|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.
As you know, Said Djinnit has just been at the stakeout, that’s why we delayed the start of the briefing. And as you know, he’s the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for West Africa. He was briefing the Security Council before he came out to speak to you. So, I don’t need to dwell further on his activities.
**Statement on Guinea
But I do just want to remind you that yesterday we did issue a statement in which we said the Secretary-General is indeed encouraged by recent political developments in Guinea, particularly the commitment expressed by the interim Head of State, General Sekouba Konaté, for a return to constitutional order. And he welcomes both the invitation extended to the opposition to put forward a consensus Prime Minister and the guarantees of security given for all Guineans, including the country's political leaders.
The Secretary-General reiterates the commitment of the United Nations to support Guinea towards a rapid restoration of constitutional order in a peaceful and consensual manner. The Secretary-General calls on the members of the military authority and the Government to honour their earlier commitment not to contest the forthcoming elections. And he also appeals to all political stakeholders to work together to find lasting solutions to the challenges facing the country.
And the United Nations will continue working with the African Union, ECOWAS [the Economic Community of West African States] and other partners toward these ends.
**Special Tribunal for Lebanon Statement
We also put out a statement this morning in which we said that the Secretary-General received the resignation of the Registrar of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, David Tolbert, on 6 January. And that resignation will be effective on 1 March 2010.
And in the statement, the Secretary-General regretted the departure of Mr. Tolbert and congratulated him on his new appointment as President of the International Center for Transitional Justice.
The Secretary-General said that, during Tolbert's tenure as the Registrar, the Special Tribunal has made excellent progress, and the Registry is an efficient and fully functioning office which is ready to support the judicial activities of the Special Tribunal. And the Secretary-General will be appointing an acting Registrar as an interim measure. We have the full statement upstairs as well as a press release from the Special Tribunal, in which Tolbert said he is proud of the excellent progress the Tribunal has made and the firm footing that it is now on.
I have several items from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). The agency says that there is no lull in the fierce fighting between Government troops and Al Houti forces in Sa’ada province, in northern Yemen, as the conflict enters the sixth month. UNHCR estimates that some 200,000 people have been affected by the conflict in Yemen since 2004, including those displaced by the latest escalation, which erupted last August.
And this latest influx is straining already stretched shelter capacity and quickly depleting aid resources in the area. The number of internally displaced people outside the camps is also growing rapidly. There are now huge makeshift sites along the roads close to the Al Mazrak camps. And we have more details in today’s briefing notes from UNHCR.
** Democratic Republic of the Congo
And there is a massive influx of refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) into neighbouring Congo-Brazzaville and the Central African Republic. And this has created an urgent need for appropriate sites to house the refugees, according to UNHCR. The Agency says that more than 107,000 civilians have now fled into Congo-Brazzaville since early November. And another 17,000 refugees have crossed into the Central African Republic.
The refugees -- who have fled violence in the Equateur province of north-west DRC -- are occupying public buildings and spaces. UNHCR says the influx of refugees is severely stretching the meagre resources of local authorities, with the risk of potential tensions within the local communities.
And UNHCR says that continuing violence in Somalia is having a devastating effect on civilians and causing more displacements.
UNHCR says violent clashes between two rival militia groups earlier this month in Central Somalia have resulted in the killing of over 150 people and the displacement of 7,000 others. Most of the displaced persons are reported to be living under trees, and many children have become ill as a result of the cold nights. UNHCR is holding discussions with its local NGO [non-governmental organization] partners in Somalia to find ways of delivering assistance to the displaced persons in the quickest time possible.
**Secretary-General Trip to New Haven
This Thursday and Friday, the Secretary-General will be attending the Global Colloquium of University Presidents in Yale. And there he will be participating in the discussion on “The Roles of Science in Meeting Global Challenges”.
And then, on Friday evening, 15 January, the Secretary-General will speak at the Stanley Foundation retreat in Tarrytown, New York, on the Responsibility to Protect.
And this is just to remind you that the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, B. Lynn Pascoe, will brief you tomorrow morning about the Secretary-General's Retreat with the Heads of Regional Organizations, which concludes tonight on Long Island. I am informed that coffee and light breakfast will be provided, because it is at an early hour, at 8:30 a.m., and that time has been chosen to provide enough time ahead of the 9:30 start of the Security Council meeting on UN-regional cooperation.
The briefing will take place in Mr. Pascoe's conference room in the North Lawn building (NL-2062), and those wishing to attend should contact Jared Kotler (firstname.lastname@example.org) in Mr. Pascoe's office.
**Guest at Noon Tomorrow
And tomorrow at the noon briefing we will have as our guest Major-General Claudio Graziano, who is the Force Commander of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).
So, that’s what I have for you. Any questions?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Myanmar and Sri Lanka. On Myanmar, it’s been reported that General Than Shwe, the military leader, has said in the run-up to the elections -- he said that he’s urged people, the voters, that they must make the correct choice, which some have seen as sort of an ominous comment by a military leader in the run-up to the elections. Does the Secretariat, or the Chef de Cabinet, or whoever is handling Myanmar at present, what do they think of that comment and what do they think of steps towards the elections in Myanmar?
Spokesperson: Well, first of all, that comment was made actually quite a few days ago, it wasn’t made recently. And as I have informed you before, the Chef de Cabinet, Vijay Nambiar, is indeed looking after the good offices of the Secretary-General with regard to Myanmar. And we have repeatedly said, as you know, that the Secretary-General is closely watching developments in Myanmar. And with regard to elections, he has also been quite clear in the past about what is required, which is for there to be free and fair elections and for this process to be conducted in a very transparent manner. But, with regard to the specific comments made by the General, they were made some time ago and we’re not going to return to them now.
Question: Here’s something that happened either earlier today or this morning…
Spokesperson: Is this something on Sri Lanka…?
Question: Yes. There was an incident in which a busload of supporters of opposition candidate Sarath Fonseka was fired on, one person killed, ten injured. The UN has said it won’t have any role in the Sri Lankan elections. Just now, and I know it’s a different country, Said Djinnit had said that in Togo the UN is going to try and prevent violence. I wonder, what does the UN think of now as the election approaches, of people being shot in a bus full of supporters of one candidate? And either does the UN re-think its role or what distinguishes the two cases when one country can try to prevent violence in a run-up to an election in February, but in this case not?
Spokesperson: Drawing links between different geographical regions and different political set-ups is not a good idea, I think, for me and maybe for others, too. What I can say is that we’ve been quite clear on the reasons why the United Nations will not be providing technical assistance or observers for the Sri Lankan election. We’ve covered that here before. With regard to this particular incident, of course, any violence in the course of an election campaign is regrettable and should be condemned. It’s a report that’s quite recent; I don’t have any more for you on that. But, I think that that’s fairly clear, that’s what I can say so far.
Question: Does the United Nations or the Secretary-General have a view on the fate of Mr. [Moussa Dadis] Camara, the former leader of Guinea, in light of the report of the fact finding [commission] on the atrocities that were found to be there? Is there a view of what should be done with him in terms of whether he should be put on trial or something like that?
Spokesperson: As you know, there was a Commission report that has gone to the Security Council. It’s also been sent to other relevant parties, including the authorities in Guinea itself. The Security Council continues to consult, as we’ve heard today, and continues to look at that. The Secretary-General also continues to look at what happens next. With regard to the leader Camara, who is now in Morocco, as we understand it, it’s not for us to say anything at the moment about what might happen in the future. There are many, many different players involved in this and, as I say, it’s for the Security Council now, where that report is being considered, to take a view. Also, as I said, the Secretary-General continues to keep a close eye on this.
Question: On a different topic, you’ve mentioned also in the beginning the ongoing war in Yemen going on for six months; and obviously you know the United Nations has been repeatedly issuing statements about the humanitarian situation. But, are there any efforts to solve the matter politically, particularly considering the Saudi role in bombing some rebels? I mean, we never hear any political effort, only humanitarian aspects.
Spokesperson: Well, there are two things here: One, as you’ve heard from UNHCR via me, and you can read more details from them directly, the humanitarian crisis is there and is mounting. So, it’s obviously something that needs to be a clear focus for the work of the United Nations. The second point is that, as the Secretary-General has mentioned, he will be taking part in this conference, which will be taking place in London, on Yemen. This is not looking at a political process and so on, but it is looking at radicalization, it’s looking at counter-terrorism and these areas of concern to the international community. So, the UN is engaging not simply in humanitarian matters, but very clearly, distinct from what you mentioned, it’s looking at radicalization, counter-terrorism and how the international community can support Yemen in its efforts in this area.
Question: It’s about Honduras. There was a letter sent by Carlos Lopez Contreras, the Secretary of State of Honduras of the [Roberto] Micheletti [de facto] government, and he was asking after the elections were celebrated and they have the support from the Supreme Court there and the Congress, they were asking the Secretary-General to recognize, to give accreditation to the Honduras mission they want to send from the Micheletti government to the UN. Which is the position of the Secretary-General about this letter, this demand? Also, now what is the position of the Secretary-General in general after there was a resolution, they were supporting the restitution of Mr. [Manuel] Zelaya?
Spokesperson: Well, the Secretary-General’s position has not changed with regard to the more general point you made. On the more specific one about a letter and this request for the accreditation of a mission with different people in it, as I have mentioned, I don’t have anything for you on that, but we’ll try to get something.
Question: Does the United Nations recognize the elected President, Mr. Porfirio Lobo?
Spokesperson: That’s not what I said, I said that the Secretary-General’s position, as stated in the past, is still intact and, as to the specific letter, I need to get more on that. I don’t have anything for you at the moment.
Question: Several months ago the Secretary-General spoke out about impunity and called for an independent and impartial investigation in the killing of a journalist and human rights activist, Natalia Estemirova of Grozny. Do you have any update on this, and do you know if any independent investigations were made?
Spokesperson: I’m familiar with this case, and I know that the Secretary-General is familiar with it and we’re keeping an eye on it. I don’t have any further details on an independent investigation that you’re referring to. I need to find out more about that. But, clearly there was this case and there are a couple of other cases in the same region around the same time. And this is something that concerned the Secretary-General at the time, because it was striking at people who had clearly played an important local role, with the local community, and that’s why he called for this independent inquiry. I’ll see if I can find out more about what the state of play is.
Question: Yes, I just want to refer back to a statement you made earlier last week, about Israel paying compensation for the UN headquarters, and you said that a final agreement has not been reached yet, but it sounds close. So I was wondering if there is any follow-up on that and if you can give us what’s holding the final agreement, if possible? What’s holding, what’s preventing the two parties from reaching a final agreement on the amount being paid?
Spokesperson: As I mentioned to you, this is, we’re talking about a payment. That’s the expression that we’re using -- a payment. The word that’s used is a payment, and the United Nations submitted to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Israel this claim for reimbursement for the losses that the UN had sustained in a number of incidents during the Gaza conflict. And, as I mentioned to you before, discussions then took place and have been taking place between the UN and Israel, and they are at a very advanced stage. And, as I have mentioned, agreement has been reached in principle, and where we are now is finalizing some of the details. This is a technical matter, not to do with the principle, on the terms of the arrangement or on the payment itself. We’re talking about technicalities, and I think this will be something that the Government of Israel is working on right now, on those technicalities. And we would hope that there would be a green light for, if you like, an exchange of letters for the agreement as soon as possible once those technicalities have been sorted out.
Question: You’re only requesting reimbursement? No apology, no promise not to repeat these kinds of attacks -- only payment for something, the building that was destroyed?
Spokesperson: This is a claim for reimbursement for a payment. At the time, I think you will recall that there was an apology. So, this is talking about a payment for the losses that the United Nations sustained in a number of incidents that occurred during that conflict.
Question: May I follow up on that, please? Is it just for property damage and not for the loss of life of the truck driver?
Spokesperson: We went there before last time, and if I remember correctly we… this is talking about… Look, the claim was made for the reimbursement for losses to property and to the people. But, the exact details of what that entails I am not privy to and that’s part of what was being discussed between the United Nations and Israel. But the key point, as I say, is that the phrase that we’re using is for the losses that the United Nations sustained. Okay.
Question: Thank you. Just a quick follow-up on the counter-terrorism issues which the Secretary-General is going to be addressing regarding Yemen. I want to know, what will be the view of the Secretary-General, perhaps of the United Nations, regarding the use of profiling as a counter-terrorism tool? Will the UN or the Secretary-General consider it a fair deal to regard a country as to fall under a terror list simply because one individual of that country has been involved in a terror attempt? So, I want to know, what is the view of the Secretary-General and that of the United Nations in the use of profiling as a counter-terrorism tool?
Spokesperson: This is a very technical and specific area, and the Secretary-General has advisers in this particular area. So, I will need to find out precisely what the guidance is there; what the view is. In general terms, the point here is that the Secretary-General is taking part in this meeting. The aim is not to look at the specifics that you’ve mentioned at this meeting in Yemen, but how you work with the Government of Yemen and with the rest of the international community to help the Government of Yemen in what it’s trying to do to counter the evident terrorist threat which is there. The more specific point that you have raised, I need to find out more about that. I don’t have it now.
Question: Can you confirm the details about what’s going to be the subject matter of this conference? Because a lot of the analysts say you can look at counter-terrorism and you can look at Al-Qaeda in Yemen. Well, that’s a very sort of short-term solution and what you really need to do is address these big issues that are affecting stability in Yemen -- the Al-Houti rebellion, the secessionist south, the oil, the water reserves. I thought Ban Ki-moon was hinting at that when I asked him the question early this week. Are these bigger, broad development issues going to be on the table in London, and does the UN want them to be on the table?
Spokesperson: First of all, this is an event that’s being hosted by the British authorities and they’re the people who are in consultation with others, including with us, putting together the agenda. So, precisely what’s on there, we don’t know yet. You will undoubtedly find out more from the British authorities, from the United Kingdom, closer to the event. In general terms, the question you’re asking is clearly saying that there are links between the different facets of what’s happening in Yemen and that you can only deal with the overall problem if you deal with all these different facets, and that they’re interrelated. That’s right, they’re interrelated and they do need to be looked at and that’s why the humanitarian part of it is important; that’s an area where the UN can play a role right now. There are other aspects that we’re, as you have heard, because the Secretary-General is taking part in this meeting, there are other aspects that we consider important that need to be discussed. Precisely what they are, what the agenda will be, remains to be seen. As soon as we have more on that, I’ll be very happy to let you know. But, I do know that we’re still not absolutely certain what the agenda will be in detail, because it’s a work in progress.
Question: On Yemen, I asked, maybe last week, for possibly setting up a briefing with whoever is…
Spokesperson: Yes, you did, and we’re working on that. We haven’t got it arranged yet, but we do intend to try to have a briefing in some format ahead of that meeting in London.
Question: And the DPA [Department of Political Affairs] is looking after it or…?
Spokesperson: It’s somewhere between there and the Executive Office of the Secretary-General.
Question: Côte d'Ivoire, and then taxes. In Côte d'Ivoire the President, Laurent Gbagbo, has called for the resignation of the electoral commission’s chief, saying that almost half a million voters were improperly registered. A lot of people are saying that this is going to further delay the elections in which the UN, through its SRSG [Special Representative of the Secretary-General] Mr. Choi [Yong-jin], has a heavy stake. I’m wondering, what is the UN doing about this and what do they think about this most recent call for delay in holding a long-delayed election?
Spokesperson: Elections require a functioning central election commission, or whatever other title it might have, for them to be able to work properly and for the process to function in the correct way. Any delay to the process, including the one that you’ve mentioned, would be regrettable and it’s something that we would like to see avoided, if at all possible.
Question: I think Mr. Choi, when he was here, he’d actually said he thought that the registration process was legitimate and there weren’t any problems. Does he reiterate that? Because now the President is saying there [are] half a million voters improperly registered.
Spokesperson: If I understood it correctly, Mr. Choi will be here soon and he will be able to… I mean in the next few days or weeks. So, he will be able to address that directly. But, what I can say is that any delay is not a good thing. We would want to see this kept on track.
Question: A little closer to home, and I don’t know what you will say about this, but yesterday there was some hoopla here in New York about Member States --and I understand these are Member States, not the UN -- owing up to $2 million in parking tickets. This was Egypt, Kuwait, $1.2 million, and I guess the reason I’m asking -- also Nigeria is number three, and allegedly didn’t pay real estate taxes on its building on Second Avenue. What I wonder is, the Secretary-General, I understand he is not a Member State, but as sort of the world chief diplomat, and here in dealing between the Member States that are here to be at the UN and the host country, does he have any guidance to provide to this list of countries not paying back taxes, taking the risk of losing their plates? What can you say about this situation that is a cause of outrage to some in New York City?
Spokesperson: I hear what you’re saying, and the Secretary-General, it’s generous of you describe him in the way that you did, but let’s be quite clear, and I think it was implicit at the start of your question that you know what I am going to say, and that is that the Secretary-General is not responsible for the actions of the Member States themselves, nor for the diplomats and other officials who work for those missions. What is also clear, and you saw this yesterday, the Secretary-General has -- I’m talking about the opening of the building where the host country was represented -- and the Secretary-General has a very good relationship with the host country and the host city. And clearly, we would wish that to remain the case. But, the actions or the inaction of Member States with regard to the host city has to be a matter for those Member States and not for the Secretary-General. Okay. Anything else? Okay, I wish you a good afternoon.
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