|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.
**Secretary-General in Bulgaria
The Secretary-General addressed a major conference in Sofia today on the changes under way in the Middle East and North Africa. He discussed what the countries of Central and Eastern Europe can contribute from their own transitional experiences.
He said that there were marked differences between Europe in 1989 and the Arab Spring of 2011, not least that some countries in the Middle East and North Africa were experiencing bloodshed and violence, rather than a velvet revolution. He warned that in countries like Bahrain, Yemen and Syria, rather than listening to their people’s legitimate aspirations for change, Governments are responding with force. They are killing their own people.
The Secretary-General also held talks with the President and Foreign Minister of Bulgaria and visited the ancient city of Plovdiv. Earlier in the day, he met with members of the Global Compact Network in Bulgaria and with UN staff based in Sofia.
The Security Council is meeting this morning to discuss the Secretary-General’s latest report on the implementation of resolution 1559 (2004), concerning Lebanon. They are being briefed by the Special Representative dealing with that topic, Terje Roed-Larsen.
In the report, the Secretary-General notes that political tension in Lebanon has increased in recent months, fuelled, among other things, by speculation and public pronouncements concerning the proceedings of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. He says that the positions in favour and against the Special Tribunal are becoming growingly entrenched and are polarizing the country. In addition, the widespread proliferation of weapons outside of the State’s control, combined with the continued existence of heavily armed militias, are ominous for domestic peace and the prosperity of Lebanon.
The Secretary-General remains convinced that the disarmament of armed groups in Lebanon, in particular Hizbullah, can best be achieved through a Lebanese-led political process. He calls on Lebanese leaders to reconvene the National Dialogue under the auspices of President Michel Sleiman. Mr. Roed-Larsen will speak to reporters at the Council stakeout once consultations have ended.
Speaking of Lebanon, the Prosecutor of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, Daniel Bellemare, filed an amended indictment today, replacing the indictment of 11 March 2011, to include substantive new elements that had been unavailable until recently. The Prosecutor does not intend to make further amendments to the indictment, unless ordered to do so by the pre-trial judge. Other indictments could, however, be filed in the future if warranted by the evidence.
** Côte d’Ivoire
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) says that the members of the International Commission of Inquiry are currently in Abidjan, meeting with various stakeholders. They are due to travel to other parts of the country next week.
Meanwhile, staff of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Côte d’Ivoire are investigating reports of human rights violations in Yopougon earlier this week. As we mentioned yesterday, the UN Mission’s Human Rights Special Investigation Team is to visit the site of this alleged mass grave today.
And the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is stressing the need for continued humanitarian assistance in Côte d’Ivoire. It says that the emergency humanitarian action plan for that country and neighbouring countries is only 22 per cent funded.
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) is working to obtain more information about the deaths of four Somali asylum-seekers in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province on 29 April. The victims appear to have been killed by Mozambican police, UNHCR says. While a national investigation into the killings is underway, UNHCR urges the Government of Mozambique to respect the human rights of asylum-seekers and ensure that those responsible for the killings are held accountable.
The Deputy Secretary-General will depart New York on the evening of 9 May 2011 to travel to Geneva, Switzerland, where she will chair the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction. She will also meet with United Nations officials based in Geneva. The Deputy Secretary-General will then travel to Istanbul, Turkey, to represent the Secretary-General at the closing session of the Fourth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries. And she will return to New York on 14 May.
Yesterday, 1,500 runners embarked on the first marathon to be held in the Gaza Strip. Just as the race got under way, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) announced that the $1 million goal that was set to be raised at the marathon had been reached. The marathon was organized partly to raise much-needed funds for the Gaza Summer Games run by UNRWA. Now in its fifth year, Summer Games is a large-scale recreational programme that provides the children of Gaza with a rare opportunity to enjoy a moment of joy and normality.
**The Week Ahead at the United Nations
We also have the Week Ahead in our office. So, that’s it. Yes?
**Questions and Answers
Question: On this changing narrative on Osama bin Laden’s arrest, capture and killing, do you, and in view of what the United Nations experts have just demanded to ask the United States Government whether they had any plan to capture him alive, I am sure, even a criminal trial, but the thing is: did he deserve due process or not, is the question. So does the Secretary-General, in light of those statements, does he again plan to still welcome what happened on Sunday night or does he plan to revisit this?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: The Secretary-General has said what he has said and he continues to be relieved that someone responsible for such deadly terrorist attacks is no longer able to perpetrate them. At the same time, the UN human rights system has been asking at various levels for further information. As you know, we have special procedures, initiated by different human rights rapporteurs, including the ones dealing with extrajudicial execution and the one dealing with human rights during counter-terrorism efforts, and they are asking for further information, simply so they can evaluate what happened in this particular case.
Question: But does the Secretary-General believe that the questions these human rights experts have asked should be answered by the United States?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: The Secretary-General believes that countries have the right to defend themselves from terrorism and certainly they have the right to conduct counter-terrorism operations. But it is simply the case that all counter-terrorism operations need to be conducted in conformity with international law.
Question: But all action should be in accordance with international law, as you said previously; but what about this action against Pakistan? This unauthorized attack on this facility in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Does the Secretary-General have any view on this?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: As for whether the attack needed to be authorized or not; whether the Government of Pakistan had a problem with that, that’s really an issue to be resolved between the Government of the United States and the Government of Pakistan. As far as I am aware, this is something that they would sort out bilaterally.
Question: But, on the same subject, the Secretary-General said that justice has been done in this case, the assassination. He already has given an opinion about this, isn’t it?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: He said that he was relieved at this information, yes. And he said what he said and he stands by what he said. Yes?
Question: Sure, you were just saying in fact about Terje Roed-Larsen, he left the Council and he, in fact, didn’t do a stakeout. But I…
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Oh, I was told he was going to do a stakeout.
Question: I understand; no, no, that’s not the issue. But the issue is this, on 18 April in this room, you said that his trip to Bahrain was in a personal capacity, not UN-related. Since then, I have been told by well-placed UN sources that he took a staffer, believed to be Fabrice Aidan, with him on the trip to Bahrain. And there are newspaper articles that say Bahrain met with UN special envoy Terje Roed-Larsen. So, I just asked him, not on camera, and he said, “I don’t wish to comment on that.” So, I am asking you, since it is a UN staff member and UN money to… can we get an answer whether he took a UN staff member to Bahrain? And if he did, how can it be called a private trip?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Yes. He took the trip in his capacity with the IPI [International Peace Institute], it was not in his UN capacity. As for UN staff, different UN staff travel to different countries. I believe Mr. Aidan did travel to Bahrain. That’s…
Question: Can you see why, number one, it makes it look like a UN trip?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Different staff can travel to other countries, doing the sort of information gathering that the relevant UN departments ask of them.
Question: Who paid for his travel? Was it… why doesn’t that make it a UN trip if he travels with Terje Roed-Larsen? It seems really strange to say that he wasn’t there in the UN capacity. Was Mr. Aidan’s trip in the UN capacity to Bahrain?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Yes, he is UN personnel.
Question: At the same time as Terje Roed-Larsen?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: I don’t know about their dates, but yes, it is quite possible it could have been. But the point remains, Mr. Terje Roed-Larsen’s travel was in his private capacity, not in his UN capacity.
Question: Was he told not to take a staffer and to make it clear that it was in a personal capacity?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Like I said, the Department for Political Affairs, for example, can send staff to different places on different assignments. Yes?
Question: Farhan, in these recent arrests in Bahrain, two senior clerics, like Mr. Abul Mafouz, and also the digging of graves and the continued demolition of mosques and burning of copies of the Koran, does the Secretary-General have any new statement on that?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Nothing new for today, but you will have seen the statement that the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, put out yesterday concerning human rights in Bahrain. She had a very extensive statement which we had flagged for you yesterday, in which she raised concerns about the various arrests, about the very stiff penalties and about reports of torture and other sorts of ill treatment. I’d refer you back over to the statement that she made.
Question: Yeah, but, number one, we do not have this statement on video, which people need… Another thing is that, is there no follow-up by the Secretary-General on the matter? The situation in Bahrain is a threat to other neighbouring countries, isn’t it?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: He has been following up, and, in fact, he has been in touch with the leaders of Bahrain and with the region. And if you will see — we haven't put this out on our counter yet — but we will have on our counter at some point this afternoon the speech he gave at the Sofia Platform, while he is in Bulgaria, talking about different problems in different parts of the Middle East and North Africa, including Bahrain, Yemen and Syria. Yes?
Question: Does he condemn it, these practices by the Bahraini authorities?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: You’ve seen the concerns he’s expressed in his recent statements and readouts. Yes?
Question: Has the Secretary-General seen and welcomed or in any way endorsed this reconciliation between the two factions of Palestine, two factions of Palestinians, because he was, he had said earlier in his statement that he is still waiting for the elements?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Well, you saw the statement we put out a few days ago, in which the Secretary-General talked about welcoming Palestinian unity within the context of the previous commitments by the Palestinian Authority and the Arab Peace Initiative. His standpoint remains that way. And I believe we may have a readout for you later today, because the Secretary-General over the past hour has spoken also by phone with the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu.
Question: Okay. Basically, what I want to understand is that, so far, he has not seen the elements of the agreement that he would then fully endorse the reconciliation?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: You’ve seen what we have said in our statement of about three days back. Our position holds. Yes?
Question: Sure, yeah, I wanted to ask, there is a CNN report that a plane of the Bolivian Air Force has gone missing with, it says, four UN workers aboard. I was just wondering, can you… one is that it seems pretty serious, can you confirm that? And two, what exactly is the UN doing with the Bolivian Air Force?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: First of all, no, I cannot confirm that. We are in fact checking and our security and safety staff are checking. If I have any further details, I’ll certainly let everyone know about that. But it’s not confirmed at this stage.
Question: That the plane is missing, but does the UN have a programme with the Bolivian Air Force?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: The United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has a programme in Bolivia. You could ask UNODC about the specifics of their programme. But in a number of countries they have counter-narcotics programmes in place.
Question: And just one thing, does that, because I always hear, like from OCHA for example, they say it’s important that the UN stay somehow disconnected or be perceived as disconnected from military or military escorts. Does this, does this concern not arise at all in this context?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: You can ask, like I said, you can ask UNODC about the specifics of their programmes. They have counter-narcotics programmes in which they work with the Governments of various countries in an effort to deal with counter-narcotics.
Question: Can I ask one last thing?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Sure.
Question: This is, I guess since it’s Press Freedom Day and week, there is this incident, I am sure many of us have heard about it, in Addis where an event involving not only UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization], but a UN representation, the Government of Ethiopia replaced independent journalists with pro-Government journalists, some journalists walked out. This took place this week. And I just wondered whether it’s… UNESCO and they may have their own comment, but whether the UN, given its presence in Addis and the involvement of a UN official in this thing, has any comment on the censorship of a World Press Freedom Day event.
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Well, certainly we would be against any censorship if that were confirmed. But, given UNESCO’s involvement, as you have indicated, I believe the first comment would come from UNESCO on this.
With that, have a good weekend, everyone.
* *** *For information media • not an official record