13 April 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 Farhan Haq, Acting Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon.  First of all, I believe that a group of German journalists who are visiting are sitting in the back.  I’d like to welcome them.  Welcome to today’s briefing.  It’s nice to have you here.


**Secretary-General in Qatar


The Secretary-General flew overnight to Doha, Qatar, to take part in the first meeting of the International Contact Group on Libya today.


He told the officials gathered at the meeting that the international community had acted swiftly and decisively in the past seven weeks.  But he said that even the most optimistic observers foresee a protracted period of instability before sustainable peace can be restored.  And in the meantime, the humanitarian situation continues to worsen.


The Secretary-General said that he had spoken by telephone with Libyan Prime Minister Al-Baghdadi Al-Mahmoudi before leaving New York.  He again emphasized to the Prime Minister the need for an immediate stop to the fighting and for all parties to abide by Security Council resolution 1973 (2011).


The Secretary-General said there had been some improvements on the humanitarian front in recent days, as some supplies reached Misrata, but much more needed to be done.  He said the flash appeal for Libya was so far only 39 per cent funded, which is clearly insufficient, given the prospective need.  He said the United Nations system had already begun planning for potential peacemaking, peacebuilding and reconstruction once a ceasefire has been agreed.  And we have his remarks in our office.


The Secretary-General is now flying to Cairo to co-chair a meeting on Libya with the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, Amre Moussa.


**Security Council


The Security Council heard an update this morning on the situation in Côte d’Ivoire from the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for that country, Choi Young-jin.


Speaking by videoconference, Mr. Choi noted remaining tasks in the country, including the completion of Government formation, the disarmament process, reunification and the organization of legislative elections.  He said that the UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) is currently focused on efforts to establish a secure environment and prevent a security vacuum.  Other tasks for the peacekeepers include collecting weapons from Laurent Gbagbo’s forces and protecting civilians, including Mr. Gbagbo and his entourage.


Valerie Amos, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, also briefed the Security Council on her recent mission to the region.  She said that, despite Laurent Gbagbo’s arrest, the humanitarian situation in Côte d’Ivoire remains deeply troubling.  She said that at least 250 people were killed in Duékoué, in a recent massacre, and she cited other reports of killings and forced disappearances in the country, stressing that it is vital that those who are responsible be held accountable, a point also made today by Human Rights High Commissioner Navi Pillay.


Ms. Amos said that the security situation had so far impeded the humanitarian response, adding that it is essential for more aid workers to enter Abidjan as the security situation permits.  And Ms. Amos will speak at the Security Council stakeout once consultations have ended.


** Darfur


The UN-African Union mission in Darfur (UNAMID) has helped secure the release of 12 Sudanese aid workers who were held hostage by a youth group within the Kalma camp for internally displaced persons, in South Darfur.


The mission says that the 12 aid workers were detained on Monday, in apparent retaliation for the arrest of a camp resident by security officials two days earlier.  That incident had forced aid groups to suspend work inside the camp.  They are expected to resume delivering key assistance shortly.


Meanwhile, the mission says that it is investigating reports of recent fighting between the Sudanese army and rebel groups.  However, that effort is being hampered by the Government’s restrictions on the peacekeepers’ movement, the mission says.


** Sudan


The United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) welcomes the decisions by the Abyei Standing Committee, which met today in Khartoum to form a Joint Technical Committee for the implementation of the Kadugli Agreements earlier this year.  The Committee is to see to the effective deployment of the Joint Integrated Units throughout Abyei area and the withdrawal of all other unauthorized forces.  The Committee is scheduled to have its first meeting in Abyei on 18 April 2011.  The UN Mission in Sudan shall provide the necessary assistance required to facilitate the implementation of today’s decisions.


**Press Conference Today


And last, following today’s briefing, at approximately 12:30 p.m., here in the Dag Hammarskjöld Auditorium, there will be a briefing by Joseph Deiss, the President of the General Assembly, to update correspondents on the work of the General Assembly.


That’s it from me.  Yes, Nizar?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Is there any freezing of assets of Mr. Gbagbo after all this, what happened there?  Does he have any financial assets or others so that they… to be used for compensation of the victims?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I’d just refer you to the sanctions that had been put in place on Laurent Gbagbo and others close to him in Security Council resolution 1975 (2011).  The language is there.  Yes?


Question:  Can we have some clarification about yesterday’s information on the subject of Mr. Gbagbo, that was suddenly out of Abidjan and two hours later back in the Golf Hotel?  So what is the chain of command that distributes news about this?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, yes, there had been a scheduled operation that did not take place at the time.  It has actually taken place.  He is not in Abidjan today.  Yes?


Question:  So, can you be more specific?  Now he is in his house arrest somewhere else and not in a secret location?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have the name of the precise location to give to you, but yes, he has been moved and he is being kept secure.  As we mentioned yesterday, the UN Operation in Côte d'Ivoire, at his request and in compliance with the Security Council mandate, remains responsible for ensuring his security and protection.


Question:  His status is house arrest?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, in terms of his status, that’s a matter to be asked to the relevant authorities under the Ouattara Government.  Yes?


Question:  Can you tell us what’s happened to the report on Western Sahara?  I heard that it might be published today.  And also can you tell us why it is being delayed for a week?  Because according to our schedule, it was supposed to be published last Wednesday.


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  It took some time to finalize the report.  Sometimes over the drafting process there is editing and approval and I believe — although I’d need to check — but I believe it is being finalized now.  So hopefully it will become a document shortly.  I’ll just check when it will be a document.


Question:  Can you just respond to allegations from the Polisario that Morocco managed to get a copy earlier on and has been lobbying with French support to change some of the language, particularly on human rights, on a human rights mechanism for MINURSO [United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara]?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, once the report is out, you can see for yourself the language about human rights.  There is language on human rights in the report, and I would simply refer you to the language used in the report.  As for changes and whether a copy had been leaked, I am aware that there was a draft version, which I believe Martin [Nesirky] had mentioned.  It was simply a draft with no official status which had been leaked, and you can probably see it on the website of one of your colleagues.


Question:  But the question, really — sorry, maybe I wasn’t clear — is that the allegation is that’s the reason for the delay in publication; that the Secretariat has come under a lot of pressure to change some of the language in the report.


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  No, no; with any number of reports on any number of topics, different countries will seek to talk to the Secretariat and influence the language of a report one way or another.  But ultimately, the Secretariat makes its own evaluations and writes its own language.  And you will be able to see for yourself what language is, but there is human rights language in the report.  Yes, you first and then… Yes?


Question:  A question on Gaza.  I know that the Arab League has sent a letter asking for a no-fly zone in Gaza.  They said that they sent this letter to Ban Ki-moon.  Are you aware of having received this letter?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t believe the letter has been received.  And in any case, the point, as I mentioned yesterday, is that any decision on a no-fly zone in any country would be a matter for members of the Security Council to take.


Question:  But Ban Ki-moon has not received this letter?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  As far as I know, no.  Yes?


Question:  There have been reports of a number of arrests in China of dissidents and artists.  What is the position of the UN on that?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Let me check that for you.  Yes, Nizar?


Question:  Farhan, there has been a report from Human Rights Watch today on the situation in Bahrain with very serious allegations about the arrests, missing people, killings, et cetera.  Do you have any follow-up on what you said earlier on that?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything new to say.  We have said a considerable amount on Bahrain.  Our concerns there remain, and I would refer you back both to the calls the Secretary-General has made to the leadership in Bahrain and to the statements we have put out expressing our concerns and the need in particular for freedom of assembly and free expression.


Question:  Do you believe that the situation in Bahrain could be tolerated any longer, with what has happened so far?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we are constantly monitoring the situation in Bahrain.  Our concerns on the ground there remain.  And the Secretary-General does remain in touch with the leadership and with other interlocutors.  So our position stands.  Yes?


Question:  One follow-up to what my colleague over here is saying about Bahrain.  Do you see a UN Special Rapporteur on torture going to investigate this at all?  I mean, what is happening in Bahrain is absolutely outrageous, given the new findings by Human Rights Watch and so forth.


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, yes, Navi Pillay has also made clear her own concerns about this.  We don’t… the Secretary-General doesn’t control the work of the Special Rapporteurs, so I don’t know about the travel by different rapporteurs.  But I believe different rapporteurs have also been expressing their concerns about this and we’ll see whether any of them go onward to visit Bahrain itself.


Question:  The other question I wanted to ask about Middle East peace process about which Robert Serry yesterday… I mean, that was released yesterday, it was all over the news.  In that, basically he is supporting statehood for Palestine.  In that case for Palestine that statehood that Robert Serry is…


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  That’s not what the report says.


Question:  Robert Serry’s report — that’s what it is saying.


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  That’s not quite what the report says.  The report looks at six different categories of the functions of the Palestinian Authority to see whether they meet standards.  And what the report has said is that, looking at the evaluations, the improvements that have been made by the Palestinian Authority are such that, on those six core areas, they are ready for statehood.  Ultimately an evaluation on statehood isn’t made in the report and isn’t to be made by us, but by Member States.


Question:  By the General Assembly, I understand that, but the Quartet has to at least discuss this situation as it is.  What Mr. Serry has said, Mr. Serry is the representative of the Secretary-General and his opinion about Palestinian having done enough that they are ready for statehood, that is taking it towards that goal, which is supposed to be in September.  So, is the Quartet going to discuss this at all?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  We’ll see what the Quartet discusses when their next meeting is held.  I don’t have a date to announce for you on that just yet.  Yes?


Question:  Yesterday, the Secretary-General met with Permanent Representatives from the top troop-contributing countries for peacekeeping.  Can you let us into some the issues they discussed?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  We normally don’t put out readouts of meetings with ambassadors, but I’ll see whether there is anything to say.  Of course, one of the things the meeting was intended to do was to show appreciation for the work of the top troop-contributing countries, and to discuss the sort of challenges we have been facing in peacekeeping, as we do periodically with countries who provide such assistance for us.  Yes?


Question:  [United States] Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has mentioned the fact that the White House is preparing a new approach to the peace in the Middle East between Israelis and Palestinians.  Has there been any renewed contact between the White House, the State Department and the Secretary-General on this topic?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  We regularly discuss the Middle East and the Middle East peace process.  The Secretary-General and Hillary Clinton are both, as you are aware, members at the principal level of the Quartet.  And so they have met both in that format and outside of it, and I expect that for any new proposals, the Quartet would look at those once they are brought to the table.


Question:  But you don’t know if they have spoken about this new project that has been mentioned yesterday?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  The Middle East is one of the topics that the Secretary-General discussed with Hillary Clinton when he met her during his recent visit to Washington.  But, in terms of particulars about this new initiative, I expect that the new initiative would be one of the ideas brought up at the next Quartet meeting, whenever that is scheduled.  Yes?


Question:  Speaking about the next Quartet meeting, we had been told that it would be on the 15th.  So, it seems to have been delayed and I wondered if you could tell us why it has been delayed, given what many view as the urgency of some kind of movement before September.


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, as far as that goes, what I can say is that the Quartet remains committed to helping the parties move forward towards peace.  That effort is more urgent than ever.  With that objective in mind, the Quartet envoys met on 5 April with representatives of the Israelis and the Palestinians.  It was determined after these meetings that more time is needed for consultations at the envoys’ level before scheduling the next principals’ meeting, which the Quartet wishes to convene as soon as possible. 


And with that, I wish you all a good afternoon.  And at 12:30 p.m., like I said, Joseph Deiss will be here to speak to you.


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For information media • not an official record