4 February 2011
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Daily Press Briefing by the Offices of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General


and the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

 


The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Acting Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and Jean Victor Nkolo, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.


Briefing by the Acting Deputy Spokesperson


Good afternoon.  Hi, Jean Victor.


**Secretary-General in Germany


The Secretary-General met with German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle in Berlin today, and said afterwards that they had discussed cooperation between the United Nations and Germany to secure peace, advance human rights, promote sustainable development and achieve progress in disarmament and non-proliferation.  They also discussed Egypt and other hotspots in North Africa, Côte d’Ivoire, Iran, and the peace process in the Middle East.


On Egypt, the Secretary-General said that he sincerely hoped that today’s demonstration will take place without violence from any side.  Now is the time, he said, for Egyptians to begin a process of peaceful and orderly transition leading to free and fair elections, respecting the will of the Egyptian people expressed so far through their demonstrations.  The United Nations stands ready to assist in this process.


Asked what President [Hosni] Mubarak should do now, the Secretary-General said that it is important for the Egyptian leadership to listen more attentively and carefully to what the genuine wishes of its people are.  The transcript of that press encounter is available in our office.


He also spoke at Humboldt University this morning, and we’ll put out that speech shortly.


The Secretary-General has since travelled from Berlin to Munich, where he will attend the Munich Security Conference and a meeting of the Middle East Quartet tomorrow.


** North Africa


The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said at a press conference in Geneva today that the recent violence in Egypt must stop.  She said the authorities there must make a strong, clear and unequivocal call on the security and intelligence forces to stop undermining the security of the State.


Ms. Pillay added that there must be an investigation into whether this violence was planned, and if so, by whom.  This investigation must be undertaken in a transparent and impartial manner.  And she said that all journalists and human rights defenders who were arrested for practicing their professions must be released immediately and unconditionally.  The authorities must order their security and intelligence forces to cease this extreme harassment at once.


The High Commissioner also announced the return of her team of senior human rights experts from their visit to Tunisia, saying that the team has briefed her on their observations and findings.  The team is currently finalizing a written report, based on which Ms. Pillay will decide on the best ways in which her Office can provide immediate and more long-term support and assistance to the Tunisian people on a range of human rights issues.  And we have a press release with more details.


** Somalia


The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, Augustine Mahiga, has voiced disappointment at the Somali Parliament’s decision to extend its mandate by three years.  Mr. Mahiga says the decision was taken in haste and without proper consultation.


He deplores the fact that this development comes at a time when discussions were under way within the Somali executive branch on what happens after August 2011.  Both Mr. Mahiga and African Union and regional officials plan to meet with the Somali leadership as soon as possible to discuss the way forward.  “The Somali people deserve and expect to see change,” Mahiga said.


Meanwhile, at least 15 people were killed and dozens injured earlier this week during clashes near a hospital in the Somali capital of Mogadishu, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), which says it is appalled by the loss of civilian lives and the complete disregard shown for their safety.


This was the worst incident in Mogadishu so far this year, although, sadly, the capital is no stranger to indiscriminate violence, the Agency stresses.


For the hundreds of thousands of civilians in Mogadishu, the situation is intolerable, with violations of basic human rights occurring on a daily basis.

The Agency again underlines the need for the various warring parties to do more to protect the civilian population.


**Security Council


The Security Council received a briefing this morning on the latest developments in Côte d’Ivoire by the head of the UN peacekeeping mission in that country (UNOCI), Choi Young-jin.


Mr. Choi expects to talk to reporters at the Security Council stakeout following those consultations.  That may be shortly.


**Israel-Palestine


The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, will visit Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory from 6 to 11 February.  During her visit, Ms. Pillay will meet officials at the highest level, including Israeli President Shimon Peres, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.  She will also meet Israeli and Palestinian human rights defenders, the Palestinian Independent Commission on Human Rights, and UN agencies working on the ground.


** Pakistan


Some 25,000 people in north-west Pakistan have been displaced by fresh military operations against insurgents in Mohmand Agency, the UN Refugee Agency reports.  Should the fighting intensify, the Agency estimates that up to 90,000 people will be uprooted by the end of this month.  It has set up two new camps, and many arriving at the sites have little more than the clothes on their backs.


The Refugee Agency expresses concern at reports that some young and middle-aged men have had difficulty leaving the conflict zone.  It urges authorities to ensure that any screening activities to identify militants do not prevent civilians from leaving the area for safety.


**The Week Ahead at the United Nations


And we will also have available in our Office the Week Ahead.


**Stakeouts


Today, like I said, Choi Young-jin, the Special Representative for Côte d’Ivoire, is expected to go to the Security Council stakeout, following the consultations.


After my briefing, Jean Victor Nkolo, the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly, will also brief.


And then on Monday, 7 February, at approximately 12 p.m., Alain Juppé, the Defence Minister of France, will address the press at the North Lawn Building stakeout following his meeting with the Secretary-General.


That’s it from me.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  I have two questions.  One, is there a specific agenda before the Quartet’s meeting scheduled for tomorrow?  And secondly, does the Secretary-General think that the situation in Egypt and the response by the Egyptian Government so far has threatened regional security?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I believed I had received the question on Egypt yesterday, and as I mentioned yesterday, he has made no such determination.  Normally, questions of threats to international peace and security, determinations along that nature, are made by the Security Council.  And so we would leave that matter to them.  He has not pronounced himself on this.  On your earlier question about the Quartet, the Secretary-General, before departing, had made it clear that he was hoping that the members of the Quartet would be able to think of ways to revitalize the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians and we hope that that will happen tomorrow.  Yes, Mr. Chaudhry?


Question:  Thank you.  How does the Secretary-General view or does he see any merit in the plan proposed by the United States for a settlement in Egypt which consists of the resignation of President Mubarak, a transfer of power to the Vice-President and a Transitional Government and elections?  Or would the Secretary-General like an indigenous solution by the people of Egypt?  Where does he stand on this?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  On when this should happen, he has made it clear that he believes that the time is now to deal with the question of a transition.  On how it should happen, however, the Secretary-General believes that that is a matter ultimately for the Egyptian people and the authorities in Egypt to decide for themselves.  He has called for a dialogue, and he repeated that call today.  And he is hopeful that they can resolve this matter amongst themselves.  He would not advocate any specific course.  Ultimately it has to be done through what the Egyptians themselves want and what they can achieve.  Yes?


Question:  Yes, Farhan, I wanted to find out when, if at all, there is a possibility that your United Nations official on the ground will be able to brief us as to what is happening, because there is hand-to-hand combat reported in Egypt’s streets and everything else?  What the real situation is and it is going from bad to worse.  That’s one question.


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  As far as that goes, as I mentioned, Navi Pillay did do a full briefing in Geneva today.  That’s webcast, so you can also download for yourself the full briefing that she did give on the human rights situation in Egypt and North Africa as a whole.


Question:  Yeah, but did she get the briefing; did we get any briefing from the UN officials on the ground, no?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Certainly her Office is contact with a range of key sources on the ground and they have been getting information there which she did try to convey in her briefing today.


Question:  As a follow-up on what Mr. Abbadi has asked about the Quartet meeting, which you said that there will be some new ideas may be taken to the meeting; can you share with us if the Secretary-General has any ideas that he will take to this Quartet meeting on the Middle East?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I wouldn’t share this with you in advance of the meeting.  What I can tell you is that the traditional practice, and we believe that will be the case this time around as well, is that the views that are agreed to by the Quartet members will be expressed in a communiqué, which we will make available to you.  And so, you will be able to glean from the Quartet communiqué which we hope to put out sometime tomorrow, what the members are talking about.  Yes?


Question:  Sure, I want to ask about Sudan and Sri Lanka.  On Sudan, there are a series of protests in Khartoum, in which at least one person has been killed, 10 journalists were arrested and five Darfuri students as well.  I am wondering, does the UN have, given that it has offices in Khartoum of UNMIS [United Nations Mission in Sudan], does it have any comment, can it, on a first-hand basis other than by media reports, confirm this and what is it, what guidance will it give to the Government of Omar Al-Bashir in terms of how to treat protesters there?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we do not have a peacekeeping mandate regarding what is happening in terms of the demonstrations in Khartoum.  Our peacekeeping mandate in Sudan concerns other tasks.  Of course, in all countries, regardless of what kind of mandate we have, we have concerns to make sure that freedom of association and freedom of expression are upheld.  And that would be the case here.  And we certainly would ask that all of the fundamental freedoms be observed and protected.  But this isn’t something that the UN peacekeeping missions themselves are dealing with.


Question:  What about the arrest of these students in Darfur; does that fall under the mandate of UNAMID?  The Association of Darfur Students says that five of their members have been arrested.


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  That would actually — as you know, the missions in Sudan do have human rights offices.  You can see whether they have followed through on this.  But ultimately, there is a question of human rights and, therefore, one for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.


Question:  There is fighting in Malakal — also in Sudan — supposedly there [were] 13 people killed in South Sudan and fighting, including one UN driver, if you confirm that.  What does UNMIS say about that?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yeah.  What I can say about that is that the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) is concerned about the internal fighting within a Sudanese Armed Forces Joint Integrated Unit based in northern Malakal town that broke out yesterday night, following a disagreement of some elements of Sudanese Armed Forces Joint Integrated Unit to redeploy to the north.


Our reports indicate that two Sudanese Armed Forces Joint Integrated Unit soldiers were killed during the clashes and one civilian, a national staff member of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), who was hit in the crossfire during the fighting has died today at 13:25 hours, in other words at 1:30 in the afternoon local time, while undergoing emergency operation in the UN Mission in Sudan’s hospital in Malakal.


The UN Mission in Sudan is meeting with the Senior Sudanese Armed Forces [Joint Monitoring Committee] members and the local authorities to help to contain the clashes and to resolve the differences between the Sudanese Armed Forces Joint Integrated Unit through a peaceful dialogue in order to ensure that security prevails in Malakal.  Yes, Ali?


Question:  Yeah, today Human Rights Watch issued a statement saying that Syria’s Government should immediately cease its intimidation and harassment of demonstrations expressing solidarity with pro-democracy campaigners in Egypt.  Are you aware of something going on in Syria and do you have any comment on that?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  No, I wouldn’t have any comment on that.  Yes?


Question:  Okay.  You spoke about this new military operation in Pakistan. Was the UN caught unawares, because this has been speculated in the press for quite a number of days, you see?  And where is this taking place, this one?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson: This is taking place in Mohmand Agency.


Question:  Mohmand Agency?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Mohmand Agency; and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has been responding, as we mentioned.  They also provided some more details at their own briefing in Geneva today about this.


Question:  I would like to go back to my second question asked earlier, regarding whether or not the situation in Egypt threatens regional security, and you mentioned that the Security Council determines that question.  You also know that the [United Nations] Charter, in the framework of Article 99, grants the Secretary-General the authority to bring to the attention of the Security Council any situation that might in his view threaten international peace and security.  So, my question is, does he consider that this situation may threaten regional security?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  He has not made such a determination at this point, no.  Yes?


Question:  I want to ask on Sri Lanka; there was some quotes given out of Ban Ki-moon’s responses at his Oxford speech afterwards.  He was asked a question about Sri Lanka, and he said that his panel, quote, “has not been able to complete their initial stage”.  I just wanted to know if that’s actually what he said and if that, how that squares with the idea that it’s not essential to go to Sri Lanka.


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  In terms of what he actually said, it’s available in our — if you go to the off-the-cuff part of our website, the questions and answers that he had at Oxford are posted there.  So, you could see it that way.


Question:  How does that square with the idea that travelling to Sri Lanka is not essential?  Why have they not been able to complete their work, if that’s not the thing missing?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  As you are aware, the panel has been discussing proper arrangements, to see whether it can have such arrangements made.  The panel has made it clear that they do believe that it is desirable to travel to Sri Lanka, but not essential.  And that has been their consistent position.  Yes?


Question:  Can I ask you about the Security Council reform?  Well, recently President [Nicolas] Sarkozy of France urged the United Nations to implement the reform in the Security Council this year; not next year.  And also it is expected that the G-4 foreign ministerial meeting will be taking place next week.  What’s the status of the United Nations towards this Security Council reform?  Do you agree that this Security Council reform should be implemented this year rather than next year?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  The United Nations and the Secretary-General believe that it is important to the relevance and the effectiveness of the Security Council for the Security Council to be reformed.  But how that reform is to be handled, including the timetable for that reform, must be decided by the Member States themselves, and we leave it to them.


And with that, I have the following statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Myanmar to give to you:


The Secretary-General has taken note of the announcement by the newly convened Parliament of the Union of Myanmar of the election of the new President and Vice-Presidents of the Union Government.


The Secretary-General hopes that this announcement marks the beginning of a change in the status quo.  It represents an important opportunity for Myanmar.  He hopes that it leads to the formation of a more inclusive civilian Government that is broadly representative of all parties relevant to national reconciliation and more responsive to the aspirations of the people of Myanmar.


The United Nations stands ready to work with the new Government and all other stakeholders in Myanmar towards greater democratization, development and stability.


Question:  Yeah, I wanted to ask, and actually, just on that region, there is — is the UN aware of this fighting between Cambodia and Thailand and what is its… are there two people dead and what’s the UN think about this cross-border fighting?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, we are aware of the fighting between Cambodia and Thailand.  We do not have any reports on the ground to be able to verify the deaths.  As you are aware, we have said in the past that we hope that the two countries would resolve the situation peacefully with each other and we continue to hope that.


Question:  Can I just ask about Congress, if I could; there is this proposal in the House of Representatives by Eric Cantor [Republican-Virginia] and others to ask for a refund from the UN tax equalization fund and also from closed-down UN peacekeeping operations.  I wonder if, I mean this is on — it’s not only on their website, they said they are going to bring it to a vote.  Is there some way to know how much is in each fund and also what does the UN think about this open call by the host, in the host country’s parliament, I guess, to have this money returned?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, it is not by the host country’s parliament at this stage.  This is something happening within a parliamentary body, if you will.  And we don’t comment on processes as they work their way through the legislative system.  So we leave it to the legislature of the United States to work out this particular matter.


Question:  Is it possible to know how much money is in each, just objectively, in each pool…?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yeah, I believe my colleagues in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations are looking into that matter.  Yes?


Question:  Yes, one of the opposition activists in Egypt suggested today that the UN can have a certain role as a mediator between the opposition and President Mubarak, or at least his Government.  Do you have any connections with the opposition there?  Are you ready to have this kind of mediator role?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  As you know, any good offices that the United Nations performs are with the consent of the various parties on the ground.  So it would have to await a decision made by the parties themselves.  At this stage, there wouldn’t be any anything to announce on any of that.


And with that, Jean Victor.  Have a good weekend, everyone.


Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President


Bon après-midi, and good afternoon.


Yesterday, the President of the General Assembly Joseph Deiss met with Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti, Permanent Representative of Brazil to the United Nations in her capacity as the current President of the Security Council for the month of February.


Both Presidents discussed a number of important regional issues, including Sudan, Côte d’Ivoire and the Middle East.  They exchanged on various thematic issues protection of civilians and preventive diplomacy.  President Deiss was briefed about the high-level thematic debate focussing on the interlinkages between security and development that will take place on 11 February at the Security Council.  The meeting will be presided by the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Brazil, Ambassador Antônio Patriota.


President Deiss informed about his recent official visit to Cameroon and his participation as a special guest to the African Union summit in Addis Ababa.  He informed about the thematic debate on disaster risk reduction that will be held on 9 February at the General Assembly, and about the Security Council reform process.  The President of the General Assembly holds regular meetings with the presidents of the principal organs of the United Nations, as provided for in the relevant resolutions of the General Assembly to ensure enhanced cooperation and coordination in their work programmes in accordance with their respective responsibilities under the UN Charter.


You must have received, I trust, previous statements regarding the visit of the President to Cameroon and the visit of the President to the African Union.  All these statements are online on the President’s webpage.


Questions?  Yes, Dr. Abbadi?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Thank you, Jean Victor.  Are there any current discussions going on right now on the reforms of the Security Council?


Spokesperson:  The reform of the Security Council is very actively being addressed through Ambassador Tanin, who is the chair of the intergovernmental negotiations on this process.  What we may want to do is, when the time is right, may ask Ambassador Tanin to come and brief you on where we stand at this stage.


No further questions?  I wish you a pleasant afternoon.  Bye-bye.


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For information media • not an official record