31 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, and welcome to the briefing.


**Secretary-General in Addis Ababa


The Secretary-General is in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where he has been attending the African Union Summit and also meeting with African leaders on the margins of that Summit.


Earlier today, he spoke at an [African Union] event on Sudan, saying that country has reached a historic point.  All reports indicate a generally peaceful referendum process with a large turnout.  He added that, as we reach the final days of the referendum, it is critical that all stakeholders exercise restraint and avoid provocative action. 


He also attended a high-level meeting on Somalia, saying that the challenge with that country is to make up for lost time and move decisively with implementation of the priority transitional tasks.  Those include helping the Transitional Federal Government to accelerate the outreach and reconciliation efforts towards all Somali political organizations and armed groups that renounce violence.  We have his remarks and readouts of his meetings available online and in my office.


And we’ve also put out the transcript of a press conference yesterday that the Secretary-General gave in Addis Ababa, where he was asked about the situation in Egypt, among other things.  He said that leaders of any country, including Egypt, should first of all listen attentively to the voices of the people, and they have a broad responsibility to provide decent jobs and good opportunities to maintain a decent standard of living.  At the same time, he said, it is important that the Governments ensure that a proper channel of communication is ensured, through freedom of speech and association.  And he also said it was important that protests should be peaceful.


** Darfur


The Joint Chief Mediator for the Darfur Peace Process, Djibril Bassolé, has welcomed the joint statement from the main Darfur movements which, for the first time, states their common commitment to the international peace talks.  He said this is an unprecedented agreement to stand together on these issues.


In a statement, Mr. Bassolé said this breakthrough gives a new reason to hope that a just and sustainable peace can be reached.  He said that to reach a true peace in Darfur, it is essential that all the belligerents enter immediately into negotiations and cease hostilities.


** Côte d’Ivoire


A cargo plane chartered by the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) landed yesterday in the Liberian capital of Monrovia, carrying 83 tons of aid for tens of thousands of refugees who have fled post-election tensions in Côte d'Ivoire.  This is the second airlift organized by the agency for Ivorian refugees in the past two months.  The supplies, including blankets and plastic mats, will be transported to eastern Liberia, where more than 31,000 Ivorians have been sheltering.


**Security Council


Today is the last day of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s presidency of the Security Council, and tomorrow, Brazil will assume the rotating presidency of the Council.  Ambassador Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti of Brazil, the Council President for February, will brief you on the programme of work for the coming month on Wednesday, at 12:30 p.m., in this room.


**Press Conferences


And at 11 a.m. tomorrow, there will be a press conference here on a new report from the International Union for Conservation of Nature on the True Economic Value of Forests, with participants Gill Shepherd and Lucy Emerton, who wrote the report, and the moderator is Stewart Maginnis, the Director of Development and Environment at the International Union for Conservation of Nature.


That’s it.  Questions?  Yes, Masood?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  As far as the situation in Egypt is concerned, today, the Secretary-General has said that, I think what I read on the Internet, that the United Nations is willing to help Tunisia to hold elections over there.  Will he make the same offer to Egypt, if and when they are ready to hold elections?


Spokesperson:  This is hypothetical at this point.  What is really important is that the Secretary-General, as many other leaders around the world, is watching this extremely closely; and he has said that, amongst other things, that this is a time when the leadership in Egypt needs to listen very closely to what the people are saying, and to deliver on the people’s aspirations, their legitimate aspirations.  And this is the key point.  Also, as I mentioned earlier at the beginning, there are some fundamental principles at stake here:  freedom of expression; freedom of assembly and freedom of association; and freedom of speech.  These are fundamental principles which need to be upheld.  And at the same time, in exercising their legitimate rights on the streets, protests should be peaceful.


Question:  To follow up on that, please, you emphasize about the freedom of speech and the peaceful nature of the demonstrations.  What’s the opinion of the United Nations regarding the internal security, disguised as civilians, attacking people, raping, killing, kidnapping and doing so many atrocities we have seen in reports on television?


Spokesperson:  Well, there are many reports that are out there, and as we have already said, the High Commissioner for Human Rights has said very clearly that any excesses should be investigated.  And certainly the Secretary-General would support that.  Yes, James?


Question:  How concerned are you about the services in the country, now that everything is closed?  Will there be any kind of aid to be sent to the people of Egypt at this stage?


Spokesperson:  Well, typically aid is sent when a country requests it.  And at the moment I think that our colleagues will be keeping a close eye on that.  But I don’t think that there is any specific movement on that at the moment.  Yes, James?


Question:  On the same Egypt subject, but maybe a view from the UN on the ground, you’ve got a lot of offices, different UN agencies headquartered… regional headquarters in Cairo.  Are they open?  Staff in the country, are they working?  Is there any sort of safety concerns for your workers over there?  And also, who is the top UN official in Egypt?  And has that individual had any conversations with the Secretary-General or with anybody from the Mubarak Government?


Spokesperson:  Well, first of all on safety concerns, I know that our colleagues who deal with these matters are fully aware of what is happening on the ground, of course.  And appropriate precautions have been taken to try to help ensure the safety of staff working on the ground, whether local or expatriate staff.  As you point out, there are a range of different parts of the UN system working in Egypt and, indeed, in other parts of the region.  And typically that would be headed by the Resident Coordinator.  But I can let you know precisely who that is after this.  Yes?


[The Spokesperson later added that there is a fairly sizeable United Nations presence, with a country team with more than 20 United Nations entities, headed by the United Nations Resident Coordinator, James Rawley.]


Question:  Yeah, I wanted to, there is a UN system programme called BENAA that was working with the Egyptian police, which NGOs [non-governmental organizations], it’s been reported, were critical of, saying that they didn’t bring in real human rights activists, they only allowed in Government officials to do the training, and it’s now said that the police are off the street because the people find them so repressive.  What was that programme?  Was it a successful programme?  What was the UN’s role in training the authorities there?  And also, what did the Secretary-General mean in Addis, when he said that the protesters should avoid political instability?  In the transcript, he seems to say that, and I just want… maybe it’s to clarify what he means by that.  They seem to want a change of Government.  Is that not what he wants?


Spokesperson:  Well, Matthew, just to correct you on what the transcript actually says:  “They have the right to express their wishes in a demonstration, but all this should not lead to social instability and political instability and should be handled in a peaceful manner.”  That’s what he said.  And on the first point, thanks for repeating the question that you sent to us by e-mail, and we have asked, and if we have any information we’d obviously let you know.  Okay, so, next question.  Yes, Ali?


Question:  Well, thank you.  The Secretary-General asked for reform in Egypt and we have seen that President [Hosni] Mubarak has appointed a Vice-President, new Prime Minister, and is forming a new Government.  Is the Secretary-General satisfied now with what is going on at the political level in Egypt?


Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General, as I already mentioned, has spoken already in Davos and now in Addis Ababa, as well, about what is happening in Egypt.  He has spoken about the need to listen attentively to what the people are saying.  And he also called for the authorities there to, as he says, reflect on all these concerns and wishes; they should take some bold measures to address their concerns.  But he also says that, when asked something along the lines that you’ve asked, that he would leave it to Egyptian leaders.  But the key point is that he said that there needs to be a very attentive ear listening to what the people are saying.


Question:  Is he in contact with the regime in Egypt and with the opposition, and mainly Mr. [Mohamed] ElBaradei in Egypt?


Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General is very well briefed on what is happening on the ground.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?


Question:  Thank you, Martin.  What the people in Egypt are saying is very clear; they want change in the regime.  Does the Secretary-General share the views of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that Mubarak, President Mubarak, should prepare the transition towards democracy?


Spokesperson:  I think I will just be repeating what I have already said:  that the Secretary-General has said that, in listening to what the people have said, there should be bold measures undertaken.  And he also has said that it is imperative in the first instance to listen to what the people have to say and for the people to be able to protest and to demonstrate freely, but peacefully.  Yes, Sylviane? 


Question:  I am going to ask another questions concerning…  Can we have a press conference with Madame O’Brien, Patricia O’Brien, on the Tribunal, please?


Spokesperson:  I’ll ask.  Yes?


Question:  Also on another topic, are you working to give any readouts of what the Secretary-General’s schedule in London will be?  Who he meets?


Spokesperson:  Well, he will be meeting with Government leaders, including the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.  And he will be giving a speech at Oxford University, and he will also be speaking and taking part in an event at the International Maritime Organization; this is on efforts to combat piracy.  So that’s the broad sweep of what he will be doing in this stay, which is about a day-and-a-half.


Question:  And that starts tomorrow?


Spokesperson:  No.  The Secretary-General will be arriving on Wednesday morning.  Yes, please?


Question:  Does Mr. Ban believe or think that arranging early elections in Egypt could lead to an elected Government as a solution to this situation?


Spokesperson:  That whole process is a matter for the people of Egypt, in the first instance.  But obviously, if assistance is requested, the United Nations, as in other cases, is ready to help.  But this has to be driven by the Egyptian people themselves, in the first instance.  Yes, Ali?


Question:  Is the Quartet meeting still in place, and how concerned is the United Nations regarding the relations between Egypt and Israel?


Spokesperson:  Well, on the first part, to my knowledge, this Quartet meeting is still going to be taking place, as we have said, on the 5th in Munich.  And obviously regional stability is crucial and what is unfolding in Egypt is a key part of that equation.  And so we are watching that very closely.  Yes?


Question:  Yeah, thank you, Martin.  I wanted to know, during the weekend in Davos, the Secretary-General referred to divisional disagreement among African leaders regarding the way forward in Ivory Coast.  I wanted to know, what did he mean by that, and which disagreements specifically was he referring to?  And then I wanted to also know whether he actually met, or is going to meet, the Nigerian President, the ECOWAS [Economic Community of West African States] Chairman, and if you have a readout of that meeting?


Spokesperson:  On the first point, it was on Friday, I believe, that the Secretary-General referred to this, and what he said was that he was concerned about “divisions” rather than “disagreements”.  And what we’ve seen in the meantime is, over the weekend, there was a meeting on Côte d'Ivoire, and then there was a reaffirmation that the leaders, that the African Union collectively restated its position and in addition, as you know, has appointed a high-level panel of five Presidents from different African countries.  And they will be working hard in the coming month, and the Secretary-General has said that he will, that the United Nations will, support them in any way that they can in the work that they are going to be doing on Côte d'Ivoire.  And on the second point, we do have a readout already on the Secretary-General’s meeting with President Goodluck Jonathan, and I am very happy to let you have a copy of that afterwards.


Question:  So is he satisfied that the divisions are over on this issue?


Spokesperson:  Well, I think the key point here is that the African Union has restated its position, and as you well know, the key point is that the current stalemate as it stands is not acceptable; and the longer that persists, the greater the risks.  And so, obviously, the Secretary-General welcomes this high-level panel, which will help in efforts to try to overcome this now rather long-running political crisis.  Yes?


Question:  Martin, there is a book that’s just come out, that’s from the [Under-]Secretary-General of the OIOS [Office for Internal Oversight Services].  It’s very critical of the current Secretary-General and I am just wondering if you have a comment about it or if he plans to respond publicly about the accusations made?


Spokesperson:  No, I don’t think so.  I mean, we’re aware of the book.  It is a topic that has been covered in some detail already in the past, last year, and I really don’t have anything further to add on that.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?


Question:  Thank you, Martin.  At the end-of-the-year press conference, when the Secretary-General gave that press conference, I asked him the question whether he was ready to announce whether he would seek a second term, and he answered that he would do that early into the new year.  We are going to be in February tomorrow.  Is the Secretary-General ready now to announce whether he will run or not for a second term?


Spokesperson:  I think the Secretary-General has addressed that again, at the subsequent press conference and I think I will leave it where he left it.  Yes, please?


Question:  I would like to have an update on the Dominican team that’s been to Haiti, investigating the cholera outbreak out in the field, and when do we expect a report from them?


Spokesperson:  Well, as I understand it, they will be going to the field at some point.  I am not exactly sure where they are at the moment.  But I do know that they are planning to visit Haiti as part of their deliberations and I know that they recently met together, if I am not mistaken, in Bangladesh as a group.  And they do intend to visit Haiti and I’ll ask my colleagues in MINUSTAH, the [United Nations Stabilization] Mission in Haiti, to see if they can provide us with some details on that.  Obviously as we said, it’s really important that their work is carried out swiftly, and equally important that there needs to be a really concerted effort, which there is, to try to reduce the spread and effect of this epidemic.  Yes, Matthew?


Question:  Sure, Martin.  Sudan and Sri Lanka.  In Sudan, there are these reports of protests in Omdurman, just outside of Khartoum, and a student, MuhammadAbdurrahman, being shot and killed by police.  These were described as protests against a lack of political and social freedom.  I wonder if UNMIS [United Nations Mission in Sudan], with its offices in Khartoum, can it confirm this shooting of a student by the Government there, and what can, what does it say about the protests?


Spokesperson:  I’ll ask.


Question:  And also, peacekeepers; there are reports of a Bangladeshi peacekeeper killed in Sudan in a crash.  Is that accurate?


Spokesperson:  Again, I’ll check.  Yeah?


Question:  And then just on Sri Lanka, I wanted to… if you can… there is… recently there is a burning down of a publication, Lankaenews, and various people said this is a crackdown on freedom of speech.  There is also a petition that was delivered, I believe, to Mr. [Neil] Buhne in Colombo, seeking UN help to look into the case of a disappeared journalist for a year, Prageeth Ekneligoda, and I am wondering, that one has been sort of pending for a while, is there some… What is the UN’s response to what seems to many to be a crackdown or certainly increase of danger for journalists in Sri Lanka?


Spokesperson:  Well, both of those, again, are questions that you sent by e-mail and should we have anything further, then we’ll let you know.  But what I can tell you, the key point is that, freedom of the media is vital and journalists should be able to carry out their work without fear of attack or being harassed to do the work that they need to do.


Question:  On this petition by Prageeth, turned in by his wife, has it yet been confirmed that it was received by the UN in Colombo, and what happens with such petitions for UN assistance?


Spokesperson:  Look, we checked.  We’re not aware of a petition having been handed in.  We’ll check again, but the latest that I had was that we are not aware of a petition having been handed in.  Yeah, Kate?  And then I am coming to you.


Question:  The UN, the Panel of Investigation into the Gaza flotilla incident, I know their report is due soon.  Is the Panel gong to be in New York to deliver it, and will there be any press availability?


Spokesperson:  This will be for them to decide at that point.  They are obviously working hard, now that they have both of the reports from the respective countries to look at.  And they will need to decide that in consultation with the Secretary-General, and obviously everyone is aware of the keen media interest in this.  And I am sure that will be taken into account.  Yes?


Question:  Regarding the article in today’s New York Times concerning the release of seven political prisoners in Belarus, including one investigative journalist, by the authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko, do you think the Secretary-General, or Navi Pillay, will issue any statements on the current situation there, particularly the 12 political prisoners that are still in jail?


Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General — we have said, and I have said on behalf of the Secretary-General already, that those being detained should be released.  And I think that remains the same.  Yes, Masood?


Question:  Martin, has the interim Tunisian Government accepted the Secretary-General’s offer to hold… I mean, to help them to hold elections?


Spokesperson:  I think that that’s something that you could ask the Tunisian authorities; and the Secretary-General has made an offer on behalf of the United Nations in a public setting.  And I am sure that will be followed up through other channels in due course, if it hasn’t been done already.


Okay, right, thank you very much.  Have a good afternoon.  Thank you very much.


* *** *


For information media • not an official record