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

18 February 2011

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

18 February 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.

**Guest at Noon and Stakeout

My guest at the briefing today will be David Nabarro, who is the Coordinator of the Secretary-General’s High-Level Task Force on the Global Food Security Crisis.  He will be joining us via video link from Geneva, and he is going to brief us on the recent rise in food prices, and the Task Force’s response.  At the moment, he is speaking on the same subject via video link to the Economic and Social Council, and as soon as he has finished that presentation, he will join us.

And at 12:30 p.m. today, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Greece, Dimitris Droutsas, will address the press at the stakeout in the North Lawn Building after meeting the Secretary-General.

**Security Council

The Security Council has scheduled a formal meeting at 3 this afternoon on the Middle East.  Council members are expected to consider a draft resolution concerning the question of Palestine.

This morning, the Security Council received an update on children and armed conflict by the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Radhika Coomaraswamy, in closed consultations.

**Human Rights

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has condemned the response of a number of Governments in the Middle East and North Africa to the legitimate demands of their people as illegal and excessively heavy handed.

She said that the use of lethal force by security personnel in Libya has reportedly led to the death of more than 20 protesters.  And Ms. Pillay also expressed deep regret for the deaths in recent weeks of protestors in Algeria, Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Libya and Yemen.  She added that she was particularly troubled by targeted attacks by security forces on certain professions.

Ms. Pillay condemned the use of live ammunition in recent days against peaceful protestors in Libya, the use of electric tasers and batons in Yemen, and the use of military-grade shotguns in Bahrain. 

She also expressed serious concern at recent remarks made by some parliamentarians in Iran calling for the execution of opposition leaders.  We have her full statement in my office.  It’s also available online.

**Côte d'Ivoire

The World Health Organization (WHO) is concerned about the deteriorating health system in Côte d’Ivoire, which had been exacerbated by the post-election crisis.  Several epidemics — including yellow fever, cholera and measles — have flared up recently, and WHO has carried out vaccination campaigns to reach hundreds of thousands of people.

According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), more than half of all health workers in the country are not at their posts, due to the political deadlock.

For its part, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) this morning began relocating some 100 Ivorian refugees in Liberia from the border area to a newly established camp at Bahn, some 50 kilometres away.  Over the coming weeks, it plans to move 15,000 refugees into the camp.  In total, the agency has registered more than 38,000 refugees in Nimba County in eastern Liberia, all of whom fled instability following the elections in Côte d’Ivoire.

**Haiti

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is reporting that the infection rate in Haiti’s cholera epidemic appears to be slowing down.  Citing the latest Haitian Government figures, OCHA says that the epidemic has claimed 4,549 lives so far, out of more than 231,000 recorded cases, with the mortality rate now down to 2 per cent.

However, the United Nations focus remains on ensuring that people in remote areas continue to receive health services.  UN health officials are now devising strategies to deal with future outbreaks of cholera, focusing on setting up cholera treatment units in all primary health-care centres.  Local health workers will also receive training in the treatment of cholera.  So far, Haiti’s cholera appeal for funding has received $175 million, but that’s less than 50 per cent of the required amount.

**United Nations Closure on Monday

And just a note, as I think we may be moving to speak with Mr. Nabarro shortly, just a quick note that UN Headquarters will be closed on Monday.  It’s a public holiday in the United States and therefore there will be no briefing.

And obviously, after this part of the briefing, I would be happy to take some questions, after this part.  Well, it looks as though someone is joining us right now.  There we are.  Mr. Nabarro, can you hear us?

Mr. Nabarro:  Clearly, thank you.  How do you do?

Spokesperson:  Very good to see you, Mr. Nabarro.  Thanks for joining us.  We are here at the Noon Briefing, so I presume you would have a few introductory remarks and then we could go to some questions?

Mr. Nabarro:  Thank you very much indeed. 

[Mr. Nabarro’s press conference issued separately.]

**Questions and Answers

Spokesperson:  So, I am happy to take questions on other subjects.  Yes, Nizar?

Question:  Yeah, Martin, regarding the situation in Bahrain, we have seen some footage yesterday — doctors being beaten up badly by the security forces, ambulances denied access to the injured.  Has there been any communication with Bahrain authorities to allow at least medics to treat the injured?

Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, you will have heard what the Secretary-General said yesterday.  He was fairly explicit that violence should not be used against peaceful demonstrators and against journalists.  And that, of course, applies to medical personnel, as well, and that has to stop.  And also, those responsible, they should be brought to justice.  It really is an obligation on the part of the authorities to ensure that the human rights of protesters would be respected during any peaceful protest and that, of course, also would apply to ensuring that people can receive medical assistance.  And in addition, as you will have heard earlier in the briefing, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has spoken out very clearly about this topic.  I know that my colleagues from the UN country team on the ground in Bahrain are in communication with Headquarters precisely about this matter that you refer to.

Question:  Any response from the Government?  Any explanation for that?

Spokesperson:  Well, as I think you will have heard, as well as we have, comments from the Bahraini authorities, and it’s not for me to speak on their behalf.  Matthew?

Question:  Yeah, sure.  I wanted to ask you a couple of questions.  One is… this has to do with Myanmar, there have been pretty widely reported that the New Light of Myanmar, the Government newspaper there, has, most people say, it has threatened Aung San Suu Kyi, saying that she will come to a tragic end if she maintains requests for sanctions or doesn’t take the Government view.  Does the Secretary-General or Mr. [Vijay] Nambiar, or is there some response from the UN to those threats?

Spokesperson:  We are certainly aware of those reports, and the UN has consistently backed the right of all parties to participate freely in the political process in Myanmar.  And we will continue to do so.  And we would be concerned by any action or statement that runs counter to that.  Yes?

Question:  This week, the Lithuanian Foreign Minister, Audronius Ažubalis, as the Chair of the 56-member OSCE, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, outlined their priorities at a meeting of the UN Security Council, which was followed by 15 statements made by Security Council members.  Since the Lithuanian Foreign Minister is a former journalist, and you know how the OSCE works, is there any way to get more information or updates on the Euro-Atlantic and Eurasian regions based on the priorities which they mentioned?  They were Moldova, Nagorno-Karabakh, Belarus, the Geneva talks on Georgia, including breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, Albania and the Caucasus in general.  I would like, besides going to their website, obviously, can we get more information?

Spokesperson:  Well, that’s certainly where I would steer you in the first place, because the website is quite detailed, as I recall.  And in fact was recently re-launched.  And secondly, I think any chairmanship, in my recollection, has a very active press operation, and that is through Vienna and through their capital, so, in this case, Vilnius.  And I am sure if you contact them they will be happy to help you and provide more information, I am certain.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask a couple of questions about Sudan, or Darfur.  There are reports of Government airplanes with Antonov bombing in Wadimura and some other villages in Darfur.  And I wanted to know whether UNAMID [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur] is aware of that, if they are sending anyone out, if they have any access to the area?  There are also these reports of the ZamZam IDP [internally displaced persons] camp, which I think UNAMID has some protection role, being blockaded by the Government now for two days running.  Is there some… can you confirm that?

Spokesperson:  On the first, the bombing in the region of Shangil Tobaya and Wadimura as you mentioned, the mission is reporting that sounds of heavy explosions were heard at frequent intervals, throughout the day.  And a patrol tasked to carry out investigation and verification of fighting in the area was advised by the Sudanese military at Shangil Tobaya that they should not visit Wadimura because these air operations were still going on.  And the team was told that they might get clearance to allow a UNAMID patrol to visit Wadimura on 19 February — that’s tomorrow.  They were trying to get that clearance from higher authorities at El Fasher if the situation comes under control.  So that is what I have on that.  We are fully aware, obviously, of what is going on and the need to be able to gain access to investigate and to verify what the cost is on the ground.  So, that’s on the first thing.

On the second one that you talked about, about the ZamZam camp; well, our understanding is that the fighting has displaced — and I mentioned this earlier in the week, I think — a large number of the local population.  And this has included a large influx of IDPs into ZamZam IDP camp, as many as 1,400 families, but it is the case, regrettably, that the Government of Sudan has suspended humanitarian access, that has been since 16 February — so that is two days ago.  And we mentioned that a humanitarian assessment mission was planned for that day, and we understand from UNAMID that the patrol has so far not been able to get through beyond Dar el Salaam, which is about 45 kilometres east of Shangil Tobaya, and this is because, as I mentioned, there is still activity by the Sudanese Air Force in the area.

Question:  Can I just ask one, because I did go and read what Ibrahim Gambari said in his press conference in Khartoum and he seemed to be announcing a new approach, in some way a response to criticism that was levelled by some Security Council members on being more active.  But it seems like in both of these cases, you are saying like the Government said: “don’t go”, and so UNAMID said: “we can’t go”.  Is it… How is this consistent with the new…?

Spokesperson:  Well, that’s not quite what I am saying.  I hear what you are saying, and Mr. Gambari has been quite clear about the need for a more robust response, not just the need, but the intention to carry through and follow through on that.  I think the point here is that there is bombing going on, not to put too fine a point on it.  And that would obviously make it difficult to operate on the ground there.  But Mr. Gambari has indeed been quite clear on what needs to happen.  And as and when I have more details on whether this, one, the verification patrol has been able to get through, and two, the humanitarian assessment mission has been able to get through, then I would happily share that with you.  Yes, Nizar?

Question:  Yesterday, the GCC countries — Gulf Cooperation Council — issued a statement showing solidarity with Governments, not mentioning the rights of the people.  Is there any reaction on that statement?

Spokesperson:  Not really, except to say just go back to what the Secretary-General said yesterday.  I think it’s fairly explicit, rather clear, in speaking out about the need to listen to the voices of the people; and that across the region, as he said, people are standing up to voice their legitimate aspirations.  So, I think that that’s where I would leave that.

Question:  The statement of the GCC came after the Secretary-General’s statement.  Does that show any defiance by them and they don’t want to listen to…?

Spokesperson:  I am not going to see cause and effect there, Nizar.  I think the Secretary-General’s statement speaks for itself.  Yeah, Matthew?

Question:  Also on the Middle East, there is, it may come up this afternoon in these Council ones, but I wanted to know what the Secretary-General’s view at this time or I guess DPA’s [Department of Political Affairs], but this Russian proposed trip by the Security Council to the Middle East — they didn’t name the countries, but it’s one of the issues that is in the air and I just wonder, does the Secretariat think that such a trip could have a positive impact?

Spokesperson:  I think what the Secretary-General has said so far is that he is aware of the idea; it’s for Council members to decide if and when such a visit takes place — of course in consultation with the countries they wish to visit.  And that clearly timing is going to be crucial.  What he has also said is that, should such a visit take place, the Secretariat, and that is primarily in this case the Department of Political Affairs, would obviously be ready to assist.  So I think that’s where we are at the moment.

Question:  And on that Suntech contract that came up, is it confirmed that the UN has granted such a contract?  If it is through an intermediary, is it…?

Spokesperson:  Well, two things, really.  First of all, I saw the story, the same as you, and have asked for guidance on details, which obviously I do not have, because I don’t have details on absolutely everything that happens in the United Nations at my fingertips.  So we have to ask to find out.  That’s what we do.  The same as you ask me to find out.  And so we have asked and we are waiting for a response, which I believe will be coming quite soon.

Okay, so thank you very much and have a very good extended weekend.  Thank you very much.

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