|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, everyone.
** Sri Lanka
I apologize for the delay. I know that a number of you have been asking all morning about the Panel of Experts report concerning Sri Lanka, so I was trying to get you an answer on that.
What I can say is that, as we have repeated from the outset, it remains our intention to publish the report of the Panel of Experts on Sri Lanka, in full and without amendment. It is our intention to release it as soon as is possible, and we would still like to publish it simultaneously with a response by the Sri Lankan Government. As of right now, we are still trying to ascertain whether they are willing to avail themselves of this offer.
Concerning the Security Council, B. Lynn Pascoe, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, told the Security Council in an open meeting this morning that the stalemate in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations is of particular concern, given the institutional achievements of the Palestinian Authority and the evolving regional situation.
He said that bold and decisive steps are needed to resolve this decades-long conflict, with vision, leadership and responsibility from all concerned. It is also important that any outbreaks of violence that could undermine political efforts are prevented, and that the parties refrain from provocative steps on the ground.
Mr. Pascoe noted that recent weeks have seen the highest levels of violence in Gaza and Israel since Operation Cast Lead, more than two years ago.
**Secretary-General in Russian Federation
The Secretary-General is in Moscow, where he visited a centre for disabled children. He discussed the global problem of disability, at a time when about 10 per cent of the world’s people live with a disability — whether it is physical, emotional or sensory. And he emphasized that inclusive societies and inclusive education benefit everyone.
Earlier today, he left Ukraine, where he spoke at the Kyiv Institute of International Relations this morning. He discussed the question of nuclear safety, and also talked about the recent dispute in Côte d’Ivoire, noting that throughout the problems there, the international community stood firm on principle: that in a democracy, people have the right to choose their leaders. The power comes from the people. His remarks are posted online.
** Côte d’Ivoire
The UN mission in Cote d’Ivoire, UNOCI, has deplored the ongoing fighting in the Yopougon and Abobo neighbourhoods of Abidjan. The mission says that these clashes could threaten efforts to bring back peace. UNOCI says it is holding discussions with the parties to resolve the situation. The Mission has also reinforced its presence in Yopougon. Yesterday, UNOCI started joint patrols with the Republican Forces of Côte d’Ivoire to restore law and order in Abidjan.
Yesterday in Haiti, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Edmond Mulet, handed over the keys to the new temporary building which will house the Haitian Parliament. As you know, the Parliament was destroyed in the January 2010 earthquake. The UN Mission in Haiti, MINUSTAH, suggested this initiative to allow for the opening of the next parliamentary session on 27 April.
The Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Irina Bokova, today called for an investigation into the deaths of Karim Fakhrawi, a co-founder of Bahrain’s independent newspaper, Al-Wasat, and online writer Zakariya Rashid Hassan. Both journalists died in prison in Bahrain earlier this month. There are more details in a UNESCO press release online.
**The Week Ahead at the United Nations
And we also have available for you the “Week Ahead” document.
**Questions and Answers
Question: About Sri Lanka, has the Government told you they will not be responding?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: We are actually still in discussions with the Government of Sri Lanka and through the Permanent Mission. Those discussions have been continuing today. We have tried to see whether they are willing to avail themselves of the idea of publishing their own response to the report, and we are giving them that opportunity. That opportunity is not an indefinite one because, as we have made clear, we do intend to put out the report. And like I said, we will put it out in full and without amendment.
Question: Follow-up? I just wanted, I want to ask you a follow-up on that. Yesterday you said, “We’re expecting a response from the Government of Sri Lanka. That doesn’t need to tie our hands. As I have said repeatedly, we will put it out this week.” So what changed?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: That hasn’t changed; the week is still happening.
Correspondent: Yeah, but tomorrow is Easter. It’s Easter holiday.
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Tomorrow is not Easter. Tomorrow is Good Friday.
Question: I understand; the UN is closed tomorrow. So why would you put out a report when the UN is closed?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: We’ll put out a report as soon as we can. We are also, like I said, in discussions and we’re trying to give the fair opportunity — which is a reasonable thing — to allow for people the right of response. At the same time, that doesn’t bind our hands. I have made it clear: we will put out the report and we will put it out in full, and without amendment.
Question: Does this week mean tomorrow? Or are you counting the weekend?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: I can’t… It could mean later today. We’ll keep you posted on when we put this out. Yes?
Question: The Sri Lankan Foreign Minister held a press conference this morning — of course, you know about that — in which he said the United Nations… If the United Nations puts out this report, it will damage the relations between the UN and Sri Lanka, and also will cause damage to reconciliation efforts. Now, have you responded to that particular aspect to the Foreign Minister’s statement? And have the United Nations had any, I mean, is in touch with Sri Lankan authorities on this issue?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Yes, we are in touch with Sri Lankan authorities, including, like I said, with the Permanent Mission. Regarding what the Foreign Minister said, I think I made it clear at the outset just a few minutes ago that we continue to intend the publication of this report in full and without amendment. That continues to be our aim. We’re continuing, in good faith, to offer them their right to have their own response come out. And we’re trying to ascertain whether they will actually avail themselves of that particular offer.
Question: Have you had any, the United Nations is in touch with the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister and asked for his answer, the Government’s answer to this?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Regarding that, I don’t believe we have had direct communication today with the Foreign Minister, no. Yes, Richard?
Question: I know the path to this report has been very involved. For those around the world that may not be following the issue that closely, can you remind people why the UN believes this report is important, or do you, or will it be important?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: The report is important as an exercise in fulfilling one of the key points that the Secretary-General agreed to with the President of Sri Lanka in May 2009, which is to say that one of the key planks was the principle of accountability. After giving some time for the Government of Sri Lanka to pursue the issue of accountability on its own, the Secretary-General believed, as you remember last year, that he needed to form an independent panel that would look at the issues of accountability and report back to them. They did their work and they’ve done their work very conscientiously; they turned in their report to the Secretary-General. He has reviewed that report, and like I said, we do intend to put that report out. That should happen fairly soon. I do not have a precise time to give you right now. Christine?
Question: Can you respond to the Government’s specific allegation that the Panel overstepped its mandate in this report? How does the Secretary-General; does he agree to…?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: The Secretary-General believes that the Panel has done a good and conscientious job and the results of the report will speak for themselves. Hopefully you will get to see it and you can see how they sought to go about working within their mandate. Yes?
Question: Thanks to some leaks of this report, we understand one of its recommendations is going to be that the Secretary-General should set up a commission of inquiry looking for evidence of war crimes. When you publish this report, will you also tell us what the next steps are going to be and what the Secretary-General intends to do?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Yes. When we put out the report, we also expect to put out a statement that will include discussing what the next steps from our point of view are. But, yes, the Secretary-General will have some recommendations on how he chooses to follow up on this and we expect to share that with you when we share the report. Like I said, I don’t know precisely when, but it could even be later this afternoon or down the line. It really depends ultimately on the course of our discussions about whether the Sri Lankan Government is willing to avail themselves of the offer to have their own response.
Correspondent: They have had a week and have had time to give press comment about what they think about the report. And you are allowing them to kick the publication of this into a holiday weekend, presumably deliberately on their part, because they want, it will get less attention if it comes close to Good Friday.
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: I think whenever this report comes out, it will get the attention that it deserves. And we certainly believe it deserves attention. That is why we are going to be putting this out. We are working in good faith; at the same time, yes, we’re aware that they have had nine days since they have received the report; we are aware that the report had leaked late last week to a Sri Lankan newspaper. We are aware of all these things, yes.
Question: Do you believe they are working in good faith?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: I wouldn’t describe that on their part. Like I said, we’ve been working in good faith with the Member State and we are trying to give whatever we believe to be the reasonable rights that are accorded to a Member State. And we will continue to do that, in good faith.
Question: Can you confirm that yesterday there was a meeting in the North Lawn Building by the secretariat of the Panel and UN agencies, very much anticipating that it would be released today? And if you do confirm, that’s one. And two is, sort of, what changed? On 12 April or 13, was it Mr. [Vijay] Nambiar who handed in to Shavendra, General Shavendra Silva? And did he say, “you have a chance to respond?” Why would you allow them at the last second to sort of… has something changed between then and now that you would now put this off today?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: The discussions have been going on for some time, and they continue to be going on. Like I said, we are working in good faith to accord to the Member State involved the rights to which they reasonably can be seen to exercise. At the same time, this is a very serious issue. It is very important that the report comes out, and we do intend to put this out. Yes, we have briefed the relevant agencies about some of what they can expect. At the same time, we have made it… we’ve been very clear about not putting out bits of the report. We haven’t leaked the report. We’ve been basically working, like I said, in good faith to put this out at the appropriate time. And we will put this out at the appropriate time. Yes, Masood?
Question: On Libya, I just want to ask you that there are reports that there are some mercenaries coming into the whole spectrum, and that also, that arms are being introduced, new arms, the rebels are being armed, and so far there is this contradiction going on between what can be, if the rebels can be armed. And can they be armed, according to the stipulation of the United Nations resolution?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Well, I’ll just refer you to the language of the resolutions themselves. The resolutions do not… the language of the resolutions does not include any explicit exemptions. At the same time, the interpretation of the resolutions is up to the members of the Security Council and specifically to the sanctions committee. So, I would leave it in their hands.
Question: What about the introduction of and the accusation there is the introduction of some mercenaries into the scene?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: We don’t have a presence on the ground that would allow us to have first-hand information on that. Yes?
Question: I actually have more questions on Sri Lanka, including the ones I e-mailed you. But I am going to ask about Libya at this point. There is this Maltese ship that was stopped by the UK; it is called the Setubal Express, and there was some discussion yesterday in front of the Security Council that it was stopped but that notice wasn’t given either to the sanctions committee or, they said, the Secretariat, back to this idea that the Secretariat is supposed to coordinate, coordinating with the [Secretary-General] the arms embargo enforcement under paragraph 14 of resolution 1973 (2011). I wanted to know, has the Secretary-General received notifications of ships being stopped by the UK or other enforcers? And if not, is he concerned that he is not coordinating, as the resolution says?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: I am not aware that he has received those. As I just mentioned to you before, the issue of sanctions is principally one for the sanctions committee. So, it is their principal voice on this that matters.
Question: I just wanted to find out about the situation in Syria. Does the Secretary-General, it has now gone to another stage. And so also in Yemen. And tomorrow is Friday. And it seems that on Friday, things will go out of hand. Where is, what is the United Nations believe on the ground what is happening in Yemen?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Did you say Yemen or Syria? Did you say both things? Which were you asking?
Question: In Yemen, is there anything that the United Nations, I am sorry, is there anything that the United Nations can do to calm the situation, because at this point in time it seems that there is going to be…?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: On Yemen, yes, we have had officials involved in this, including a senior adviser to the Secretary-General, Jamal Benomar, who has visited Yemen and who also briefed the Security Council in its consultations earlier this week about the situation there. Mr. Pascoe, as you know, also briefed on Yemen. And you are aware of our concerns that were expressed both in the Secretary-General’s recent statements and the readouts of his phone calls to President [Ali Abdullah] Saleh. Yes?
Question: I was waiting here earlier, then I left because you weren’t here, and you’re usually more punctual than Big Ben, so I wondered, was the hope that this would be released by noon? What was the last-minute drama here? Were you checking with Moscow to find out what the policy would be? And so you’re not ruling out tomorrow? Would that be something that would be e-mailed, this report? Will there be any UN people who will be briefing when this report gets released?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: I think those decisions will all be taken somewhere further down the line. Yes, this report could be e-mailed; it could be posted on the website, for example. Those are all possibilities. When and how this will happen is something that is still to be determined. And thank you for noticing my lack of punctuality on this particular day. [Laughter.]
Question: If they weren’t going to release it by 11:30 a.m., what happened?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: It’s actually a short walk down the hall, so yes, if it takes some time for me to get down the hall, yes, there is a reason. And no, I am not going to say.
Question: Will the people on the Panel have a press conference and take questions, as took place on the Benazir Bhutto panel?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: I don’t know whether they will be on hand immediately to do that. The Panel, as you know, has dispersed and so it might be difficult to gather them. If we feel that there is a need for the panellists to speak, we’ll certainly try to get hold of them.
Question: I have question, a Côte d'Ivoire question. When you said this renewed fighting, can you, I guess, confirm that this is not supporters of [Laurent] Gbagbo? These are two forces who all supported [Alassane] Ouattara — the army and the IB [Ibrahim] Coulibaly forces? Is that the fighting you are referring to?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: We’re referring exactly to the fighting among two different armed factions that took place in those two neighbourhoods — in Yopougon and Abobo. There is a press release with some more details for you.
Question: And I also wanted to ask: Mr. [Djibril] Bassolé, the head of the Doha process, has now said that he is returning to Burkina Faso to be the Foreign Minister under a new Government after the mutiny there. What’s the process to replace him for this Doha process on Darfur?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Regarding that, what I can say is that the African Union-UN Joint Chief Mediator, Djibril Bassolé, has informed us that he has decided to accept the offer of appointment as Foreign Minister of Burkina Faso.
Once Mr. Bassolé’s new appointment is confirmed, the Secretary-General will consult with Chairperson Jean Ping of the African Union Commission, the Government of Qatar and other key partners to ensure that the recent progress in the negotiations in Doha can lead to an outcome document which will be discussed at the All Darfur Stakeholders Conference next month.
Question: Relatedly, does the Secretary-General have a view of the… what is his view of the relation between the Doha process and the so-called DPP — Darfur peace process, proposed by Khartoum? Is it, is DPP a part of the Doha process or is it a separate thing that can and should begin immediately, as Khartoum says?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Well, our focus, like I said, is on the negotiations in Doha and the idea of discussing an outcome document at the All Darfur Stakeholders Conference, and that would happen next month, in May.
Have a good weekend, everyone.
* *** *For information media • not an official record