25 August 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.


**Secretary-General in Denver


Speaking at the University of Denver last night, the Secretary-General said that, over the past year, the responsibility to protect has become an operational reality, with the Security Council and Human Rights Council invoking its principles.


He said that, in Tunisia and Egypt, the revolutions of the “Arab Spring” took their course without direct international intervention.  Libya and Syria, however, have proven to be sterner tests.


On Libya, he said, the United Nations has been working intensively to ensure that we can do our part for post-conflict assistance.  We stand ready to provide assistance in all key areas, including economic recovery, elections, human rights, transitional justice and the drafting of a new constitution.


On Syria, the Secretary-General said that he has repeatedly urged President [Bashar al-]Assad to end the excessive and lethal use of force by his security forces against the Syrian people, and to engage in meaningful reforms.  Yet, while he pledged to do so, he has not upheld that commitment.  The violent repression against civilians, including mass arrests, continues, the Secretary-General warned.  The Secretary-General will be back in New York this afternoon.


** Libya


The Secretary-General has invited the heads of regional organizations to participate in a meeting tomorrow to discuss Libya.  The invitees include the African Union, the European Union, the Organization for Islamic Cooperation and the League of Arab States.  The objective of the meeting is to develop ways in which these organizations will continue to work together, especially on the post-conflict phase in Libya.


Ian Martin, the Special Adviser for post-conflict planning in Libya, attended a meeting of the Libya Contact Group in Istanbul today.  He emphasized the principle of national ownership, so that our assistance must be truly responsive to Libyan wishes and aspirations.


Mr. Martin said that it is clear that an urgent priority is the delivery of humanitarian assistance, as well as the maintenance of essential health, water and food distribution services.  United Nations humanitarian agencies and their NGO partners are finalizing a 30-day action plan to ensure quick delivery.


He also emphasized the need for speedy response and rapid delivery.  As a result of our preparatory work, Mr. Martin said, we are ready to present proposals for the early start-up of appropriate United Nations engagement in the country, beyond the current humanitarian efforts, as soon as the Security Council is ready to consider recommendations from the Secretary-General.  His remarks to the Contact Group are available in our office.


**Security Council


B. Lynn Pascoe, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, briefed the Security Council on the Middle East this morning, and told Council members that, despite continued efforts to assist Israel and the Palestinians in finding a way back to the negotiation table, the political deadlock persists.  The status quo is unsustainable and damaging to both sides, he warned.  And he added that we continue to hope that the international community will be able to shape a legitimate and balanced way forward to help the parties resume meaningful negotiations that will realize the two-State solution.


He also provided an update on Syria, where, he said, security forces have continued to use excessive and lethal force against the popular protests, including in the provinces of Homs, Hama, Deraa, Idlib and Deir Ez Zor, as well as in and around Damascus.  Many civilians have been killed and injured, and large-scale arbitrary arrests have continued.  The official Syrian media also report that security and military personnel lost their lives over the past days, Mr. Pascoe added.


He welcomed the decision by the Human Rights Council on Tuesday to establish an international commission of inquiry, and expressed the hope that the Syrian authorities will extend their full cooperation to the commission.  We expect Mr. Pascoe to talk to reporters at the Security Council stakeout once consultations on the Middle East have ended.  That may be fairly soon.


** Middle East


The UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry, expressed his deep concern today that the recently re-established calm in Gaza and southern Israel is at risk due to the continuation of incidents, and he deplored the loss of civilian lives.


In the interest of protecting the lives of civilians and for calm to succeed, a complete halt to the firing of rockets from Gaza and a display of maximum restraint by Israel are required.  Mr. Serry calls on all sides to immediately take steps to prevent any further escalation.


**Horn of Africa


Addressing the African Union’s Pledging Conference on the Horn of Africa today, the Deputy Secretary-General said that the emergency in the region will be long and complex, likely lasting at least until the end of the year and beyond.


Tens of thousands of people in Somalia have died already, while 3.2 million others are on the brink of starvation in areas where the UN and its partners have not been allowed to work.  In Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti, millions of people are struggling to survive after the worst drought in decades.


The Deputy Secretary-General said that, although the international response is picking up pace, we are still not reaching all those who need help and the crisis has not yet peaked.  We cannot fail, she stressed, adding that we must end the crisis and we must stop it from spreading further.  And her full remarks are online.


** Iraq


The United Nations in Iraq has published a report on the Iraqi marshlands, titled Managing Change in the Marshlands:  Iraq’s Critical Challenge.  The report emphasizes that the restoration of the marshlands is a vital priority for development and for the environment.  The report highlights the importance of adopting an integrated approach to water-resource management in Iraq.  And it concludes that the sustainable development of the marshlands must recognize the need to balance trade-offs between development and the environment.  And there’s more information in a press release from the UN Mission in Iraq.


**Stateless People


The UN refugee agency today launched a global campaign to protect the millions of stateless people worldwide.  High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said that stateless people live in a “nightmarish legal limbo”, making them some of the most excluded people in the world.


The agency estimates that there are up to 12 million stateless people today, but notes that determining exact numbers is difficult, due to inconsistent reporting and different definitions of statelessness.  It hopes to raise awareness about the international legal definition of statelessness, while improving its own methods for gathering data on affected populations.  There is more information on the agency’s website.


** Cape Verde Elections


And earlier this morning, we issued a statement from the Secretary-General concerning the elections over the weekend in Cape Verde.


**Press Conference


For press conferences, tomorrow at 11 a.m., there will be a press conference in preparation for the sixty-fourth annual UN DPI/NGO Conference.  Speakers will include Kiyo Akasaka, the Under-Secretary-General for the Department of Public Information; Ambassador Peter Wittig, Permanent Representative of Germany to the United Nations; Donna Keher, the Chief of the Partnerships and Communications Division of the UN Volunteers programme in Bonn; and Felix Dodds, the Chair of the sixty-fourth annual UN DPI/NGO Conference.


And I’d also like to welcome a group from Azerbaijan who are visiting the United Nations today.  Thanks for coming.


Any questions?  Yes, Sherwin?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Farhan, who does the UN recognize as the legitimate governing authority in Libya?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  At this stage, as you know, questions of credentials are always an issue when you have changes on the ground.  The credentials thus far, as you know, have belonged to the regime of Colonel [Muammar al-]Qadhafi, and we would need to see whether credentials will be changed.  There may also be decisions taken on this by the Security Council or other bodies.


Question:  So you’re saying you don’t recognize the regime of Qadhafi?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we’re aware that the situation on the ground has changed.  As you know, the Secretary-General himself has been in touch with Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, the Chairman of the National Transitional Council.  Ian Martin and Abdel-Elah al-Khatib, our senior people dealing with Libya, have been in touch with the National Transitional Council.  But, of course, it would be a question for credentials to change.  As you know, the Libyan delegation to the UN has basically had no credentials for many months now.  The previous credentials had been withdrawn and no new credentials have been issued.  Yes?


Question:  Sure, I want, got a couple of questions with… first, is in… in Southern Kordofan, there has been an announcement by President [Omer al-]Bashir of Sudan that no foreign aid groups can enter, that all aid will be delivered through the Sudanese Red Crescent, and I just wonder, is that… what is the UN… I guess other than UNMIS [United Nations Mission in Sudan], there is still some, I guess, an OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] desire to be there; is there any response to this, do they think that’s a legitimate way to deliver aid there?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, certainly we have repeatedly asked for humanitarian access in Southern Kordofan and I would stress the need again for such humanitarian access.  As you know, we did have a humanitarian team go there just a few days ago and provided some details about their work at the time, and we are hopeful to get some further details from that team now that their work is concluded.


Question:  But it seemed like for… the announcement at that time was that there had been these meetings with Ahmed Haroun, that everything was on track and then Bashir has now said there is no foreign aid workers allowed in; so I am wondering is that…


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I wouldn’t respond to media reports about such comments.  Our basic point is that we do need continued humanitarian access, and we’ve pressed for that in the past and we’ll continue to do so.


Question:  Can I also ask, the… that case, I guess a very fast trial in the Congo of the national staff member found transporting cassiterite to Rwanda.  He has been sentenced to three years, and I wonder, beyond… I mean, what has the UN… what has the UN learned from?  Is there… what precautions are going to be… take place that other MONUSCO [United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo] members don’t engage in transporting of illegally mined substances?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, as you know about this, the important point is that MONUSCO, the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, did fully cooperate with and support the national authorities in the investigation of this incident.  And we also did launch our own investigation into what appears to be a serious breach of the Mission’s ethics, rules and regulations, and we’ll see what the results of that investigation will be.


Question:  But do you think… I mean, this… on… looking at it from a different perspective, it’s a trial that’s done that quickly; is that… is that within the UN’s view of sort of due process?  I mean, it seemed like he was charged last week and has now been sentenced to three… to three years after a one-day trial.  Is that, did the UN provide him with any legal assistance or just, did he have a lawyer?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, like I said, we cooperated with the national authorities in this.  We have people on the ground so we can see whether the trial was conducted properly.  But in any case, both the Congolese authorities and the UN had been investigating this incident.  Our investigation, like I said, continues, and the basic point is, as Roger Meece pointed out, any allegation of a member of staff being implicated in such illegal activities will be fully investigated and appropriate action taken, in full cooperation with the Congolese authorities.


Question:  May I also ask a question about Haiti?  Here is a letter from many human rights groups to Ban Ki-moon, Navi Pillay, Nigel Fisher, asking the UN to get involved in calling for a moratorium on evictions in Haiti.  I am wondering if you’ve… if — it’s dated 23 August — has the letter been received, and what is… what is… what does MINUSTAH [United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti] say about the evictions that have been taking place in Haiti?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, first of all I’d have to check whether the letter has been received.  So, we’ll check on that.  Have a good day.


[The Acting Deputy Spokesperson later added that it is the primary responsibility of the State to protect internally displaced persons, as per international human rights law and also the Guiding Principle on Internal Displacement.  Forced evictions are not acceptable and we have been advocating tirelessly with local authorities and landowners to ensure implementation of international best practices and human rights standards.]


* *** *


For information media • not an official record