26 September 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 everybody, and welcome to the briefing.


**Secretary-General’s Statement on Wangari Maathai


I have a statement on the death of Professor Wangari Maathai.


The Secretary-General was deeply saddened to learn of the death of Professor Wangari Maathai.  A globally recognized champion for human rights and women’s empowerment, Professor Maathai was a pioneer in articulating the links between human rights, poverty, environmental protection and security — for which she was awarded the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize.


Professor Maathai contributed over many decades to furthering the ideals and objectives of the United Nations.  In recognition of her deep commitment, the Secretary-General named her a United Nations Messenger of Peace in December 2009, with a focus on the environment and climate change.  In June 2010 the Secretary-General asked her to join an eminent group of personalities responsible for using their global credibility and renown to boost progress toward the Millennium Development Goals.  She served effectively and enthusiastically in both roles.


Professor Maathai’s association with the United Nations spans decades.  She was known throughout the development and human rights community not just for her inspirational eloquence, but for her human warmth.  Her passing is a loss for the people of Kenya and the world, in particular as we prepare for next year’s crucially important “Rio+20” United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development.


The Secretary-General extends deep condolences to Professor Maathai’s family and friends.  At this time of sorrow, let us remember the remarkable contributions of a remarkable woman.


**Security Council


The Security Council heard a briefing this morning on Libya from the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, B. Lynn Pascoe.  He informed the Council that the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) is establishing a presence in Tripoli, which, he said, displays remarkable normality.


Mr. Pascoe drew attention to four key challenges facing the National Transitional Council: steps to address national reconciliation and unity; control over the large stock of sophisticated arms amassed by the Qadhafi Government; the need to secure mass grave sites and investigate human right violations; and the welfare of African migrants and third country nationals.  We have his remarks in my Office.


And then at 3 this afternoon, the Security Council will hold consultations on the admission of new members.  You’ll recall that on Friday afternoon, the Secretary-General transmitted the Palestinian application given to him by President [Mahmoud] Abbas to the President of the Security Council.


** Yemen


In a press statement on Saturday, the Security Council referred to the heightened tensions and continuing violence in Yemen.  Council members urged all sides, in the period after President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s return to Yemen last Friday, to reject violence, including against peaceful and unarmed civilians, and show maximum restraint.


They called on all parties to move forward urgently in an inclusive, orderly and Yemeni-led process of political transition, on the basis of the Gulf Cooperation Council initiative, that meets the needs and aspirations of the Yemeni people for change.  And they also called upon all the parties to respect their obligations under applicable international law.


The Secretary-General, I can tell you, remains greatly concerned about the volatility of the situation in Yemen.  Special Adviser Jamal Benomar is continuing his efforts there.  The Secretary-General urges all sides to engage with the Special Adviser in a constructive manner aimed at achieving a peaceful resolution of the current crisis.


** Iraq


The acting head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) has strongly condemned yesterday’s terrorist attacks targeting Government buildings in Kerbala.  Dozens were killed and many others were injured in this incident.  The full statement is available on the Mission’s website.


**Joe Sills


And finally, I have a bit of sad news for you.  Joe Sills, a former Spokesperson for Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, died yesterday, having suffered a stroke.


I know that many of you remember Joe from the years that he spent as Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.  Before that, he’d also been Associate Spokesperson for Javier Pérez de Cuellar.  He later worked as Director of the UN Information Centre in Washington, D.C.


Those of you who knew Joe know that he earned the highest compliment for any spokesperson — he was someone that you could always trust.  And we’ll let you know about any plans for a memorial service as we get that information.


So, that’s what I have for you.  Questions, please?


**Questions and Answers


Correspondent:  Martin, he was a great Spokesman.  Very efficient and very knowledgeable about the United Nations.  So we’re very saddened by this.


Spokesperson:  Thank you for that, Iftikhar.  I am sure that his family will be pleased to hear that from you.


Question:  [inaudible]


Spokesperson:  Yes, you may, Matthew.


Question:  I’m sorry, I… and I also, I didn’t know him either, but I’m… I’m… I’m sorry to hear that news.  But there is something I… shifting from that to… to… to… to… to news… I wanted to ask you about an incident that took place Friday.  I had asked your Office on Friday and I am still waiting for this, for an answer.  So, I want to ask you now whether in this scuffle that took place between the Turkish delegation and UN Security, whether — one security was taken to the hospital with injured ribs — whether nine Security Officers have been suspended, and whether the Secretary-General, to the dismay of some in UN Security, offered an apology to Turkey before… either before knowing the facts, or can you tell me the facts that would justify that apology and the suspension of these Officers?


Spokesperson:  Well, what I can tell you is that last week, there was some unfortunate misunderstandings involving security between UN uniformed officials and security officials of member delegations.  We believe these have been satisfactorily resolved, and that prompt action was taken.  Necessary action is also being taken to prevent such misunderstandings in the future.  We’re grateful for the understanding and forbearance shown by all concerned during this period of heightened security.  That’s what I have for you on that.


Question:  Turkey said that they… they received an apology, but from the UN Security side, I’ve spoken to a number of… of… of individuals that witnessed the event and they say that they were beaten and one guy… one… one UN Security Officer’s ribs were… were… were injured and there was blood on the ground.  And so I am wondering, can you see why… I guess, what’s the response by the Secretary-General to UN personnel that feel that he apologized for an incident in which they were the victims and left them suspended and… and… and had on… on a limb?


Spokesperson:  Well, as I say, there was some unfortunate misunderstandings, and we believe that these have been satisfactorily resolved.  And also, as I’ve mentioned, necessary action is also being taken to prevent such misunderstandings in the future.


Question:  Have people had their… their… their… the… their non-lethal security equipment they usually have taken, i.e. mace and other… other… belt equipment?


Spokesperson:  Matthew, I have told you what I have to say, okay?  Any other questions on this or other topics?  Okay.


Question:  Can I ask…?


Spokesperson:  Yes, Masood?


Question:  Do you have any idea after this application is considered by the Security Council, do you have any idea that, after this process, what is the next step for the Security Council?


Spokesperson:  Well, that…


Question:  [inaudible] already sent the membership application to the capital?


Spokesperson:  Say again, it is really difficult to hear you, Masood.


Question:  Oh, sorry, sorry.  The membership application is to be sent to all the capitals, by the Security Council?


Spokesperson:  I think that’s really a matter for you to ask the individual Member States.  The Secretary-General transmitted, as you know, the application from President Abbas to the Security Council on Friday afternoon.  And as you know, there is a meeting this afternoon of the Council looking at membership matters.  And I think it’s for the Council to express where they are or where they are going.  And also for individual countries to tell you whether that communication has been forwarded to their capitals.  Yeah?


Question:  Martin, a follow-up.  Following the Quartet’s statement on this question, has the Secretary-General been in touch with President Abbas or Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu?


Spokesperson:  He has, as you know, the Secretary-General met President Abbas to receive the application, and they had a brief meeting after that handover, as I mentioned, I believe, last week on Friday.  And I think where we are at the moment, Iftikhar, is that the Secretary-General certainly would hope that the two parties concerned would review the statement made by the Quartet and respond in a positive a favourable manner.


Question:  No, my question was has he been in touch with the two leaders after the adoption of this [inaudible]?


Spokesperson:  I don’t believe that he has spoken directly to either of them since then.  As you know, he is in regular contact with the parties in the region.  As you also know, Robert Serry is the Special Coordinator is extremely active in this regard.  I think that’s where we are at the moment.  Yes, Matthew?


Question:  Thanks.  I wanted to ask about Sudan and Sri Lanka.  On Sudan, there… there have been two reports over the weekend, one of the… the killing by the army of two civilians in North Darfur, Koria Laban and also a report of a rape of a woman by an army, Government-supported militia in Western Darfur, and I am wondering, at the same time, I don’t know if it’s an old statement or not, there is a statement by Gambari and UNAMID that things are getting better in Darfur, so can they confirm these two events and how are they consistent with… with… with… with this statement that things are better there, and will he do a media availability while he is in town?


Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything for you at the moment.  I have asked UNAMID for an update on security in the region and anything that they can report on incidents that have been reported in the media.  I don’t have anything for you on that.  We have requested — or passed on, I should say — your request for some kind of media availability with Mr. Gambari to our DPKO colleagues.  When I hear something from them I will let you know.


Question:  And also, on Sri Lanka, I wanted to ask, at the… at the end of the… the meeting on Saturday between the Secretary-General and… and his team and President Rajapaksa’s team, there was a couple of things.  One is, afterwards by the elevator, Permanent Representative Kohona was heard openly by the Sri Lankan media and myself to say to President Rajapaksa of Mr. Ban, “he has seen the video we gave him”.  So I wanted to know, has Mr. Ban seen Lies Agreed To, and if so, why would he watch that and not Killing Fields?


Spokesperson:  I’d need to check.


Question:  And the other one is — thanks a lot, sorry — they put out a statement, the Sri Lankans did, their own readout of the… of the meeting and they said that… that… that this Ban, the Secretary-General’s team acknowledged lapses in communication regarding the transmittal of the report to Geneva.  Is that an accurate statement of…?  And what was Ms. Wallström, the Sexual Violence in Conflict Adviser, doing in the meeting, did she participate in some way, is there some issue that… that… that… that had her be present in the meeting?


Spokesperson:  Well, you were there, so you saw that Ms. Wallström was there.  She is a member of the Secretary-General’s team of senior advisers, and so I think that is the explanation for that.  On the question of the Sri Lankan readout, we issued a readout and that’s what I have to say at the moment.  If I have anything further, I will let you know, okay?  Yes, Colum and then Benny.


Question:  Martin, just a couple of things back to the Erdoğan incident.  One is, the Turkish television filmed Ban walking over to the Turkish Centre, presumably to meet with Erdoğan, and so can you confirm — I mean, you said you won’t say whether he issued an apology – can you say whether he met with the Prime Minister afterwards?  Also…


Spokesperson:  Actually, Colum, I have not, I have said nothing about that.


Question:  That’s right, yeah, you’ve said nothing about that.  But I am asking you again, just to put it on the record.  Also, some suggestions by people who are travelling with the delegation that UN Security touched Erdoğan, and I wondered if you could say anything on that.  And also, if you could explain, I mean, it seems that there is good reason to believe that there was administrative action taken against UN personnel.  Why… this is something that the UN… I don’t quite understand why this something that the US… the UN cannot comment on publicly.  There is a lot of rumours floating around on this, and I… I get the sense that security is not, you know, that there isn’t a real kind of frank detailed sort of explanation of what happened, and there is certainly a lot of interest.


Spokesperson:  It’s certainly true that the Secretary-General met the Prime Minister.  And as I have said, we believe that these misunderstandings have been satisfactorily resolved.  That’s what I have to say on that.  And as for the other questions you raised about security, as I have said, necessary action is being taken to prevent such misunderstandings in the future.  That obviously involves looking at what happened during the incident that you are referring to.  And that’s really what I have to say on that. I don’t have any other details related to your description of what may or may not have happened.


Question:  So, it’s not there is an investiga… there is an internal investigation into what happened?


Spokesperson:  That’s not what I said.


Correspondent:  I know, that’s a question.


Spokesperson:  I beg your pardon?


Question:  No, that’s rhetorical, I mean, it’s a question.  Is there an internal investigation?


Spokesperson:  As I have said, it’s obvious that there would be need to look into this.  I don’t know whether it’s formally characterized as that or not.


Question:  Is Geoffrey Palmer still in town?


Spokesperson:  I beg your pardon?


Question:  Is Geoffrey Palmer still in town?  He can investigate an incident like that between Turks and security forces.  But…


Spokesperson:  What’s the next question?  Yes.


Question:  Wait, wait, le me follow up, let me follow up.


Spokesperson:  No, hang on.  I am going to — if you’re just going to make statements, rhetorical or not, I’ll come back to you in a…


Correspondent:  I want to ask a question.


Spokesperson:  Benny, I’ll come back to you in a second, okay?  And I am just going to take a question from here.  Yes?


Correspondent:  Yeah, thank you.


Spokesperson:  Yeah, I’ll come back to you in a second, Benny.


Question:  Is there any reaction from the Secretary-General on what’s happening in the last few days in the channels of Sicily?  What happens is the immigrants that arrive to Lampedusa, after some… actually after very, very dangerous situation because there were riots, confrontation with the local population, they have been moved in ships and moved around.  I heard… the last news I heard that there were several hundreds stationed in the port of Palermo on a ship and others.  They don’t know what to do with them, but they… all the immigrants are moved out of Lampedusa and the situation is getting… it looks like it is out of hand.  But, are you…?  I would like to know if there is any reaction on…


Spokesperson:  I am not aware of anything on that.  Let me check.  Thank you for raising it.  Yes, Benny?


Question:  Is there any footage of the incident of the UN, taken by UN cameras since there are UN cameras all over the place?


Spokesperson:  I don’t know the answer to that, Benny.


Question:  And also, when you say it was resolved satisfactorily, is it to the satisfaction of Erdoğan and Ban, or also to the satisfaction of the staff, because I understand that, or at least we hear some staff that are grumbling about the possibility of an apology?


Spokesperson:  As I say, we believe that these unfortunate misunderstandings have been satisfactorily resolved.  Yes?


Question:  To the satisfaction of all, I mean, including… including guards who may not be happy about the possibility of apology?


Spokesperson:  As I say, I have not… As I have already said, there were some unfortunate misunderstandings, we believe these have been satisfactorily resolved.  I have also said that necessary action is being taken to prevent such misunderstandings, and that that clearly involves looking at what happened and trying to establish precisely what happened to help avoid such misunderstandings in the future.  And that’s where we are.


Question:  And no video?


Spokesperson:  I beg you pardon?


Question:  No video?


Spokesperson:  I said I don’t know the answer to that, Benny.


Question:  Could you find out for us?


Spokesperson:  I will ask.


Correspondent:  Thank you.


Spokesperson:  That doesn’t mean that you will get an answer.  But I will ask.


Question:  What’s the nature of the misunderstanding [inaudible]?


Spokesperson:  I think it’s been resolved, and I don’t think that there is much to be gained in me giving chapter and verse here.  Yes, Matthew?


Question:  Thanks a lot.  I just wanted to ask a factual follow-up on this.  One, can you confirm, and I guess describe the Secretary-General meeting with UN Security at 07.15 on Saturday about the incident?  Because I have accounts from people that said what he said, but I’d rather hear, I guess from you, to make sure that it is accurate.  And the other one, is it possible to get Gregory Starr, the Head of Department of Safety and Security, who, I don’t know if he has ever done a briefing in here, but it seems like maybe on this and other topics, or whatever the new standards are, is it possible to convey to him a request to… to hear from him?


Spokesperson:  I can certainly relay this request.  I don’t have anything for you beyond what I have actually just said.  You have heard what I have had to say.  I don’t have anything really further on that, Matthew, okay?  Yeah.  Yes, any other questions?  Yes, Masood?


Question:  Just one, Martin, on Friday, I tried to secure… I mean to get a copy of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech from the UN office.  They said that the Israeli Mission has not given them a speech at all.  Now, I pursued that later in the evening, because I needed a copy of that, because I needed some exact quotes.  They said that they have still not.  Is this something unique that one mission does not give a copy of its Prime Minister’s speech?


Spokesperson:  I don’t know that it’s unique, Masood.  I think there have been previous instances for different reasons why a text is not given in advance.  I think you’d have to ask the Israelis.  I think it was their Prime Minister who was speaking, okay?  Yeah.


Question:  [inaudible] not an advance, we’re not talking about advance copy.  We’re talking about copy afterwards.


Spokesperson:  Well, likewise, likewise, likewise.


Question:  Can I ask one more, it’s not on the security incident.  It’s just, I want… maybe… I am thinking maybe you have an “if asked” or maybe not on this, there has been an AU investigation into the incident where a Malaysian journalist was killed in Mogadishu.  And they have concluded that it was the AMISOM Burundian forces that did so.  And I am… I mean it’s not to… to obviously the… it wasn’t the… it’s not a UN force, it’s a UN-supported force, but I just wanted to know, has the UN, whether DFS [Department of Field Support] or otherwise, taken note of that, what do they think of that finding and what steps may be taken to… to… to… to avoid the shooting of journalists by a UN-supported peacekeeping force in the future?


Spokesperson:  Well, as I think you have partly answered your own question that it is not a UN peacekeeping operation.  The death of any journalist, and particularly in violent circumstances, is obviously highly regrettable.  And if I have anything further on that and whether the UN has followed up in any way, I’d let you know.  But I think it’s self-evident that any peacekeeping force, however it is badged, should take utmost care and maximum precautions to ensure that journalists and indeed any other civilians do not find themselves in harm’s way.


Correspondent:  Thanks.


Spokesperson:  Okay.  Thank you very much.  Have a good afternoon.


* *** *


For information media • not an official record