large array of political parties and civil society organizations.  But he added he remained extremely concerned about the continued violence in the country.  He called for a prompt restoration of the rule of law and urged the international community to support efforts to restore genuine democracy in Tunisia.


And then earlier today in Abu Dhabi, the Secretary-General delivered opening remarks at the Fourth World Future Energy Summit, saying that we need a global clean energy revolution — a revolution that makes energy available and affordable for all.


He also spoke to the Young Future Energy Leaders and encouraged them to make a difference.  He said that energy solutions will play a big role in combating climate change, in relieving poverty and in laying the foundations for sustainable prosperity for all.


**Sudan


In a statement issued over the weekend, the Secretary-General welcomed the end of the polling period for the Southern Sudan referendum.


He called on the people and institutions of Sudan to exercise patience and restraint until the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission announces the final result of the referendum.


In a separate statement, the Secretary-General’s Panel on the Referenda in Sudan said that based on its observations, as well as those of its staff in the field, it is satisfied that the process allowed the people of Southern Sudan to express their will freely.


It also urged Government authorities and the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission to make every effort to ensure that all citizens are kept well informed of progress toward the final results.


**Secretary-General’s Appointment


The Secretary-General has appointed Christian Manahl of Austria as his Deputy Special Representative for Somalia.  Mr. Manahl has headed the Political Affairs Division in the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) since February 2007.  We have more information on Mr. Manahl in my office.


That’s what I have for you.  Questions?  Yes?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Martin, I heard, and I hope it’s not true, that Mr. Kouchner has been appointed as Special Envoy in Haiti.  And it’s almost true.  So is it?


Spokesperson:  I’m not aware of that.  I don’t really comment on rumours.  Yeah, Sylviane?


Question:  Thank you.  There are mixed information regarding the Tribunal, the indictment.  Can you confirm that the indictment has been sent to Daniel… the judge, Daniel Fransen this morning, this afternoon or today?


Spokesperson:  Well, I understand your interest, but this is really something for the Tribunal.  And if and when this happens, I’m sure that they will announce it, but it’s certainly not…


[The Spokesperson later issued the following statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the Special Tribunal for Lebanon:


The Secretary-General reaffirms his strong support for the work of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.


The filing of an indictment today by the Prosecutor of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon is in pursuit of its mandate to end impunity for the terrible crimes that took the life of the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and 22 others in the attack of 14 February 2005, and related attacks.


The Special Tribunal for Lebanon is an independent court of law established at the request of the Government of Lebanon, with a clear mandate from the United Nations Security Council.  The Secretary-General reiterates his call on all parties to refrain from any interference or influence in its work, but to allow it to proceed in accordance with the highest legal principles and standards applied by all United Nations-assisted international tribunals.


The independent judicial process should not be linked with any political debate.  It is important not to prejudge the outcome of the work of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.]


Question:  Can I follow up on this?


Spokesperson:  We cannot, I mean, I just said at the outset, and the Secretary-General has repeatedly said, that this is an independent judicial body.  And it follows, therefore, that any announcement of this kind would come from the Tribunal.  They have a spokesman, and I know that he is readily available, and I’m sure that when they get to that point they will have something to say.  But it’s not for us to say anything from here.


Question:  Sorry, but as reporters we received a statement from the Special Tribunal confirming that the indictment has been handed to the judge — it came up like 10 minutes ago.  So I was wondering, what’s the reaction…


Spokesperson:  As I say, as and when an announcement is made, I’m sure that the Secretary-General will have something to say subsequently.  But that will first of all depend on an announcement being made, and then you will be hearing from us after that.  Yes, Ali?


Question:  The United Nations hasn’t been informed formally about the submission.  I’m looking at the website of the Special Tribunal…


Spokesperson:  No, Ali.


Question:  [inaudible]


Spokesperson:  No.  That’s not the way it works, Ali.  The Tribunal is an independent body, and will make an announcement when it makes it.  It’s not for us to comment on the process leading up to making that announcement.  Once the announcement has been made, then we will obviously be considering whether the Secretary-General would say something, and I would be fairly clear that something would be coming.  So I would ask you to be patient on that.  Yes, Masood?


Question:  I just wanted to know, Martin, two things.  When the food crisis broke out about three years ago, the Secretary-General went to the Middle East and he talked to the King of Saudi Arabia and other people to mitigate the crisis.  Has he this time, now that he’s now again in that area, will he be talking to… I mean, I know, in his conversation with the Saudi King, maybe he brought up the subject or he didn’t bring up the subject.  But will he be bringing up the subject again with the leaders in the Middle East to confront this crisis head-on?


Spokesperson:  Three things.  To my knowledge, it wasn’t raised with the King of Saudi Arabia.  Secondly, the food security question is something that the Secretary-General did address at the press conference on Friday.  I can say, beyond that, as you know, there is this task force that looks specifically at food security.  And I understand that the Steering Group, which works behind the scenes constantly monitoring what is happening, will be meeting and will be making some recommendations.  And that will be taking place, as I understand it, this week.  So I would think there would be more details emerging from that.  And the third point is that, on whether the Secretary-General has raised this on his visit at the moment, I’ll check and find out.  Yes, Edie?


Question:  Just as a quick follow-up to that before I ask my question.  Where’s the food security group going to be meeting, here or in Rome?


Spokesperson:  Let me check.  I’m not aware of that, but we can easily find out and let you know.


[The Spokesperson later informed the correspondent that the Senior Steering Group of the High-Level Task Force on the Global Food Security Crisis was meeting via teleconference this Thursday, with representatives in Rome, Geneva, New York and Washington, D.C.]


Question:  On Ivory Coast, has… is UNOCI [United Nations Operation in Côte d'Ivoire] doing anything different, that is, are they pulling back, are they doing more patrols?  There have been some reports that there has been some movements of UN personnel…


Spokesperson:  Different than what?


Question:  Than what they had been doing before.  That people were leaving, perhaps leaving UNOCI headquarters, or…


Spokesperson:  I’m not aware of that.  I mean, we can certainly check with our colleagues in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and with the Mission.  But, as we’ve said — and as the Secretary-General said on Friday — the Mission is working under difficult circumstances.  It continues to work, and it will not be intimidated in the work that it needs to carry out.  Its peacekeepers and the police do carry out patrols and they will continue to do so.


Question:  And have there been any contacts over the weekend either — with the Secretary-General — either with the Ivory Coast or on Tunisia?  And on Tunisia especially, is he just planning to wait and watch, or is he taking any specific actions?


Spokesperson:  Well, as you’ve heard that he has addressed this directly…


Question:  I’ve read our story on it.


Spokesperson:  And maybe you were listening to what I said, as well.  So he has addressed this, and obviously he is in the United Arab Emirates where there are a number of regional leaders.  It’s entirely possible that he will have discussed this, amongst other topics, while he’s there.  And on Côte d’Ivoire, the Secretary-General remains obviously concerned with what’s going on and the impasse that there is, and he continues to reach out to regional figures both in government and international organizations.  I know that he has spoken to Jean Ping, the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, over the weekend, for example.  Yes, Matthew?


Question:  Can you confirm that these reports of fighting between the forces of Ouattara and Gbagbo in Yamoussoukro, close to Bouaké, there’s reports in Le Figaro of the number of people injured, and I just wondered what the presence of UNOCI is elsewhere than Abidjan in the country?  Are you aware of this attack, and what’s UNOCI doing?


Spokesperson:  Let me ask my colleagues in DPKO.


Question:  Can I ask a question on Sri Lanka as well?


Spokesperson:  I’m going to come back to you, because I can see there are other people with questions.  But by all means.  Yes Nizar?


Question:  Yesterday, there was a broadcast of an audio tape from the investigation on the assassination of Rafiq Hariri.  Mr. Hariri, the son of late Rafiq, apologized for the content of that, and admitted authenticity of the tape.  How embarrassing is that… or not how embarrassing, how will this affect the integrity of the Tribunal, the international Tribunal on Lebanon?  And what is the comment on that, I mean, these revelations and leakages?


Spokesperson:  I don’t have any comment on that report in itself.  But the Secretary-General has been very clear about his belief in the integrity of the Tribunal itself and the staff who work for the Tribunal.  Rhonda?


Question:  Just to follow up on that, in the part there were, not reports, I mean, many in the media and even videos showing that selling documents…


Spokesperson:  Nizar, I don’t have any comment on those reports.  Yes, Rhonda?


Question:  In 2006, the Secretary-General had just been appointed Secretary-General, and he said that he would appoint an envoy to deal with the problems on the Korean peninsula.  It’s four years later now, and I wondered if he still thinks this is a good idea?  And if so, what would help make it possible for him to do so?


Spokesperson:  As you know, the Secretary-General keeps an understandably close eye on the Korean peninsula, and, as you also know, last year the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs visited Pyongyang as part of efforts to be able to have an intensified dialogue with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  So I think that clearly, through the Department of Political Affairs, there are efforts to ensure that there is a dialogue with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  Yes, Matthew?


Question:  But can I just follow up that, at that time, in February, at the press conference, we were told that there would be continuing activity.  This is now January of the following year, and we have seen no continuing activity.  So there’s obviously obstacles, so I’m wondering what the obstacles are, and what would help to overcome those obstacles?


Spokesperson:  Well, I think that, as you follow the Korean peninsula quite closely, you will have seen the political developments that there have been in the past year on the Korean peninsula involving the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  And I think that that probably answers your question.  Yes, Matthew?


Question:  I wanted to ask, I’ve seen these reports of… that Catherine Bragg, the number two in OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs], is going to Sri Lanka.  So I wanted to ask, number one, there have been protests there in the eastern part of the country, that people are saying that aid is not being given to them… both, given to political favourites.  And I wanted to know, one, is the UN aware of that, if she goes — that she’s just going to appeal for funds generally?  And two, I had asked you, I think in December, this issue of… does the UN have any response to NGOs [non-governmental organizations] being thrown out of the northern and eastern parts of the country, including the International Red Cross?  Did the UN or OCHA say anything when that happened, and could this in any way be related to the lack of aid being given at this time?  There are also… if she is given a visa, what’s happening with the panel and its visas?  Have they been granted visas?  Given that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on 17 December that they were going to go, when are they going?  Have the visas been granted, and what are the conditions of the visas?


Spokesperson:  Well, as I think the Secretary-General answered your question on Friday on whether the panel will be visiting Sri Lanka…


Question:  He said they were finalizing…


Spokesperson:  Right, that’s right, I was listening.


Question:  So they are going?


Spokesperson:  You heard what the Secretary-General said.  That’s where we are.  And on the question of Ms. Bragg’s travels, I would urge you to speak to OCHA.  And that also includes on — generally — on aid.  You will have seen that Neil Boon, the Humanitarian Coordinator, has already spoken out about the need for funding, and that a formal appeal, if you like, will be launched in the coming days.  So clearly there is a demand and a need, and the United Nations, as we’ve been saying here, already last week, has been working to try to ensure that the specific needs — the most pressing needs — are identified, and then they can be addressed.


Question:  I just wondered on this visa question.  So she applied for a visa and was given one without any conditions at all?  Obviously, since there’s a controversy over… because it’s OCHA and then the panel.  How do you compare the granting of visas by the country for war crime… an inquiry into accountability and then this other visa?


Spokesperson:  Visas are granted by national Governments, so I would urge you to have a word with our colleagues in the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.  Yes, Khaled?


Question:  Yes, Martin, I have a couple of questions on… first on Lebanon, the French presidency issued a statement yesterday saying that they’re trying to form a contact group on Lebanon and that the French President was in contact with Ban Ki-moon over this issue.  So can you tell us, what’s the Secretary-General’s stand on this contact group on Lebanon, and has he been contacted by French to attend some kind of a meeting?


Spokesperson:  Not to my knowledge.  That doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened, but not to my knowledge.  Let me check.


Question:  I just have another question.  Some human rights groups have criticized Mr. Ban Ki-moon on his stand on Tunis.  They are saying that he was very soft on the human rights aspect of the issue compared to other Western leaders who praised the Tunisian people having faced the security forces there.  Don’t you think that the Secretary-General had a very low-key stand on the situation in Tunis, particularly when it comes to how the security forces there…?


Spokesperson:  Khaled, absolutely not.  Take a look at the statements that we’ve put out, what the Secretary-General said here on Friday, and then what we said on Friday afternoon.  I really take issue with that.  Absolutely not.  Yes, Thomas?


Question:  The [inaudible] committee in Belarus could be closed by the authorities.  The reason given by the authorities is the letter the committee sent to the United Nations about the situation of the human rights in the country.  Could you confirm that you received this letter, and if so, what is your comment about this situation?


Spokesperson:  I’d need to check on whether such a letter has been received.  Was it to the Secretary-General or to the United Nations?


Question:  According to the New York Times, it’s to the United Nations.


Spokesperson:  Okay, well, that’s quite a large address.  But let’s find out.  Let’s find out, and, as you know, already last week indeed in answer to your question and before, we said quite clearly what we believe needs to happen in Belarus.  Yes?


Question:  Martin, has the Secretary-General issued any official statement on the deadly Brazilian mudslides, which are being called Brazil’s worst natural disaster in 40 years?


Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General is obviously aware of what’s been happening in Brazil, and he’s extremely concerned.  He also knows that the Government of Brazil is in contact with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.  Should they ask for assistance, should they request assistance then, of course, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs would look into that.  He’s very much aware of the loss of life, and he’s very saddened by that.  And he obviously knows very well that this is a large-scale disaster.  We’ve seen disasters in Sri Lanka, for example, as well, and there have been floods in other parts of the world.  This is something that he obviously is fully briefed on, and I know that our colleagues dealing with emergency relief also monitor this very closely and clearly, as always, are ready to provide assistance should they be asked.  Yes, Matthew?


Question:  On Tunisia and Sudan.  On Tunisia, is there any… can you just say, is there any thought among the Secretariat of sending any type of a team there to ensure that there’s either a progress towards democracy or that rule of law is restored?  Has there been any discussion of that, and if so, what’s the thinking?


Spokesperson:  I think… not to my knowledge.  But I think you’ve seen, as you’ve just mentioned yourself, that the Secretary-General has been quite vocal on this, including today in Abu Dhabi, on what he believes needs to happen, and that the international community should help with those efforts to restore full democracy.


Question:  On Sudan, I wanted to ask, there’s a story in the Sudan Tribune out talking about SLM [Sudan Liberation Movement] Abdul Wahid Nur group.  And the spokesman, Nimir Abdel Rahman, says that they reject what they call the Government’s and UNAMID’s [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur] attempt to have there be… to have this process in Darfur.  They’ve contrasted to the Bassolé process in Doha, which they still say that they might participate in.  And this is a direct quote I wanted you to respond to:  the spokesman of Abdul Wahid Nur (SLM) said “Gambari was supportive to hand six IDPs [internally displaced persons] from Kalma camp to the Government, and recently said, was said to be planning to travel to Salva Kiir to discuss the eviction of Darfur rebels.  These are only some of the many things that prove his partiality,” the rebels stressed.  I just wanted to know, what’s UNAMID or the UN response to a major rebel group saying that the UN is not impartial and is not trying to mediate between the Government and the rebels, but rather is on the side of the Government?


Spokesperson:  Clearly, Matthew, the United Nations is impartial in these efforts, and is working very hard, as you know, through Mr. Bassolé as one of the joint mediators through the Doha Process, to try to resolve this long-standing situation in Darfur.  And that also goes for our colleagues in UNAMID who also work in challenging circumstances and with the highest level of impartiality in that work.  Yes, Rhonda?


Question:  Yes I have two questions.  I wondered if you could say by what criteria…


Spokesperson:  These are the last questions, by the way.


Question:  Okay.  By what criteria you decide whom to call on at press conferences with the Secretary-General?  Journalists are encouraged to sign up in advance, and they’re encouraged to raise their hands, and yet they could never be called on, whereas others are called on fairly regularly.  Are there some criteria that you can explain to us?


Spokesperson:  I was saying to one of your colleagues a little earlier, there is one simple rule that works, and that is that demand will always exceed supply.  So there will always be people who are disappointed.  I’m sorry about that, but that’s the way it is.  There’s a limited amount of time, a limited number of questions, and many more people and questions than there is actually time for.  That’s unfortunate, but that’s the way it is.  And it’s not just the case here, that happens at many press conferences around the world with many leaders and indeed with others.  We do our best to answer as many questions, both here when I do the briefing and when the Secretary-General does a briefing, or indeed, when others do the briefing.  That’s the way it is.  I know it doesn’t necessarily satisfy you, but as I say, it comes down to the basic point that demand will always exceed supply.


Question:  What are the criteria by which you determine who you call on regularly…?


Spokesperson:  It’s not a question of regularly, I really don’t think.  We do our level best — let’s not say we, I do my level best — to ensure that there is a good balance around the room of people who ask questions.  You know, I’m really sorry, Rhonda, that you feel that you didn’t get a chance.  You’ve asked a number of questions today, I think you have another one, and that will be the last question today.


Question:  Okay, the question is that obviously there was a very serious crisis in late December in the Korean peninsula.  And even the Security Council spoke to the need for an envoy.  And so I wondered what it is that is the problem, because what we understand is that it’s not to be left to the Security Council, the initiative, because the Secretary-General did send B. Lynn Pascoe on his own initiative.  And yet it seems there is this need to help…


Spokesperson:  That’s right, there is a need to help, and the Secretary-General has said he’s very willing to help.  As you will have seen, the Secretary-General spoke to Lee Myung-bak, the President of the Republic of Korea, on New Years Day.  He said that he would be very willing to provide his Good Offices should the parties concerned request that.  Thanks very much, have a good afternoon.


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