20 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.


**Secretary-General in Ukraine


The Secretary-General travelled to Chernobyl, along with Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, and saw first-hand the situation there, 25 years after the nuclear crisis, becoming the first Secretary-General to visit Chernobyl.  He told reporters that it was an extremely moving experience.


He said that the recent Fukushima Daiichi power accident, together with the Chernobyl disaster, have provided a strong message and we have to learn lessons from these tragedies.  We have to strengthen nuclear safety standards, both at national and international levels.


The Secretary-General once more called for a top-to-bottom review of nuclear safety standards; efforts to strengthen the work of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on nuclear safety; a sharper focus on the relationship between natural disasters and nuclear energy; a review of the costs and benefits of nuclear energy; and a serious review of how we can strengthen nuclear safety and prevent nuclear terrorism.  We have his remarks in our office and online.


The Secretary-General, upon returning from Chernobyl, had a working luncheon with President Yanukovych, and later addressed an international scientific conference on nuclear safety.  The Secretary-General recalled the 6,000 children whose health was seriously undermined by thyroid cancer and the 6 million people who continue to live in affected communities of Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine.  Tomorrow he will travel to Russia.


**Security Council


Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Atul Khare briefed the Security Council this morning on the work of the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS).


He told the Council that the successful completion of the self-determination referendum was a momentous achievement which demonstrated how the UN’s peace and security work can be effective when supported by a unified and coordinated international community.  But he warned that several challenges lie ahead, including rising tensions in the South following the referendum.


Mr. Khare said that the situation in Abyei has remained volatile throughout the reporting period.  The UN Mission in Sudan has responded through political facilitation and increased military presence, but has faced denial of access to its patrols in several conflict areas.  And we have his remarks in our office.


Mr. Khare is also expected to brief the Security Council on the work of the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) in an open meeting, followed by consultations, this afternoon.  Also, starting at 3 p.m., the Security Council expects to hold a meeting to consider a draft resolution of the sanctions committee dealing with resolution 1540 (2004), concerning non-proliferation.


** Libya


Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, condemned the reported use of cluster munitions and heavy weaponry by Libyan Government forces in their attempt to regain control of Misrata.  In a statement today, she said that such attacks on densely populated urban areas, resulting in substantial civilian casualties, could amount to international crimes.


She said that it is clear that the numbers of people who have died in Misrata are now substantial, and that the dead include women and children.  And she added that there are also repeated reports of snipers deliberately targeting civilians in Misrata, as well as in other Libyan towns where street fighting has taken place.


Ms. Pillay urged the Libyan authorities to halt the siege of Misrata and allow aid and medical care to reach the victims of the conflict.  She also urged NATO forces to exercise the utmost caution and vigilance so as not to kill civilians by mistake.  And we have more details in a press release.


**United Nations Children’s Fund


Anthony Lake, the Executive Director of UNICEF, expressed his concern today about the effects of violence on children caught in escalating conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa.  He condemned the targeting of civilians by armed groups, and called on all parties to provide humanitarian aid workers with immediate access to all areas and children in need.


Among other things, he noted that at least 20 children have been killed and countless others injured in the Libyan city of Misrata, while at least 26 children have been killed and more than 800 injured in Yemen since early February.  In Syria, reports indicate that nine children were killed and many injured over the last few weeks.  UNICEF has more details in a press release.


**Press Conference Today


And at 12:45 p.m. today, there will be a press conference with Valerie Amos, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, who will brief the press on her recent trip to Libya.  That’s about 40 minutes from now.  Any questions for me till then?  Yes, Joe?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Farhan, is it normal for the Secretary-General to discuss with the delegation of a country that is under investigation by the UN how to write a cover letter?  I am now referring to Colum’s reporting yesterday about Israel.  The UN was looking into the attacks on the facilities in Gaza and after pressure from the US, the Secretary-General wrote a cover letter.  She wanted him… it was after he spoke to the Israeli delegation, is that normal procedure?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  In terms of what the normal procedure is, the Secretary-General and senior officials consult widely with other delegations as they go about the regular work.  Ultimately, the language of all of their documents, whether we’re talking about reports or cover letters or otherwise, is the responsibility of the Secretary-General and his senior officials.  But of course there is a normal process of diplomatic consultations which is part and parcel of his work.


Question:  Usually both sides, correct?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  With all of the relevant sides.


Question:  So he spoke, did he speak to the Hamas… did he have a Hamas delegation help him write the letter?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I wouldn’t have any further comment, any particular comment, about these precise discussions.  The record of what we did in 2009 speaks for itself, and, as you know, the cover letter and the executive summary of the Board of Inquiry report on Gaza were sent to the Security Council, and are now public documents.  Yes?


Question:  On this situation as far as Libya is concerned, I just want to know, now that there are reports that France and Italy are sending in so-called advisers to help the rebels, I don’t know whether there is… it was going with arms and ammunition, we have no idea, but at least they are going.  Now, nobody can do that for the [Muammar al-] Qadhafi regime, of course there are no advisers going there.  So is that… as long as they are called advisers there, it is permissible under the resolutions, you would say?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I’d just refer you to the language of the resolutions.  The resolutions themselves, resolutions 1970 (2011) and 1973 (2011), do not explicitly state any exceptions; so any question of arms would be a question for the Security Council sanctions committee dealing with these resolutions to deal with.


Question:  So basically the sanctions committee can… if at all there are reports that the arms are being supplied to the rebels who are supposed to be the good guys, it is still illegal?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Ultimately, that’s an issue, like I said, for the sanctions committee to consider.  It’s up to them to determine.  Yes?


Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  I just want to know what’s the UN’s position on the EU’s [European Union] proposal of sending troops to Libya to secure the aid supplies?  Is there any position of the UN from your side?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, regarding steps to secure aid supplies, we have made it clear that any military escort for securing aid supplies would need to be requested by the United Nations.  Beyond that, as you know, Valerie Amos will be speaking at 12:45 p.m. in this room, and she can talk further about what we are thinking of in terms of humanitarian escorts.  Yes?


Question:  Yeah, on this, do you have any updates on this leaked Sri Lankan report, which is leaked all over?  Do you have anything?  Only the Secretary-General is still waiting for a formal reply from the Sri Lankan Government?  Is that what it is?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  The Sri Lanka Government has indicated that it would be preparing a formal reply.  Beyond that, our own senior advisers have been reviewing; once they are done with their review, we do expect to put out… as we have said, we expect to put out this week the full report by the Panel of Experts.  And that is still something we intend to do.  I don’t have a precise time to give you just yet.


Question:  Will it be ready by Friday?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have a precise time to give you yet.  Like I said, we expect it this week.  Yes?


Question:  Yeah, I want to ask a follow-up on that.  I have been told that when… first that the report was signed off on by the three Panel members on 31 March.  So first I would like you to explain that gap between that signature date and almost two weeks later presenting it to [Deputy Permanent Representative Shavendra] Silva.  But this is my main question, when it was presented to Silva, I am told that he was told 24 hours Sri Lanka had to, as a heads -up; he asked for more time and was given 36 hours.  And what I am wondering is how then… what explains the then much longer delay after the leak, and what happened with that?  Do you deny that those are the time frames that were presented to DPR Silva?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have a comment on the time frames in particular.  What I would like to point out is that the Panel wanted to present their report to the Secretary-General.  As you know, the Secretary-General has had a number of travels, and they were able to turn in the report to him while he was in New York, just before he started his latest round of travels last week.  Aside from that, we had made it clear at the end of last week that the Sri Lankan Government had indicated that they wanted to present a reply.  We’re giving them time to present the reply.  But in the meantime, our own senior advisers were doing their own review of this, and once that review is concluded, we will put out this report.


Question:  Sri Lanka has said they have named a three-person panel, including former [Permanent Representatives] here to the UN to do one… or is it from Mohan Peiris?  Which reply are you referring to?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  We’re simply expecting that there will be a response from the Government of Sri Lanka.  That doesn’t need to tie our hands down regarding when we are going to put out this report.  As we have said repeatedly, we’ll put it out this week.


Question:  Since I have heard this thing of the 24 hours… I mean, I’d like you… it is possible to get… if the UN wants to deny it, go ahead, but the… that when it was presented to them, 24 hours, he asked for more and was told 36.  So some people don’t understand why now nearly a week has gone by since then.  Can you… is there a way that you can ask those involved in presenting it to Silva to deny that or confirm it?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  It is not for me to confirm or deny anything that the Sri Lankan Government or representatives of the Sri Lankan Government are saying; that’s for them to do.  From our part, like I said, we have been doing our own review of this report.  Once that’s concluded, we are putting the report out.


Question:  No one in the UN has seen it from 31 March until the 12 April handover to Ban Ki-moon?  Was there…?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, received it, like I said, last week, just, I believe, the Monday before last, before he travelled.  Yes?


Question:  You say your own analysts are carefully studying this report.  Does that mean when it is finally published, you will be able to tell us what action the UN is going to take next, whether the Secretary-General is going to order a further inquiry?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, I hope to be able to inform you about where we stand in terms of next steps.  Yes?


Question:  Farhan, do you have anything to say about the situation as it is in Yemen?  I know the Security Council had a meeting; they didn’t come up with any statement.


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yeah, the Security Council did have a meeting yesterday.  B. Lynn Pascoe briefed the Council on Yemen, as did Jamal Benomar, who is the senior adviser who has travelled to Yemen earlier this month.  And so we presented them the information that we’ve had, and we expect to continue our contacts with the Yemeni authorities.


Question:  Farhan, here is a question I should have asked Mr. [Alain] Le Roy Friday, but I wasn’t here, but perhaps you can get an answer, if you don’t have one.  A colleague and I, we did a story weeks ago about UN local staff in Abidjan who were leaking information that imperilled the security of UN staff.  They were pro-[Laurent] Gbagbo people.  So I was wondering, what’s happening?  How much damage was done by that?  Ultimately, what’s happened to these staff members who may have been pro-Gbagbo?  Are they still working for the UN?  Are they being investigated?  And in general, how much of a problem is this in other missions around the world, where you have to draw on local people to work there and they may in fact be supporting a cause that the UN is not supporting?  Are they vetted?  What process is there?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I’ll check with our colleagues in UNOCI [United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire].


[The Acting Deputy Spokesperson later said that currently, there are ongoing investigations and one allegation has been referred to the Office for Internal Oversight Services, but no further details can be provided at this point so as to ensure due process.]


Question:  Sure, I want to ask about Sudan, Serbia and labour.  On Sudan, there is this report from the Deputy Governor of South Kordofan, saying that the popular defence force attacked his village, killed 20 people.  And he blames it on Ahmed Haroun… in fact the Governor, the Khartoum-backed Governor of the state.  So, it’s a pretty high-profile person accusing him of being behind this attack, and I wonder, does UNMIS, what have they done in terms of investigating Mr. Haroun’s role, given that they have been flying Mr. Haroun as an ostensible peacemaker to Abyei?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I was told that UNMIS has gone to this area in Southern Kordofan, and it is trying to obtain more information about what’s been going on there.


Question:  What about UNAMID, just of the thing that I asked about yesterday, the various allegations by JEM [Justice and Equality Movement] of the bombing of civilians in Darfur by the Government.  Is there any…?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I do not have a confirmation just yet.  However, like I said, Mr. Khare will brief the Security Council this afternoon on Darfur, and we’ll see whether there is some more information there.  Some part of that is a public briefing, so you will get the notes of that.


Question:  Can I ask on this labour front?  I have obtained this letter that was at least addressed to you, and, I believe received by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon from the AFL-CIO of New York State, saying that the United Nations is now punishing employees for the mistakes of senior management, referring to the 17 union jobs that are being eliminated in the broadcast engineering department.  There is also a letter from SMCC, taking issue with mobility practices.  I wanted you to confirm the receipt of both letters and what’s the response from these critiques of these labour practices from two sides, including one, the AFL-CIO, which is a pretty big union?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Regarding the AFL-CIO letter, yes, I can confirm the receipt of that.  It is being studied; once there is a response, I’ll try and see what we can share of that with you.


Question:  What about the SMCC one?  Have you received that?  12 April?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I am not aware of that one.  Yes?


Question:  I just want to know, the human rights bodies are saying that the European Union, which is ready to send troops into Libya in support of humanitarian groups, is stepping too far.  Maybe they will get involved in the conflict over there.  Do you have any response to that as yet?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I wouldn’t have a response to that at present, no.  Obviously you are talking about something of a long-range question, really.


Question:  But the European Union sending troops in support of the UN humanitarian efforts in Libya…


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I just told you about what we were talking about in terms of humanitarian escorts, and like I said, Valerie Amos may have some more on that later.  Beyond that, I wouldn’t have any further comment.  Yes?


Question:  Farhan, there is a story out of Geneva saying that the Human Rights Council might have an emergency meeting next week to discuss the crackdowns going on across the region, and of course the Arab uprisings.  Can you confirm that that is happening?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I am aware of the reports.  Obviously, any question of a meeting on this is a question for the Member States of the Human Rights Council to take.


Question:  Have you received this letter from the Serbian Foreign Minister, Vuk Jeremić, about organ trafficking in Kosovo?  They have announced that they have written to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, [Russian Federation Foreign Minister Sergey] Lavrov has spoken about it, calling for a UN mechanism to investigate those claims.  Have you received that?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I am aware of the letter.  I will check whether it has been formally received.


[The Acting Deputy Spokesperson later confirmed receipt of Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremić’s letter and said that it will be issued as a Security Council document.]


And with that, like I said, in about half an hour’s time, Valerie Amos will be here.  So, please come around for that.


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For information media • not an official record