|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.
The Secretary-General is aware of the news that President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt has stepped down. We expect to have a statement quite soon on that.
The Secretary-General has made clear to you in his recent comments that the Egyptian people are clearly frustrated, and are calling for bold reforms. And he has repeatedly emphasized that the extent and pace of any transition is for the Egyptian people themselves to decide. His main concern is that any transition in Egypt is orderly and peaceful.
And last night, as you will have seen in a statement, the Secretary-General called again for any transition to fully respect human rights, and to ensure genuine and inclusive dialogue with all stakeholders. And the United Nations stands ready to assist in that process.
The Security Council has been holding a debate on peace, security and development today, and it is being chaired by Brazil’s Foreign Minister. Addressing the Security Council this morning, the Secretary-General said that peace, security and development are interdependent. Nine of the 10 countries with the lowest human development indicators have experienced conflict in the last 20 years, he said.
The Secretary-General added that sustained, broadly based development can help to address the roots of conflict, by such steps as ensuring the equitable sharing of wealth, better access to agricultural lands, strengthening governance and justice for all. And we have his remarks in my Office.
**High Commissioner for Human Rights
Navi Pillay wrapped up her first visit as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel today. She voiced concern that the politics of conflict, peace and security is constantly leading to the downgrading of the importance of binding international human rights and humanitarian law.
The combined effects of the illegal settlements and the Wall have been devastating on the social, economic and cultural rights of many thousands of Palestinians, the High Commissioner said.
In response to an earlier question, we can confirm that the Independent Panel of Experts on the Cholera Outbreak is tentatively scheduled to travel to Haiti on 13 February — that is a Sunday — and then subsequently to New York. Their intention is to present their report to the Secretary-General and the Government of Haiti in March.
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) is seeking $53.4 million to support southerners moving back to the South from Northern Sudan. UNHCR officials met last week with donors in Geneva and made their case for increased funding as they anticipate some 800,000 southerners will leave the North this year alone. That could further complicate an already difficult humanitarian situation, the agency says.
Some 200,000 southerners have already returned from the North over the past three months. And another 75,000 others have registered in Khartoum to resettle in the South. UNHCR’s main role in this process would be to monitor the protection needs of the travelling people and help them reintegrate. The agency is also setting up way stations along major return routes to provide water and sanitation and health services.
**Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
Matthew Nimetz, the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for the talks between Greece and The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, said that the meeting held earlier this week with the two representatives was held in a good atmosphere, with the parties presenting their positions.
The direct dialogue between the countries’ two Prime Ministers had created a more constructive atmosphere that he hoped would energize the process and lead to greater convergence on the crucial issue at stake. The next steps in the process were discussed, and he noted that there is a “positive mood” to solve the issue.
**Press Conferences and Stakeouts
At 1:30 p.m. today, Haile Menkerios, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Sudan, will address the press at the Security Council Stakeout.
And then on Monday at 1:15 p.m. here in this auditorium, experts from the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the UN Research Institute for Social Development will hold a press conference, and that is on social protection and its importance in poverty eradication.
I also understand that on Monday morning, Mr. Hor Nam Hong, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Cambodia, is expected to address the press at the Security Council stakeout.
That’s what I have for you. Questions? Yes, Sylviane?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you very much. Do you have any readout on the meeting between Mr. Ehud Barak and Ban Ki-moon? Yesterday you stated that there is no delay in the Israelis’ withdrawal from Ghajar. Do you have any timetable put in place by…?
Spokesperson: What the Secretary-General noted was that he appreciated that the Defence Minister confirmed that the withdrawal plans were on track. That is what we are able to tell you at this point. Yeah?
Question: What does that mean, on track? Because this saga has been going on for five years now; the implementation of [resolution] 1701 (2006) is delayed by five years.
Spokesperson: Yeah. Well, I mean the short answer is of course it means what it says. It means that the Israelis… Would you like me to finish or do you have another question? Do you have another question?
Correspondent: No, no, it’s on the same subject.
Spokesperson: Okay, why don’t you ask that question then? What’s your question?
Question: I said, is there no deadline for the implementation of 1701?
Spokesperson: What we have said that — and this is a longstanding position — Israel is obliged to withdraw from northern Ghajar and the adjacent area north of the Blue Line in accordance with Security Council resolution 1701 (2006). And we have been engaged with both parties on the basis of UNIFIL’s [United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon] proposal to facilitate the Israel Defense Forces withdrawal from the area. And we have continued intensive discussions after being notified in November of the Government of Israel’s decision to accept in principle our proposal for the withdrawal. And those consultations continue. And of course it is imperative that the process of withdrawal is taken to a speedy conclusion. Yes, Ozlem?
Question: Did Turkey submit its report to the UN Panel of Inquiry this morning? Can you confirm this and can you tell us when the Panel is going to conclude its report on the two reports submitted by the two sides?
Spokesperson: Well, I am aware of the reports that this final Turkish report is now ready. I would need to check with the Panel whether they have actually received it physically yet. On the timing of when the Flotilla Panel will be able to report, that is still something that is for the Panel to decide.
[The Spokesperson later confirmed that the Secretary-General's Panel of Inquiry received today a copy of a second and final report on the Turkish national investigation. In order to complete its important mandate, the Panel is now reviewing the reports received from both Turkey and Israel. The Secretary-General is fully confident that the Panel members will fulfil their mandate as efficiently and expeditiously as possible.]
Question: Martin, tell us, ever since the report that Mr. Mubarak has stepped down, has there been any contact between the United Nations Secretary-General or the United Nations and the Egyptian military authorities, interim authorities, which have taken over? Has there been any contact with them at all?
Spokesperson: Well, I think as you can understand, these are fast-moving developments and this happened within the last couple of hours. And as you also are aware, the Secretary-General has been in the Security Council. And his advisers have been closely monitoring what has been happening. And I am pretty sure that we will have, as I said to you just now, a statement quite soon with some more details.
[The Secretary-General later read the following statement:
“I have just learned of President Mubarak's decision to step down, and I continue to monitor developments in Egypt. I respect what must have been a difficult decision, taken in the wider interests of the Egyptian people. At this historic moment, I reiterate my call, made as recently as last night, for a transparent, orderly and peaceful transition that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Egyptian people and includes free, fair and credible elections leading to the early establishment of civilian rule. I urge the interim authorities to chart a clear path forward with the participation of all stakeholders. In this process, it is vital that human rights and civil liberties are fully respected, and that genuine and inclusive dialogue is assured. The voice of the Egyptian people, particularly the youth, has been heard, and it is for them to determine the future of their country.
I commend the people of Egypt for the peaceful, courageous and orderly manner in which they have exercised their legitimate rights. I call on all parties to continue in the same spirit.
The United Nations stands ready to assist in the process.”]
Question: Martin, does the UN know where exactly President Hosni Mubarak is?
Spokesperson: We have seen the same reports that you have seen on his apparent whereabouts. Yes, Nizar?
Question: During the visit of Mrs. Pillay to the occupied territories, did she visit the Palestinian jails where many prisoners have perished under torture?
Spokesperson: I know that Ms. Pillay had a very wide-ranging visit that included West Bank, Gaza and Israeli. And I think that my colleagues in Geneva at the Office for the High Commissioner on Human Rights would be able to give you much more detail on that. And she is also, as I understand it, giving a press conference today and the video of that is also available. So, I think that you will be able to get more details from them than you can from me at this point. Yeah, Matthew?
Question: Sure. It’s reported that 12 staff members of Médecins du Monde have been arrested in Sudan, in Darfur, in Nyala, by the Government. I wanted to know, it is actually said that some others are now in hiding at the OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] compound there. I am wondering if the… what the UN can say about this, about the Government locking up doctors for serving the Jebel Marra area?
Spokesperson: Let’s find out.
Question: You mentioned that the UN is ready to help in Egypt; can you just elaborate on what the process would be? Elections, I guess, would be the obvious thing, if you are asked to monitor elections. Can you talk about what possibly the UN can do to help in a situation like this, and what the process would be?
Spokesperson: Well, I think as we have — and this applies not just to Egypt, but to other countries too — it’s for country concerned to approach the United Nations to ask for assistance. We have consistently said, the Secretary-General has consistently said, that the UN stands ready to offer its assistance in any transitional process. And it is clearly for the Egyptian people to decide, and therefore also for them to decide and for the authorities to decide what they feel that the United Nations could best offer them. They would presumably contact the United Nations and then at that point we would be able to liaise with them on what form that might take. But the starting point is for the Egyptian authorities to express their desire for the United Nations to help.
Question: And I guess that would be the military, at this point?
Spokesperson: Well, let’s see. As you know, these are unfolding developments, and we, also like everybody else, are analysing precisely what that means. Yes, Matthew?
Question: I had another Darfur question, but I want to ask… to be sure to be able to ask this one. I got an answer from your Office, I guess yesterday, late yesterday, about this Philippines peacekeeping matter, where in Congress there they are talking about $5 million having been put into the wrong bank; there is a lot of back and forth. But your Office’s answer said that the payment was done under written instructions from the Permanent Mission, signed by the Ambassador. So, one, I want to know… is that the general practice? And I wanted to tie it back to this tax equalization fund, in terms of just getting to the bottom of what written documentation there was, saying to keep the $100 million. Is it possible to just, in the same way that you answered on the Philippines, just to understand who signed the letter and whether the document exists?
Spokesperson: Well, I think we said what we are going to say at this point on both of those subjects. On the Philippines, the answer was very clear and explicit. And what I have had to say on the tax equalization fund is equally clear and explicit, and I don’t think it is going to serve much purpose to continue on that.
Question: You’d said, of course, it’s not on the back of the envelope, of course documents exist. So, I just want to know what documents exists? It seems like a perfectly…
Spokesperson: Well, it seems like a perfectly what, Matthew?
Correspondent: Fair question. About $100 million.
Spokesperson: It is a fair question, it’s a fair question, and I said that it doesn’t serve any purpose at the moment for me to continue answering the questions when I don’t have anything further to give you. If I do, then I will be very happy to share it. Okay? Let’s move on to the next question.
Question: I want to know who spoke to who, and it seems like you…
Spokesperson: And that’s what we have done, that’s what we have done. Matthew, I have said that there is something in the works and it’s probably better just to accept if I say that something is in the works, that it is. And then we can deal with it when we have something. Yeah, Masood?
Question: The four Foreign Ministers of the so-called P-4 who are pretenders to the Security Council permanent seats are here, they are meeting. Can we get Ambassador [Zahir] Tanin to come here and brief us as to what is the precise text he has on the Security Council reforms?
Spokesperson: We can certainly ask. Yeah, okay? Yes?
Question: I understand that the Foreign Minister of Lithuania, [Audronius] Azubalis, will be holding a press briefing or stakeout next week. Since Lithuania, which was occupied by the Soviet Union for 50 years, now holds the Chair of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), will the Foreign Minister be meeting with the Secretary-General and the Security Council? And if so, could you confirm any dates or times?
Spokesperson: Well, we’ll have to look at precisely what the Secretary-General’s schedule is. As I announced already, he will be travelling for part of next week. But let me check. Yeah? Okay, yes, this is the last question.
Question: Yeah. There is a report that Italy has nominated Lamberto Zannier to head the OSCE. So, I wanted to know, is the UN aware of that? Has Mr. Zannier given some kind of a notice to DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] that he is searching for another job, and what does it say about the UNMIK [United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo]?
Spokesperson: I think that is a question for the Italians, not for me.
Question: But has he informed DPKO; I guess that is my question? Is that something… Does a sitting Special Representative of the Secretary-General have to inform the UN when he seeks another post?
Spokesperson: I think it’s a question for the Italians. Okay, thanks very much. Have a good weekend.
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