17 March 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.


**Guests at Noon


I have two guests here today: Ndolamb Ngokwey, who is the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Humanitarian Coordinator for the United Nations Operation in Côte d'Ivoire (UNOCI), and further on to my right, Moustapha Soumare, the Humanitarian Coordinator for Liberia.  And they are here to give us an update — and give you an update — on the situation in the area.  Their focus is of course on the humanitarian aspects of what is happening in that particular part of the world.  So, first of all, I’d like to hand over to you for some introductory remarks and then we’ll go to questions.  Please.


[Press conference by Mr. Ngokwy and Mr. Soumare issued separately]


So, I have a few other items for you, and then I am happy to take some questions.


**Secretary-General in Guatemala


The Secretary-General is continuing his visit to Guatemala today, where this morning he inaugurated a monument in memory of the Guatemalans who lost their lives while serving in United Nations peacekeeping missions.  He will also meet with civil society representatives and visit the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala, an organization known as CICIG.


Yesterday, in a meeting with the Heads of State of Central American countries, the Secretary-General reiterated his message that the leaders of the Arab world must heed the genuine aspirations of their people.  There is no place for violence, he stressed.  The future of the Arab world is for Arabs to decide, he said.  But clearly, they will need the help and solidarity of the entire international community.


He was asked at a press conference yesterday about the problems at the Fukushima nuclear reactors in Japan.  The Secretary-General said he was deeply concerned, and he added that he had been in contact with Prime Minister Naoto Kan and the Director General of the International Atomic Energy (IAEA), Yukiya Amano, about the efforts being made to bring the situation under control.


** Japan


And I can tell you that the Secretary-General spoke again yesterday with the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mr. Amano.  And I can tell you that the Secretary-General received a detailed briefing on the situation at the Fukushima nuclear plants and the ongoing efforts by the Japanese authorities.  They also discussed the upcoming trip to Japan by the Director General.  The Secretary-General reiterated his serious concern about the situation and expressed appreciation for the International Atomic Energy Agency’s assistance to help the Japanese authorities control the situation.  The Secretary-General reaffirmed the United Nations readiness to provide any additional assistance if requested. 


** Bahrain


The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said that she is deeply alarmed by the escalation of violence by security forces in Bahrain.  In particular, she described as “shocking” the reported takeover of hospitals and medical centres in the country, which she called a blatant violation of international law.


Ms. Pillay cited worrisome reports that electricity at the main hospital in Manama was cut on Wednesday and that security personnel were physically attacking medical workers and preventing staff and patients from entering or leaving.


The High Commissioner warned all members of security and armed forces in Bahrain that their actions are governed by international law, which provides for individual criminal responsibility for violations committed even under superior orders.


**Security Council


Staffan de Mistura, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, has been briefing the Security Council this morning on the work of the UN Assistance Mission (UNAMA).


He said that the Government of Afghanistan is increasingly, and legitimately, demanding to lead all aspects of governance, development and efforts to achieve peace.  He welcomed efforts to have a transition on the security side and added that a transition is only sustainable if it is linked to a political and development process, including peace and reintegration, and a substantive regional process.


De Mistura said that we have heard the message from the Afghan authorities loud and clear: this is a year of sovereignty and we can’t operate just as if it is business as usual.  He said that the UN Mission looks forward to working with Afghan counterparts in this respect.  And we have his remarks in my office.


**Stakeouts


And I understand that Mr. de Mistura will be going to the stakeout shortly.  It is possible he has already done so.


And then later this afternoon, Alain Juppé, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of France, will address press on the situation in Libya at the Security Council stakeout, and that is at 3:30 p.m.


So, questions please?  Yes, Masood?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  I know the Secretary-General has been following the situation in Bahrain, but the situation has become so, I mean, at this point in time, so alarming, as Navi Pillay has also noted.  I mean, is the Secretary-General going… when he comes back from his trip from Guatemala, will he ask the Security Council to now also take note of what is happening in Bahrain and that some sort of action is needed, otherwise, the way things are going, there might be a massacre or a genocide that can happen over there.


Spokesperson:  Well, certainly the reports of excessive use of force by the security forces and police against peaceful demonstrators and unarmed civilians in Bahrain are alarming.  The Secretary-General is reiterating his call on all sides to exercise maximum restraint.  And he is also calling on the Government of Bahrain and the security forces from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to abide by their duty to protect civilians and uphold human rights, and that includes freedom of assembly.  As to whether this should be taken up in the Security Council, clearly it is for them to decide.  The Secretary-General as you know — whether in New York or on the road — is fully briefed on what is happening and is in touch with relevant players on this.


Question:  The question is, Martin, still, will the… the situation is so bad, will the Secretary-General ask the Security Council… well, he can ask the Security Council to take note of this.  So far it doesn’t seem, because they are still so involved with Libya, they are not taking note of how bad the situation has become in Bahrain.


Spokesperson:  Well, it is not for me to speak for Security Council members, but you will have seen statements from a number of them about developments in Bahrain.  So, it is clearly on their radar screen.  And the Secretary-General is obviously well briefed on this and he is in touch with people, relevant people in this regard.  Yes, Ifthikar?


Question:  Martin, what is UN’s information of the foreign troops like Saudis and [from United Arab Emirates], also involved in repressing for democracy protesters?


Spokesperson:  We have not been able to…


Question:  [inaudible]


Spokesperson:  Say again?


Question:  There is a presence, UN presence in Bahrain, you see.


Spokesperson:  That’s right, that’s right.  And that’s what I was trying to say.  We have not been able to independently confirm the involvement or otherwise of Saudi or United Arab Emirates forces in this particular instances that we have been hearing about.  That’s because the UN country team, because of this, the rather difficult security situation, is not really able to move around and to do that kind of work, to ascertain independently and to confirm, verify what’s been going on.


Question:  Secondly, going back to this question, was the Secretary-General informed of the decision by GCC that they were calling in troops from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, was he informed in advance?


Spokesperson:  I know that the Secretary-General is aware of the decision that was taken, and he took note of that decision.


Question:  But the thing is that the GCC has a cooperation agreement with the United Nations, it has an observer status at the United Nations, and it has obligations to, you know, cooperate with the United Nations.  Was that undertaking by the GCC…?


Spokesperson:  Ifthikar, I hear what you are saying, if I have anything further, I’ll let you know.  But I don’t have anything on that right now.  Yes, Matthew?


Question:  Sure, I want to ask about Sudan, Myanmar and then a couple of administrative things.  On Sudan, there is… in Darfur there have been protests by students, including from El Fasher University.  There is reports of, you know, one being… of the police moving in, one being shot and killed, Jamal Mustafa, and I just wondered, does UNAMID… what’s UNAMID’s position on the… it’s been… its political activity has been declared, you know, unlawful, and that’s what they were protesting against.  What does the UN system have to say about this crackdown on protesters?


Spokesperson:  Well, the UN-African Union mission in Darfur (UNAMID) is telling us that two people are reported dead after protesters clashed with Government police yesterday at the University of El Fasher in North Darfur.  And between 6 and 10 others are reportedly injured, the mission is telling us.  And as you mentioned, the protests took place after political activity was suspended at the Universities of Nyala as well as El Fasher several days ago.  And the mission is telling us that another demonstration that was planned for today did not take place.  So, what is your question on Myanmar?


Question:  Yeah, I guess I just wanted to ask one, actually, thing just to follow up on that.  I am looking at the speech… at the comments that the Secretary-General made, I guess in Guatemala City where he said: “Arab leaders must heed the voices of their people.”  Is this also intended for President Bashir or is it… which… what, you know… I mean is it fair to read that sentence in that way, given especially these protests and the shooting?


Spokesperson:  The expression that the Secretary-General has used applies to any leader in that part of the world.  And as the Secretary-General has said repeatedly, it doesn’t just apply in that part of the world either.  It is incumbent on leaders anywhere to listen to the people and to, where they have legitimate concerns, which they do, or legitimate aspirations — the leaders really need to listen.  And that’s nothing new.


Question:  But I guess, the only thing, and maybe it is because the UN has a mission there, but it seems like UNAMID, I mean to their credit, now they’re confirming a report on his desk, but they didn’t, maybe I misunderstood it, but there didn’t seem to be the same kind of a call as is used in other countries where protesters are… I mean, do the students have a right to protest and should the Government stop outlawing protests?


Spokesperson:  The answer is very clear.  Freedom of assembly, the right of assembly and the right to freedom of expression — these are fundamental rights.  The answer is pretty clear, Matthew.


Question:  Sure.  No, no, I didn’t… Then this… The Myanmar question is there is… Aung San Suu Kyi was interviewed earlier this month and she said, quote:  “I think that if a responsible person is appointed full time to properly monitor Burma in depth, then the Secretary-General will be apprised of the exact situation in Burma.  That is why I am hoping that such a full-time person will be appointed as soon as possible.”  So, I am wondering, is the UN aware?  I mean, has she communicated that or is the Secretariat aware of this call by Aung San Suu Kyi, long-time democracy leader and icon in Myanmar, that a full-time UN envoy be named and when are they going to do it and when?


Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, if you are aware by reading it in a news report, then I think you can safely assume that we are aware of it too.  On the second part of your question, we have repeatedly said that, not just because the distinguished voice of Aung San Suu Kyi has been heard on this too, but because some Member States who are part of the Friends of Myanmar group have mentioned this.  The Secretary-General has said he has taken note of these ideas, and he will reflect on them and take that into account.


Question:  Is the Secretary-General aware of, there are some ramblings that in the General Assembly, that there will be moves in the General Assembly to actually eliminate the good offices on Myanmar role as a General Assembly mandate on the argument that collections were held into… I’ve heard actually pointing to some of the Secretary-General’s statements seemingly positive, which I know have been clarified here a couple of times as a… I mean, what’s the relation between this name… this seemingly delayed naming of a full-time envoy and the [inaudible]?


Spokesperson:  Well, the build up to your actual question is based on some premises which I do not share, and neither does the Secretary-General.  So…


Question:  [inaudible] I guess I am trying to…


Spokesperson:  What I am trying to say, Matthew, is that I have just already said in answer to your first question on this, that the Secretary-General has taken note of the requests that have been made, the suggestions that have been made and he will take them into account.  On the broader question of the General Assembly, this is clearly something for Member States to decide.  I am not going to speak on their behalf.  Right, what is your other question on a number of administrative matters?


Question:  Yeah, yeah, one is…


Spokesperson:  And then we’re wrapping up, okay?


Question:  Yeah, exactly.  I’ll do this fast.  On Friday, there was an announcement here made, I guess by Farhan, of two, of new Assistant Secretaries-General and Under-Secretaries-General.  And I wanted to know, I mean, I have been told that actually an Assistant Secretary-General has been named in the Department of Safety and Security, a position has been given, the person has actually begun work, has arrived.  So, I wanted to know, can you confirm that and why wasn’t that Assistant Secretary-General, why wasn’t that announced in this announcement of top posts?


Spokesperson:  Let me find out.


Question:  Okay.  The other one is — this maybe seems under your radar, but there are the elevator operators here in the UN are saying… many of them are saying that they are going to be removed from their jobs or replaced at much lower wages on 28 March.  Although this is maybe a certain outside contract, it sure is similar to the issues that arose in the cafeteria and now with UNTV and Radio.  And I wonder, is the UN… supposedly, actually, Joan McDonald, who I believe has now left that position in [Facilities Management Services], is he aware of this, what’s the UN position on long-time workers in the UN having their wages either much reduced or being taken out of their jobs this month?


Spokesperson:  Well, I think you’ve actually hinted at part of the answer in your question, and that is that where external contractors are involved, the United Nations does not have any say on those contractual obligations between an employee and the external contractor.  If I have anything further from our colleagues who deal with that relationship with the external contractor then I’d let you know.  But I don’t have anything on that at the moment.  And I know that all people who work in this building, whether they are contractors or not, are obviously valued people.  But the contractual arrangements may be different from case to case.  Thank you very much.


Question:  Can I ask just one more?  It is about your, it is not about your Office, but I just… it is an opportunity I guess to clarify something.  There was a version of the Secretary-General’s comments in Guatemala City about Haiti put out that said, you know that, by the end of this year, we expect roughly half the rubble is being reused, recycled or disposed of at an increasing rate.  Then there was an amended version put out that dropped entirely the expectation of roughly half.  And I wanted to know first like, what did he actually say?  And two, what does the change, I mean, what is behind that change?


Spokesperson:  Well, I think we could quite easily take this up outside the briefing room without taking up a lot of people’s time on pursing individual statements.


Question:  Okay, then just a factual question.  Does the UN expect [inaudible]?


Spokesperson:  I think we’ve spent quite a lot of time on this, Matthew.  I have indulged you answering quite a few questions, and…


Question:  [inaudible]


Spokesperson:  …and I am quite happy to help you get an answer to that.


Question:  I have many, many questions pending in your Office, that’s why I am asking it here.


Spokesperson:  I am quite happy to help you with an answer to that question afterwards.  Thank you very much.


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