7 February 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 and welcome to the briefing.


**Secretary-General’s Travels


The Secretary-General is back in New York today, having wrapped up nearly two weeks of travel to Switzerland, Ethiopia, the United Kingdom and Germany.  We expect that he will brief the Security Council tomorrow afternoon on his travels and the discussions that he has had.  And after that, at around 4:30 p.m., he expects to talk to reporters at the Security Council stakeout.


He ended his travels over the weekend in Munich, where he told a Security Conference that we do not know how the events in the Middle East will end.  But they are driven, at bottom, by human insecurity:  poverty, diminished or disappointed expectations; the lack of good governance and a deficit of democracy.


In Munich, he and the other Principal members of the Quartet met and took note of dramatic developments in Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East region in recent days.  The Quartet members considered the implications of these events for Arab-Israeli peace and agreed to discuss this further as a matter of high priority.  The Quartet agreed to meet again at the level of Principals in mid-March on the way ahead.


** Sudan Referendum


As I am sure you are aware, the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission is announcing the final results of the referendum right now in Khartoum.  You can expect a statement by the Secretary-General very soon, and also one from the Secretary-General’s Panel.


**Cambodia-Thailand


You will have seen that we issued a statement yesterday evening, attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, on Cambodia and Thailand.  And the Secretary-General is deeply concerned by reports of repeated armed clashes between 4 and 6 February 2011 between Cambodia and Thailand around their common border area, which has reportedly claimed a number of lives and led to the displacement of civilians and destruction of property.


The Secretary-General appeals to both sides to put in place an effective arrangement for cessation of hostilities and to exercise maximum restraint.  He also calls on them to continue their efforts to find a lasting solution to their dispute through established mechanisms and arrangements and a spirit of dialogue and good neighbourly relations.  The United Nations remains at their disposal to assist in these peaceful efforts.


And I can also tell you he is also aware of reports that those clashes have continued today; and I can also tell you that he has been consulting his senior advisers on this matter.


**Security Council


The Security Council is discussing the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo today.  Roger Meece, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for that country, briefed Council members this morning in a formal meeting.  And Meece said that recent initiatives by the UN Mission (MONUSCO) have led to an improvement in the coordination of military activities with Congolese Government forces.


Meece also reported a significant increase in the number of arrests of Government soldiers and police accused of sexual abuse.  However, illegal armed groups continue to prey on civilians, often using rape and other violence as weapons against the population.  We have copies of his remarks in my office.


The Council is now in consultations on the DRC, and Mr. Meece intends to speak to reporters at the Security Council stakeout position after that.


** Darfur


The UN-African Union mission in Darfur, UNAMID sent a patrol this past Saturday to the North Darfur villages of Tabit and Tukumara to assess the effects of recent intense fighting in the area and meet with local leaders.  The fighting has reportedly forced most of Tukumara’s population to flee to nearby mountains for safety.  UNAMID says that it will conduct an assessment of local humanitarian needs in the next few days and help repair a vital water pump destroyed during the fighting.


**Deputy Secretary-General


The Deputy Secretary-General is in Santiago, Chile, to chair the annual meeting of the Regional Coordinating Mechanism in Latin America and the Caribbean.  This year’s meeting, to be held on 8 and 9 February, will focus on defining a regional perspective in preparation of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, more commonly known as Rio+20.


**Press Conference Tomorrow


At 11:30 a.m. tomorrow morning, Catherine Ashton, the European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, will address the press at the Security Council stakeout.


That’s what I have for you.  Questions, please?  Yes, Masood?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Currently in Egypt, has the Secretary-General had any briefing from his people on the ground in Cairo?  Or is there… he is just keeping abreast of what [are] the reports coming in?  Has he had a briefing from the UN officials on the ground over there?


Spokesperson:  He is briefed through numerous channels within the UN system, that’s for sure, including from the country team that is on the ground in Cairo.


Question:  What is their assessment?  Can you share that with us?


Spokesperson:  Well, I think the Secretary-General has been very clear in what he has been saying in recent days, and most recently in Munich over the weekend.  Yes, James?  Sorry, Masood, sorry; continue your thought, Masood, and then we’ll get to James.


Correspondent:  No, no, this is another, totally another topic.  Continuation — I mean, you are right, the Secretary-General’s comments in Munich were very clear.  But the issues that he raised have been the source of the problems.  There has been some suggestion that the UN could play a role in helping Egypt in addition to these other countries in addressing these problems.  And I was wondering:  have there been any meetings with Cairo-based UN officials and Mr. [Omar] Suleiman or other members of the Egyptian Government?  And what role does the SG believe that the United Nations can play in helping the people of Egypt address these concerns?


Spokesperson:  Well, a number of things.  I would need to check on precisely what contacts there have been in Cairo itself.  But I think it is safe to say that our staff within the country team are, of course, maintaining contacts with their contacts on the ground in Cairo.  On the broader question, what the Secretary-General has said is that there have been successive UN Human Development Reports that have focused on the Arab world, and they have really come out with quite clear recommendations on what could happen, to help.  And what the Secretary-General has also said is that the United Nations stands ready to assist.  Now, clearly, as in all these cases, ultimately it is for the Egyptian people to decide on this transition and then for the Egyptian people, the Egyptian authorities, to ask for specific assistance.  But certainly the United Nations stands ready.  As you know, there is a country team — you asked about that the other week and I think we gave some details — there is a country team in place, and has been for a long time.  So this will be simply a way to build on that, but always bearing in mind that this is for the Egyptian people to decide.


Question:  In fact, we could ask for a video link with your top man in Cairo.  It is an interesting question, isn’t it?  You know, the UN stands ready to assist.  I think it would be very interesting to find out in what ways it can assist; is there a team working on a package that can assist this new Government that is forming, and how they could help and what they are suggesting?


Spokesperson:  I think you can safely assume that UN officials across the United Nations system are very closely focused on what is happening and how the United Nations could help further, in addition to the work that it already does on the ground, how it could help further if requested by the Egyptian authorities.  Is this on Egypt or something else?


Correspondent:  Something else.


Spokesperson:  All right; anything, any other questions on Egypt?  Okay, Matthew?


Question:  Sure.  I want to ask on Sudan.  There has been this fighting in Malakal, and the government of Upper Nile State has asked for UNMIS [United Nations Mission in Sudan] to provide police protection in Malakal.  There are also different accounts of 66 dead or 55 dead; I wonder what is UNMIS’s response?  Is it providing security in Malakal, and how many people does it estimate have been killed so far in this fighting?


Spokesperson:  I think that we have some details on that which we will be able to provide quite shortly.  I don’t have them right now, but I think we would be able to provide them quite shortly.  Okay, other questions?  Yes, please?


Question:  The Secretary-General received a letter requesting his assistance in the case of the human rights violations and the democratic rights violations of Lithuanian Algirdas Paulauskas, who is the victim of totalitarian action by the Lithuanian Government.  The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights was notified about this; they listed the case as arbitrary detention.  What can the UN do to help Mr. Paulauskas, because this is really quite a scandalous trend of events?


Spokesperson:  Well, I’d have to check whether a letter has been received by the Secretary-General.  And I’d also check with our colleagues in Geneva, from the High Commissioner’s Office, on that.  Yes, Masood?


Question:  Yeah, after, almost six months to a little bit more than that, since August… after the floods, lots of people are still without food and without shelter in Pakistan.  And there is a lot of money, aid money and money from United Nations, which is still being… has not been spent as yet.  And when the Prime Minister of Pakistan was asked, he said we are still waiting for an assessment as to what the situation is, so that we can prioritize how to spend anything.  I think it is just one of the things is if United Nations will take the lead and if the United Nations doesn’t take the lead, it seems that the Pakistani Government is totally hapless in that regard.  So what is it that the United Nations, or other aid bodies, can do to alleviate the suffering of the Pakistani people?


Spokesperson:  Well, the United Nations has been active from the very beginning at the highest level to mobilize support and to provide support, always in consultation with the Pakistani authorities.  And a lot has been done, as you know.  And as you rightly point out, an awful lot remains to be done.  And we talked about this last week, I believe, about the level of funding, the shortfall and how much more funding is still required.  Disbursing that funding, making things happen on the ground to alleviate the suffering of the people, that is obviously absolutely crucial, and I will ask my colleagues from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs to help update us on that particular aspect.


[The Spokesperson later added that so far 63 per cent of the $1.96 billion required for Pakistan have been raised.]


Question:  Especially if it is, that the briefing given to the Pakistani Prime Minister that there is a lot of money that is not being used and he said it is ready, can we at least have figures from the United Nations as to what is the money that is not being used, or it is being used or kept in the banks?  What is happening?


Spokesperson:  Well, as you’ll probably recall, there is multilateral aid coming in through the United Nations system writ large.  And there is also bilateral aid.  So there are two different elements to this.  But for the multilateral aspects, I will ask my colleagues from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs to give us an update, and hopefully that will help.  Matthew, I think you had a question?


Question:  Yes, I wanted to ask on Somalia.  It was said last week that the UN is disappointed with the Somali Parliament’s decision to extend its term for three years.  And so I just wonder, there are reports that, in fact, the UN is the one that pays the salary of the parliamentarians — $300 a month.  And I just wanted to know, is that something that… If the UN is disappointed, what’s the procedure for… are they going to continue to pay those salaries for three years or is that something that might be reconsidered as an expression of disappointment?


Spokesperson:  Well, I think the point here is that this is supporting a process.  No one is suggesting that this process is an easy one.  There is a road map there for the kind of progress that is needed, and obviously Mr. [Augustine] Mahiga has made clear his disappointment on behalf of the United Nations with regard to the extension of the mandate of Parliament.  And I think the key point is that this is supporting a process in an extremely difficult environment.


Question:  I just want to ask on Sri Lanka really fast.  When the Secretary-General answered questions, I guess at Oxford after his speech, he was asked a question about Sri Lanka.  Among other things, he said that he shared the concern about the fighting, that he has visited the country twice, and that his panel continues to negotiate.  First, I just want, I’ve been trying to figure out, when he said twice, did we miss a trip or… I know that he went in May right after the fighting; is he including a trip that he made as South Korean Foreign Minister in 2005 or is there some other trip that we were not aware of?


Spokesperson:  I think your analysis is correct that he was referring to a trip that he had made when he was Foreign Minister of the Republic of Korea, in the first instance, and then subsequently as Secretary-General.


Question:  The other one is on the negotiation.  I’ve heard from, I guess, both sides of the talking that it is now essentially, there is a consideration of having it via videoconference, no visit to Sri Lanka by the panel, no visit by them to New York, but with… is that… since he said that the mission is not complete, will that type of written answers… will that be… I guess I am asking you, will that… to some that seems like very different than visiting.  Would that be viewed as finishing the mission?  Is that your considered… and what do you say to those who say it is not enough?


Spokesperson:  Well, we’ve repeatedly said that the panel has to decide how best to conduct the work, the important work that it needs to do to be able to report on accountability to the Secretary-General.  We have also said repeatedly that it is not essential for the panel to visit Sri Lanka for it to be able to carry out its work.  And what we have also said is that discussions continue.  And that’s where we are.


Question:  Can you confirm or deny the video that that’s one of the things being now considered, video or just written questions back and forth?


Spokesperson:  As I said, discussions are continuing.  Yeah, James?


Question:  Thanks, Martin.  Purely for housekeeping… just meant for planning and digests, and everything.  Have you got any dates or indications that you could give us on the flotilla panel report, the next event relating to the Goldstone Report and also the Lebanese request for assistance from the SG on the offshore oil fields?


Spokesperson:  Okay, yeah.  Well, I have taken a note of those and I will give you… I don’t have an update for you beyond what we have already said on these three topics.  But let me check to see if there is anything else that we can give you on that.  Yes?


Question:  A follow-up on an earlier question, the OSCE [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe] requires for membership that member States be completely democratic.  And in the case that I raised earlier, the head of the OSCE is pursuing actions that would only be described as totalitarian and dictatorial, and there is a contradiction here, because on 15 February the Lithuanian Foreign Minister will be speaking at the Security Council as the head of a democratic organization.  But the Government he represents is pursuing totalitarian policies.  How does the UN deal with something like that?


Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, I know I used to be the Spokesperson for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, but I am not any more, I’ll leave that to the OSCE.  Yeah, please, Haider?


Question:  Martin, the SG has issued numerous statements in the past in support of the rights of indigenous people.  Any reaction from him to the Chilean police repression on Easter Island?


Spokesperson:  He is aware of the reports from there; he is aware.  Okay, last question.


Question:  I wanted to… There is a discussion in Washington, although admittedly on probably more among one party than another about recouping funds from the UN.  And I just wanted to, I understand that that’s something that’s taking place in Washington, but the numbers that they are using, they are saying there is $243 million in funds from closed peacekeeping operations and $180 million in this thing called the tax equalization fund.  And I just wonder, is that something… can the UN… I’ve been trying to get this… Can they confirm that those were the numbers?  And if they can, if there is some argument of why none of this should be returned, it would be good to hear it, but I just want to make sure if those are the numbers, the numbers being thrown around down there, are in fact the numbers accepted up here?


Spokesperson:  I think we will be able to give you some numbers a little bit later today.  Yeah.  All right, thank you very much.  Have a good afternoon.


* *** *


For information media • not an official record