Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

26 May 2010

Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

26 May 2010
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.  Welcome to the briefing.

**Security Council

The Security Council is holding an open debate on intercultural dialogue for peace and security, and the Secretary-General addressed that meeting earlier today.  He said the debate was especially relevant now, on the eve the third Forum of the Alliance of Civilizations, which begins on Friday in Rio de Janeiro.

He noted that support for the Alliance keeps growing but that prejudice, hatred and identity-based extremism remain all too common.  “There is a need to protect cultural diversity.  This is a basic human right, enshrined in many legal instruments,” he said.  We have copies of his remarks in my office.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

The Secretary-General will be leaving New York later today for Rio de Janeiro, where he will take part in the third Global Forum of the Alliance of Civilizations.  And from there, he will travel to Malawi on Saturday to further his advocacy in favour of the Millennium Development Goals.  He will meet with the country’s leadership and the United Nations country team.

On Sunday, the Secretary-General will travel to Kampala, in Uganda, where he will address the Review Conference of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.  And on Tuesday he will be in Nice, in France, to take part in the Africa-France Summit.

And as the Secretary-General mentioned earlier this week, his second Africa trip will take him to South Africa.  And I can now tell you he's pleased to accept a personal invitation from President [Jacob] Zuma of South Africa and President [Sepp] Blatter of FIFA to attend the opening ceremony of the football World Cup on 11 June.

As the Secretary-General said, the fact the World Cup is being hosted by South Africa is a tribute to the prowess and potential of the entire continent.  Of course, it's a chance to celebrate the start of a huge sports event that brings with it the prospect of many goals.  But it's also the chance to highlight that we also have other goals in mind — the Millennium Development Goals.   Africa is a top priority for the Secretary-General as we seek to ramp up progress towards achieving the eight Millennium Development Goals by 2015.

**Holmes in Chad

John Holmes, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, met today with President Idriss Deby and discussed key humanitarian issues in eastern and western Chad.

President Deby reiterated his assurances that the Government will take responsibility to protect civilians, including those in the humanitarian community.  He also emphasized the need for support from the international community as they assume that responsibility. 

John Holmes concludes his visit to Chad and proceeds today to Khartoum, where he is scheduled to conduct his fifth official visit to Sudan, from tomorrow until 30 May.

** Cyprus

Talks between the Cypriot leaders have resumed today.  The Secretary-General sent a message to the two leaders, read by his Special Adviser, Alexander Downer, at the start of the meeting.

In it, the Secretary-General says that a settlement is within their grasp and that this opportunity must be seized.  He adds that achieving an agreement will require vision, statesmanship and courage.  The Secretary-General also says that the communities want and expect a settlement and that this will require give-and-take on both sides, as well as the ability to understand the issues and what is at stake from the perspective of the other side. 

Speaking to the press afterwards, Downer said the meeting was held in a very warm and positive environment.  The two leaders will meet again next Thursday, 3 June.

** C ôte d’Ivoire

The Secretary-General’s report on Côte d’Ivoire is out.  In it, the Secretary-General says that the events of February and March 2010 have demonstrated that the failure to hold elections in Côte d’Ivoire constitutes a potential conflict trigger.  He appeals to all Ivorian parties to avoid taking any actions that may reverse the significant progress they had made and risk plunging the country into renewed violence and instability.

The Secretary-General recommends maintaining the United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) until the end of the year — with the same current total strength of its military and police components.  If the Security Council approves such an extension, the Secretary-General also recommends an adjustment of the Mission’s mandate, to allow it to focus on helping the parties to implement the remaining priority tasks — those are the tasks related to disarmament and all aspects of the reunification of the country, and to elections.

**Press Conferences and Stakeout Today

Today, immediately following the Security Council meeting on intercultural dialogue for peace and security, Saad Hariri, the Prime Minister of Lebanon, will speak to correspondents at the Security Council stakeout position.

And then at 12:30 p.m., here in this auditorium, Wilfried Lemke, the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Sport for Development and Peace, will hold a press conference about the forthcoming FIFA World Cup in South Africa that is taking place between 11 June and 11 July, and also the activities of the United Nations system around this event.

And then at 1 p.m., there will be a press conference by Ambassador David Balton, the Chair of the Review Conference on the Fish Stocks Agreement, who will brief on efforts to strengthen international action to manage and conserve fish stocks on the high seas.

So questions, please.  Any questions?  Yes.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  On 2 March it was reported that the United Nations Secretary-General had appointed Finnish Ambassador [Antti] Turunen to be the new United Nations Representative for Georgia, together with the European Union and the OSCE [Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe] representative; was to co-chair talks in Geneva.  Has the Secretary-General received any updates on the United Nations representative for Georgia supporting, let’s say, the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia, or providing information on the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia?

Spokesperson:  Ambassador Turunen is the envoy for the Geneva discussions and as such provides reports back to New York from Geneva on those discussions.  And he also provides reports on the incident prevention mechanism meetings that take place.  Yes, Matthew.

Question:  I want to ask you about Haiti and Sri Lanka.  In Haiti there was this incident where UN peacekeepers reportedly fired teargas and rubber bullets and then chased students into the campus of the university.  What, I guess, what are the UN’s policies both on the use of these two non-lethal crowd control measures, and what training is given in terms of not violating local customs of not having armed military — armed, in this case, peacekeepers — going onto college campuses?

Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, the UN Mission in Haiti has issued an apology concerning this incident.  The troops went inside the university to arrest a student who threw rocks at UN troops.  But as you know, and as the Secretary-General’s Special Representative has said, UN troops should not enter university grounds.  When it comes to the question of use of teargas and rubber bullets and so on, I would need to ask DPKO for more information on the rules for the use of those kinds of…

Question:  [inaudible] and then on this, and I know that yesterday you made this announcement that the UN is going to conduct a joint investigation with the Government of the prison alleged killings.  But what I couldn’t figure out is when did the UN know?  It seems to many that this only became public because the New York Times ran an exposé of it.  When did the UN become aware of it, that there was an issue of how, that some of the prisoners may have been killed by the Haitian National Police while peacekeepers were immediately outside the jail?  And why didn’t the UN go public at that time?

Spokesperson:  Well, certainly — a number of things.  First of all, the Mission was aware immediately [that] this incident took place.  That’s the first point.  The second is that they immediately, the Human Rights Section in that town, in Les Cayes, immediately began looking into this.  What you have to also remember is precisely when it took place, 19 January, was very close to when the earthquake took place, and therefore MINUSTAH — the Mission — and the rest of the UN presence as well as, of course, the entire population of Haiti were still digging themselves out of the rubble, metaphorically and literally.  Therefore I think you could probably understand that that was the immediate first focus.  This is taken extremely seriously, and there already has been an investigation within MINUSTAH into what happened in that prison.  And there are already preliminary findings.  And it’s precisely because there were repeated requests for an investigation by the Haitian National Police — and precisely because that investigation has not yet been forthcoming — that MINUSTAH went ahead with its own investigation and, secondly, has also now, through Mr. [Edmond] Mulet, agreed with President [René] Préval that there should be an independent commission to look into what happened.

Question:  [inaudible] because there have been a series of press conferences and video hook-ups with Mr. Mulet where questions of killings by the Haitian National Police have come up.  And I think in one of them he said he wasn’t aware of any; then they have described the Haitian National Police as a good partner of MINUSTAH.  Were any steps, again, [inaudible] I guess go back over and look at those things, it wasn’t, I mean when you say MINUSTAH was aware, was Mr. Mulet aware of this all the way back to January 19?

Spokesperson:  My understanding is that the Acting Head of the Mission at that point, Mr. Mulet, was aware from early on — I don’t know precisely which day.  But as I say, there were many other things that needed to be contended with at that point.  And he takes it extremely seriously.  And I think that it has been pursued consistently and seriously behind the scenes to try to ensure that the Haitian National Police conduct an investigation.  And that did not happen, or not to the extent that was necessary, and that’s why both MINUSTAH launched its own investigation with its own resources, and has now additionally agreed with President Préval that there should be an independent commission.  And the details of that are still being worked out.

Question:  And just one last one on this.  Were any steps taken to not have MINUSTAH work with a particular unit or units of the Haitian National Police that the UN had reason to believe were engaged in this killing of prisoners?

Spokesperson:  I’d have to find that out, I’d have to find that out, but it’s standard practice in other operational areas to take precisely those kinds of measures.

Question:  [inaudible] you know, yesterday you repeatedly said to me, “check, listen to Al Jazeera” on the question I was asking about what the Secretary-General — what, you know, what he rejected and what Mr. Nambiar, that the allegation that he said he totally rejected.  So, I did, I did, it wasn’t easy, but I’ve listened to what Mr. Nambiar said.  And I have to say it still gives rise to questions.  There are two, and I’ll just, there are two that really come to mind.  He acknowledges that he was contacted, he says through UN Headquarters by a Sunday Times correspondent, through the UK Foreign Office and UN Headquarters of the desire to surrender of these LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] leaders.  And he says he spoke with the President, the Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, and Palitha Kohona, who is now the ambassador here, and that they said that they would be treated like normal war criminals.  I mean, excuse me, they will be treated like normal prisoners of war – I want to be clear on that.  He doesn’t say how this was conveyed back to the people who surrendered.  He doesn’t say, and I think it would be important to know who in the UN Headquarters was part of this chain of communication and it’s unclear to me why, given both Mr. Nambiar and Mr. Kohona were the ones discussing the accountability panel that Ban Ki-moon is setting up if they, at least, you know, again without casting aspersion on them, there are factual questions about a possible problem, that Philip Alston is looking into.  So, how is it not a conflict of interest to have Mr. Nambiar or Mr. Kohona being the ones to discuss the composition in terms of reference of a panel that is dealing with exactly the incident in which they were involved by Nambiar’s own statement to Al Jazeera?  Sorry.

Spokesperson:  What do you mean, “sorry”?

Correspondent:  No, I’m sorry to put those all together; I just wanted it sort of a package question.

Spokesperson:  It’s okay, it’s okay.  Firstly, there are a lot of very specific questions that I do not have the answer to.  So I can seek those to the best of my ability and the ability of my colleagues.  The second is that the panel of experts that’s being put together, this is not simply in the purview of the Chef de Cabinet.  Of course, there are other people involved in this, and not least the Secretary-General because it is the Secretary-General’s panel of experts.  So it’s not as if it’s simply the Chef de Cabinet.  And it’s not something that involves directly — the setting up of that panel clearly does not directly involve the Sri Lankan Mission itself.  This is the Secretary-General’s panel of experts.

Question:  Are there any provisions for sort of recusal?  In the case of, sort of, at any type of UN inquiry, if — and again, I’m trying to be very careful here, I am not trying to say that — I am just saying that this is an incident that would fall within the purview even of the lessons learned in the reconciliation commission of Sri Lanka, this incident that Alston has asked about in which prisoners who surrendered with white flags ended up dead.  If, as Mr. Nambiar — I had never heard of Mr. Kohona being involved and giving the assurances — but if he is, it just seems that there should be some, you see, this is the type of thing that, for example, [Luis Moreno] Ocampo [Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court] has criticized Sudan for — allowing those accused of crimes to be involved in Sudan’s own inquiry.  He said that’s laughable.  But it seems here, and I don’t want to be, it’s a, there obviously, it’s apples and oranges, but just in terms of involvement in the incident to be looked at, and involvement in setting up the inquiry to do it, I just wonder if you are… comfortable…

Spokesperson:  As I’ve said, it’s not as if this is being somehow done in isolation.  There are other people involved within the United Nations to establish that panel of experts.  But the other questions, I’ve heard them and we’ll see what we can find out.  All right.  Okay.  Yes, Masood.

Question:  I am pretty sure that you answered some questions about the North Korean crisis?

Spokesperson:  Quite a few, yeah.

Question:  Yeah, I’m just, maybe this is a question, a follow-up, that I want to ask, does the Secretary-General propose to, at any point in time, appoint a special envoy to the region that Kofi Annan had while he was in office?  He had one special envoy for North Korea — North Korea and South Korea — who was later removed because of some conflict of interest.

Spokesperson:  At the moment, as you know, Mr. [B. Lynn] Pascoe visited the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea not so long ago, and that, as we have said, and he himself explained, Mr. Pascoe explained, this was opening up a channel; re-opening a channel which had been established by the Special Envoy you referred to and others.  That’s the channel that has been opened, and that’s where we sit at the moment.  I think that that’s the first point.  The second is that the Secretary-General keeps, as you can well imagine, a close eye on what is happening with this particular topic, and has people who can advise him within his team and within the Department of Political Affairs, amongst others.

Question:  Will that, I mean would it be fair to say that at some point in time he might consider…?

Spokesperson:  Well, I am not going to prejudge what may or may not happen in the future but this is where we are at the moment.  Okay?

Question:  Follow-up on Democratic People’s Republic of Korea?

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Correspondent:  And it may be on this theme of prejudgement, but some have questioned whether the Secretary-General has viewed the statements of the Republic of Korea and of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea sort of equally in the sense of like South Korea said this ship was sunk by North Korea.  North Korea has said “we deny it”.  Countries have taken sides and said that “we side with North Korea”, I mean, excuse me, with South Korea, we believe them.  Some other countries have said, let’s wait and see.

Spokesperson:  Which countries?

Question:  For example, China.  China has said “let’s wait and see”.  So, I guess my question would be, I mean, one, does the Secretary-General, does he view the statements of Republic of Korea and Democratic People’s Republic of Korea equally?  Has he, as some say, sort of taken sides in the matter?  And reached a conclusion?

Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, let’s be very clear on this.  This investigation and the results of that investigation, this is not simply an investigation done by the Republic of Korea.  This was done by an international group of investigators, including 24 non-South Korean experts.  This was an extremely thorough investigation, and the Secretary-General was extremely cautious waiting until the results of that international investigation had been announced.  So it’s not as if he jumped precipitously into this.  And he waited to see what the results of what was clearly a serious and objective investigation into a serious incident.  And of course, it’s the Secretary-General’s duty to be objective; but not to sit on the fence on all issues.  And you know very well that he has expressed — he consistently expresses — strong concern on any number of worrisome events taking place in many different parts of the world.  And he does that frequently.  That’s his job.  And this is a very serious situation.

Question:  Well, just one follow-up.  He seemed to say in his press conference that he has confidence that the Security Council will take measures appropriate to the gravity of the situation.  This seems to prejudge that the Council will in fact take the matter up, whereas in other circumstances he says it’s totally up to the Council to take, I mean, I am just wonder… I am just asking because I think questions are out there.  But is he assuming that the Council will take it up?  Is he expressing a preference that the Council take it up and issue either a presidential statement or a resolution?

Spokesperson:  He has made his views clear on that, and I don’t need to repeat them here.

Question:  So I mean, he has power under Article 99 to actually raise things to the Council.  Is that something he would…?

Spokesperson:  Any Secretary-General has power under Article 99 indeed to raise issues where he believes that the maintenance of peace and security are threatened.  However, the Republic of Korea has already said that it’s going to take this to the Security Council.  So that I don’t think it’s a moot point at this stage, I think, Matthew…

Correspondent:  [inaudible] not members, they can say they intend to take it, but…

Spokesperson:  They can intend to take it and I think you’ve heard at least one permanent member of the Security Council saying that they would support the Republic of Korea in doing that.  Okay, the next briefers are here to tell you more about the World Cup.  Okay, thanks very much.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.