|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. Welcome to the briefing.
Today is the International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action. So, I’m very pleased to welcome here today with me a group of experts on Mine Awareness, to my immediate right, Agnès Marcaillou and then further to my right, Tim Horner, Mine Action Adviser of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), and to my far right, Paul Heslop of the UN Mine Action Service, as well. And obviously, Ms. Marcaillou heads the Mine Action Service.
Now, the Secretary-General himself has taken a keen personal interest in this campaign, and I’m sure that my guests will tell you a little bit more about that as things move along. And I also understand that there is a press release that will be coming out soon from the Mine Action Team and that will be available and distributed as quickly as possible.
I think you are aware that right about now, the Security Council is meeting. And it is to discuss peace and security in Africa, and that is in a public, so open, session of the Security Council.
After this particular section on Mine Awareness, I will obviously have a few other items and be happy to take some questions. But, for now, please, I am very pleased to have you here because this is an important day, and please do carry on; the floor is yours.
[Press conference on the International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action issued separately]
So, I have a couple of other points to mention and then if there are any questions, of course I am happy to take them.
The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, Augustine Mahiga, has expressed his outrage at the suicide attack at Mogadishu’s National Theatre during a celebratory ceremony today, which reportedly killed at least six people and injured scores more. He said that this tragic event should not derail the progress that is being made in Somalia. And he called on the Somali leaders and the Somali people to reaffirm their resolve, and not to abandon the course of peace and reconciliation.
Mr. Mahiga reiterated his call to Al-Shabaab, which claimed responsibility for the attacks, to end these acts of violence that cause suffering to ordinary Somali civilians and completely disregard the value of human life.
And then at 2 p.m. today, here in this auditorium, the First Secretary of the Permanent Mission of Somalia, will be here to brief you on the current situation in Somalia.
The United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) says it is deeply concerned about the recent upsurge in violence around the towns of Zuwara, al-Jumail and Regdalin, and about the reports of growing casualties.
The Mission welcomes the efforts of the Libyan authorities and local leaders to try to broker a ceasefire and restore calm and order as soon as possible. The Mission is calling on all concerned parties to cease hostilities immediately while negotiations are taking place.
The latest clashes, coming on the heels of fighting in the south of the country, underline the need for the authorities to accelerate efforts in building strong State security institutions. And that includes integrating revolutionary fighters and collecting heavy weapons. The clashes also highlight the legacy of four decades of autocratic rule and the need for all Libyans to work towards reconciliation.
Tomorrow at 2 p.m., there will be a press conference here by the Prime Minister of the Central African Republic, and the Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in the Central African Republic (BINUCA). And they will brief you on the meeting of the Group of Friends of the Central African Republic.
And also tomorrow, in Geneva at 11 a.m., Geneva-time, so tomorrow morning, there will be a press briefing by Ahmad Fawzi, the Spokesperson for the Joint Special Envoy of the United Nations and the League of Arab States on Syria, Kofi Annan. Now, that is obviously early in the morning in New York. We are trying to find out whether this briefing will be webcast, but webcast or not, we will certainly seek to have a transcript available as soon as possible and any statement that may be made by Ahmad Fawzi.
So that’s what we have. Any questions, please? Yes, Matthew?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Sure, I want to ask you about this, there is some controversy about statements made by, by Mr. [Ibrahim] Gambari of UNAMID about the return of refugees, there is the ostensible voluntary return of refugees from Chad that, that residents of these camps in Chad have said that they haven't returned, that it is not voluntary and that the situation remains dire. So they are saying that this is sort of, that misleading statements have been made by the UN about their return, so I wanted to know, what is the status of return from Chad to these camps?
Spokesperson: Well, actually, this is inaccurate, so I am glad that you have asked, Matthew. UNAMID has never stated that 100,000 refugees have returned to Darfur from Chad. UNAMID uses returnee figures obtained from the Office of the Humanitarian Coordinator and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). And, according to those organizations, those two bodies, their figures indicate that 30,000 refugees have returned from Chad to Darfur, while 109,000 internally displaced people have returned voluntarily to their places of origin, particularly in West Darfur, since November 2010.
And UNAMID has provided logistical and security support to humanitarian agencies who are assisting these returns. And, let me just say that a careful reading of a recent New York Times article, which was apparently cited by, but then misinterpreted by, Radio Dabanga, indicates that no UN official has claimed that 100,000 refugees returned from Chad.
Okay, so that’s, I think, fairly detailed.
Question: Sure, sure, no, I appreciate the answer. Also, I had wanted… while you were, I had asked Eduardo this and now, I guess I wanted to ask you this: there is this televised or you know, video presented, quote by Ahmed Haroun, right?
Spokesperson: No, actually you asked me.
Question: Okay, good. I wanted to ask you again because now you’d said at the time that, that it was unfair to link it to the flights, so forget the flights, I mean Cathy Ashton and others have spoken on…
Spokesperson: I already did; believe me I already did.
Question: Okay, all right, fine. Cathy Ashton, I mean, I am just wondering why something like the EU that it seems to me probably has less stake or history in dealing with Sudan and South Sudan and Southern Kordofan issue has seen that this, has spoken out and said this is a troubling statement of essentially promising a crime of war and I am wondering, does the, does no one in the UN system, have they seen this, do they have anything to say about it?
Spokesperson: Look, look, I think there are a couple of points here. One is that there appears to be some controversy around the video itself. But, leaving that aside, as a general principle, any incitement that could be construed as potentially leading to war crimes is, of course, something that we would not welcome. I think that is fairly obvious. And it is also obvious that there are already outstanding accusations with regard to Mr. [Ahmed] Haroun, and that is obviously within the belly work or the purview of the International Criminal Court and the Prosecutor there. And that is something that is already in train, and it is for them to deal with that; it is the International Criminal Court being an independent body from the United Nations. But, as I say, as a general statement of principle, anything that could be construed as incitement is something that we would not welcome, and would condemn. Okay. Yes, yes, Nizar, and nice to see you.
Question: I am sure you heard about this Mr. [Abdulhadi] Al-khawaja, who is the peace activist in jail sentenced to death and [inaudible] to Bahrain among others but he is, was transferred to hospital the day after 45 days of hunger strike. Is there anything the United Nations is doing to release these people [inaudible] people sentenced for life just for participating in peaceful demonstrations?
Spokesperson: Well, I think, as we have repeatedly said, the Secretary-General has expressed his concern about the violence that has taken place in Bahrain, and he has urged restraint. And he has also stated his expectation that the Bahraini authorities act in accordance with international human rights obligations.
Question: About this specific report of the Committee was issued almost six, eight months ago until now, how do you see the implementation of recommendations of that…?
Spokesperson: Well, I think the Secretary-General would reiterate his call to the Bahraini authorities to do everything possible to expedite the implementation of the recommendations that were in the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, and that’s especially with regard to the provisions aimed at effective confidence-building measures.
Question: But, what can the United Nations do about, to save the life of this particular hunger striker? I mean, he is in critical condition [inaudible].
Spokesperson: Well, again, we are certainly aware of the reports coming from Bahrain. The Secretary-General has, just to say again, has expressed repeatedly his concern about developments there, violence, and has called for restraint, and importantly in this context, has stated his expectation that the Bahraini authorities should act in accordance with their international human rights obligations.
Question: I have another question on Syria…
Spokesperson: Of course.
Question: …I am sure you have seen the report in Der Spiegel today about the opposition killing about 250 inhabitants of Homs because probably they are not [inaudible], and the massacres that took place there. Is there any reaction to that report?
Spokesperson: There are many reports that are coming out of Syria, one way or another, about terrible things that have happened. What the Secretary-General has said repeatedly is that the violence must stop from whichever quarter — be it the opposition, rebels, whatever you wish to call them, or the Syrian security forces themselves. The Joint Special Envoy, Kofi Annan, is working extremely hard. As you know, the Security Council has also spoken on this topic, and indeed is considering it further today, as I understand it. There is a plan; there is a proposal. President Assad has accepted the plan from Kofi Annan, and indeed, has said that he will adhere to a deadline of 10 April. Obviously, all eyes are on President Assad and his security forces to deliver on that promise.
Question: How about the opposition, I mean, arming the opposition, especially who are committing [inaudible]?
Spokesperson: Well, Nizar, the same obviously goes for the opposition in the way that has been spelled out by the Joint Special Envoy, in other words, that we would expect that after a cessation of fire by the Syrian security forces that the opposition groups or forces would do likewise. Other questions, please? Yes, Matthew?
Question: Sure, I wanted to ask you about the, the UN political mission in Somalia. Yesterday, I don’t know if Omar Jamal is going to do a second press conference today, but he did one yesterday at 2 p.m., and he confirmed that the Deputy SRSG, Mr. Christian Manahl — M-A-N-A-H-L — was relieved of his duties; he was aware of that but he said that he wouldn’t comment on it. Some have said that this was as took place in Sierra Leone with Mr. von der Schulenburg, an issue of the Host Government, in this case the TFG, asking the UN to remove him, and I wanted to know if that is the case?
Spokesperson: I’ll check, Matthew. All right, yes, please?
Question: Thank you, Martin. I wanted to know the perspective of the Secretary-General on the selection process for the next President of the World Bank. The shareholders last year did agree to have an open and transparent, merit-based process to select the next President. Does the Secretary-General support that kind of an open process that is based on merit?
Spokesperson: Well, as I think you know, the international financial institutions have their own mandate and governance structure, and it would not be proper for the Secretary-General to inject himself into that process. I think it is for the World Bank — the membership of the World Bank — to determine how the new President of the Bank is selected. Yes, Matthew?
Question: Sure, I wanted to ask on — you may have said it, too, and I am sorry if I missed it running over here — this guy Robert Mood. He is described as the… going to be the head of the… of the advance mission to Syria, and is meeting with the Joint Special Envoy. I just wanted to know… is that the case? And if so, and also, what level he is appointed? I am told that both Mr. [Jean-Marie] Guéhenno and Mr. Al-Kidwa, ASGs, are, are appointed at the ASG level, so I wanted, this is kind of, I’ll just get it all out at one time, does that mean that they will be subject to this, to the Secretary-General’s, you know, financial disclosure, including public financial disclosure regime?
Spokesperson: Well, I think, Matthew, in my absence, and indeed even before I left on the most recent trip with the Secretary-General, there was considerable to and fro about the composition of Mr. Annan’s team, and I don’t have anything further to add at this point. And, certainly, this particular team that is on its way to Damascus is very small and it is intended to liaise with the Syrian authorities on the technical aspects, as you well know, of what may or may not happen after 10 April. So we are not getting into any details about who is in the team and precisely where they are and precisely what they are doing.
Correspondent: Sure, sure, no, I am not asking where they are or what they are doing; your, my only question is, I was referred to Mr. [Ahmad] Fawzi; he did provide some names, although not all, but the question of the financial disclosure is uniquely for the Secretariat. I mean, obviously Ahmad Fawzi can’t answer that, so I wanted to know, Ban Ki-moon has spoken about this transparency and financial disclosure, and so, I wanted to know if these newly-appointed Assistant Secretary-Generals [sic] are under the, it seem like, I mean, there is no one else to ask, and unless the programme doesn’t…
Spokesperson: No, Matthew, don’t get me wrong; you can ask, of course, and if we have something then I’d certainly let you know.
Question: I have a follow-up on my question, you know…
Spokesperson: By all means, yeah.
Question: …I don’t quite get the opportunity to tell you. Now, do you consider the Secretary-General making his view known on an issue that the shareholders of the World Bank generally agree, you think that if he makes his own view known on the fact that this process of selection should be open and transparent and merit-based, which is what they all agree to, now you think that if the Secretary-General comments on that you consider that to be, that he is injecting himself into the process?
Spokesperson: I said it would be improper for him to comment on that while there is a process under way. Yes, Nizar?
Question: Yeah, [inaudible name] — he is a spokesperson on the so-called Syrian revolution — spoke publicly and said that a ship carrying weapons going from Lebanon, sent by who in Lebanon to Syria, was seized by Navy in the Mediterranean. Is there any comment about these supplies of weapons going to Syria?
Spokesperson: The short answer, Nizar, no. We have repeatedly said that the militarization of what is happening in — the further militarization of what is happening in Syria — is not desirable.
Okay, thank you very much. Have a good afternoon.
* *** *For information media • not an official record