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

12 January 2011

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

12 January 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.

Haiti

The Secretary-General will address a wreath-laying ceremony this afternoon at UN headquarters to mark the first anniversary of the Haiti earthquake of 12 January 2010.  After a symbolic silence of 47 seconds — the duration of the quake — the Secretary-General will express solidarity with the people of Haiti, as well as the families of 102 United Nations colleagues who lost their lives.  He will reaffirm the UN system’s commitment to assisting the people of Haiti to rebuild.

In a parallel ceremony in Port-au-Prince, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Alain Le Roy, will deliver a message from the Secretary-General that echoes these sentiments.  It also pays particular tribute to the dedication of United Nations staff in Haiti who survived the earthquake and worked to save lives in the following hours and days, and the hundreds of other UN staff from duty stations around the world who responded immediately to the call for volunteers.

You will also have seen the statement we issued last night in which the Secretary-General calls on the international community to continue its support for the people of Haiti.  He said that the UN and international response was one of the largest of its kind ever mounted and continues to this day to help survivors of this tragedy.  These efforts must be redoubled and renewed.

We also have in my office a statement in French by the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Haiti, Edmond Mulet.

Côte d’Ivoire

The UN Mission in Côte d’Ivoire, UNOCI, deplores the ambush against its peacekeepers by the armed forces of Laurent Gbagbo in the Abobo neighbourhood of Abidjan, last night.

A mixed team of police and military personnel was coming back from patrol when shots were fired at it.  In response, the team fired back.  Three members of UNOCI’s force were slightly injured during the incident.

The Mission notes that this ambush occurred one day after the forces loyal to Laurent Gbagbo blocked and looted a UNOCI convoy on its way to re-supply the Golf Hotel.

The Mission also says that yesterday, several hundred men in black uniforms reportedly began shooting and evacuating houses in Abobo.  As soon as the Mission was made aware, it made contact at the political level with Mr. Gbagbo’s team and sent two patrols that were blocked by those people manning the checkpoints.

Southern Sudan Referendum

Voting in the self-determination referendum is progressing smoothly with continued large turnout of voters in Southern Sudan.

In Southern Sudan now, the percentage of people who cast their ballots during the first two days is reckoned to be at 46 per cent.

The Southern Sudan Referendum Commission (SSRC) yesterday reported 25 per cent turnout in the north and out-of-country voting.

The Southern Sudan Referendum Commission has released the estimated timeline for the aggregation and declaration of the results of the referendum.  The preliminary results are expected to be announced by 2 February and, depending on whether appeals will be submitted to courts or not, the final result will be declared on 7 or 14 February.

The UN Secretary-General’s Panel on the Referenda in Sudan today continued its monitoring of the Southern Sudan referendum as a fourth day of voting concluded.  The panel members visited polling centres and met with referendum authorities and voters in the states of Upper Nile and Northern Bahr el-Ghazal.  Tomorrow, the panel members will travel to other states across Sudan as they continue to monitor the referendum process.

The Panel’s Chairman, former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa, told UN-backed Radio Miraya in an interview today that at the current pace of voting since polling began on Sunday, 9 January, “there should be no cause for extension” beyond this Saturday, 15 January — the scheduled final day of polling.

Southern Sudan

The number of people in need of food assistance in southern Sudan has decreased markedly — although prospects for food security largely depend on the post-referendum period and the number of people returning to the South, according to a United Nations report.

An assessment by the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and World Food Programme (WFP) said that recent gains in food security, especially in states bordering on northern Sudan, such as Upper Nile and Unity, could be reversed by increasing food prices and any escalation of localized conflict.

Democratic Republic of Congo

Human rights officers from the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) and Congolese law enforcement officials yesterday completed a joint mission to Fizi, in the South Kivu province.  They were there to probe allegations of sexual violence against local women, which reportedly took place earlier this month.

Their provisional report says that 13 women were raped.  Nineteen others suffered various other abuses.  The assailants also looted 14 shops.

The Mission says that 10 suspects, all members of the Government army and including a ranking officer, are being held in connection with these crimes.

Tunisia

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, urged the Government of Tunisia today to ensure that its security forces cease using excessive force against demonstrators.  She also called on the Government to launch transparent and credible investigations into the deaths that have taken place during recent protests.

Pillay said that she is extremely concerned about the very high number of people killed in Tunisia in recent weeks.  She noted reports that suggest that the majority of protests have been peaceful in nature, and that security forces reacted with excessive force in breach of international standards.

Pillay also expressed concern about reports of widespread arrests, including of human rights defenders and bloggers advocating fundamental human rights principles such as freedom of expression, as well as reports of the torture and ill-treatment of detainees in Tunisia.  We have a full statement in my office.

Lebanon

The Force Commander of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), Major-General Alberto Asarta Cuevas, met with senior officials from the Lebanese Armed Forces and the Israel Defense Forces today at the UN position at the border crossing at Ras Al Naqoura.

They discussed the implementation of resolution 1701 (2006), the issue of the village of Ghajar and other matters related to the situation along the Blue Line.

Cyprus

Governance and power-sharing were the focus of talks today between the leaders of the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities in Nicosia.

Alexander Downer, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser, voiced hope that this will be a good year in terms of dealing with the Cyprus question.

The leaders will hold talks once more before their meeting in Geneva with the Secretary-General on 26 January.

Press Conferences Today

Today at 2 p.m., there will be a press conference by Jorge Argüello, Permanent Representative of Argentina.  And that’s regarding today’s handover ceremony of the Chairmanship of the Group of 77.

And that’s what I have for you.  Questions?  Yes, Margaret?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Martin, do you have any reaction to the collapse of the Lebanese Government, or any further information?

Spokesperson: Well, the Secretary-General is certainly aware, and is closely monitoring events in Lebanon.  I think it’s possible I’ll have something further to say a little bit later, but that’s what I can tell you for now.  Yes, Tom?

Question:  On Ivory Coast, what seems to be the point of sending in more reinforcements, if they’re so limited at being able to enforce their mandate?  And also, what would it take for the UN to admit that it has, in effect, now taken sides in a civil war?

Spokesperson:  Well, on the first one, I can tell you that there is a patrol out right now in the area we were talking about, seeking to monitor developments on the ground.  But its movements and the movements of other patrols continue to be rather constrained at times.  And that’s obviously not desirable, but I know that our peacekeepers and police on the ground there are doing their level best to be able to monitor and respond when they can.  That’s the first thing. On the second, as I’ve repeatedly said, the Mission and our peacekeepers operate in Côte d’Ivoire under a United Nations Security Council mandate. And that mandate is very clear about what they are doing there, and they are fulfilling that mandate.  With regard to political developments, this is something that is being closely monitored, not just by the United Nations, but also by the African Union and ECOWAS [Economic Community of West African States], as you know.  So those are the two parts of the jigsaw puzzle, for now.  Yes, Khaled?

Question:  Going back to the Lebanon issue, I know that you said that you might come up with something later, but this move was not totally unexpected; and I was just wondering what the Secretary-General and the United Nations think about how such moves will affect the work of the Special Tribunal of Lebanon?

Spokesperson:  Well, as I said, the Secretary-General is obviously monitoring events and developments very closely.  As you also know, we provided a readout on his meeting with Prime Minister [Saad] Hariri just the other day, and in that, the Secretary-General stressed the independence and importance of the Special Tribunal.  And I think that remains true now.

Question:  How concerned is the Secretary-General about the safety and security of the UNIFIL troops in the south in Lebanon?

Spokesperson:  In general?

Question:  After the collapse of the Government, is there any relation between…

Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, UNIFIL is well positioned to deal with eventualities.  It obviously is there with a specific role to play, and I’m sure that our colleagues there will be also closely monitoring and assessing what this might mean for their operations.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  On Lebanon again, just in relation to the court, with the proceeding on the court and its independence.  The Lebanese Government was supposed to be cooperating with the court in arresting suspects, for example.  So, in light of the collapse of the Government right now, who will the UN and the court deal with?

Spokesperson:  As I said, I know that the Secretary-General is closely monitoring what’s happening and I may have something further to say later, but as I also said, the Secretary-General has made clear consistently the importance and independence of the Special Tribunal.  Yes, Ali?

[He later added that the Secretary-General is monitoring closely developments in Lebanon, where the situation is fast evolving.  He emphasizes the importance that calm be preserved.  The Secretary-General further calls for continuing dialogue among all parties and respect for the Constitution and the laws of Lebanon.  He reiterates his full support for the independent work of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.]

Question:  Just, if you can elaborate more beyond the statement yesterday about the meeting between King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and the Secretary-General.  Have they talked about Lebanon, specifically, besides that the Secretary-General has thanked the King for his support in the stability of Lebanon?

Spokesperson:  Well, that precisely means that they did, as the readout said, cover Lebanon in their discussions.  And I don’t have anything further to add beyond the readout that we provided.  Yes, right at the back — you might need to come where there is a microphone or speak very loudly, either way.

Question:  Looking into a letter from a global coalition of women’s organizations that has been sent to the Secretary-General yesterday — it’s about, they complain that they are not being consulted.  The Security Council passed two resolutions, 1325 (2000) and 1960 (2010).  Any response from the Secretary-General’s office?

Spokesperson:  I’ll have to come back to you on that, because I’m not really sure what this refers to.  So let me come back to you on that.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  On Côte d’Ivoire, I wanted to ask about this report that during the attack that the UN turned back from, that even when residents called this UN hotline that they got no answer at all, and that the Lieutenant Colonel Rais Shakib said that it’s really up to Gbagbo’s forces to be going after the wrongdoers.  It seemed from what you had read out, you are alleging that the Gbagbo forces are some of the wrongdoers themselves…

Spokesperson:  I’m not alleging, Matthew, I’m telling you.

Question:  Okay, then why is the Force Commander there saying that it’s up to the Gbagbo force to protect civilians, when you’re saying that the Gbagbo forces are shooting at the UN?  It doesn’t seem to make sense.

Spokesperson:  Because those security forces are the forces on the ground, Ivorian forces that are on the ground.  They are the Government forces on the ground in Abidjan and elsewhere.  That’s the first thing.  On the hotline, I know that that hotline, which worked extremely well during the election period, is still working extremely well.  And I know that people are there taking calls — this is primarily to do with human rights, and being able to report human rights abuses or reports of human rights abuses.

Question:  Is that number open at night?  I’m sure you’ve seen The [ New York] Times story that says that scores of residents called and got no answer.

Spokesperson:  To my knowledge, it’s open long hours.  I need to check exactly what the hours are.  [He later said the human rights office in UNOCI confirmed the hotline is manned 24 hours a day.]

Question:  I guess it’s just to clarify — I’m just trying to understand — because given the quote by this Rais Shakib, that it’s up to the Gbagbo forces essentially – I understand that you’d want them to protect civilians – but if you’re not alleging, I guess saying that they’re among the wrongdoers, in terms of carrying out this protection of civilians mandate, is it reasonable to say, as the Force Commander there does, that the UN is relying on the Gbagbo forces to provide this protection?

Spokesperson:  The primary responsibility for security in the country rests with the security forces of the country.  That’s fairly clear.  And the Mission has a mandate indeed to seek to protect civilians wherever it can.  And that’s what it tries to do.

Question:  Just one more, because I want to try to understand this.  This seems to be now a country where the security forces are controlled by a Government that the UN has deemed to be illegitimate.  It seems that you – Mr. [Alassane] Ouatarra is the President; therefore. Gbagbo is not the President; therefore, the security forces are not legitimate.  Is there – I’m interested to know if there’s other countries where the UN deems those in power not to be legitimate?  Given that, doesn’t it change the UN’s usual deference to security forces?

Spokesperson:  Again, there’s no point in trying to draw parallels between countries.  Let’s stick with Côte d’Ivoire.  And there, as I say, those forces – the gendarmerie, the Republican Guard and the Armed Forces – are the Government forces on the ground.  They are the ones — for the military, for the gendarmerie and for the Republican Guard — we obviously need to be able to work with them operationally, because they do have the primary responsibility for security in their own country.

Question:  But it seems almost like a rebel force that controls territory?  Or are they viewed as the Government?

Spokesperson:  Well, the point here is to be able to have a channel of communication to those forces, to be able to ensure that incidents like the one I referred to don’t occur.  Yes, Masood?  You’ve been very patient.

Question:  I wanted to ask about this conversation with the Secretary-General and the Saudi monarch.  Did they speak about the Middle East, how to move the Middle East peace process forward?

Spokesperson:  As I said, we did give a readout yesterday, and I can’t really go beyond that, Masood.  So they talked about the Middle East.

Question:  Did they talk about food security, which the Secretary-General had talked about earlier?

Spokesperson:  You’ve seen what we said they discussed, and that’s what they discussed.  Yeah.

Question:  On a possible Quartet meeting, just to follow up on this…

Spokesperson:  We’ve said before, I’ve said before, that there is clearly a Quartet meeting being discussed, but we don’t have a date yet. As and when we do have a date, then obviously we will let you know.  But for now, this is something that is in the planning.

Question:  Not even a tentative proposal?

Spokesperson:  As I say, it’s something that’s being discussed.  And once it’s established when and if it will take place, then we’ll let you know.  Yes, Tom?

Question:  I have a question on the Ivory Coast elections, on the UN hotline — is it meant to be a kind of rapid reaction hotline, or is it primarily a reporting and human rights?

Spokesperson:  It’s primarily for reporting. It’s primarily for reporting, at that point, about the election, and now, essentially, the setup is there and is being used now so people can call in to report allegations or information about human rights abuses, so that our human rights officers there can then look into these, and respond.  It’s not intended as a hotline for rapid reaction force, if you see what I mean.  Yes?

Question:  On Côte d’Ivoire, yesterday you said that two personnel — civilian personnel over there – were not UN, but civilians working for the UN on the convoy that was stopped — and they disappeared, apparently.  They were — when the forces stopped the convoy…

Spokesperson:  Four drivers.

Question:  Four?

Spokesperson:  I think, if I remember correctly, I said four.

Question:  Ah, okay, four.  Can you clarify about the rule of engagement of the UN? Because if somebody is working for the UN, and is actually, I believe, in a truck — that there are the signs, the UN signs — these can be apparently pulled out, or disappeared?  What are exactly the rules of engagement — who is working; can the UN protect, at this moment, the people that is working for them?

Spokesperson:  Obviously, the peacekeepers, the Mission, does its very best to protect those who it’s there to protect.  In this instance, I can tell you that I understand that those who were detained have since been released.  And I would urge you to check with my colleagues in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, they may have more details on that.  I also understand that at least a part of the goods in the trucks has also been recovered.  So, yes, Matthew?

Question:  I want to ask a UN management question.  But also first, I wanted to ask about Sudan.  After your statement yesterday about UNMIS [United Nations Mission in Sudan] transporting Ahmed Haroun, some human rights groups have been pretty critical of it.  And I’ve spoken to a couple of Security Council ambassadors, who said they weren’t aware that UNMIS was transporting these ICC [International Criminal Court] indictees…

Spokesperson:  Indictee.

Question:  Okay, indictee.  So, two questions.  One, did UNMIS – who did UNMIS check with before engaging in this?  I understand there’s a 2006 OLA [Office for Legal Affairs] guidance.  But was this the kind of thing that they would try to check with the Security Council or OLA?  And also, is there anything more that you want to say, given – the Save Darfur Coalition and others have said that this was irresponsible and sends all the wrong messages to the people of Darfur when an indicted war criminal is transported by the UN elsewhere in the country.

Spokesperson:  I think I was fairly explicit yesterday on the reasons why this was done.  And as you pointed out, there is a standing instruction that dates from 2006 that spells out the way that one should interact — and namely that it should be done when it is necessary.  And clearly, in this instance, the Mission felt, given what was happening in Abyei, and given that there was a risk that this could escalate into wider conflict, it was deemed necessity — necessary, critical, for Governor Haroun to be able to bring the Misseriya leaders in Southern Kordofan to this meeting in Abyei.  And this is in line with its mandate, which is to provide good offices for the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, and is, as I say, meeting the criterion of necessity.  This was a necessity to ensure that the two sides that were fighting could be brought together to stop that, to prevent further clashes.

Question:  Just because, since what he’s alleged to have done in Darfur is to actually work with such nomadic tribes — at least it’s alleged in the ICC – to bring about war crimes against more sedentary populations, you don’t see any contradiction then in calling him an organizer, as sort of a uniter of such tribes?

Spokesperson:  I haven’t used that word, Matthew.  This is the Governor of Southern Kordofan, and this was critical to help to bring the Misseriya leaders to the meeting with the Nur Dinka people — to try to ensure that the further clashes could be avoided.  What’s your question on management?

Question:  This has been bouncing around, but maybe you’ll have — I’m sure you saw this, within the last week or so there was an article in the Times entitled “Bloated UN Bureaucracy Causes Bewilderment”.  And it quoted Mark Malloch Brown, formed Deputy Secretary-General, saying what [former Secretary-General] Kofi Annan had tried to do to rein in what they portray as a proliferation of overlapping and, in some cases, unneeded UN agencies.  And I just wondered, given — what does the current Secretariat think of — do they disagree with that analysis that there’s bloat and waste and duplication?  And if they don’t totally disagree, what steps are being taken by Ban Ki-moon to address this?

Spokesperson:  As you well know, the Secretary-General has talked a great deal about the need for reform in the Organization, right from day one.  And reforms have been carried out.  There is a drive to streamline where it’s necessary.  I’m not suggesting that I would agree with everything written in the Times article — far from it.  What I’m saying is the Secretary-General himself has said repeatedly that we need to be more efficient.  We need to be innovative in the way that we use the resources that we have, particularly in a time of economic austerity.  And I think that you will hear him speak about this more when he addresses the General Assembly and indeed when he speaks to you on Friday at the press conference that he plans to hold.  So I think I would leave it there, and wish you a good afternoon.  Thank you very much.

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