|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.
**Secretary-General in Addis Ababa
The Secretary-General met today with Jean Ping, the Chairperson of the Commission of the African Union, on the last day of his stay in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
The Secretary-General welcomed the cooperation between the African Union and the United Nations, in particular on peace and security issues in Sudan, Somalia and Côte d'Ivoire. For the coming year, he looks forward to working even more closely with the African Union, the Chairperson and the Commissioners on matters such as sustainable development, women’s empowerment, fighting sexual violence in conflict, security-sector reforms, conflict prevention and mediation.
Tomorrow, the Secretary-General will travel to London, where he will meet with the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary and deliver the Cyril Foster Lecture at Oxford University.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay says she is deeply alarmed at the sharp rise in casualties during the popular movement in Egypt in recent days. She points to unconfirmed reports that as many as 300 people have been killed so far, with thousands having been injured.
Ms. Pillay urges the Egyptian authorities to ensure that the police and other security forces scrupulously avoid the excessive use of force. She also stresses the need for a full investigation into the role of the security forces in the violence that has occurred in recent days. Ms. Pillay adds that people must not be arbitrarily detained, simply for protesting or for expressing their political opinions, however unwelcome those opinions may be to those in power.
On Haiti, the High Commissioner for Human Rights says that she has offered Haitian authorities technical assistance for prosecuting crimes committed under the leadership of Jean-Claude Duvalier, underlining that serious human rights violations should not go unpunished.
There is no statute of limitations under international law for rights violations such as torture, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and rape. Ms. Pillay emphasizes that Haiti has an obligation to investigate the well-documented and serious violations that occurred during Mr. Duvalier’s rule, and to prosecute those responsible for them.
Ambassador Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti of Brazil is the Security Council’s President for the month of February. Tomorrow, the Security Council expects to hold consultations on its programme of work for the month. And after that, at 12:30 p.m. in this room, Ambassador Viotti will brief you about the Council’s work during February.
A measles vaccination campaign backed by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) targeting all children in eastern Liberia’s Nimba County — where more than 30,000 Ivorian refugees are sheltering — kicks off tomorrow. As of the end of January, five Liberian children between the ages of 1 and 5 had died of measles, while two cases had been confirmed by WHO. UNICEF stresses the need to act quickly to stop the outbreak, given that it is occurring in a context where there are large numbers of people living in congested spaces.
The United Nations, in cooperation with the broad humanitarian community and the Government of Sri Lanka, today launched a joint plan of assistance to support the people in the north of the country to recover and rebuild their lives. The plan provides a framework for meeting immediate needs while linking interventions to the early and medium-term recovery efforts, including building shelters and homes, supporting agriculture, food security and livelihood recovery.
**Questions from Yesterday
I have some answers to questions that were asked at yesterday’s Noon Briefing.
On Egypt, we have a fairly sizeable UN presence, with a country team of more than 20 UN entities, headed by the UN Resident Coordinator, James Rawley. There’s more information on the UN Development Group’s website, which is www.undg.org.
We were asked about a letter concerning the treatment of a Sri Lankan journalist. I can confirm that we have now received the letter to the Secretary-General, which was transmitted to New York by the UN Resident Coordinator in Colombo. It was also channelled to colleagues in the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The letter is now being reviewed.
Regarding the question yesterday about a reported death in Omdurman, Sudan, the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) has informed us that it is aware of media reports that a student died from his injuries after being beaten by security forces during anti-Government demonstrations. UNMIS is trying to verify this information. Regarding the death of a peacekeeper in Sudan, one Bangladeshi peacekeeper in Sudan has died of injuries following a car accident.
There will be four press conferences here tomorrow. As I mentioned, at 12:30 p.m., Ambassador Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti of Brazil, the incoming Security Council President, will brief the press on the Council’s programme of work for the month of February.
The other three briefings are related to forests. At 11:15 a.m., Eduardo Rojas-Briales of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai will brief on the International Year of Forests.
At 2 p.m., the Rwandan Minister for Environment and Lands, Stanislas Kimanzi, together with colleagues from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), will brief on a new project to protect forests.
And lastly, at 3 p.m., Jan McAlpine of the UN Forum on Forests and Yann Arthus-Bertrand from the Good Planet Foundation in France, among others, will brief on the forest film festival. And that is it from me. Yes?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Maybe you issued a statement or something; does the Secretary-General and UN officials from Cairo and from Jordan, have they sent you any updates, and what do they say and what does the Secretary-General have to say about what is happening in Jordan, besides, now that it is flaring up?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Well, first of all, the Secretary-General, I would draw your attention to something the Secretary-General said at his press conference on Sunday while he was in Addis Ababa, where he discussed the fast-changing situations, including in Egypt and in the region as a whole. And he said — and let me just quote a little bit of that, his remarks — “Let me just say there is one overriding theme that is at the heart of all these issues and indeed all that we do. In a word, that is the need to listen. To listen closely to one another, to keenly hear the voices of the people, to deliver on the people’s legitimate aspirations for a better standard of living and a decent quality of life.” And he has had some extensive remarks while he was at the [African Union] Summit in Addis Ababa. But that is his response to the events that are currently unfolding.
Question: Yeah, but that is two days ago. What I am saying is the latest thing, like in Jordan. Do you have any reports on Jordan and any reports on that?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: We don’t have a specific statement. Of course, we are aware of the changes regarding the cabinet in Jordan this morning, and we are monitoring that situation, as we are with other developments that have been happening throughout the region. We’ll make comments as necessary. But, like I said, this is the overriding theme that the Secretary-General was stressing a few days ago, and that applies to the developments that are happening today, as well.
Question: There is no assessment by UN officials on the ground as yet? You don’t have it?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: We are in the process of assessing the situation on the ground in Jordan, we have been assessing the situation, as you know, in Tunisia and Egypt, and we are doing that in other countries in the region, as well. Yes?
Question: I have heard what you have said, your answers to yesterday’s questions and your answers just now. How does the Secretary-General respond to criticism that perhaps he should be taking a more active role in moderating some of these situations in these Arab country uprisings, number one; and two, is it the Secretary-General’s job to step in and take a more active role?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: At this stage, the Secretary-General believes that the real dynamic under way in many of these countries, including in Egypt, is one that is between the Government and the people. And what he has been encouraging the Government to do is to listen to the people, to allow for freedom of association, to allow for freedom of expression and to make sure that the legitimate needs and aspirations of the people are taken into account. His High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navanethem Pillay, has clearly and repeatedly called for the security forces to avoid any excessive use of force. You heard what we just said about her statement there. So those are the points that we are stressing. And of course, he is also stressing that all protests must be conducted peacefully. But in any case, the dynamic is one between the Government and the people.
What the UN has been doing for years is pointing out the sort of challenges the Governments in the region would face. What you might like to do, for example, just for reference, is to see the reports that we put out from the UN Development Programme (UNDP) side, the Arab Human Development Reports for the last decade, which repeatedly stressed a number of points that are relevant to today’s situation, including, for example, the frustration of youth, the high levels of unemployment, the need for people to be able to feel like they are represented and are being heard by their Governments. And this is something that we, along with our partners on the ground who wrote these Human Development Reports, have been chronicling fairly extensively.
Question: First of all, I want to ask you something about UN peacekeeping in the Philippines. There is a lot of hoopla in the Philippines. There is actually a House hearing on money that’s gone missing in terms of what the UN paid to the Philippines. There is separately an issue that the Government is saying, has apparently acknowledged that, of salaries paid by the UN for peacekeepers, it takes a relatively high percentage. And the Resident Coordinator in the Philippines has been quoted as saying that she sent… Jacqueline Badcock has said that “she sent the issue to UN Headquarters, then it’s going to be addressed by UN Headquarters”. So, I wanted to know, who in UN Headquarters is handling this issue and also what is the UN’s policy on the peacekeepers actually in the field keeping the money that is meant for them? What… How low a percentage could a country pass through to the peacekeepers before the UN would speak up and say, “hurting the effort”?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Well, I believe we e-mailed you a response about this — that our peacekeeping departments deal with Governments and it is up to the Governments to reimburse the individual peacekeepers. And we see that as an issue for the Philippines Government and the Philippines authorities to handle with their individual peacekeepers. But certainly, we do expect that Governments will reimburse their peacekeepers fairly and accordingly.
Question: That’s why I found… I saw that… That’s why I found it strange then that the UN’s Resident Coordinator in the Philippines is then telling the press there that, in fact, it’s an issue at UN Headquarters. We ask here and you say it’s up to the country. But in the country, the country office says it is in UN Headquarters.
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Well, Headquarters does deal with this issue, but it deals with it through dealing with the Government. But ultimately the responsibility for handling how individual peacekeepers are paid is through individual Governments and that is their responsibility.
Question: One thing I… and this is because it’s a direct quote in the Nation of the Philippines saying that Badcock, who is the Resident Coordinator, said that she is following up the matter with UN Headquarters. So, that’s why…
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Well, I have just told you what the line from Headquarters is and that’s what we have e-mailed to you. Yes?
Question: Farhan, what’s the travelling schedule of the Secretary-General after London? When is he coming back to New York?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: He will be back in New York on Sunday. And before that, after he visits London, he will visit Germany, where, as you are aware, there is a meeting of the Quartet in Munich, as well as some other engagements. That’s it. Okay?
Question: I wanted to ask a question about Côte d'Ivoire. There have been some clashes there in which it is said that the UN peacekeepers had to address some young people who were building a barricade and apparently used tear gas. Is there some way to know, number one, how young these young people were? And two, can you confirm, what’s the sort of state of play there? Are, in fact, UN peacekeepers using tear gas, and have they had to confront forces that are younger than, say, 18 or 16 years old?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: I have no idea about the ages of these people. What I can say is that the UN Operation in Côte d'Ivoire (UNOCI) has been doing what it can to fulfil its mandated tasks. As you know, it has come against repeated obstructions and we’ve detailed those fairly extensively. We have had to deal with methods of dealing with hostile environments and what we have done is try to use appropriate responses that will not be harmful to civilians. And we are trying to proceed with that. But ultimately, as we have pointed out repeatedly, Laurent Gbagbo’s forces — the forces loyal to Laurent Gbagbo — have been confronting us with a hostile environment. That’s a very serious situation and our peacekeepers do have to be able to deal with that. But they have been trying to respond appropriately and they are certainly taking steps to ensure that civilians will not be harmed. Yes?
Question: Can you talk a little bit about the blockade, Israeli blockade of Gaza, now that the Egyptians are busy in that thing, because they were the towns which were providing certain smuggled goods and so forth. So, where does it stand now? Is Israel doing a bigger blockade because Egypt is no longer able to help it? Do you have any assistance from the UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East] person over there?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: There is no report of a change in the situation on the ground. Obviously, we continue to monitor the various crossing points into and out of Gaza. As far as we are aware, the sort of blockages that we have been reporting in the past has continued to be there on the ground. But if we have any updates, we’ll certainly provide those. Yes?
Question: The European Union and the US have hit the President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, with strong sanctions for his campaign of repression and refusal to release those political prisoners that are still in jail. Will the UN do anything on this? Will they make any statement or is there anything they can do?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: I think we may have some further comment this afternoon regarding the situation in Belarus. I am still waiting for that response. But once we have something, we will share that.
[The Acting Deputy Spokesperson later informed correspondents that the Secretary-General continues to call for respect for the rule of law, democratic principles and protection of human rights in Belarus. He is concerned about reports of harassment and continued detention of journalists, civil society activists and opposition candidates. The Secretary-General reiterates his call for their release and for the full adherence to due process.]
Question: I have a Sudan question. On Sudan, I wanted to ask, the Sudan Tribune, in an article about Abyei, quotes a UN official who couldn’t give his name because he is not authorized to speak to the media, but has a direct quote saying that UNMIS had heard reports of an armed group with rocket-propelled grenades and machetes amassing north of Difra and Abyei. And says, “but the patrol was not permitted to meet the group”. So, I wanted to know, who would be stopping UNMIS from carrying out its protection of civilians duties in Abyei? Would that be the… it is just, it seems like it is a pretty serious statement by a UN official. Is there some way to find out who stopped… whether the UN has access throughout Abyei and who stopped this particular patrol?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Well, first we’ll have to see whether the details of that are correct. But we’ll check with our colleagues in UNMIS whether they have reported any blockages.
Question: And also just now in front of the Security Council, the French Permanent Representative, [Gérard] Araud, said, or I guess confirmed, that he had demarched the Secretariat about the use of UNMIS air assets to move Ahmed Haroun, saying that, you know, he is indicted by the ICC [International Criminal Court] as a war criminal. So, I wanted to know, can the Secretariat confirm that it… who was demarched and what’s their response?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: I wouldn’t have any details to share on that. On that, what I can tell you is that we have already spoken out about the transport of Ahmed Haroun. We made it clear the necessity of that particular task given the violence in Abyei at the time and I don’t have anything further to say beyond what we have already shared on that.
Question: I have just one last thing on a demarche, I am told that…
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: The last “last thing”?
Question: Sure. I am told that the Permanent Representative of Egypt in recent days has “demarched the Secretariat” for statements implying he said that the violence is coming mostly from the Government, directed at protesters. And I just wanted to know two things. One, can you confirm receiving this “demarche”? And two, who is… who would be demarched right now in the UN given that Ms. [Asha-Rose] Migiro and the Secretary-General are away? Who is the point of contact for Member States with such complaints?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: We don’t provide details extensively about internal contacts. Obviously, you know that there is any number of people who can discuss the relevant issues with ambassadors, and that has been the case. I can confirm that we have been in touch with the Permanent Representative of Egypt. As for what our position is, however, I would just simply draw you to the statements, most recently the one by Navanethem Pillay today, as well as those that the Secretary-General has made while he is on the road.
Question: But is it clear to say who is in charge of the UN? Is that… is there just one individual? I am not asking for a whole chart.
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: The Secretary-General is in charge of the UN and he has representatives while he travels. As you know, he is at work, he gets the messages from them.
Question: Sure. No, no, I know, I am not suggesting that. I am just saying who is in charge of the building, the Headquarters, when both the SG and DSG are away?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: The Chef de Cabinet is in charge of the building right now, because this is a situation when the SG, the DSG and I believe the head of UNDP had all been travelling in recent days. Normally, one of those three people is here and is in charge.
Thanks very much.
* *** *For information media • not an official record