|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.
We’re very pleased to have with us today as our guest, Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict. She just put out a press release that we have available on our counter, as well, concerning a landmark agreement in Afghanistan about releasing children in the national security forces. And that’s available both in this room and in our Office. Please, Ms. Coomaraswamy.
[Press conference by Ms. Coomaraswamy issued separately.]
**Secretary-General in London
The Secretary-General spoke to the press earlier today in London, and said that the protests in Egypt reflect the great frustration of the people there about the lack of change over the past few decades. This discontent calls for bold reforms, not repression, he said.
The Secretary-General reiterated his concern about the growing violence and urged all sides to exercise restraint, adding, and this is a quote: “Violent attacks against peaceful protestors are completely unacceptable.”
He also said that it is important to ensure an orderly and peaceful transition. In response to a question about President [Hosni] Mubarak’s announcement that he will stay until the end of his term and will not run for re-election, the Secretary-General responded: “I’m not sure that will satisfy the demands of his people. If there is a need for change, it should happen now.”
He also spoke at the International Maritime Organization (IMO) today, and discussed the problem of piracy off the coast of Somalia. He said that piracy seems to be outpacing the efforts of the international community to stem it. The only truly successful way to address the problem in the long term is through a strategy that focuses on deterrence, security, the rule of law and development. And we have his remarks in our Office.
The Secretary-General is on his way to Germany, the last leg of his current trip.
I have the following statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General following the announcement of the final results of the first round of the presidential and legislative elections in Haiti:
The Secretary-General welcomes the announcement today by the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) of the final results of the first round of presidential and legislative elections in Haiti. The Secretary-General encourages all actors to take advantage of this opportunity to move forward with the electoral process.
After a year marked by the devastating earthquake of 12 January 2010 and the ongoing cholera epidemic, it is of paramount importance for Haiti to have a new democratically elected Government to continue to tackle the pressing issues of recovery, reconstruction and the fight against cholera.
I also have the following statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Nepal:
The Secretary-General welcomes the election today of Mr. Jhalanath Khanal as Prime Minister of Nepal, ending a prolonged stalemate on forming a new Government. He congratulates the Prime Minister-elect and reaffirms the support of the United Nations to all efforts to complete the peace process and to adopt a new Constitution by the stipulated date of 28 May 2011.
The Secretary-General commends the Parliament for this significant achievement and all Nepali parties and leaders for their efforts to form a new Government. He believes this development will give a significant boost to efforts to fully implement their outstanding commitments under the Comprehensive Peace Accord and the interim Constitution, notably the integration and rehabilitation of the Maoist combatants, democratization of the Army and adoption of a new Constitution. He reiterates his repeated calls on all parties and political leaders to work through consensus and compromise to achieve these goals.
The UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, has concluded her three-day visit to Kenya and Somalia. During that visit, she reviewed relief operations in the two countries and assessed the challenges faced by the humanitarian community. Ms. Amos stressed the importance of gaining access to people in need, particularly in conflict situations.
Recurrent droughts in Kenya and Somalia have eroded livelihoods, especially for pastoral communities who have become food insecure. There are 1.6 million food insecure people in Kenya and 2.4 million people in Somalia in need of assistance, numbers that are increasing due to the severe water shortages. And we have a press release with more details.
This week, a patrol from the joint UN-African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur (UNAMID) assessed the security situation following fighting in Tabit in North Darfur. The patrol confirmed that clashes occurred in the area and that nearby villages have been abandoned.
The population has reportedly fled to towns, including Shangil Tobaya, where yesterday, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and UNAMID installed a water pump near the mission’s team site. The pump will serve thousands of people who were uprooted by clashes in the area since last December. A second pump will be installed in the coming days.
** Côte d’Ivoire
The UN mission in Cote d’Ivoire (UNOCI) has sent two humanitarian assessment missions to the western part of the country during the past 10 days. The UN Humanitarian Coordinator, Ndolamb Ngokwey, led the team, which met with internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the town of Duékoué and with local civilian, military and religious leaders. The mission says that there are 18,000 internally displaced persons in Duékoué alone, but the figure is likely to change as the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) are conducting a comprehensive registration of all displaced persons in the area. Meanwhile, UN agencies are seeking new funding to address the basic needs of the IDPs, including shelter, food, health and sanitation, the mission says.
Last, world food prices surged to a historic high in January, according to the Food Price Index of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The Index climbed 3.4 per cent from December and is at its highest level since the agency began measuring food prices more than two decades ago. FAO expects high prices to persist in the months to come.
That’s it from me. Yes, Nisar?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Farhan, in Egypt, the security forces are totally ignoring human rights. Some are too illustrative to talk about, like the ramming of cars, taking people into internal security vehicles and shooting at large at the people in Tahrir Square, other areas; nobody is monitoring that. Amnesty International offices have been rampaged and attacked today. Many people, even our colleague, Khaled, was arrested and he was speaking on Al Jazeera today, speaking about his trauma, how they were mistreated with many other journalists and he spoke about thousands of protesters, innocent protesters, rounded up and put in an enemy area. Is it enough to say that Mr. Mubarak has to go after 30 years of emergency law? Shouldn’t he be brought to justice by international law and put an end to this impunity?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Well, the Secretary-General has emphasized, and he emphasized it again today, that there needs to be a very peaceful and orderly transition in Egypt. He has made it clear that, if any transition is to take place, it should be now. Regarding a response to the violence on the ground, clearly the Secretary-General has strongly condemned the violence and he has once more said that any attack against peaceful demonstrators is unacceptable. Beyond that, as you are aware, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navanethem Pillay, has also said that the sort of violence that has happened in recent days needs to be investigated. And so we do believe that there should be an investigation by the relevant authorities and that should be followed up as needed. Yes, Erol?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. As a follow-up actually on that, we know that President Obama of the United States sent his personal envoy to Mr. Mubarak, President Mubarak, Ambassador [Frank] Wisner. Does the Secretary-General consider to send his envoy or messenger, whatever, to convey that kind of strong message to President Mubarak, as he said in London at the press conference? And if not, does he [have] concern that then he will be seen as the heart of the United Nations who is not at this very moment, as Nisar said, on the top of the game, I would say?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: I would disagree that he is not on top of this. He has been speaking out very clearly and very forcefully each day about the situation on the ground and he has been doing that directly. And so that is the message that he is trying to convey; is what he himself has been saying. Beyond that, there is nothing to announce in terms of sending an envoy to Egypt at this stage. If we have an announcement, I will let you know once that comes.
Question: Just a follow-up on that, please? We have heard in the past, very much, right [speech] from the United Nations. But we haven’t seen as many right actions. Do you consider this enough, as what Secretary-General said and what you just said, or would something more be done in that direction?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Certainly, we are evaluating the situation, trying to see how best to act as we can. At this stage, it is important to emphasize what sort of norms need to be observed. It is important to emphasize the unacceptability of the violence that is taking place. It is important to emphasize that freedom of speech needs to be respected, freedom of expression, freedom of association. And we are doing that, and will continue to do that. Beyond that, in terms of actions, as you know, we have made it clear that we stand ready to provide assistance as requested and will evaluate as that happens.
Question: Could you please provide us whatever information you might have or comment on the evacuation of UN personnel from Egypt?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Yes, what I can confirm is that, so far today, two planes of non-essential UN personnel and family members have arrived in Cyprus. This is a temporary relocation of non-essential staff due to the security concerns in Egypt at this point. I would like to emphasize, however, that essential staff, as well as local staff, remain on the ground in Egypt, and the regular work of the United Nations is continuing per normal there, to the extent that that can happen. Yes?
Question: You know, Farhan, that in many Arab countries there are martial laws and emergency laws that are imposed this long time. Would the UN call at this time to lift those laws and in what manner — as soon as possible, immediately, when do you think that those laws that prohibit people from expressing themselves should be lifted?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Certainly what we are stressing is that you do need to have the ability for people to express themselves. The Secretary-General has repeatedly said that the leaderships — in Egypt, as well as throughout the region — need to listen to the people. In order to be able to do that, the people have to be able to speak, and to speak without fear. Regarding what needs to happen to the legal system, obviously we wouldn’t comment specifically on nations’ legal systems, but we have made it clear that at this juncture what is needed is for an orderly and peaceful transition to take place. And so, the Secretary-General has urged all parties to engage in such a dialogue and such a process without any further delay.
Question: But I am talking about martial laws that are imposed in Algeria, Egypt and Syria, in Jordan and in many other Arab countries. Should those martial laws and emergency laws be lifted?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Yes, and obviously different countries have cited security conditions, and we respect their right to take care of national security. But, at the same time, our point is that the leaders in all these countries need to be able to listen to their people, their goals, the actual aspirations, so that they can respond to them. Otherwise, you have situations that can approach a real crisis. And so, in order for them to be able to do that, ultimately you need to have a system in place in which people can express themselves freely; in which the media can operate freely; and in which people can have freedom of association. And that is what is needed throughout the region. Yes, Masood?
Question: Does the Secretary-General of the United Nations think the situation as it exists in Egypt and elsewhere is a threat to international peace and security?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: As you know, the evaluation of threats to international peace and security is made by the Security Council, which has not made any such evaluation regarding the situation in Egypt.
Question: The Security Council has not even commented on the situation, as yet, but the determination can be made by the Secretary-General, and he is authorized to make that assessment and call for a Security Council meeting if he deems that it is a threat to international peace and security, according to the [United Nations] Charter.
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: I think he has drawn attention to his concerns about the violence itself. He has not characterized this at this point as a threat to international peace and security. But the violence in and of itself is a major source of concern, and it is unacceptable.
Question: Follow-up? Just what Masood asked: again, is the Secretary-General somehow concerned that his talk will be seen only as a talk, nothing more than that, on Egypt?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: I wouldn’t believe that that’s an accurate characterization. I think, if you look at the sort of things the Secretary-General has been saying, not just in the last few days, but even since the demonstrations started in Tunisia a few weeks ago, he has been very forthright about what needs to happen throughout the region, and in particular in recent days in Egypt. And I think he has been very clear and very strong about what needs to take place. You know, you can always say that words are just words, but these words have a meaning and he is standing by them. Yes, in the back?
Question: Yes, I just wanted to know on Ivory Coast whether he is concerned that the decision of the African Union to set up a panel that will take another month, whether the Secretary-General thinks that this might actually just drag the issue out, and whether he is concerned about the time implication of that kind of a decision, since he is more interested, like he said, in a speedy resolution.
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Well, the Secretary-General has made it clear that we support the work of this panel of the African Union. He has certainly noted that the African Union in its decision once more recognized that Alassane Ouattara had won the elections in Côte d’Ivoire, and we stand ready to support the work of this panel and we hope that it will be able to conclude its work swiftly. Yes, Tim?
Question: Back on Egypt. Sources tell us that the Egyptian Mission has complained to the Secretary-General about his comments. Can you confirm that at all? Is there any comment on that?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: I think I have already confirmed, I believe yesterday, that we had discussed the remarks with the Egyptian Mission to the United Nations. At the same time, we stand by what he has been saying and this is clearly something that the Secretary-General takes very seriously as a matter that needs to be handled with care and with respect for the people. Yes?
Question: There is a pattern in the Arab world that the leaders transfer the power to their sons, and let their sons inherit their rules; what does the United Nations have to say about that?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Again, you have seen the voices of people across the region talking about these issues. And it’s important for the leadership in the region to be aware of the concerns that have been aired about this type of practice and to respond. As you know, different countries have already been taking different steps, trying to deal with the sort of discontent that we have seen expressed, and we want that process to continue and for the Governments to be more responsive to what the people are saying. Yes, James?
Question: Thanks, Farhan. Still on Egypt, the SG was interviewed by the BBC this morning in London. He described Egypt as a very important country for peace and stability in the region, alluding to the role that Mr. Mubarak has played in the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians. What’s the feeling from the UN about the impact the political upheaval in Egypt and across the Arab world is going have on the Quartet talks on Middle East peace that are taking place in Munich on Saturday?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Well, regarding the Quartet talks, of course, we’ll have to see what the Quartet members themselves say. It’s clear that the situation in the region is in flux and there is a state of rapid evolution. But the important point for the Quartet is that the peace process is no less important today than it was yesterday, and the sort of goals that the Quartet has had remain what they were. And so, we have very important goals for this year, for 2011, which remain in place. The Quartet will naturally discuss regional developments, including the implications for the peace process. At the same time, the Quartet has an important role to play in looking ahead and providing positive inputs and stimulus to help the parties overcome the impasse in the peace process and address the situation on the ground. Yes, Matthew?
Question: I have an Egypt question, and then also Côte d’Ivoire and Philippines. I am not sure how you want to set it up, but on Egypt, given this flight of UN staff from the country, UNDP [United Nations Development Programme] had confirmed to Inner City Press that they’ve put all their programmes in the country on hold. I am wondering what effect this number of people… are you… has WFP… are there any other programmes in Egypt that have been put on hold by others in the UN system and were these… which kind of staffers were there? Are these humanitarian staffers? Who are they?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: The bottom line is: all the functions that we’re capable of doing on the ground, we will continue to do. What has happened with the situation in Egypt, as you are aware, there have been problems regarding Internet service, regarding phone service — there were a number of staff, non-essential staff who were simply unable to do the sort of work that they would need to do on the ground. In some ways it helps them effectively to do some of their work by being out of the country for the time being. So some staff are being temporarily relocated. But we will continue to do all the basic duties as much as we can, taking into account the sort of problems that the infrastructure on the ground has had.
Question: Can I ask, on Côte d’Ivoire there are reports of two journalists flying from Bouaké to Abidjan and then being arrested in Abidjan by the Government. So the question became, how can the UN be flying journalists and allow them to be arrested? What’s the comment on this case?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: We’re checking with UNOCI. We don’t have any comment on this. It wasn’t a question of them being arrested over the course of their flight; this is after they had landed, actions that are attributed to the security and defence forces. I don’t have any comment on this from UNOCI. If I do, I will share that later on.
Question: And just on the Philippines, I understand that the situation has evolved since you’d said that it’s up to countries how they pay their peacekeepers. The allegation there seems to be that the UN paid $5 million into the wrong account, not as prescribed by Philippine law. So, I guess my question is, is the UN… can you state where these funds were paid and is the UN going to provide that information to the inquiry into the Philippines?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Yeah, if the Philippines inquiry needs information from the United Nations we will be willing to consider that request at that time. I don’t have any new information beyond what I have already said in our e-mails and at the briefing concerning this. As you know, this is an inquiry that is going on within the Philippines concerning the Philippines Government, and we’ll leave them to conduct that and we’ll help as needed. Yes?
Question: On Lebanon, I know I asked the question yesterday but you hadn’t answered. Maybe you got one: whether the Secretary-General was briefed at any time on the indictments of the Prosecutor of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: I don’t have anything to say about the indictments. As you know, the indictments are sealed and are being reviewed by a panel of judges. Until then, we wouldn’t comment on the nature of those indictments.
Question: The Secretary-General wasn’t briefed?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: I wouldn’t have anything to say about the indictments while they are being reviewed by a panel of judges. They are sealed indictments and we have mentioned that the indictments have gone to the Special Tribunal. Yes, Pat?
Question: Masood Haider, who was a long-time UNCA [United Nations Correspondents Association] officer, including President, has advised me to let you all know a problem I am having with accreditation. And he…
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: I am sorry; I am sorry, Pat, I am aware of your problems with accreditation. But that is not an issue for this briefing.
Question: He has asked me to let fellow correspondents know about the problem I am having with accreditation, because as Haider put it, if they can do it to me, they can do it to any of us, and can I just mention it briefly what the issue is? Thank you. Well, briefly, I submitted…
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Pat, Pat, Pat, I’m very respectful of your problems. As you know, I have been trying to help you out as much as I can. But this is not an issue for the noon briefing. This is something that ultimately needs to be resolved between yourself and the Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit (MALU). So, I’ll have to stop you there.
Question: Can I ask a more general question on precisely this? I just want to know this: There seems to be a new practice of media accreditation, and you will see where I am going with this, in which articles are read for content, in which people that are being re-accredited, their articles are translated from Japanese, even though it is clear that they mention the UN. And the question becomes, what is the role of the content? What is the role of pro- or anti-UN in the reading of these articles for re-accreditation? Is there any role, is it content neutral, in which case, why are they being read that clearly, that closely?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: You know, again, this is not an issue on which we are in the lead. This is an issue, really, that you guys have to deal with a different office. What I can tell you is that the Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit does not judge the substance of one’s stories. What they are trying to do is just make sure that what a reporter writes reflects actual reporting work. It can’t simply, in other words, be cutting and pasting someone else’s work.
Question: You see the danger of the UN judging the reporting, right?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: It’s not… I would say that that is not judging the content of what you said. It’s simply to determine whether there is original work. That is actually a long-standing practice. There has always been the idea that, in order to have accreditation, you have to do original work. It simply cannot be… this is something, as you know, I think you were here when Pincas Jawetz brought this up many years ago. But you simply cannot borrow someone else’s coverage and pass it off as your reporting. You have to do unique reporting. That’s their responsibility. And I will leave it on that note.
I’ll have to leave it on that note rather than expand that as any sort of debate. Have a good afternoon, everyone.
* *** *For information media • not an official record