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

23 February 2011

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

23 February 2011
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York


The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon, everybody, welcome to the briefing.

**Secretary-General on Libya

The Secretary-General is back in New York, where he will meet with senior advisers shortly to discuss the situation in North Africa and the Middle East.  Last night, as you will have heard, he cut short a trip to Los Angeles, telling an audience there that the changes under way in the Middle East are historic.  Whether in Libya or elsewhere, he said, our message must be consistent and strong:  no violence.  The time for change is now.  And he added that the United Nations stands ready to assist the people of the region in meeting the challenges of this great transition.

He expressed happiness that, in a press statement yesterday, the Security Council issued a strong and united message that condemned the use of force against civilians.  It demanded an immediate end to the violence and called on the Libyan Government to address the legitimate demands of the population, through national dialogue in full respect for human rights.

The Secretary-General said that, at this crucial juncture, it is imperative that the international community maintain its unity and act together to ensure a prompt and peaceful transition.

** Libya

The Human Rights Council announced today that it will hold a special session on Friday to discuss the situation in Libya.  This would be the first time that a member of the Human Rights Council is itself the subject of a special session.

And as you would have seen, Francis Deng, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, and Edward Luck, the Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect, issued a statement yesterday expressing alarm at the reports of systematic attacks against the civilian population in Libya by military forces, mercenaries, and aircraft.  They said that, if confirmed, such egregious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law could well constitute crimes against humanity, for which national authorities should be held accountable.

In Libya, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarians Affairs says it is difficult to assess humanitarian needs because of extremely poor communications.  However, the Office is concerned about access to health services for the injured, lack of medical supplies, as well as the need for blood.  The Office also says that some 5,000 people have reportedly arrived at the Tunisian border and some 15,000 arrived at the Egyptian border.  The borders between the two countries are open and medical supplies are being allowed in.

**Deputy Secretary-General’s Travels

The Deputy Secretary-General will depart New York tomorrow evening to travel to Kuwait, where she will represent the Secretary-General at the celebrations of the twentieth anniversary of the liberation of Kuwait, on 26 February 2011.   The Deputy Secretary-General will be holding bilateral meetings with the Kuwaiti Government during her visit.  And she will also meet with United Nations officials based in Kuwait, as well as visit a project being carried out by the United Nations country team.

**Security Council

The Security Council, in consultations, heard a regular briefing today on mediation from the Department of Political Affairs.  It also received an update from the Committee overseeing sanctions against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

**Question from Yesterday

I was asked yesterday whether one of Colonel [Muammar] Qadhafi’s daughters is a Goodwill Ambassador.  And as I mentioned, Aisha al-Qadhafi was appointed as National UNDP Goodwill Ambassador for Libya on 24 July 2009.  Her appointment at that time enabled UNDP to address the issues of HIV/AIDS and violence against women in Libya, both culturally sensitive topics in the country.  Following the recent events, UNDP has terminated the agreement with Ms. Qadhafi, based on article 30 of the UN Guidelines for the Designation of Goodwill Ambassadors and Messengers of Peace.  By the way, I can tell you that UNDP Goodwill Ambassadors do not get paid, they volunteer their time, and they do not hold UN laissez-passer travel documents.

**Press Conference

At 11 a.m. tomorrow here in the Auditorium, the Minister of the Environment of Mexico, Juan Rafael Elvira, will be holding a press conference on the occasion of Mexico’s signature of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

That’s what I have.  I am happy to take questions.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  The Secretary-General has called for the end of violence in Libya.  The Security Council did the same thing.  Violence is not only continuing, but intensifying; Qadhafi apparently is sending tanks to the eastern part to quash the civilian uprising there.  What would it take for the Secretary-General and his advisers to confirm that crimes against humanity are being committed in the country?

Spokesperson:  Well, I am not quite sure I understand the sequence of your question, but if I have understood it correctly, there are two points really:  the first is that the international community, whether it is the Security Council, neighbouring countries, the United Nations as represented by the Secretary-General, are closely watching what is happening in Libya and their voices have been extremely clear, from the Council yesterday, from others, including the Secretary-General, repeatedly that there must be an end to the violence and that those responsible for attacks on civilians, for the violation of human rights must be held accountable.  It is obvious that, as this unfolds, information must be collected so that it is possible to ensure that people are held to account.

Question:  Martin, the choice of my question, if I may, is this:  does the Secretary-General think that we have to wait for an investigative team to go there and report that there have been crimes against humanity?

Spokesperson:  No, that’s not really what I am saying.  But I think you understand the constraints there are for everybody in the international community.  You will have heard different prominent voices from around the world speaking about this.  Everybody is equally concerned and alarmed, and it is precisely because of the level of concern and the obvious bloodshed that there has been and continues to be that the Secretary-General is meeting with his senior advisers, in about 15 minutes from now.  And so, that is why I will take just a few more questions before I go to that meeting.  Nizar?

Question:  Martin, there were other conflicts where civilians were… lives and liberties were compromised, such as the attack on Gaza two years ago.  And then there were many investigations, three of them, the Goldstone Report still buried, nobody hears about the consequences, nobody has been brought to account…

Spokesperson:  So what is your question?

Question:  My question is:  how can the Libyans feel that the United Nations will really take charge of all their rights and they will punish the dictator when other conflicts and other crimes, war crimes, and crimes against humanity were just ignored by the United Nations?

Spokesperson:  Well, as I mentioned just now, the Secretary-General found it particularly important that the Council, the Security Council, issued a press statement and spoke with a unanimous voice, and specifically making the point about the accountability and the need for those responsible to be held to account.  So this is an important aspect.

Question:  So, the Goldstone Report is totally ignored?

Spokesperson:  Well, that is an entirely separate matter.  Khaled, yes?

Question:  Yes, Martin.  The Secretary-General in his contacts, is he discussing with regional leaders any possible initiative to talk to Qadhafi to convince him to maybe leave or maybe do something in order to end this crisis in Libya?  This is one question, and my second question is concerning the refugee situation on the border with Egypt, with Algeria, with Tunisia.  Is the UN involved by any chance in efforts to help those reported crowds of refugees?

Spokesperson:  Well, on refugees, UNHCR, the refugee agency, has a very small office in Libya.  And the same goes for the World Food Programme (WFP).  They are small offices, so very limited presence.  The UNHCR, the refugee agency, is sending staff to the border areas with Tunisia and Egypt to assess protection needs because of the flows of people that there are.  As you know, this is not an easy environment to operate in at the moment.  But I do know that UNHCR, the refugee agency is very closely engaged on the ground, as I say, on the border.  And the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is also trying to consolidate information from the different parts of the UN system to work out how best to handle the crisis that is unfolding, the humanitarian aspect of this crisis.  And this will be another aspect of the meeting that the Secretary-General will be holding shortly.  Yes, and then, I am coming…

Question:  Is he taking the initiative to talk to Qadhafi, with regional African, Arab leaders?

Spokesperson:  As you know, the Secretary-General took the initiative already to speak to Colonel Qadhafi and has done to other leaders.  I am sure that he will be making other calls to regional leaders in the hours and days ahead.  Yes?

Question:  Do you have any information about an estimated number of deaths in Libya in the past few days?

Spokesperson:  No.  I think Mr. [B. Lynn] Pascoe mentioned yesterday — the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs did mention that that is very difficult to assess.  We have a small team in the country; it is very difficult to assess that.  We have seen, as you have, the reports.  We don’t have any reason to doubt that there are very considerable casualties, both deaths and people wounded, in these incidents that have been taking place.  Yes?

Question:  You said that the Secretary-General is meeting with his senior advisers to discuss the situation in Libya.  Based on what is happening now, is he pulling in more senior advisers?  And also, where are they getting their information from, when you say, you admit that the UN has a very small footprint in Libya.  So, if it is small, are you planning on sending a fact-finding mission, the Secretariat, sending a fact-finding mission so they have more information to make these decisions when they sit down with the Secretary-General?

Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General has the key advisers he needs to advise him on all the different aspects of this, whether it is on the humanitarian side, whether it is human rights, the political dimension — he has the advisers that he needs to keep him fully briefed and to be able to discuss what will happen next in the UN context.  As I mentioned, and you have mentioned again, our presence in the country is indeed small.  That doesn’t mean that we don’t have information from them; of course we do.  But it is going to be limited because their ability to move is restricted because of the lack of security.  There are obviously other ways to acquire information, by speaking to other Member States around the region and beyond to help to form a picture.  And I think that is part of what is going on at the moment.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  I just have two questions.  One is on Libya, one is on Sri Lanka.  I want to ask both of them.  On Libya, I wanted to know whether this Resident Representative, who I assume represents the UN system there, Costanzas Farina — is in fact, was she ever based in the country?  Is she based in the country, and what does the UN make of praise that she has made that, it still exists online, of MDG [Millennium Development Goals] performance by the Qadhafi Government, by women’s rights under Qadhafi?  Was, is that, how is that consistent with the idea that UNDP has been critical of the Government there over many years, as has been said here?

Spokesperson:  First of all, she is in country, she is in Libya.  I know that for a fact, and indeed as are 20-something UN expatriates, including dependants, and of course, UN national staff.  Our priority within the UN context, I think, is to seek to ensure their safety.  That’s in the UN context.  Of course the picture is much bigger when talking about the need to protect the civilian population in general.  All countries have records, good and bad, on achieving Millennium Development Goals.  Where progress has been made, it is right to be able to recognize that.  That does not mean that every target has been reached not that everything else in the garden is rosy.  Not by any means.

Question:  Okay, can I ask a few other questions?  Yesterday, I had asked you about this filing with the International Criminal Court primarily against Permanent Representative [Palitha] Kohona, but also mentioning Mr. [Vijay] Nambiar and questioning his role.  I have seen now an e-mail from Farhan Haq of your Office saying “the Inner City Press story is inaccurate; there has been no complaint filed at the ICC”.  And I just want to know what the basis of that statement is, given that it has been reported in the Australian media, it has been commented on by the Australian Government.  Is there something, is your Office in fact saying there was no filing with the ICC?  And if not, why was this sent out?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything to add on that at the moment, Matthew.  I think we talked about it at some length yesterday.  I don’t have anything else.  I am going here.  Yes, and then I am coming to you and that will be the last question, okay?

Question:  Is there any word on the letter that was sent to the Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Lithuania’s totalitarian violation of the rights of Algirdas Paleckis, who quoted two sentences on a radio broadcast, it was a quotation from former Lithuanian Defence Minister Andreas [inaudible], who acknowledged that Lithuania murdered 14 of their own citizens in 1991…?

Spokesperson:  Well, I heard the beginning of your question, and the rest of it doesn’t sound like a question to me.  The first part of the question, or the question at the beginning, I am not aware that we have received any communication along the lines that you are mentioning.  Should that, should I have any further details I’d be happy to let you know.  Yes?

Question:  On a speech the Secretary-General…

Spokesperson:  This is the last question, by the way.

Question:  Yes.  A speech that he did in Oxford just three weeks ago, at Oxford University, in Britain entitled “Human protection and the twenty-first century United Nations”, he talked about momentum.  And he said that, for the responsibility to protect we had, there is, the words I think is “the momentum is right” or something like this.  Three weeks ago there was a situation in Egypt that fortunately didn’t escalate in the way it is escalating in Libya.  My question is what he means, saying at the university that the momentum is right if we have the news today that may be not 1,000, but maybe 10,000 already, victims?  I mean, what the word “momentum” means?  Means today or means one month from now, means 10 years from now?

Spokesperson:  Responsibility to protect, protection of human beings, civilians, is fundamental and crucial.  The Secretary-General’s speech at Oxford University spoke, placing that concept in the real world, the concept of the responsibility to protect, something that has grown as a body of expertise and as a concept in recent years.  He was placing it in the real world.  And the real world is filled with examples where it has worked, and where there is progress.  But there is obviously still work to do.  His point was that the United Nations embraces the concept of the responsibility to protect because it is one of the pillars of the United Nations to help to guarantee the human rights of people around the world.

What is unfolding in Libya, what has happened in other parts of the region, demonstrates a couple of points.  The first is that the responsibility to protect lies in the first instance, primarily, fundamentally, with the national authorities.  It is for them to guarantee and protect the rights of their own citizens.  And that means also, not attacking their citizens.  And the second point is that the Security Council and the Secretary-General have spoken very clearly about the need for Libya and for other countries to ensure that they carry out that responsibility to protect.

The consequences of not doing so, they have also made abundantly clear.  And I think that’s where I will leave it at this point.  As I said, the Secretary-General has convened a meeting of senior advisers to look at what is happening and to discuss the next steps.  I would hope to be able to bring you a little bit more on that later today.  Thanks very much.

* *** *

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