5 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 Farhan Haq, Acting Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon, everyone.


** Haiti


We made the report of the Independent Panel of Experts to investigate the source of the cholera outbreak in Haiti public yesterday, after it had been first presented to the Government of Haiti earlier in the day.


The Secretary-General expresses his gratitude to the Independent Panel of Experts for its efforts and will carefully consider its findings and recommendations.  To that end, the Secretary-General intends to convene a task force within the United Nations system, to study the findings and recommendations made by the Panel to ensure prompt and appropriate follow-up.


The cholera outbreak has caused significant loss of life and wide-spread infection throughout the country.  On behalf of the UN family, the Secretary-General reiterates his deepest sympathies to the victims of the epidemic and their loved ones.


The Secretary-General reaffirms the continuing commitment of the United Nations to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Government and people of Haiti in the ongoing fight against the cholera epidemic and expresses his gratitude to the many countries and organizations that have helped to combat the disease.


That statement and the report are available on our web site.


**Secretary-General in Bulgaria


The Secretary-General has arrived in Bulgaria and has met with Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, parliamentarians and the Mayor of Sofia.


The Prime Minister and the Secretary-General discussed climate change, nuclear safety, disaster risk reduction and the fight against corruption.  They also took questions from the press afterwards.


The Secretary-General also delivered a lecture at Sofia University, in which he urged students to raise their sights and become global citizens, as well as proud Bulgarians.


He told them that, visiting Tunisia and Egypt recently, he saw the euphoria and the same sense of fresh possibility that Bulgaria experienced two decades ago. These revolutions, he said, represent one of the greatest opportunities to advance human rights and democracy in a generation.


** Libya


In a message delivered to the Contact Group on Libya meeting that took place in Rome today, the Secretary-General says that the ability of the international community to act decisively and swiftly to date in Libya has saved thousands of lives and prevented a humanitarian catastrophe.


He emphasized the need to ensure unrestricted access for humanitarian assistance and to coordinate international efforts in this regard.  He also highlighted the UN’s work with all stakeholders to put in place a political process that meets the aspirations of the Libyan people, and its planning for peacebuilding and post-conflict reconstruction.


The Special Envoy for Libya, Abdul Ilah al-Khatib, has continued to negotiate with both parties with the aim of achieving an immediate ceasefire.  The Secretary-General said that there is consensus that any ceasefire agreement should be credible and verifiable, and consistent with resolution 1973 (2011).  The actions we are pursuing seek to do just that, the Secretary-General said.  And we have his message in our office.


** Libya – Humanitarian


The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that, yesterday, 800 third-country nationals and 50 wounded people were evacuated from the Libyan port city of Misrata.


Some 125 metric tons of food have been delivered to help more than 13,000 people living in shelters or with relatives in the Western Mountains areas.


Distributions are ongoing and further World Food Programme (WFP) convoys are expected to follow; the supply route is facing challenges due to insecurity in some areas.  There also remains a lack of fuel for transportation of humanitarian assistance.


** Bahrain


The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, expressed deep concern today about the continued detention of hundreds of activists in Bahrain, the prosecution of scores of medical professionals, and the sentencing to death of four protestors after a closed-door military trial.


The High Commissioner said that the application of the death penalty without due process and after a trial held in secrecy is illegal and absolutely unacceptable.  She said that the defendants are entitled to fair trials before civil courts, in accordance with international legal standards and in keeping with Bahrain’s international human rights obligations.


Ms. Pillay said that she was particularly worried about reports of the death of at least four persons in custody. Her office has also received reports of severe torture against human rights defenders who are currently in detention.  She added that there must be independent investigations of these cases of death in detention and allegations of torture.  Her full statement is available in our office.


**Secretary-General Appointment


Last, the Secretary-General has appointed Ms. Rosine Sori-Coulibaly of Burkina Faso as Deputy Special Representative of the United Nations Office in Burundi (BNUB) and the United Nations Resident Coordinator, Resident Representative and Humanitarian Coordinator for Burundi.  Prior to joining the United Nations, Ms. Sori-Coulibaly has served as an economist in Burkina Faso’s Ministry of Economic Planning and Development, as well as a member of the Social and Economic Council.  And we have more information on Ms. Sori-Coulibaly in our office.


And that is it.  Yes, Joe?


**Questions and Answers


QuestionFarhan, I note the Secretary-General’s remarks about his sympathies to the families of the victims of the cholera outbreak in Haiti; is the UN considering paying compensation to the families — 4,500 people died?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, regarding what we are planning to do, our focus is and will continue to be on combating and containing the cholera outbreak.  The UN will continue to work closely with the Government and people of Haiti to address the crisis and to guard against the further spread or future outbreak of cholera.  Regarding responsibility, as you know, the report says that the cholera outbreak was caused by a confluence of circumstances; it was not the fault of any group or individual person, including the UN.


Question:  Correct; it was a number of circumstances, but one of them being the bad job that the company contracted by the UN did of disposing of the waste just above where the river was contaminated.  It clearly was a UN role helped by this contractor.  So there is some responsibility, even though there are these other factors; if they weren’t present, perhaps it would not have happened the way it did.  So the UN is not accepting any responsibility or thinking of compensating or helping these families in any way?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, as far as that goes, the Report focuses on public health issues.  It wasn’t designed to address legal issues.  And it doesn’t do so.  And again, regarding responsibility, the report doesn’t present any conclusive scientific evidence linking the outbreak to the MINUSTAH [United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti] peacekeepers or the Mirabelais camp.  But yes, you’re right that we have our sympathies for the people of Haiti.


As far as what we’re doing on the ground, the UN continues to respond to requests from the Haitian authorities and other humanitarian actors for medical, logistical and security assistance.  MINUSTAH has been enabling humanitarian access through ground and air transport.  MINUSTAH and the UN country team have also been assisting in the delivery of humanitarian aid and relief items, including the distribution of hundreds of thousands of litres of potable water.  Equally important, with support from other partners, MINUSTAH has helped to establish a number of cholera treatment centres.  And the UN and its partners are committed to supporting the Haitian Government as long as necessary.  Yes, Masood?


QuestionFarhan, as more and more details are made available of Osama bin Laden’s killing and arrest, and killing by the American forces, it seems more and more that it was more like a premeditated extrajudicial killing.  Is the Secretary-General going to revisit the statement that he made the other day and change it, because it has been suggested that what happened was that he was totally unarmed; there was no attempt to fight.  So, was it a premeditated extrajudicial killing?  Although probably he was the worst criminal in the history of the world, did he deserve to be asked the questions?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, regarding that, I wouldn’t comment on the circumstances of his death, simply because the details that we have been getting, as you and I both know, the details have changed several times in recent days.  We don’t have any solid information on this.  I know that Navi Pillay has asked for some further information on that.  But at this stage there is nothing to go on.  The Secretary-General has said what he said, and he stands by that.  And as you know, the Security Council has also reacted to the death of Osama bin Laden in its Presidential Statement that was issued on Monday.


Question:  At that time, only at that time the details were not as clear as they are now.


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  We continue to gather details, but the Secretary-General sees no reason to say anything further on the topic beyond what he told you on Monday.  Yes?


Question:  Sure, first just to follow up on Joe’s question, I wanted to, that panel, I guess they met with the Secretary-General earlier in the week.  Was there a sort of a decision made that they wouldn’t have a press conference, as has been done in some other UN reports?  Is there, I noticed this also on the Sri Lanka, is there a new, has their work finished?  Is there some way that this could be arranged?  Because many people have questions about, they come right up to the precipice of making a conclusion and then they say, sort of echoing the UN, that it doesn’t really matter who caused it, which some people dispute.  But how, is there some way that in an official way, they can answer questions about the report?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I can check whether that’s possible.  The panel has dispersed because their work was done.  It’s as simple as that.  As with the Sri Lanka panel, once a panel’s work is done, the panel members disperse and go on to their other work.  So they’re back at their regular jobs.


Question:  But on the Benazir Bhutto one, I just remember that one, you know, they handed in the report…


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  That’s a completely different thing.  That was a fact-finding mission that looked into a criminal case.  And they came out with the report and did a press conference that precise day, after which they, like the other panels, dispersed once their work is done.


Question:  But wasn’t their report also shared with Pakistan in advance, and there was some delay, then at the time we were given it they were here and…


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  It was a very different thing.  That report had been requested in response to a request from the Government of Pakistan.  With this one, we received the report, the Secretary-General then, as a courtesy, gave the report to the Government of Haiti.  Once that report was given to the Government of Haiti, which was earlier yesterday, then we were able to put out the report.  And we made that available as soon as we could yesterday afternoon.


Question:  And I want to ask also, yesterday, you probably saw this, there was a press conference in this room about the Central African Republic by Watchlist, two NGOs [non-governmental organizations] and the Belgian Permanent Representative.  Among other things, they said, called pretty clearly that the UN should, the country team in the Central African Republic should establish some presence.  They said there is none in an area called Obo, where they say children are being abducted by the LRA [Lord’s Resistance Army].  There are various problems there and they say that the UN has chosen for, without a reason, not to have any presence there, even though it’s not a level 5 security.  And I just wonder what, it seemed like it was said here, what’s the UN’s kind of response to these on the ground experts saying the UN is not doing its job there?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we’ll check with the country team and see what their response is to that.


Question:  And what’s the status of the new SRSG [Special Representative of the Secretary-General] there?  I know that Ms. [Sahle-Work] Zewde was moved to Nairobi as the Head of that office; is there a new, I was told yesterday that basically there is a Nigerian woman about to be named as SRSG; is that… what was the process and what… were these issues considered, I guess I am saying.  It seems like there are some problems with serving [ Central African Republic] under the previous regime there.  So, I am just wondering, what’s the status of choosing a new leader?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t have any fresh appointments to announce.  If we do, we’ll let you know at that time.  Yes?


Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  On Syria, there is no resolution on the protection of civilians there passed by the Security Council, but the military is still shooting innocent civilians, and some countries are thinking of adopting sanctions.  Is the Secretary-General in favour of adopting sanctions against Syria?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  As you know, the question of sanctions is a question for Member States.  The Secretary-General wouldn’t involve himself in that.  Beyond that, as you know, the Secretary-General did speak yesterday with the President of Syria, President Bashar al-Assad, and we made available to you the readout of that.  One of the things I wanted to point out is that he had called on President Assad to immediately grant access to the United Nations in order to assess the humanitarian needs of the affected civilian population.  And the Secretary-General appreciated President Assad’s willingness to consider such an assessment to Daraa.  And I am told that we have received that access and that in the coming days, a humanitarian assessment team will be going to Daraa.  Yes?


Question:  Good morning, thank you.  The situation in Côte d'Ivoire, according to several of the reports, is getting worse and worse as refugees come home.  And according to Save the Children, there are children sleeping out in the open.  Is the SG calling or looking for any particular changes to the mission there; changes in the stance at all to maybe more of a humanitarian mission?  It was one all along, anyway, but how is the UN adapting its stance in the Ivory Coast?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  As far as that goes, yes, there is a humanitarian component to our work in Côte d'Ivoire, and that continues.  And we have, as you know, made appeals for humanitarian aid and assistance in Côte d'Ivoire.  We’re continuing with those efforts, as well as with our human rights monitoring in the aftermath of the fighting there.  Yes, Joe?


Question:  There is a report here that the Syrian army is leaving Daraa, the southern city where this revolt began six weeks ago.  And in the conversation that the Secretary-General had with President al-Assad yesterday, he asked about UN access to that town.  If in fact the Syrian army is leaving, do you expect to get the opportunity to enter?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, as I just said just a second or two ago, I said that we expect to have a humanitarian team go to Daraa in the next few days.  I know you were too busy looking at your laptop to listen to what I was actually saying, but, yeah, that’s what I was saying, yeah.  (Laughter) Yes, Matthew?


Question:  I wanted just… there are the reports from Somalia that the Transitional Government there complained about the way that the… they are saying that AMISOM [African Union Mission in Somalia], the mission there has to now register foreign workers.  It says that AMISOM is not hiring local people or is accusing many local people of being Al-Shabab affiliated or somehow terrorist affiliated.  And I just wondered, given the UN role with AMISOM, are you aware of both the legality of it and what Mr. [Augustine] Mahiga or others say about this recent move by the Transitional Government in Somalia?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  We wouldn’t have comment on the practices of AMISOM as it goes about its hiring; that’s a question to ask the African Union.  That’s their mission. Yes?


Question:  I have been told discussions on Western Sahara are supposed to take place this month.  Are there any dates set yet, and the venue?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  There is no date and venue set just yet.  Once we have those, we’ll announce them.  Yes?


Question:  On Bahrain, did you say that Navi Pillay is going to appoint an investigative team for that country?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  No, no; she called for an investigation, including into reported deaths in detention.  There is a fairly extensive press release on our counter.


Question:  But at some point in time there is no…


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  It’s not about her own investigation.  Yes?


Question:  While in Bulgaria, at least the Prime Minister of Bulgaria said that the Secretary-General committed to somehow improve his efforts or increase his efforts to get these Bulgarian helicopter pilots that are,  have been kidnapped or taken captive in Sudan freed.  What exactly does that mean?  What more is the UN going to do?  This was, it was reported there as a big commitment by Ban Ki-moon.  What’s the UN doing to, and what… who does it think have them and what’s the status?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  We’re working with interlocutors to do what we can to get that particular air crew from Bulgaria freed.  Of course the nature of such efforts is that we wouldn’t spell out precisely what that is.  But we have been working for some time.  By the way, on the question of Bulgaria, the Secretary-General and the Prime Minister did have a press encounter.  Once we have the transcript available later this afternoon, we’ll put that out.


QuestionFarhan, in response to, in your answer to Masood’s question about bin Laden, you quoted Navi Pillay.  Does that mean that the Secretary-General endorses her request for further information?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson: No, I was just referring to it.  As far as that goes, her point was simply that we don’t have necessarily the information, which is the case.  We haven't received any detailed information about this.


Question:  This morning in Oslo, she called for full disclosure of the accurate facts.  And she says that, of course terrorism is horrible, but, for instance, you’re not allowed to commit torture or extrajudicial killings to counter-terrorism.  The Secretary-General agrees with that, and does he want full disclosure of the facts?  Does he support her call?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, in terms of that, that’s the call that she has made.  But in terms of the point of principle, it’s quite clear that the UN respects the right of all countries to pursue counter-terrorism operations; but that those counter-terrorism operations need to be in conformity with international law.  That’s simply a standard set for every country.  Yes?


Question:  Sure, I wanted to, on the Somalia thing, I think AMISOM is supported by the UN, that’s sort of why I had asked about this thing.  But I wanted to ask you…


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  We supported it logistically; it’s not, we don’t do their hiring for them or anything like that.


Question:  Sure.  How about right here inside the building, it was projected and then, in fact happened and was reported that the elevator operators of the UN, a union company, ABM was removed on 1 May and replaced by a non-union company.  What’s the, this is, there is also this outstanding letter by the AFL-CIO to the Secretary-General about the reduction of union positions in the Broadcast Engineers department.  What, putting the two together, what is the response on the elevator operators, and has there been a response to the AFL-CIO?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, they are not the same issue; they are separate issues, first of all.  Like I said, when we have a response to the AFL-CIO letter, I’ll share that.  Regarding the elevator operators, that’s a case of procurement contracts.  There was a new contract put in by a party that had entered a lower bid, following the standard UN procedures.


Question:  I know it was once said here, that although these are, was controlled, the one case is by Aramark in the cafeteria, that the unions, that the UN somehow wanted to see people treated fairly, and although these were contractors, had some input; did the UN in any way check to see why these people who worked here 28 years were summarily let go on 1 May?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Again, it’s the sub-contractor that hires people.  If they brought in their own team, that’s the practice…


Question:  If they have a contractor in… [inaudible]


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  That’s the practice…  You’re not actually letting me speak, Matthew, you’re talking over me.


Question:  Okay.  Okay.


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  That’s the practice of the sub-contractor.  We do expect that all of our sub-contractors will abide by fair hiring practices and fair labour practices.


Question:  What do you do to make sure that that expectation takes place?  In this case, do you think that the firing of these people essentially met your expectation?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, in terms of that, like I said, a new contractor came in with its own personnel after entering a lower bid.  So, they got the contract.  But that’s what that’s based on.  Beyond that, you know, we’ll have to see what the new contractor does in terms of its own hiring practices.


Thanks very much.  Have a good afternoon.


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For information media • not an official record