3 May 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.


**Security Council


The Security Council held its first consultations under the French presidency this morning and approved its programme of work for the month.  Ambassador Gérard Araud of France, this month’s Council President, will brief you on the programme of work this afternoon, at 5, in this room.


At 3 this afternoon, the Security Council will hold an open meeting, followed by consultations, on Libya.  Council members will receive a briefing from the Special Envoy for Libya, Abdul Ilah al-Khatib.


**Libya


And staying with Libya, the exodus from Libya’s Western Mountains region into Tunisia has resumed following a brief interruption last week caused by clashes between Libyan Government and opposition forces, the UN refugee agency is reporting.


Over the weekend, more than 8,000 people — mostly ethnic Berbers — arrived in Dahiba, in southern Tunisia.  Their situation has been made worse by a violent sandstorm that has battered the area.  The agency and its partners are struggling to maintain nearby camps.


The Agency also reports that more people have been fleeing Libya by sea to Italy, with some 3,200 people, mostly from sub-Saharan Africa, having arrived at the island of Lampedusa in recent days.  And this brings the total number of arrivals in Italy from Libya since 26 March to 8,100.


**Libya — Commission of Inquiry


Last week, the International Commission of Inquiry established to investigate alleged human rights violations in Libya concluded its field visits to Egypt, Libya and Tunisia.


In Benghazi, the Commission visited the Benghazi Medical Centre, as well as the Al Jalaa hospital, and interviewed over 30 injured or wounded patients.  The Commission reminded the authorities of the need to treat all detainees in accordance with international standards.


In Tripoli, the Commission discussed the fate of a number of journalists who are being detained and gave the authorities a list of 18 specific names, asking for their whereabouts.  It also brought to their attention the situation of 86 detainees being held in El Jdaida detention centre, in relation to the events which took place in February and March of this year.  The Commission interviewed a number of detained people and also asked for their release on humanitarian grounds. 


The report of the Commission will be submitted to the Human Rights Council at its next session in June.


**World Press Freedom Day


In a joint message marking World Press Freedom Day, the Secretary-General, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) stress that State authorities must do everything to counter impunity and to protect the safety of journalists.


They underline that violations of human rights cannot go unanswered.  In the past decade, more than 500 journalists have lost their lives, with 60 killings reported worldwide in 2010 alone.  The statement says:  “We will never forget the courage of journalists who paid with their lives for our right to know.”


**Press Conferences Tomorrow


At 10 a.m. tomorrow, there will be a press conference to launch a Watchlist report entitled An Uncertain Future?:  Children and Armed Conflict in the Central African Republic.  The speakers will include Ambassador Jan Grauls, who is President of the Peacebuilding Commission, and Eva Smets, who is Director of Watchlist.  This press conference is sponsored by the Permanent Mission of Canada to the United Nations.


And at 1 p.m., there will be a press conference with Jânis Kârklins, Assistant Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day.


And at 1:45 p.m., there will be a press conference with Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, on the situation in Libya.


That’s what I have for you.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi and then James.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Thank you, Martin.  On Libya, there are reports that the [Muammar al-]Qadhafi forces have mined the port of Misrata in their attempt to strangulate the city, and that famine could hit the city in the next few weeks.  Do you have any confirmation of that, and if yes, what is the UN doing about that?


Spokesperson:  Well, we’re certainly aware of the reports of possible mining in the port area, and certainly the humanitarian agencies — whether it is the World Food Programme or others — are extremely keen to be able to have access to Misrata, precisely because the people there are in desperate need of assistance.  I would like to provide you with some more details after checking with the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).  As I understand it, certainly there are attempts to try to have seaborne supplies taken into Misrata, but obviously this needs to be done in the right circumstances.  There is considerable concern in the humanitarian community that access is not how it should be.  If I get some more details on precisely what is being planned or what is taking place at the moment, then I’d be very pleased to let you know.  James?


Question:  Thanks, Martin.  It’s on the Secretary-General’s statement following the news of the death of Osama bin Laden yesterday.  The Secretary-General spoke so broadly in support of the attack, and I was wondering whether or not there was any analysis of some of the areas that might be problematic; for example whether it was a violation of Pakistani sovereignty or whether or not the killing represented an extrajudicial execution?


Spokesperson:  I think the most important point the Secretary-General was trying to make was that this was an extremely important moment in the fight against terrorism.  It is not to say that that fight is over and, indeed, the United Nations will continue to fight against it.  Al-Qaida’s crimes stretch right way round the world, and have brought tragedy to many hundreds of people, whether they have been killed themselves or family members have been killed or injured.  It is obvious that the United Nations would condemn that in all its forms and that’s that the Secretary-General was doing yesterday.


Question:  The question is more about whether or not the means justify the ends?


Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General spoke about that, too, and he has certainly spoken in general terms, commending the work that’s being done by many people around the world in trying to eradicate international terrorism.  Yes, Barbara?


Question:  Just to follow up on James’s question.  The Secretary-General quite specifically said that he was relieved that justice had been done.  He made the point that justice had been done, which, of course, we know is very much the feeling in the United States for reasons that are obvious, but in actual fact we are talking about, in essence, a SWAT team that flew into another country and assassinated somebody.  I mean, was there no discussion that the Secretary-General might have a responsibility to keep the principle of rule of law in all cases, even if you are talking about somebody like Osama bin Laden?


Spokesperson:  Well, he prefaced that by saying personally, he is very much relieved by this news, not least because he also personally remembers precisely what happened on that day, 11 September 2001, because he was here in New York at the time, as you know, working for the then-President of the General Assembly, just about to start that session.  And so I think it’s in that context that he was speaking.


Question:  But he speaks for the UN, doesn’t he?  That’s a UN statement saying justice was done?


Spokesperson:  As I say, the key point here is that Al-Qaida has brought tragedy and death and destruction around the world, touching most continents around the world.  Yes, I think you had a question, and then I am coming to you, Nizar.  Yes, Nizar, please, yes?


Question:  By “encouraged”, isn’t that… couldn’t that be interpreted as encouragement for the law of the jungle, rather than the law of nations here?  Because, number one, the people have the right to know why bin Laden has done it, what he has done, and they want to know who is behind bin Laden, as well.  A trial would be in order, isn’t it, in this case?  Why did they opt not to try him?


Spokesperson:  Well, that’s really not a question for me, Nizar, that’s a…


Correspondent:  It is a question, of course.


Spokesperson:  It’s not a question for me to analyse the United States Administration’s operation that was carried out, as you know, and was announced by President [Barack] Obama.  I am not going to do that.  Yes, Matthew?


Question:  Sure, I have questions on Libya, Sri Lanka and the GA [General Assembly], but I, just on this point, is it…


Spokesperson:  Let’s take them one by one.


Question:  Sure.  Is it possible to get us a press… some kind of Q and A with the Secretary-General?  Either before he goes on this trip or the next trip?  When is the next opportunity here in this room, or the stakeout, or somewhere to have these very questions asked of the Secretary-General?


Spokesperson:  Well, there was a stakeout quite recently, as you know.  Yeah, what’s your next question?


Question:  It’s on Libya.  You’d said from this podium and, that this… Mr. al-Khatib, there has been this question about whether he is a staff member or whether he is still a Senator in Jordan; how he puts… how he balances these two jobs in compliance with UN rules.  It was said that his contract was being finalized.  Has it been finalized?  What is his status with the UN?


Spokesperson:  Let me check.  I think that we have something on that already, but I don’t have it with me.  Yeah?


Question:  And I wanted to ask you, just now in the General Assembly there was a vote on this resolution for the European Union to get rights.  But, a couple of things, I mean, obviously that’s the General Assembly, but I wanted to ask you… I guess these are Secretariat questions, the voting screens didn’t work at all, so it sort of led to some surprise.  And also the Internet didn’t work inside the General Assembly, either for the press or diplomats, who were also complaining.  So I am just wondering, like it’s still a functioning part of the building.  What’s… who is in charge of making sure that the General Assembly is actually functioning, both in terms of voting, using the Internet, having access to it…?


Spokesperson:  Well, Matthew, I think you know the structure of this Organization, and I’ll check with the relevant department to ask them what happened.  I am hearing this from you.  I need to check.  [He later confirmed that there had been a technological glitch in the room.]  Yes, Barbara?


Question:  Can you bring us up to date with Valerie Amos’s agreement with the Libyan Government about humanitarian access?  From what we understand, over the weekend the UN staff have had to… internationals had to leave Libya and Qadhafi is bombing the port of Misrata and apparently laying mines.  So does that mean this humanitarian agreement that she negotiated with him is dead?  What is the status of that?


Spokesperson:  Not at all, not at all.  A couple of points:  the first is that an agreement was reached both with the authorities in Tripoli and in Benghazi.  A humanitarian team, international staff were then… two teams, one was sent to Benghazi and is in place in Benghazi; a smaller team was put in place in Tripoli.  Barely a week went by and the security situation in Tripoli, as you know, deteriorated over the weekend and the decision was taken, as you know, that that team should temporarily relocate.  That team is doing the work to try to provide humanitarian assistance while temporarily being based in Tunisia.  It is the firm intention of the humanitarian team and of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs to have them return as soon as possible to Tripoli to be able to try to ensure on the ground there that assistance is provided to those who need it.  As you also know, there was an incident over the weekend in which a crowd did ransack a UN office building and a number of vehicles were taken.  I understand that the Libyan authorities have apologized for that.  It is also clear that Mr. al-Khatib, when briefing the Council this afternoon, will possibly have some more information on this.  We are concerned — I said so earlier in relation to Misrata — we’re obviously concerned that we need to have access.  But also, our staff need to operate in a minimally secure environment and the assessment at that time at the weekend was that that simply was not the case.  Masood, I think you were about to ask a question?


Question:  Yeah, I just wanted to know — I had asked you this question yesterday — has any investigation been held about the killing of Qadhafi’s son and his grandchildren in a NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] strike, as to what happened?  Is that justified?


Spokesperson:  Well, I am not aware of any investigation by NATO or anybody else, for that matter.  And if I have anything further for you, then obviously I’d share it with you.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?


Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Last week, events in Marrakech whereby the terrorist attack killed 16 people and injured more than 20, including six French people.  Following that, Governments and regional organizations and the Security Council have strongly condemned this terrorist attack.  The Secretary-General issued a mild statement, saying that he was appalled by this event, by this act.  Have those who drafted this statement for the Secretary-General underestimated the gravity of the attack?


Spokesperson:  No, certainly not.  And I really believe that the statement was strong, it was strongly worded and it clearly expressed the concern that the Secretary-General felt about that event.  It’s really not the case that there is some kind of gradation here.  It was a strongly worded statement and I think it spoke for itself.  Yes, Matthew?


Question:  Sure.  Sri Lanka and Darfur.  On Sri Lanka, the External Affairs Minister, G.L. Peiris, has told Parliament now that the Government there will be responding to the Secretary-General, and he said that he had a conversation, telephone conversation, with the Secretary-General, saying that he told Parliament.  I am just wondering, one, has the UN been informed of this formally, that Sri Lanka will be responding to the report?  And also, was there a call, and if so, what’s the readout on the UN side?


Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General spoke to the Foreign Minister some days ago, and not recently.  And so far, we have not received an official formal response.  We’d be very happy to receive it, as I have repeatedly said.


Question:  On that call, that was before the report was published by the UN?  Is that the call the Saturday…?


Spokesperson:  I can’t remember the chronology, let me find out.  [He later confirmed that the call was conducted before the report was issued.]


Question:  Okay.  And also just on Darfur, there are these… there have been two separate reports of children dying in IDP [internally displaced persons] camps in Darfur due to, they say, lack of medical care, the residents of the camps.  One is in the well-known Khor Omer camp, the other one is Mershing camp.  And I am just wondering how to square with this, I saw a recent UN News Centre, UN press release, about increased humanitarian access.  Is this… I mean, is UNAMID [African Union-UN Hybrid Operation in Darfur] aware of people dying in camps due to lack of medical care and if so, what is being done to gain access to those camps?


Spokesperson:  I’ll ask my colleagues in DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] to provide an update.  Yes, Nizar?


Question:  I like question about Lebanon.  When did Mr. Siniora visit Mr. Ban Ki-moon, and what was the discussion about, if he did?  Fouad Siniora, former Prime Minister of Lebanon.


Spokesperson:  Yeah, I would need to check, I am not aware of that meeting.


Question:  Another question on Bahrain.  There was arrest today of two members of the Parliament and one journalist.  Also the crackdown on a sectarian basis continues unabated in different parts of Bahrain.  What is the Secretary-General doing?  Are there any fresh contacts?  Are there any steps to be taken yet on the situation, which has been lingering for over two months now?


Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General has made his views clear on events in Bahrain and has spoken, as you know, to the authorities there.  We also have our country team in place in Bahrain and they are a conduit to the authorities also.  The Secretary-General has repeatedly said that there needs to be dialogue, the dialogue that was proposed needs to be realized, and that people’s right to protest, to freedom of assembly, needs to be guaranteed.  As for the most recent events that you are referring to, I don’t have anything specific, but we are aware of them.  If I have anything further, then I would share that with you.


Question:  Would you believe there is a humanitarian crisis in Bahrain, since people have no access to hospitals?  People are shot and they cannot go to hospitals.  Many of them are treated at home in very risky situations with a contaminated environment.  Is there no humanitarian crisis in Bahrain?


Spokesperson:  We’re aware of the reports that you are referring to and if I have anything more, then I would let you know.  Obviously it goes without saying that people who have been hurt, wounded, injured in whatever the circumstances have a right to medical treatment, and that is something that we would be concerned about, certainly.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi, last question?


Question:  Thank you, Martin.  The Quartet has been examining the Middle East process for some time now.  Events are moving very fast in the region.  Is the Quartet contemplating any meeting in the future, soon?


Spokesperson:  I am sure that they would intend to meet in the future.  Quite when that would be and where it would be I do not yet know.  But obviously they did meet previously and were keen to accelerate the process and to maintain some kind of momentum.  As you point out, it is a fast-paced environment at the moment, not least with what we’ve been seeing just in the past week.  I am sure that the Quartet envoys are closely looking at this, but I don’t have anything at this point on any potential meeting.


Okay, thank you.  Have a good afternoon.


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For information media • not an official record