18 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.  Sorry for the delay.


**Secretary-General on Libya


The Secretary-General, speaking to reporters in Hungary today, said that his Special Envoy for Libya, Abdul Ilah al-Khatib, visited Tripoli yesterday, together with the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos.  He said that he was encouraged to report that, as a result, the United Nations reached an agreement yesterday on a humanitarian presence in Tripoli.


Meanwhile, he added, our talks on the political situation continue.  Once a ceasefire is eventually reached, the Secretary-General said, Libya will require wide-ranging efforts in peacemaking, peacebuilding and reconstruction.


During their visit yesterday, Mr. Khatib and Ms. Amos met with senior Government officials, including the Prime Minister, Al-Baghdadi Al-Mahmoudi, and the Foreign Minister, Abdel Ati Al-Obeidi.


The Special Envoy and the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs reiterated the strong condemnation by the international community of the use of force against the civilians of Libya and urged the Libyan authorities to stop military attacks immediately against all parts of the country, especially Misrata, and facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance to all those in need.


**Secretary-General in Hungary


The Secretary-General held separate meetings in Budapest today with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Foreign Minister János Martonyi.  The Secretary-General briefed them on developments in the Middle East and North Africa, particularly the situation in Libya.  They also discussed Hungary’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union, and cooperation between the United Nations and the European Union.


On Hungary's media law and new constitution, the Secretary-General, in his discussions with the Prime Minister, noted that some provisions in both had raised concerns among Hungary’s neighbours and elsewhere.  He said he hoped the Hungarian Government, as befits its regional and international role, would continue to promote its own reforms and uphold fundamental democratic principles, including freedom of expression.


Earlier in the day, the Secretary-General met with Hungarian President Pál Schmitt and spoke to reporters afterwards.  He’ll also speak at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences later today.


** Darfur


The UN-African Union mission in Darfur is providing support to a Sudanese-led disarmament drive in El Geneina, in West Darfur.


The mission said yesterday that it expects more than 1,000 former fighters in the Darfur conflict to give up their weapons and reintegrate into civilian life through this initiative.  They include one-time Government troops, as well as combatants from various Darfuri armed movements.  And you’ll find more on the mission’s website.


**Iraq


The UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) has been in close contact with the Iraqi authorities with regard to the events of 7-8 April in Camp Ashraf.


Following a monitoring visit to the camp last Wednesday, 13 April, UNAMI met with the Iraqi authorities and shared with them the initial findings, confirming the death of 34 people, with dozens injured.  The UN Mission has expressed deep concern over the events and has repeatedly urged the Government of Iraq to refrain from the use of force.  The UN Mission stands ready to provide documentation resulting from the mission to Ashraf.


**Security Council


The Security Council will hold consultations at 3 this afternoon.  Council members will receive an update on a range of political matters from the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, B. Lynn Pascoe.


**Secretary-General’s Appointment


The Secretary-General has appointed Mbaranga Gasarabwe of Rwanda as the first Assistant Secretary-General for Safety and Security, following the General Assembly’s endorsement of the Secretary-General’s proposal to reclassify the post at this level.


As deputy to the Under-Secretary-General for Safety and Security, the Assistant Secretary-General will be responsible for the day-to-day overall management of the Department and for strengthening internal management, as well as representing the Department in the absence of the Under-Secretary-General.


Ms. Gasarabwe, who is currently the Resident Coordinator/Resident Representative and Designated Official in Mali, has served as Resident Coordinator in Guinea and Djibouti, and Resident Representative ad interim and Deputy Resident Representative in Benin since 1998.  Since 1991, she held various positions with the UN Development Programme (UNDP) in New York, including Chief of Division ad interim for Eastern and Central Africa, and prior to this, she worked in other international institutions.


**Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in Peacekeeping


The Departments of Peacekeeping Operations and Field Support released statistics today on allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse and other forms of misconduct in the field missions for the first quarter of 2011.  And you can find these statistics in a press release they issued, as well as online, on the UN conduct and discipline website.


**Autism — Movie Screening


Today, from 3 to 6 p.m., at the North Lawn Building, Conference Room 7, the Permanent Mission of Mongolia — in partnership with the Department of Public Information — will host a screening of a documentary entitled The Horse Boy, on autism.


**Press Conference Today


And at 1 p.m. today, there will be a press conference with Eric Calais, a United Nations Development Programme seismologist, to discuss risk reduction plans to be implemented in conjunction with the Government of Haiti, as well as key challenges and upcoming earth-shift threats faced by the country and its neighbours.


And that’s it from me.  Masood?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  A couple of questions.  Number one, on this Sri Lankan report, this report is now available all over in Sri Lanka by the Sri Lankan newspapers, who are reporting it.  The Secretary-General had made a position that he will wait for the reply from the Sri Lankan Government on the report before releasing it to the press over here.  But now, since it is all over, will he now release it before he receives the reply from the Sri Lankan Government?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, regarding that, the Secretary-General and his senior advisers are right now finalizing the review of the report of the Panel of Experts on Sri Lanka.  The UN does intend to make the report public this week.  I don’t have a precise time to give you just yet.  Right now, the report is, like I said, being reviewed and we will release it as soon as we have finalized our own review.  Hopefully, that will come with a formal response from the Government of Sri Lanka.  But in any case, we are only waiting to finish our own review and then we will put the report out.  As soon as I can get a time for you about that, I will let you know.  Yes?


Question:  Farhan, should you have received by now the letter from the Iranian Mission, from the Foreign Minister of Iran, regarding the situation in Bahrain?  Is there any response on that or any steps further to be taken?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything further on Bahrain to mention for right now.  You are aware of the Secretary-General’s own statements and remarks on this topic and he stands by those.


Question:  But Farhan, the developments and what’s happening in Bahrain is getting very serious.  Eleven mosques have been so far been demolished by the Saudi and Bahraini forces, and many others attacks continue on daily basis.


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  We do take the situation very seriously and I think you will recall that, towards the end of last week, the Secretary-General had… we put out a readout of the meeting that the Secretary-General had with the Foreign Minister of Bahrain, which underscores our concerns about that.  Yes?


Question:  When Terje Roed-Larsen went to Bahrain last week, did he coordinate that with the United Nations?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  No, he did not go in any UN capacity.  Yes?


Question:  As leaked to the Island newspaper, the report criticizes the Secretary-General, or the Secretariat, for not releasing casualty figures during the conflict, and said, and calls on the Secretary-General to investigate the UN’s own role in complying with humanitarian and protection mandates.  I wonder, I have seen it reported elsewhere, what’s the UN… are you saying that that is the executive summary of the report?  And what is your response to, given that it is out there, it seems kind of strange not to be responded… President [Mahinda] Rajapaksa has already called for mass demonstrations 1 May.  What is your response to that, as well?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Okay, well, those are two separate bits.  Regarding whether the report, the excerpts, are genuine, we ourselves didn’t make the report public, but I do understand that the published parts of the leaked report are accurate renditions of the relevant parts of the report.  They are incomplete, they’re certainly not the full report, but they are accurate renditions of things that appear in the text.  I wouldn’t comment about the substance of the text until we can make the full report public, which it is not right now.  Regarding…


Question:  Will…


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Hold on, you had a series of questions.  Regarding the demonstrations, we have made it very, very clear to the Government of Sri Lanka that we take it very seriously that they ensure the security and safety of UN staff in Sri Lanka.  We have underscored that again, and we want to make sure that, regardless of what their positions are on the report, that they abide by their obligations towards the security of our staff.


Question:  Will the Panel itself hold a press conference, as was done after the Benazir Bhutto report?  And also, what do you say to those who say that the Government itself leaked it to a pro-Government newspaper in Sri Lanka, thereby taking advantage of the heads-up you gave it, so that by the time you issue your stuff it’s… the horse is out of the barn?  Do you have any idea who leaked the report, and will they be available, the Panel?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I do not know who leaked the report.  It did leak to a Sri Lankan newspaper, and it leaked shortly after we gave the report to the Government of Sri Lanka.  But I don’t know definitively who it was who turned this over.  As for why we had shared that report with them, the Secretary-General had always stressed that Sri Lanka has the pre-eminent responsibility in regard to this matter.  Sharing a copy of the report with the affected Member State is in line with the Organization’s customary practice.


Question:  But was there an understanding on their part not to leak it and to hold it back until they gave you a response, or could they do anything they wanted with it?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Whenever we share communications with Member States, there is an understanding that it will not be leaked.  Yes?


Question:  Does the Secretary-General have any new take on the recent riots in Nigeria, given the fact that, two weeks ago, he issued a statement before the elections?  Now the elections are ongoing, we are hearing of riots and even the Red Cross has reported this morning there had been some killings.  So does the Secretary-General have any new reaction to this situation?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we don’t have any new reaction just yet.  I will check whether there is anything further to say about the latest activities on the ground.  You will appreciate that, prior to the elections, he did call for calm and obviously; that is what he wanted to see happening in Nigeria.  But I will see whether there is anything further on that.


Question:  But the calm is not happening anywhere, because one of the presidential candidates has openly said he will not accept the results so far released by the electoral body in the country.


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, like I said, I’ll see whether we have any further response.  But yes, we had wanted all sides to respect the electoral process and for all parties to maintain calm.  Yes, Tim?


Question:  Do you have any more details on the call that Ms. Amos made in Tripoli?  Apparently, she’s spoken with the media there about it.


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General… I’d refer you to what he said to the press in Hungary.  In terms of further details, our understanding is that the Government of Libya has agreed to facilitate a humanitarian presence in Tripoli.  Among other things, they have agreed to facilitate the provision of equipment for international staff, and also agreed on steps to allow for the entry of international staff.  The Libyan Government said that it would ensure unimpeded access through the Tunisian border into Libya up to Tripoli, and said that it would ensure safe passage for humanitarian workers to areas where the Government of Libya is in control.


Question:  But they wouldn’t stop their shelling?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  We have, of course, been asking repeatedly for a stop to fighting.  You will see from our readout that that’s one of the things that we asked for then.  Bill?


Question:  Could you tell me about plans to implement this agreement?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  We are trying to follow-up and see what kind of implementation we can get on that right now.  One of the central steps for us by the way, is we are seeking… what we are asking for is for a UN mission to have access to Misrata so that it can assess the situation and the needs there.  Masood?


Question:  On Friday, the G-77 wrote a very strong letter to the Secretary-General that the Secretary-General… they believed the Secretary-General was on his way to cutting the UN budget by 3 per cent and they have protested that that cannot be done without consultations with the Member States, 192 Member States.  Did the Secretary-General receive that letter?  Has he, or is that letter being replied to as yet?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  First let me check whether we have received the letter.  Once we have, certainly I am sure we would reply to it once received.  But first I’ll check whether we’ve received it.  Yes?


[The Acting Deputy Spokesperson later confirmed that the letter had been received on Friday, 15 April.]


Question:  I think, a follow-up on that, and then Côte d'Ivoire and Western Sahara.  But, last week, I tried to ask you about this $377 million cut in the US contribution to the UN.  You said it was still pending.  It’s now been, it was voted on in a continuing resolution, so what is the UN going to do, and also what do they say about these reports of US overpaying for their peacekeeping budget in 2010/11?  Is that report accurate and how do the two interrelate?  Is it actually… is that money going to be returned?  What is the response to those two issues?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I did take up this question — you weren’t around last week for much of it, but I did take up the answer to your question last Friday.  I’d just refer you to what I said on that.  What’s your question on Côte d'Ivoire?


Question:  Okay, on Côte d'Ivoire, there is this list of 107 Gbagbo supporters that were taken to the Golf Hotel, where apparently there is some UNOCI [United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire] presence.  There is a report that Christophe [inaudible], the doctor of [Laurent] Gbagbo, has in fact been killed.  He is one of the people taken to the Golf Hotel.  And I wonder, what is UNOCI doing?  One, can you either confirm or not confirm that?  And two, what is UNOCI doing?  What’s the status of those people in the Golf Hotel, and does UNOCI have any protection?  Are they saying anything about it?  And what if people are actually killed there?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  First of all, yes, UNOCI is providing protection to a range of political stakeholders, including people in the Golf Hotel.  About this particular person, I’ll see whether there is any further detail we have about his situation.  I don’t have any confirmation on that.


Question:  How about the killing of the former minister [Desire] Tagro, does UN… does UNOCI have any knowledge?  It’s been confirmed that he was killed and that he was killed in the course of being apprehended.  Does the UN have any knowledge of either responsibility or…?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, Alain Le Roy spoke about this at length last week, Desire Tagro.


Question:  Did he confirm that Gbagbo is in Korhogo?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  We haven’t specified where he is in particular.  He is in the north of the country.  Yes?


Question:  On this situation with the G-77 and the budget cutting, there is… the report is that there are $155 million already stipulated for the cut, and that the Ambassador of India has protested that the Secretariat does not stay in, to understand what the Member States are saying, especially in the G-77 session that went on, the Secretariat did not notice the protests of the Member States or record the speeches which are, and were, also part of this protesting about the budget cuts.  So is there any response to that?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  In terms of that, we are taking the views of all the Member States and we are trying to listen to the views of Member States, whether they are the ones who are major donors or whether they are the ones of the membership at large.  But what the Secretary-General is trying to do is to make sure that the UN can live within its means at a time when we are aware that the Governments who depend on us are themselves going through a period of austerity.  And so he is trying to do that in as conscionable a way, but he is doing that in discussions, in a way that includes discussions with the membership.


Correspondent:  The thing is that only what the Indian Ambassador was saying that, whatever the position may be eventually, the Secretary-General will be able to satisfy the Member States that, yes, these cuts were necessary.  But the position of G-77 should also be taken into account.


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, and we certainly will try take into account the views of the membership as a whole.  That’s always been part of the exercise.  But, like I said, the reality is that this is a time when all of the member Governments themselves are facing financial pressures and we have to be sensitive to that.  Yes?


Question:  On the situation in Syria, there have been reports that arms smuggling is carried out from Lebanon and from Iraq into Syria.  Also, there are allegations that some gangs are shooting at the police and at the demonstrators.  Is the United Nations investigating that, or don’t you think you have any kind of follow-up on the situation there?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  We don’t have any first-hand information nor do we have any mandate on that particular topic.  Yes?


Question:  I want to ask one thing about the Western Sahara report of the Secretary-General that came out on Friday.  It seemed to… it said it appreciated Morocco’s expressed commitment to allow in the special procedures.  This seems to mean just special rapporteurs and not a monitoring mechanism.  What I wanted to ask you is to respond to the former Assistant Secretary-General and Special Representative for Western Sahara, Francesco Bastagli, who has been quoted as saying that this is not sufficient; that… I guess… however his name is pronounced, he is saying that this report is a negative one, that past experience shows that occasional assessments are not enough and the UN must not fail to establish a robust, continuous and dedicated capacity to monitor human rights in Western Sahara.  What’s the Secretary-General’s response to the former expert on that, however you pronounce his name?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I wouldn’t have any specific response to Mr. Bastagli’s remarks.  The report has gone to the Security Council and they will be discussing it later this week.  And we’ll leave the matter in their hands.  Yes?


Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  On Friday, Navi Pillay called for an independent and transparent inquiry into what appeared to have been a massacre at Camp Ashraf.  And over the weekend, UNAMI issued a rather puzzling statement in which they said they hoped that the Government of Iraq would be able to have an independent inquiry.  Given that the concept of an independent inquiry precludes the participation of a party who is alleged to have been a perpetrator, or at least an accessory, to the events that happened at Camp Ashraf, what does the Secretary-General plan to do?  Will they leave this in the hands of the Human Rights Council?  Will they push for an independent UN inquiry out of New York?  Or will they sort of let the Iraqis do what can’t be an independent inquiry?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, first we’ll have to see what the response is from the Government.  What UNAMI said is that they expect any such commission to be independent and to start its work without delay.  UNAMI is on the ground following up, and we’ll see what kind of progress they make with the Government of Iraq.  Of course, it does need to be genuinely independent; if not we’ll see where we go from there.


Correspondent:  But genuinely independent means not being a Government commission set up by the Government.


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  It means not being beholden to any of the involved parties, yes.


Question:  A question on Darfur, is it possible?  There is… there are… it’s reported by JEM [Justice and Equality Movement]… well, JEM is saying that in clashes with the Government, the Sudanese Government has bombed a clinic around where they are fighting and that there is ongoing fighting between Antonov planes and, they say, civilian areas.  And I just wonder, we are starting to hear so little here, is UNAMID actually monitoring this bombarding from the sky of civilians in Darfur?  And what can they say about this, and what are they saying to the Government about using planes in this conflict?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Hold on just one second.  No, I don’t have any confirmation on those latest incidents.  We’ll need to check.  Yes?


Question:  On the Libyan thing, have you taken note of the Russian protests on Libya that, while you are saying that there should be a ceasefire and so forth, but the Libyan rebels are being armed?  And that is also a violation of the UN resolutions 1970 (2011) and 1973 (2011).  Is that something that the United Nations had taken… the Secretary-General has taken into consideration?  That Libyan, I mean, rebel forces are being armed while the Government is being told to cease fire?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I think it is up to the Security Council, which has passed the relevant Security Council resolutions, to determine what constitutes violations of the sanctions regime.  It would be up to them to see where this falls in with that.  I believe the Security Council had been discussing the matter; the members have been discussing amongst themselves.


Question:  Doesn’t the Secretary-General coordinate the military action?  I mean, coordinate… he coordinates the…


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  He does not coordinate any military action.  Where did you get that?


Question:  …the enforcement of the no-fly zone, he can… receives notifications, and there is the word in the resolution 1973 (2011) says “coordinates”; it’s not the entire action, but a portion of it.  So, I wonder, has he been notified by Qatar of their stated, publicly stated, intention to provide arms to the rebels.


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t believe that the Secretary-General has been notified.  You should check with the Chairman of the Sanctions Committee dealing with Libya, though.


Okay, good afternoon everyone.


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