27 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 Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon and welcome to the briefing.


** Syria


This afternoon at 3 o’clock, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, B. Lynn Pascoe, will brief the members of the Security Council on the situation in Syria, in closed consultations.  The Secretary-General said yesterday that he would have Mr. Pascoe provide more detail about the latest developments in Syria as the Security Council considers its response.


The Secretary-General, as you know, also spoke to the Security Council yesterday, and said afterwards that he utterly condemned the continuing violence against peaceful demonstrators, most particularly the use of tanks and live fire that have killed or injured hundreds of people.


He emphasized that Syrian authorities have an obligation to protect civilians and respect international human rights.  That includes the right to free expression and peaceful assembly.  And he once more called for an independent, transparent and effective investigation.


This Friday, the Human Rights Council has scheduled a special session to consider the situation in Syria.


**Security Council


This morning, the Security Council unanimously adopted resolutions extending the mandates of two UN peacekeeping missions.


The Security Council extended the mandate of the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) until 9 July of this year.


And the Council extended the mandate of the UN Mission in Western Sahara (MINURSO) by one year, until the end of April next year.  The Council also welcomed the parties’ commitment to the process of holding small, informal talks in preparation for a fifth round of negotiations.


** Côte d’Ivoire


In Côte d’Ivoire, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that thousands of people face enormous humanitarian needs.  Their vulnerability is aggravated by a lingering lack of security in certain places, as well as by the difficulty in obtaining access to essential health, education and sanitation services.


The United Nations has deployed an evaluation and coordination team to Abidjan and the western part of the country since 19 April, to identify the needs of the most vulnerable people.  In the western part of the country, the team’s findings confirmed the existence of persistent humanitarian needs in the areas of shelter, food security, health care, water and sanitation, access to education and protection.  In Abidjan, the assessment revealed the need to assist the Government in the areas of civilian protection, health, education and public hygiene.


** Libya


A three-person team looking at human rights in Libya arrived in the country today.  The team is led by Professor Cherif Bassiouni, and also includes Asma Khader and Philippe Kirsch.  The team was sent by the Human Rights Council and is to present its findings to the Human Rights Council in June.


** Darfur


The UN-African Union Joint Special Representative for Darfur, Ibrahim Gambari, has launched a large-scale project to assist and protect thousands of formerly displaced people on their return to Darfur.  The UN-AU mission in Darfur will manage the effort to distribute high-capacity rolling water containers, among other items, to eight returnee villages.


Mr. Gambari officially launched the project in Kuma Garadayat, in North Darfur, which is home to 3,000 returnees.  He noted that one of the major sources of conflict in Darfur is access to water.


That’s what I have.  Questions?  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Does the Secretary-General have any reaction or does he welcome the recently signed agreement between Fatah and Hamas initialled this morning?


Spokesperson:  Not at this stage.  If we have something later I’ll let you know, but not at this stage.  Yes, Masood?


[The Spokesperson later said that the Secretary-General has long underscored the need for progress towards Palestinian unity within the framework of the Palestinian Authority and the commitments of the Palestine Liberation Organization.]


Question:  On this situation in Bahrain — which is basically going under the radar at this point in time — where human activists, journalists have been killed and so forth, has the Secretary-General sent or has even the Human Rights Council sent somebody to investigate what is happening as vigorously as what is happening in Syria?


Spokesperson:  I really don’t think it would be right to say that it is under the radar.  The Secretary-General raised this in the Security Council yesterday; we have spoken publicly about this repeatedly.  The Secretary-General made his views extremely clear, both publicly and to the leadership in Bahrain.  As you also know, there is a country team in Bahrain that is able to interact with the authorities and that helps us to ensure that the Secretary-General and others are fully briefed on what is happening.  And it’s based on that kind of information and information from other sources that the Secretary-General is able to be fully up to speed on what is happening and to continue to make the calls that he does.


Question:  Are the introduction of third-country troops over there…?  Basically some may call it mercenaries who are in Bahrain, there are allegations that Saudis have sent the troops to reinforce the Government of Khalifa over there.


Spokesperson:  Well, if you’re talking about the Gulf Cooperation Council, this was an agreement that was reached amongst the membership of the Gulf Cooperation Council, and I would urge you to speak to them if you wish to have comment about their participation.  Yes, Nizar?


Question:  Martin, is it legitimate to send the troops without the consent of the people of the country themselves?


Spokesperson:  As I said, that’s really for the Gulf Cooperation Council to comment on, and for the Government in Bahrain to comment on.  Yes, Matthew?


Question:  Sorry to cut you off on this; in this case, does Syria have the right to send troops, for example, to Lebanon, or Israel to send troops to Lebanon?  They decide whether the Lebanese accept that or not?


Spokesperson:  This doesn’t sound terribly much like a question to me, firstly; it doesn’t sound like a question, and secondly, it is mixing up different topics.  So, I think I will pass on that one.  Matthew?


Question:  Sure, I want to ask, initially, Syria and Sri Lanka.  On Syria, there is just… I know that the UN actually does have this peacekeeping force there — UNDOF — Disengagement [Observer] Force there.  So some have said that there may be some… that there is an agreement that UNDOF is supposed to be overseeing about the use of any force near that disengagement area, and I just wonder whether UNDOF or DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations], number one, has… is aware of any use of military action and may break that agreement, and two, if there is any thought of pulling the UNDOF staff out of Damascus?


Spokesperson:  I would ask DPKO if they have any more detailed information on that.  I think you would be aware that this peacekeeping operation is some way removed from centres of population and has a rather distinct role.  If I have any further information on that, and on the presence or otherwise of the liaison staff in Damascus, I will let you know.


Question:  Just on specifics there, a diplomat yesterday was telling me that there have been protests, it’s unclear what the response by the Government has been, but near that area.  So, it’s not… I agree it’s deeper… it’s relatively unpopulated, but there seems to be… so, I just, anyway, I just want to clarify the question.  And I also wanted to ask yesterday — and thanks for… I was… I appreciate the ability to ask the Secretary-General about… all this question of the Sri Lanka report.  But I have to say I didn’t… there was one of his answers I didn’t quite understand and I wanted to give you a chance, I guess, either to clarify it, because he was asked to respond to the idea that that the UN withheld casualty figures and he responded… his answer — and I have gone over it a couple of times — seems to say that there were… “the Government said they couldn’t protect our people”.  So, it seems that that response is that figures were withheld because of safety reasons.  And I just want to make sure, there’s a statement today by the former spokesman, Gordon Weiss, saying pretty much that, there was a problem with the safety of the humanitarian and country team if these numbers were released.  And I want to make sure if that was what he intended to say.  Did he… was the question misunderstood or was he…?


Spokesperson:  I think the point there was that the staff on the ground were not in a position to assess, because they had to withdraw because the Government of Sri Lanka said that their security could not be guaranteed.  I think it’s that way around.  But as the Secretary-General also said, that topic, amongst others, is subject to a review of the UN’s own actions in the last stages of the conflict, and I think that it would form part of that assessment.


Question:  Does that, that review have any kind of public component?  It seems like it’s an important… if this outside panel, advisory panel is advised that the UN review its own compliance or with these mandates, is there some… is that the last we will hear of it or will there be some…?


Spokesperson:  Well, I think that would be for senior advisers and the Secretary-General to decide.  But self-evidently, there is a public interest in this.  But I think it’s not for me to state right now what would happen at the end of that review.


Question:  And he was also asked this thing on… forgive me, I guess, that… on senior advisers, whether this does include Mr. [Vijay] Nambiar?  I mean, it’s… people have tried to sort of raise it gently, but there is an incident which is described in the report in which Mr. Nambiar has some involvement in it.  I don’t want to say it’s totally unclear what it was, but it’s a little… it remains to some unclear whether he is critical of the Sri Lankan Government for having told him they would… they could surrender in compliance with international law.  So I just wonder; some are saying, in all fairness, that it might not be a good idea to have an adviser that’s in some way involved in the incidents that are in the report.  And I just want to know what’s… what is the response on that?  Is the decision that he is the Chief of Staff and so it doesn’t matter or there is no…?


Spokesperson:  Well, Matthew, there are many senior advisers, and that’s the first thing.  The second thing is that the review that the Secretary-General believes needs to be carried out, based on the recommendation in the Panel of Experts’ report, will be looking at the full range of topics that are covered in there.  Yes, first let me come to you and then I will come to you, Masood.  Yes?


Question:  Okay.  On 29 March and later on 6 April, the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Michael Williams, expressed his concern at the UN briefings about the seven Estonian cyclists who were kidnapped in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon.  Besides the information provided by the Estonian Foreign Minister, Urmas Paet, and the Estonian President, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, does the UN have any updates now that a video of the hostages has surfaced on 20 April, in which those who were kidnapped ask that the Governments of France, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Jordan help secure their release?


Spokesperson:  I don’t have any update on that.  I will certainly check with my colleagues on that.  But you are right to point to Mr. Williams’ own assessment that they need to be released and returned unharmed as soon as possible.  But if I have any further update on that, I’ll obviously let you know.  Yes, Masood?


Question:  On Libya, on this introduction of third parties again, there was a report in The New York Times about two days ago, which I think you may have seen, in which they had said that one of the Al-Qaida operatives who was released from Guantanamo Bay has now found himself there on the side of the rebels who are now fighting against [Muammar al-] Qadhafi.  Do you have anything, any comments on that?


Spokesperson:  Well, I think I am getting the same question asked in different ways repeatedly on subsequent days.  The answer is the same, Masood.  First of all, we’re not in a position to verify these kinds of reports.  And secondly, our focus is very much on securing a ceasefire and gaining access in a much more comprehensive way for humanitarian assistance.  There has been some progress on that; a lot more needs to be done.  Yes, Matthew?  And then I am coming to you, Nizar.


Question:  I wanted to ask about Haiti and Darfur, but I’ll just do Haiti first.  Haiti is… In Haiti, there is this delay in the release of some of the election results.  I wanted to know, has the UN said that this is a good thing?  What’s the UN’s role in sort of the review of overturned parts of that election?  And also, in choosing the replacement of Mr. [ Edmond] Mulet, I wanted to know if you can describe the status?  I spoke to the Haitian Permanent Representative; he said that there was a Trinidadian candidate who has been put out, that there is a lot of things going on.  Is there a final list for that position, and is there a Trinidadian candidate among them?


Spokesperson:  Well, on the second, we don’t comment on recruitment processes.  Once the Secretary-General has reached a decision, then we will let you know.  On the first question, the international community, meaning the Organization of American States and the United Nations, said already that there was some concern about some of the results and, therefore, it’s obviously for the Election Commission itself to take action, as it has done, and we’ll see what the outcome of that is.  But the international community had before that point expressed some disquiet about some of the results.


Question:  And just one follow — and thanks, I understand that you are not going to say if this Trinidadian candidate is in or not — but is it… when you say the Secretary-General makes a decision, does he confer in this case like with the host country?  Is there some… is that part of the process generally for candidates?


Spokesperson:  I don’t think we need to get into the selection process.  I think you could assume that he consults widely on appointments.  But once a decision is made, then we’ll let you know.  Yes, Nizar?


Question:  Martin, in his assessment yesterday on the situation in Bahrain, the Secretary-General, how did he characterize the threat to peace and security in the region?


Spokesperson:  Well, he has made very clear repeatedly — and as I have mentioned to you already — that he has called for maximum restraint and that excessive use of force needs to be avoided.  And he has also been extremely consistent in calling for respect of fundamental rights and freedoms.  And also, importantly, encouraging dialogue on reforms, a dialogue which looked as though it was going to be initiated, but has not yet actually taken place.  So he still really firmly believes that you can only have security and stability in Bahrain, and indeed in other countries across the region, if you have a really genuine dialogue and a political process that meets the aspirations of the people.


Question:  Did he touch on the demolishing of the mosques and the burning of holy books?


Spokesperson:  As I said, the Secretary-General is well briefed on what reports are coming from different parts of the region that we are talking about, including Bahrain, and he has obviously again called for restraint and to ensure that people’s fundamental rights are respected.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?


Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Regarding the next round of informal talks on Western Sahara, have the dates and the venue been set?


Spokesperson:  I’d have to check.  I don’t know the answer to that.  As you know, typically when a venue and a date are agreed, we do announce it, but I don’t have anything in my back pocket at this point.  Okay, I have time for one more question.  Yes?


Question:  I am just going to be on Afghanistan today, where seven American soldiers were killed by an Afghan.  I just want to know, does the Secretary-General continue to support a rapprochement between moderate Taliban and the Afghan Government that Mr. [Hamid] Karzai has called?


Spokesperson:  Again, it’s the same kind of response that ultimately dialogue is a part of the political process.  I will check with my colleagues at the Mission in Afghanistan whether they have anything specific on this particular angle.  But clearly, ultimately there needs to be a political solution to events in Afghanistan that have played out over many years, and reconciliation and dialogue are a crucial part of that.


All right, have a good afternoon.  Thank you very much.


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For information media • not an official record