|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.
Welcome to the briefing.
**Guest at Noon
Our guest today is the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Côte d’Ivoire, Choi Young-jin, who is here to give you an update on recent developments. And as you can obviously see, Mr. Choi is joining us by video link from Côte d’Ivoire. So I am going to hand over to Mr. Choi for any introductory remarks and then we’ll take questions, and I think we have, after Mr. Choi’s remarks, about 25 minutes for questions. So, please, Mr. Choi, the floor is yours. It’s very good to see you.
[Press conference by Mr. Choi Young-Jin is issued separately.]
The Secretary-General is on his way to Oman from the United Arab Emirates, where he had met with a number of leaders today on the margins of the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi. And we have readouts available on those meetings that I just mentioned.
The Secretary-General will travel to Switzerland and Ethiopia next week. In Geneva, he will open the 2011 Consolidated Appeal Resource Mobilization Conference. He will also address the Human Rights Council, as well as the Conference on Disarmament. The Secretary-General will also make remarks on the occasion of the first meeting of the Accountability Commission for Women’s and Children’s Health, co-chaired by Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada and President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania.
And as the Secretary-General himself announced earlier, he will meet with the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders while he is in Geneva. He will also go to Lausanne, where he will meet with the International Olympic Committee.
The Secretary-General will then attend the World Economic Forum in Davos. He will speak at a number of sessions of the Forum, including on combating chronic disease; human security; a new vision for agriculture and sustainable development. He will meet a number of Heads of State and Government while he is there.
The Secretary-General will later travel to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to attend the African Union Summit. He will meet many Heads of State and Government during that Summit. And we will try to provide you with more details on that leg of the trip a bit closer to the time.
This morning, the Security Council heard from the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Sudan, Haile Menkerios, about the referendum for Southern Sudan that has just concluded.
In an open briefing, Menkerios said that the conclusion of the referendum marks an historic milestone in the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. Now, he said, both the North and the South will need new constitutional arrangements. And he added that the United Nations will need to continue supporting the parties through the rest of the peace process.
Menkerios also discussed the tensions in Abyei, saying that the continued absence of a final settlement for Abyei’s future status leaves open the possibility of further clashes between the communities on the ground.
Discussions on Sudan will continue in the Council’s closed consultations. After that, as you know, the Council is expected to meet on Côte d’Ivoire.
The United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) has welcomed the agreement concluded on Monday in Southern Kordofan State, between the delegations from the Government of Sudan and the Government of Southern Sudan.
The key measures of this agreement include the provision of security for Abyei, ensuring the freedom of migration for Misseriya nomads to Abyei and southwards, and also providing security for the movement of internally displaced persons returning home. The agreement builds on and widens the accord between the Misseriya and the Ngok Dinka reached last week in Abyei.
Ibrahim Gambari, who is the Joint Special Representative of the UN-African Union Operation in Darfur (UNAMID), has called for calm in the wake of recent incidents in Nertiti, West Darfur.
Violence broke out in the town, which is located 63 kilometres east of Zalingei, on 15 January when a National Intelligence and Security Service officer was killed by unidentified armed men.
Following the shooting, local authorities conducted a house-to-house search for the suspects. That action led to further tension, with an exchange of fire in which one Sudanese police officer and an additional National Intelligence and Security Service official died.
In the attempt by Government forces to locate the suspects, several properties were damaged or destroyed. A UNAMID assessment team visited the scene after the unrest, gathering information from the local population. The patrol observed several burned houses. Shops and markets were closed.
At present, the security situation in the area is calm. UNAMID continues verification and routine patrols of the affected area. Mr. Gambari is calling upon on all concerned parties to exercise the utmost restraint.
The United Nations Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, Catharine Bragg, has embarked on a visit to Sri Lanka from 19 to 21 January, to highlight the humanitarian needs there and to advocate on behalf of the most vulnerable — in particular internally displaced persons and returnees.
Ms. Bragg is set to visit the north of the country, where thousands have returned following the end of the conflict, as well as visit the worst flood-affected areas in the east. UN and humanitarian partners will launch a flash appeal for emergency funds on 20 January.
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) says that it is encouraged by the positive meetings it has had in recent days with Yemeni authorities and representatives of the al-Houthi group on the need for improved humanitarian support for northern Yemen. These talks took place during the visit to the country by the High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres.
The agency also expressed its concern today over reports that Sweden plans to forcibly send some 25 Iraqis back to Baghdad tomorrow. According to UNHCR, some of them belong to religious and ethnic groups targeted by violence in their home country.
**United Nations University
The United Nations University ranks both among the world’s top 10 Government-affiliated think tanks and the top 10 international development think tanks, according to the 2010 Global Go-To Think Tank Ranking report.
That index is based on a survey of some 1,500 scholars, journalists, policymakers and others from nearly 120 countries; and the ranking is distilled from more than 5,000 nominated policy organizations from all regions of the world. We have a press release with more information on that in my office.
**Press Conference Tomorrow
Tomorrow we’ll have two guests here for the briefing — Francis Deng, the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, and Edward Luck, the Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect — and they will be here to brief you on the situation in Côte d’Ivoire.
That’s what I have for you. Questions? Giampaolo?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Did United Nations forces have any involvement in the arrest of [Jean-Claude] Duvalier in Haiti?
Spokesperson: No, this is a matter for the Haitian authorities.
Correspondent: But they say that you were involved.
Spokesperson: I will check again with the Mission, but, as I think you’re aware, the arrival of Mr. Duvalier in Port-au-Prince came as a total surprise to MINUSTAH [United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti], as it did to many other people. And the reasons of his sudden return are unknown to us.
Question: But he was arrested, according to the news reports. There’s no UN reaction to any of this, no?
Spokesperson: As I’ve said, his return came as a surprise to MINUSTAH and of course not just to the Mission, but to many other people — probably most people. It is something of a source of concern to see him resurfacing at a critical time for the stability of the country, particularly when everyone’s trying to focus on looking for a settlement to the current electoral crisis. As you know, Mr. Duvalier had to flee his own country 25 years ago, under pressure from his own people after 15 years of dictatorship, and of course many people there remember that as a time of massive human rights violations.
Question: Are you speaking for the whole UN system, that you support calls that he be brought up on human rights violations charges?
Spokesperson: As you will have seen, my colleague Rupert Colville has commented on this matter. Of course, I need to check on the latest developments to see whether we have anything further to say. Certainly I would refer you to the remarks made by Rupert.
Question: There was a report that he was taken away in a white van with UN plates.
Spokesperson: Let me check. To my knowledge, this is a matter for the Haitian National Police and the Haitian authorities. But let me check. Yes, Masood?
[The Spokesperson later said that he had not been taken away in a United Nations vehicle.]
Question: There is another situation which is spiralling out of control in Tunisia. And has the Secretary-General asked any of his advisers to come for a very strong session to address the situation which is very…
Spokesperson: I don’t quite understand the… Has he asked for what, Masood?
Question: Has he asked any advisers to come up with any ideas how to deal with the situation which is emerging? How to make the United Nations have to deal with it?
Spokesperson: Well, I think the Secretary-General has spoken quite clearly on what he believes should happen on the ground in Tunisia, namely a return to full democracy. And the United Nations is still concerned, of course, as is the Secretary-General, with the violence that persists. And I think that we may have something further to say on that a little bit later today.
Question: But is there anyone from DPA [Department for Political Affairs], Mr. B. Lynn Pascoe, or Mr. [Ibrahim] Gambari in any way engaged in studying the situation there?
Spokesperson: You’re right that the Secretary-General has many advisers, and I can assure you that the relevant advisers are keeping him fully briefed on what is happening in Tunisia. Khaled?
Question: Just a follow-up on Tunis, please. There are more and more Tunisian and human rights groups asking that Mr. [Zine el-Abidine] Ben Ali be held accountable for the civilians who were killed during the clashes between the police force and the demonstrators. I was wondering whether the SG has a particular point of view on the subject, like holding people like Mr. Ben Ali and others accountable?
Spokesperson: As I think you know, we talked about this yesterday, Khaled. We’ve been quite clear on what’s been happening in Tunisia and the call for restraint and also that freedom of expression and association need to be respected. In addition, as you will have seen, the High Commissioner for Human Rights has spoken quite forcefully about her views on this, and the need for a potential investigation into what happened. And I understand also that Ms. [Navi] Pillay will be holding a press conference tomorrow in Geneva.
Question: But Ms. Pillay was clear in maybe condemning what she called excessive force by the police there. From that perspective, does the SG still believe that people like Ben Ali and others should be held accountable for killing civilians? What’s the difference between killing civilians in Guinea, for example, when he issued the panel for police to open against civilians and in Tunis, where also police opened fire against civilians?
Spokesperson: Well, I think we must be speaking past each other, Khaled, because it’s obvious that the Secretary-General would condemn the death of any civilians – that’s obvious. It’s a question of how an investigation is conducted. You have to remember that, as you are obviously very well aware, that this is a time of political flux in Tunisia. And the authorities there, first and foremost, need to address this topic themselves. But as I say, the High Commissioner for Human Rights has been quite clear on what she thinks need to happen. Matthew and then James?
Question: I want to ask about Sudan and Sri Lanka, but I can do it in any order you want. In Sudan, two things have taken place. Hassan al-Turabi, an opposition leader, has been arrested by the Government for saying that there could be a Tunisia-style uprising there. I guess that would be under Menkerios’s watch. In terms of looking at the North, what does the UN say about that, and also the lawyer for these Darfur activists, including the editor of Al-Safaha newspaper, said that they were tortured? They’ve just recently been released. Their lawyer said that they were tortured, and I just wonder what is… Given the Darfur connection, what does Mr. Gambari or the UN system, along with praising the referendum in the South, what do they say about these two things?
Spokesperson: On the first, we’re aware of the reports, and I think we’ll be able to say something a little later. On the second, I’ll need to check with my colleagues. I don’t have any details on that. Yes, James; I’ll come back to you for the other question on Sri Lanka in a second.
Question: Thanks, Martin. This came up a couple of weeks ago. It’s this disputed oil and gas reserve in the maritime area between Israel and Lebanon. We understand that Lebanon sent a request to the SG to get involved and possibly help solve the dispute. I think the last we heard from you was that it was getting translated from Arabic. I was wondering if you could update us on what was happening there.
Spokesperson: I mentioned, yes, a letter was received and is being studied. As I mentioned to you, within the mandate — the strict mandate that there is for the mission in Lebanon, UNIFIL — there is no role in this respect. The UN is a large organization with many different parts, and that’s precisely why our experts are looking at responding to the letter from the Lebanese authorities in the most helpful way possible about what avenues are open to them to explore.
Question: Can I just check — is the correct UN organ for dealing with this issue the Office of Legal Affairs, and the subdivision, the UN Division of Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea?
Spokesperson: That’s one address, if you like, one address, one part of the UN that looks at this specifically. As I say, there are experts, including them and others, who are looking at this with the aim of being as helpful as possible so that Lebanon can make sure that if it wishes to stake a claim, to make its claim clear, that it can do so in the right way within the right context. As I say, this is not something that falls within the mandate of the UNIFIL mission itself. This is something that our experts are looking at, and they will respond. Yes, Matthew, Sri Lanka? I think we’ll make that the last question. Khaled, I think you’ve had quite a few questions. Iftikhar, after Matthew, and then that’s it, okay?
Question: Just a follow-up on something. I wanted to ask about this Catherine Bragg visit. You said that she views as her role… that she’s going to advocate for returnees…
Spokesperson: I said advocate on behalf of the most vulnerable, including internally displaced persons and returnees — in other words, those who are most vulnerable during this flooding. That’s what it’s talking about.
Question: I wanted to ask then, given the apparent difficulty of getting the Panel of Accountability for the very problems that caused these returnees to have to be removed, and to now be returning. What, if anything, is the relation between her… Is she going to speak to people there? Is any of this information going to be passed to any other organ of the United Nations? I guess my question is, I heard yesterday after the noon briefing that it’s possible now that the Panel does not go to Sri Lanka. That in fact letters have been exchanged and that a letter from Sri Lanka says that there’s no intention to speak to the Panel.
Spokesperson: Well, what I can tell you is that Ms. Bragg’s visit it obviously a humanitarian visit. It is not related to work of the Panel. It is not. And I think that’s quite clear.
Question: What happens now? What will she do with it, as a humanitarian individual?
Spokesperson: She will be talking about humanitarian matters.
Question: Only about the rains, not about what caused the need to return?
Spokesperson: Talking about the needs of the most vulnerable as a result of the rain, and the fact that they are displaced internally or are returning. And that’s what it’s about. It’s about helping people in the worst flood-affected areas. That’s what it’s about.
Question: I guess I understand you can see why there’s some question about the visas for an accountability purpose, what the relation of this visa would be…
Spokesperson: As I said, the two are not connected. This is clearly a humanitarian matter. Last question.
Question: It’s very simple. You said that the Secretary-General is going to Lausanne to meet the International Olympic Committee. What is he going to talk about?
Spokesperson: Well, as you know, various international sporting organizations, including FIFA, the world governing body for football, and other international sports organizations, are engaged with the United Nations in helping to foster peace, for example, to help with pursuing the Millennium Development Goals — notably in the area of education. I would think that these are among the topics that will be raised during the meeting in Lausanne.
Question: Martin, you helped a lot with the World Cricket Cup in West Indies. Now another World Cricket Cup is coming up. I hope… If there is any UN involvement, will you let us know?
Spokesperson: I will certainly do so. I remember your question from before. Yeah, all right. Thank you very much. Have a good afternoon, and careful on the ice.
* *** *For information media • not an official record