24 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 everyone, welcome to the briefing.


**Visitors


And I’d particularly like to welcome a group of journalists who are visiting from Afghanistan.


**Security Council


The Secretary-General will be delivering his mandated seven-day report on the implementation of resolution 1973 (2011) regarding Libya to the Security Council this afternoon at 3 p.m.  And that will be an open meeting, to be followed by consultations.


And after the consultations, at approximately 4:40 p.m., the Secretary-General will go to the Security Council stakeout to brief correspondents on the meeting and on his recent trip to the Middle East and North Africa.


Earlier today, the Council received a briefing on Sierra Leone by Michael von der Schulenburg, the Secretary-General’s Executive Representative for the country.  He said that Sierra Leone, which was once a symbol of a failed state, is now evolving into a democratic, peaceful and prosperous nation.  We have copies of his statement in my office.


And also speaking at the Council were Ambassador John McNee of Canada, who chairs the Sierra Leone Peacebuilding Commission country configuration; and Joseph Dauda, the Foreign Minister of Sierra Leone.


** Côte d’Ivoire


The UN mission in Côte d’Ivoire says that the number of deaths due to post-electoral violence in the country is now up to 462.  That’s the total number since mid-December verified by the mission.  The mission also said today that large numbers of civilians continue to leave Abobo, Williamsville, Yopougon and other parts of Abidjan because of fighting and a lack of food and medication.  The Mission has again reminded all actors of the post-electoral crisis that systematic attacks against civilians could constitute crimes against humanity.


**Mayors for Peace


At a “Mayors for Peace” event this morning, the Secretary-General added his name to a petition containing some 1 million signatures demanding an end to the threat of nuclear weapons.  He said, together we can rid the world of nuclear weapons and answer the call of hibakusha, the survivors of nuclear attacks on Japan in 1945.  The event was held to dedicate an exhibit that showcases these petitions.


**Tuberculosis


In his message for World Tuberculosis Day, the Secretary-General says that the recent adoption of a fast and powerful new diagnostic tool promises to speed up global gains made against the disease.


But he cautions that the progress made could be lost if we are not vigilant, noting that TB care still fails to reach everyone in need.  Access to quality health care is a basic human right, the Secretary-General stresses, calling for action to carry out the Stop TB Strategy everywhere, for all who need it.


The Secretary-General’s call was echoed by the World Health Organization, which is calling on world leaders to step up their commitment and contributions to meet the goal of diagnosing and treating 1 million people with multidrug-resistant TB between 2011 and 2015.


**Nowruz


On the occasion of the first annual International Day of Nowruz, there will be a special concert performance in the General Assembly Hall, tonight at 6 p.m.  And as you know, Nowruz is celebrated by 300 million people worldwide as the first day of spring and the beginning of a new year in the traditional Persian calendar.


**Press Conference Tomorrow


At 2:30 p.m. tomorrow, there will be a press conference here on the progress in building peace in Sierra Leone.  The speakers will include Ambassador John McNee, the Permanent Representative of Canada, and, as I mentioned, chair of the Peacebuilding Commission country configuration for Sierra Leone; Michael von der Schulenburg, the Executive Representative of the Secretary-General for Sierra Leone and Head of the United Nations Integrated Political Mission in Sierra Leone; and representatives of the country’s civil society.


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


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Martin, yesterday I had asked you a question, I think, I am not clear about this Afghanistan letter… and written by Mr. Brahimi and Mr. Thomas Pickering that they are saying in effect that the war is unwinnable over there and that interntional efforts should be made to resolve the situation.  Has the Secretary-General received that letter and is he preparing to process that [inaudible]?


[The Spokesperson later confirmed that the Secretary-General has received a letter on Afghanistan signed by Dr. Robert P. Finn; General Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank; Tom Koenigs; Lord Mark Malloch-Brown; David Miliband; Lord Robertson of Port Ellen; and Francesc Vendrell.]


Spokesperson:  I don’t believe that he has received it yet.  That doesn’t… personally received it yet.  That doesn’t mean that it is not in the system somewhere.  I know that it was an open letter and was...


Question:  [inaudible] in the New York Times.


Spokesperson:  Correct, and was, has been widely read, of course, and by very distinguished authors, of course.  As you know, the mission in Afghanistan has a very clear mandate which involves a very strong civilian component precisely to help with building peace in the country.  But, more details I think we would have to wait for a while on that. 


Question:  So, basically, the Secretary-General has not formed an opinion as to the suggestion that the war is unwinnable, so the interntional efforts should be made to somehow overcome the crisis that is there now?


Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, the head of the mission, the UN mission was here last week and briefed the Council.  And I know that he has been consulting widely while he has been on this side of the Atlantic.  And I am sure that when he returns to Afghanistan he will continue the good work with the mission in working with the Afghan Government, looking particularly at how the UN plays its role with the civilian component in what is happening there.  As you know, there are a number of milestones this year; some of them announced by President Karzai and including a major conference at the end of this year.  And I think that these seen together show the international community’s commitment.  But in specific response to the open letter, I think that we’d have to wait a little while for that.  Yes, hi, how are you?


Question:  Hi, thanks.  Do you have an interpretation why the Secretary-General wasn’t received well in some parts of his visit to Tunisia and Egypt?  What’s the United Nations interpretation for that?  And I have other questions on Syria and Bahrain.


Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General was extremely well-received in both Egypt and Tunisia.  There were of course, people who had strong views, not necessarily favouring the United Nations, as well as those who were appreciative of the United Nations efforts and involvement so far in providing support where requested.  I think the key point here is that in both countries people are now at liberty to express their views in an unfettered way, and this is what happened and this is what he experienced.  I know that he had extremely energetic exchanges with young people, in particular in both Egypt and Tunisia — and that is extremely healthy.  As societies change across the region, it is also incumbent upon the United Nations to look at its role in the world and to see how it places itself on what it can offer.  I think that that’s a natural progression.


Question:  My other question…


Spokesperson:  Yeah?


Question:  …if I may?  On Syria, is the United Nations getting any concrete information about the deaths in Syria, in Bahrain?  Do you have any figures for the fatalities or the injured people there and did you get any sign from President [Bashar Al-]Assad that he is going to heed the call of the Secretary-General to conduct a transparent investigation about what is going on in Syria?


Spokesperson:  To answer the first part of your question, I don’t think that we are in a position to independently confirm or verify what has been happening on the ground.  Obviously, we are aware of the reports, and it is obvious that we do have ways to be able to have a picture of what is going on, but not necessarily a full picture.  I think that that may well change in the coming days.  I would just simply, to answer the second part of your question, simply reiterate the call that the Secretary-General has made for a transparent investigation, and also to call on the Syrian authorities to ensure that demonstrators have the right to demonstrate peacefully and without fear of any repression.  Those are important points; I repeat them today.  Kristen, yes?


Question:  Martin, a number of questions on Libya, and then similarly with the death toll and casualties in Libya.  Is there any number that the UN is using...?


Spokesperson:  No, no.  As I have said before, we can’t.  We are aware of the reports, but we can’t verify them independently at this point.  As you know, we don’t have a presence, at least in the north of the country, where everything is happening at the moment.  But, let me say that I know that the humanitarian community, not least the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, is of course extremely concerned about the fate of civilians:  meaning, if they are on the move because they are frightened or they have been intimidated or for whatever reason, this is something that is of concern to the humanitarian community.  Yes?


Question:  All right.  Also, resolution 1973 calls for a mechanism for humanitarian flights in… to allow flights in the no-fly zone, if you will.  Where does that stand?  Is the Secretary-General involved in those negotiations right now?  And also, you know, since the parties involved are supposed to coordinate with the Secretary-General, is he getting involved at all in any of these discussions on who will command and what the command structure will be?


Spokesperson:  Well, I think the Secretary-General will be speaking to the Council about precisely those points this afternoon.  And I would encourage you to listen quite carefully to what he says on those particular points.  Yes, Nizar, and then I am coming to you, Matthew.  Yes?


Question:  Martin, in the case of Syria you have requested an investigation about the killings.  Why was a similar request not made regarding Bahrain?


Spokesperson:  Well, in fact in the case of Bahrain the Secretary-General has been quite clear about his concern.  And also he has been clear about a couple of other points too.  One is that demonstrators need to be able to demonstrate peacefully; they have a right to do so.  And also, he has expressed his concern about the apparent excessive use of force.  And that’s something that obviously would need to be looked at.  And I know that the Secretary-General remains very closely engaged in monitoring what is happening here, watching what is happening here and he is briefed very regularly on what has been going on.


Question:  Does it mean that he may call for an investigation later on, with what happened in Bahrain?


Spokesperson:  I think the point here is that he has spoken quite clearly and on more than one occasion.  I think if you go back to the statement — I don’t have it in front of me — there is a reference there to the excessive use of force and his concern about that and, obviously, the need to comply with international humanitarian law.  But, if I have anything further, then I’d be very happy to share that with you.  Matthew?


Question:  Sure, some Libya questions, but I want to ask about Somalia and Haiti first.  In Somalia there are these reports of a shell landing in a market in Mogadishu killing five, injuring 20.  They say that it came from the African Union peacekeepers’ base.  That’s what at least reporting on the ground seems to indicate.  Has, does, what does the UN, is it aware of that shelling and what can it say about it, and also there are reports of Kenya having crossed the border into Somalia and what does, you know, Mr. Mahiga or otherwise, what does the UN Mission in Somalia say about these two events?


Spokesperson:  Well, on the first, I would need to check, ask my colleagues whether they have any information on that.  On the second point, we’re obviously aware of the reports, but we are not in a position at this stage to verify that ourselves.  But we are aware of the reports.


Question:  What would be the legal… I mean, is that, is it, can the Transitional Federal Government, I guess, they can request anyone to go in, but is this, would require some kind of a notification of?  I mean, that’s what I am wondering.  If true, is that a problem or not a problem?


Spokesperson:  Well, as I say, first of all we’d need to verify it, and we haven't done that yet.  You had a couple of other questions, I think?


Question:  Yeah, on Haiti, there are two things that… I mean, I heard the statement about the generally positive review of the election there.  There are some reports that, and they are sort of blaming UN or UNDP [United Nations Development Programme] for some missing of 200 and, 2,009 ballots in this most recent one.  I am not sure if the UN has a response to that.  And there is also, it seems that the Argentine part of the peacekeeping mission acknowledges a role in the shooting of this Haitian citizen.  Is that something that MINUSTAH has confirmed and what brought that up?


Spokesperson:  On the first question, I would need to check on the question about the ballots.  I would need to check on that.  On the second, what I can tell you is that in the morning of the election day, which was Sunday the twentieth, in Dessalines in Artibonite, a group of 50 to 60 unidentified armed men attempted to attack a polling centre.  And the UN Peacekeepers who were guarding the centre had no choice but to use force in order to protect the centre and the Haitian civilians who were at threat at that point.


And according to the rules of engagement, the peacekeepers used all peaceful means to try to dissuade the group from progressing toward the centre.  But the group continued to progress in a threatening way.  The peacekeepers issued halt calls and fired several rounds of warning shots. And they were then engaged by the assailants, and had no choice but fire back in self defence, and this was to protect the centre and the civilians.  The assailants then dispersed and fled, and the attack was repulsed.  The voting process was able to start again.  During the exchange of fire, one individual was hit by a bullet and wounded.  The peacekeepers provided medical assistance and took the person to the closest hospital, but that person later died from his wounds.  And, as it is the case when there is any loss of life, the Mission launches an investigation, and has launched an investigation, to determine the exact circumstances.  And I can confirm that these were Argentine peacekeepers.  There were four Argentine peacekeepers at this centre.


Question:  Is there some rule, I mean I, thanks a lot for that, it’s really helpful, is there some, I mean, how frequent is this?  How does the UN report where it has had to engage and may have caused, you know, caused, in self-defence or otherwise the death of a citizen of the country they are in?


Spokesperson:  As I’ve said, whenever there is loss of life, then the mission, or any mission, any mission would investigate.  Yes, Masood?


Question:  How is the situation developing now in the Middle East in as far as Israel and the Palestinians are concerned?  The Israeli Prime Minister has now, I mean, openly has said that he will, that Israel will respond to what they thought was an attack inside Jerusalem, and before that there have been Israeli attacks inside Gaza.  Has the Secretary-General spoken to anybody in the Israeli Cabinet about the situation, also asking them to restrain their action, because in the past Israel has attacked and killed a lot of people?


Spokesperson:  Well, as you heard yesterday, we issued a statement.  And as I think I also mentioned at the time, Robert Serry, the Special Envoy, is actively raising this topic of the need for restraint with all parties right there in the region.


Question:  But has the Secretary-General spoken to the Israeli Prime Minister or anybody else [inaudible]?


Spokesperson:  As I said, Robert Serry is his Special Envoy, representative on this particular matter, and is right there on the spot and is actively engaged in speaking to all those concerned to try to urge them to show restraint at what is obviously an extremely tense time.  Yes?


Question:  Yeah, this a follow up on Masood’s question.  We know that the Quartet is going to meet next month.  Would the Secretary-General recommend for the Quartet to set the parameters, clear parameters to re-launch the negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians


Spokesperson:  Well, if and when the Quartet confirms that it is meeting, then we will announce it.  And obviously it is for the Quartet members as a whole to decide how they seek to take this process forward.  But, as you know, at the last meeting in Munich, there was a determination to provide greater momentum.  Obviously events have unfolded since then, and I am sure that the Quartet members will be looking very closely at what role they can play.  But, at this point, I am not in a position to say when they will meet.  Yes, Matthew?


Question:  Sure, Martin, I want to ask this on Libya.  I had asked you yesterday about this notification by Ukraine, and I did go back and look at the transcript and it’s, you know, obviously, you’d said that being on the, being a notifier doesn’t mean you are in the no-fly zone.  But, I have heard doubt a couple of times that Ukraine has sent subsequent letters to its first letter that the UN put online clarifying that what it seeks is an exemption in order to come and take out its nationals.  Is that… can you confirm that and is there some idea of splitting between countries that are actually participating in the no-fly zone and countries that are simply seeking exemption from it or seeking to get into Libya for their own nationals?  [inaudible]


Spokesperson:  I beg you pardon?


Question:  Just for clarity’s sake, that’s why I am asking.


Spokesperson:  As I mentioned, notification under the terms of the resolution could cover a wide range of things from intention to take part in the military activities that are going on to notifying a request to be able to evacuate nationals, or third party nationals.  So, there is a range.  It is not for me to speak on behalf of each Member State or individual Member State and what they have notified.  If they have requested that their notification, whatever it contains, is to be circulated and made a public document, then I am sure you will be able to find it.  To address the other point, well, obviously nobody wants confusion here.  And certainly, I’ve tried to be clear about this.  If there are ways to make it even clearer, then I am sure that people would look at that.  But, at the moment a notification is a notification under the terms of the resolution.  What each notification contains is going to be different in each case, and does not, as I said before, does not mean that each country transmitting some kind of notification is involved in military action.  That is not the case.


Question:  Okay, that’s very [inaudible].  I am actually, just on this thing of the clarity, because I’ll really appreciate that, the attempt to be clear, I want to ask, take a second stab at this Khatib thing.  There is a staff regulation that says that no staff member shall accept any honour, decoration, favour, gift or remuneration from any Government.  So that is why I have been trying to ask, and I just, maybe it’s just a yes or no, if he is in fact, viewed as a staff member?  I have a similar question pending at UN Women that I haven't gotten an answer to.  I just want to know, is this in fact, does this rule apply; is there any way to waive that rule?  I mean, that’s, I guess you’d said to ask Jordan, but Jordan doesn’t know what Mr. Khatib’s status at the UN is, and I wanted to know, is he a staff member and is he still being paid by Jordan?


Spokesperson:  Well, on the payment or otherwise by Jordan, that’s really not for me to pronounce on.  When a special envoy is appointed or other special representative is appointed, that person is working for the Secretary-General on that particular topic.  And each person in that category has the same obligation to file a financial disclosure.  And as you know, there is a defined filing cycle; in other words, a time window when you file your disclosure.  Everyone is obliged to do that. 


Question:  Can I get, and just, and thanks a lot, I am trying to do this as sort of as calmly as I can.  I mean, I understand the desire to file, but it’s just, it just seems like it’s a yes or no question.  If it is a staff member and were being paid that would seem to violate the rule.  If he is not a staff member, that’s all I have been trying to ask you. It’s like, what is his status?  Is he…?  See what I mean?  That seems like it should be...


Spokesperson:  Let me give you a clearer answer.  I can’t give it to you right now, but I will endeavour to give you a clear answer.  Okay, yes?


Question:  Thank you.  The Libyan authorities haven't shown any compliance with the resolution 1973.  And the humanitarian situation is really dire in areas like Misurata and other areas.  And under operative paragraph 4 in the resolution itself, it allows the United Nations and the international community to protect civilians.  Would the Secretary-General request any military operations on the ground to secure those areas to allow humanitarian aid for those people who are under the blockade in Misurata and other areas?


Spokesperson:  Well, it is for the Council to deliberate on those particular matters.  The Secretary-General will be briefing on the implementation of the resolution so far this afternoon.  So, I am not going to get ahead of the Secretary-General on that.  But, I think that one point in the resolution; it very specifically excludes, as I recall, foreign occupation…


Question:  But not intervention.


Spokesperson:  Well, as I said, I am just telling you what it has here:  “While excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory…”  The express purpose of the resolution is to protect civilians, absolutely right, and for there to be a ceasefire, for the violence to stop as soon as possible.  It is for the Secretary-General to brief the Council this afternoon on where we are at the moment.  It is for the Council to, likewise, take stock at that point, if it so wishes.  Yes?


Question:  Ali’s question just reminded me; there was a humanitarian mission attempting to get into Libya.  Has that stopped?  Does it have to stop because of the military action, or [inaudible]?


Spokesperson:  Well, as you know the Humanitarian Coordinator Rashid Khalikov did go in, he did come out, and he reported at some length, including to your colleagues in Geneva.  At this point, the envisaged assessment team — different from the Humanitarian Coordinator’s visit — has not been able to go in.  That requires a number of factors to be in place.  They are not in place at this point.  Obviously, that is one reason why we do not have a good picture, the picture that we would like to have, of how civilians are coping wherever they are at this point, and what is the state of food supplies, medical supplies.  We also hear the reports of difficulties with medical supplies, but we are not in a position — save for WFP [World Food Programme] entering Benghazi with some supplies — we have not been able to get a good fix on that.  Okay.


Question:  And is that because of the military operations that are preventing that?  Or is it the [inaudible]?


Spokesperson:  Well, the security considerations would form part of the picture, I think, quite obviously.  But that’s not the only factor.  We’ll make the last question, Nizar?


Question:  Are there any arrangements to safeguard the ancient sites in Libya from any bombardment, even if Qadhafi uses them as a place to put his military hardware?


Spokesperson:  I would sincerely hope that that would be a part of the planning.  That’s something that is always a concern and I know that UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization] has its views on that.  If they have anything specific that they would like to make public about that, then I would let you know.  I don’t have anything further.


Question:  Have you been informed about anything or the possibility that he has put any hardware, military hardware at these sites?


Spokesperson:  I am not aware of anything along those lines.  As I say, I would defer to my colleagues for UNESCO who keep a particular eye on that side of things.


All right, thank you very much.  Have a good afternoon.  Thank you.


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