|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, and welcome to the briefing, and welcome to our guests here at the briefing.
The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission have issued their latest annual report on the protection of civilians, which records more than 2,700 conflict-related civilian deaths in 2010. That represents an increase of 15 per cent compared to 2009, and the fourth consecutive increase in civilian deaths from the previous year.
Anti-Government elements were linked to more than 2,000 civilian deaths, and about three quarters of all civilian deaths, which is up 28 per cent from 2009. Meanwhile, pro-Government forces were linked to 440 civilian deaths, which is down 26 per cent from 2009. Nine per cent of civilian deaths in 2010 could not be attributed to any party to the conflict. We have more details in press release in my office. And I am sure you will have seen the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Staffan de Mistura, speaking about this matter at a press conference in Kabul.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, together with the head of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), wrapped up a two-day visit to Tunisia today.
Mr. Guterres issued a call today for continued international momentum as people continue to escape the violence in the Libya by the thousands. The High Commissioner stressed that an open border is the most precious thing you can have in a refugee crisis. He said that the Tunisian Government and its people are setting an example of humanitarian generosity by opening their borders and their homes at a moment of tragedy.
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) is particularly concerned about the increasing number of people fleeing Libya who come from war-torn nations, such as Somalia, who cannot return to their countries of origin.
** Western Sahara
The sixth round of informal talks on Western Sahara wrapped up earlier today in Malta. The Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy, Christopher Ross, read a communiqué at the end of this two-day meeting. He said that each party continued to reject the proposal of the other as a sole basis for future negotiations.
He also said that for the next informal meeting, the parties decided to tackle a number of innovative approaches, including measures of conciliation and the avoidance of any sort of provocation that could have a negative impact on the negotiating process. They will also tackle additional topics for discussion, including natural resources and demining. The next meeting is expected to be in late May. We have the communiqué available in both French and English.
The Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders discussed issues related to citizenship in Nicosia today. They will meet again on Friday, 18 March.
The Secretary-General has instructed senior managers to prepare a budget with a 3 per cent reduction as compared with the previous budget. He told managers that “we must be realistic about the current economic climate. Even the wealthiest nations are tightening their belts and cutting budgets. The United Nations must be no less disciplined. And we cannot go about business as usual.” It will, of course, be up to Member States to discuss and decide on the ultimate budget to be adopted. The Secretary-General encourages all UN entities and UN Member States to find ways to do more with less.
And at 5:15 p.m. today, the Prime Minister of Australia, Julia Gillard, is expected to address press at the 2nd Floor Stakeout position in the North Lawn Building after her meeting with the Secretary-General.
So, I am happy to take questions, please. Yes, Masood, and then Mr. Abbadi?
**Questions and Answers
Question: There are reports in Libya about many nationals fleeing Libya, especially from Bangladesh and other smaller countries, are being sent back into Libya to start work again in hospitals and other facilities which they had left. Is that true? And they say, according to the reports, there are about 3,000 Bangladeshis sent back and several Ghanaians and Nigerians sent back to work in hospitals and other facilities which they had left. Can you confirm those reports?
Spokesperson: No, I can’t. I would need to check with my colleagues from the UN refugee agency and other colleagues from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). I do know that they have a continued concern that particularly nationals from Bangladesh and some other South Asian and Asian countries and sub-Saharan countries have not been able to get back to their countries of origin, and there is still a pressing need for more flights to be able to help those people to get back to their countries. But this latest angle that you are mentioning, I will need to check on. Yes, Mr. Abbadi?
Question: Thank you, Martin. Some time ago, the Secretary-General expressed his preoccupation regarding the duration of the conflict in Western Sahara. As you have just read, there is no substantive progress. Is he more preoccupied now? Is he disappointed at the results of this latest round?
Spokesperson: I think the Secretary-General would like to see progress, as would everybody else. But this is clearly something that is taking time, and, as you will have seen, there will be a further meeting in May, and the parties have agreed to that. At least that is the expectation. And you have also heard about some of the approaches. Nobody is suggesting this is easy, but Mr. Ross continues to work with the parties and other concerned countries to try to see how this could be moved forward. Yes, first of all, Anita and then Giampaolo?
Question: Hi, I have two unrelated questions. The first question: is there any sort of response or reaction yet from the Secretary-General’s Office to this letter that was sent by the [Committee] to Protect Journalists to his office, I think yesterday or earlier this week, about a missing Sri Lankan journalist, asking for intervention or help? And the second question is on the budget stuff, and I haven’t been here that long to know that much about the budget stuff, but we’re talking about cutting 3 per cent; 3 per cent of what? Is there some sort of general operating budget figure or…?
Spokesperson: Well, just to answer that bit, 3 per cent of the previous budget figure, which is $5.4 billion.
Question: Is that operating, or…?
Spokesperson: The idea is to look at all activities and all parts of the budget. But it is obviously not mechanistic. You look at where the best efficiencies can be made. And that is certainly something that the Secretary-General has stressed to his senior advisers, that they should be creative in the way that they approach this. That is a very important aspect here. It is not simply saying slice 3 per cent off; it is looking where can you do that in the most effective way.
Question: 3 per cent from the bottom line of what?
Spokesperson: Of $5.4 billion, which was the last, was the previous budget figure. Yes, and then on the Sri Lankan question; sorry, Anita, on the Sri Lankan question, the letter from the five organizations, including the CPJ [Committee to Protect Journalists], has indeed been received. And as I understand it, the Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights, in particular, and as well as UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization] are looking into this further. They are obviously already aware of the case and had already been looking into it. And there are a couple of inaccuracies in that joint letter which will be addressed to them. Yes, Giampaolo?
Question: Martin, what is the actual status of the Deputy Ambassador of Libya to the UN and the former Ambassador of Libya to the UN? Can they still continue to operate? They send you a letter, send the Secretary-General a letter requesting a new accreditation on behalf of the transitional Government there?
Spokesperson: As I have mentioned to you before, there was an initial letter from the authorities in Tripoli recalling the Permanent Representative and the Deputy Permanent Representative; recalling their credentials. And then subsequently, as you know, there was a second letter about a new appointee; a new designated person. So, on the first, as I have mentioned to you, that is something that has been studied. It is for the Libyan Mission to decide who represents them here at the United Nations. What I can tell you at the moment is that, as I have mentioned before, this is extremely unusual territory that we are in, and it is not easy territory. It is something that continues to be discussed, I can tell you.
Question: Sorry to follow up — what is the UN point of view, even if it uncharted territory, of their status? Are they simple citizens, former diplomats or…?
Spokesperson: I don’t know that it is uncharted. I don’t know that I said that; I said unusual, I think. But, in other words, it is very unusual to be in a position where a country has recalled a Permanent Representative and indeed a Deputy Permanent Representative, both of whom say that they still represent the country which has recalled them, or a different set of people within that country, it’s not usual.
Question: But their credentials are not being withdrawn so far, right?
Spokesperson: That’s something I’d need to check on.
Question: It may be uncharted territory, but there has been a practice of the United Nations; normally the UN accepts the credentials of the Government which de facto controls the territory. In this case, we have no clear-cut control by either side.
Spokesperson: No, it’s not about control of territory. And again, I did not say uncharted, I said unusual, okay? Because uncharted suggests unprecedented, and I think in the UN context of more than 60 years, pretty much nothing is unprecedented. So, what I am trying to say is that there is a procedure, and it is for Member States to recognize or not to recognize a Government. It is not about how much territory they control, but whether the Member States have recognized or not recognized a Government. And the last time I checked that Government is still recognized by the Member States of the United Nations. And therefore, any requests, designation of an official as their Permanent Representative or recalling their Permanent Representative is something that we obviously need to take seriously and act on, because it is a sovereign State recognized by the Member States. Yes, Masood, and then, first of all Miki, who has been waiting, and then I am coming to you Masood, yes.
Question: Thank you, Martin. Can you update us with the status of the humanitarian assessment team that has been waiting at the border of Libya?
Spokesperson: They are, as I mentioned to you yesterday, they are ready to roll. The team is composed and is ready. There are a couple of aspects that must be cleared before they can actually enter. And that is something that is still actively under discussion right now. And I know that as soon as there is movement, then I would be able to let you know. Everybody is very keen for that to happen, but the conditions need to be right. Yes, Tim?
Question: A follow-up on that; is the Tripoli Government putting conditions on the visit there?
Spokesperson: No, no, it’s not a question of conditions. The conditions need to be right, meaning security, for example. But no, that is not the case. Yes, Masood?
Question: A follow up on Giampaolo’s question. Are you aware whether these two diplomats have been given political asylum by the United States, or have they sought political asylum? Or will they be sent back?
Spokesperson: No, I am not, and that is really a question for the US authorities, not for me. Yes?
Question: But you are not aware that they have sought political asylum?
Spokesperson: I just said, no, I am not, no.
Question: Okay, and what about… in the same… what about Mr. [Ali Abdussalam] Treki, is he coming or has he indicated he will be coming? Do you have any idea when he is coming?
Spokesperson: We have not heard from Mr. Treki that he is coming. That is the case. Yes?
Question: One of your first items this morning, about the UN report on increased civilian casualties in Afghanistan — what, if any, was the SG’s reaction to that report?
Spokesperson: He shares entirely the assessment of his Special Representative and the other representatives who worked on this report. These are very stark figures, and as Mr. De Mistura has said, what you can see is that while the number of civilian deaths attributed to anti-Government elements has gone up, those by pro-Government forces have gone down. But whatever the cause, and whoever is at fault, one civilian death is one too many. And there is a lot more work that needs to be done. The Secretary-General also shares the assessment of the Special Representative that, while you have seen a surge on the military front and you have seen a surge in the way that you deal with this crisis, there also needs to be very specifically a surge in action to stop civilian deaths and to minimize civilian deaths. And that was an important point that he made today. Yes, Matthew?
Question: Sure. I have a couple of follow-ups on your own questions and then something else. First, I have some follow-ups on the questions that you were taking earlier. One has to do with, on the issue of disaccrediting [representatives]. Can you, when you look into what the status of Mr. [Ibrahim] Dabbashi and [Mohammed] Shalgham is, can you tell us what happened to Mr. [Ilahiri] Djédjé, who was the Ambassador of Laurent Gbagbo at the time that a change was made? Was his ID card taken away? Was he put on a “do not enter the UN” compound list? It just seems it’s a related… does the UN conventionally take somebody’s card and say they can’t enter the premises if they act on a letter such as the one sent by the [Muammar Al-]Qadhafi Government? The other one is, you’d said to Anita that there are inaccuracies in the CPJ and Reporters without Borders letter. I wonder if you can… since you say they are inaccurate, what are those inaccuracies?
Spokesperson: Well, one of them is that it refers to something that was mentioned at this briefing, saying that it was on 18 February. It was on 16 February. And it also doesn’t quote in entirety what I said, which was that I had been mistaken, and that my Deputy, Farhan [Haq], had already read out here on 1 February that there had been, that the letter had been received. So, and this was something that you reported at the time on 1 February, and then asked me again on 16 February, and then CPJ and the other organizations in that letter have overlooked both of those facts. And this is simply a factual point. Much more important is the overall point, which is that they have requested that the Secretary-General look into this. And obviously there is a division of labour here. Those parts of the Organization which deal with these matters specifically will then be able to report back to the Secretary-General, and that is what will happen.
Question: Sure. Not to speak for them, but since the Secretary-General seems to have a line of communication, for example with the Attorney General of that country and met with him recently… I mean, I think that there is a reason that they are writing to him rather than to Navi Pillay, and I just wondered, is there anything that the Secretariat will do on these various reports?
Spokesperson: Well, actually the letter was received in Geneva. So that’s another interesting factor. So what I can tell you is that, of course, and I mentioned this to you on the 16th, and you know that it is something that is there on the public record — that the Secretary-General would be concerned about disappearance or detention of any journalist; and in this case, too. The people within the Organization who deal with these particular matters — and that’s UNESCO and the Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights — they look into it, and they will report back with an assessment on how best to deal with this. This is not to say that this is something that we take lightly; we take it extremely seriously. And that is why it is being looked into and they will be reporting back to the Secretary-General.
Question: A couple of Sudan questions, but I don’t know if… how you want to play, how you want to handle it.
Spokesperson: All right, I can see other hands up, and then I will come back to you, Matthew, of course. Yes, Giampaolo, and then Masood?
Question: Martin, is it confirmed that tomorrow, the Special Envoy for Libya is going to meet the Secretary-General, there is no delay?
Spokesperson: As I think I mentioned to you yesterday, he will be arriving late tomorrow, seeing the Secretary-General on Friday morning. And the intention is that he — meaning the Secretary-General — will speak to you at the stakeout after that meeting. And at that point, I am sure there will be more details. Yes, Masood?
Question: Yeah, about two days ago the Secretary-General issued a statement which was also a recount of what he had said in Munich, that thousands of political prisoners, Palestinian political prisoners in Israel’s jails should be released, as well as one Israeli soldier in the hands of, probably Hamas, should be released. Has he had any contact with the Israeli authorities about these political prisoners, Palestinian political prisoners who have been languishing for years in Israeli jails? When will they eventually be released, except for promises that are coming down?
Spokesperson: This topic is something that is raised when the Secretary-General meets Israeli officials, of course. Yes, Matthew?
Question: Sure. On Sudan, there are, there is a report that the SPLM [Sudan People’s Liberation Movement] has threatened to stop negotiations with the National Congress Party about Abyei and outstanding issues due to the violence. It’s in the Sudan Tribune article, which quotes an SPLM leader for Abyei, saying why is the UN not taking a more active role? Meanwhile, the Sudanese Government newspaper has said that the UN has rejected calls to get involved, either physically… either in the physical protection of civilians or in a way other than simply monitoring. Is that… is the Sudanese Government accurate in saying that UNMIS’s [United Nations Mission in Sudan] role in Abyei is simply to monitor what some said is the destruction of 300 buildings and three villages, or is there a physical protection role that is being implemented there?
Spokesperson: Well, two points. One is that you know quite well that the UN Mission in Sudan was instrumental in bringing the sides together just last week. And secondly, as you also know, we told you that an additional company, on top of four companies already deployed in that area, this additional company was being deployed there. So that is extra boots on the ground.
Question: Where were they when these… not to… obviously they didn’t burn them, but when these villages were burned down — there are satellite photos of the before and the after — is there any… is the attempt of this new company to actually be physically present to stop physical destruction or…? I am just trying to understand what the…?
Spokesperson: The presence of peacekeeping personnel on the ground is supposed to do a number of things. One is, yes, it is monitoring, two, it is to investigate after the fact if they, if it happened somewhere a long way from where they are positioned, and it is also to help people who have been either attacked or need assistance for some other reason. And we have seen that repeatedly. In this particular case, we are aware of those reports that you referred to, and if I have any more details on the location of the peacekeepers in relation to that, I’d be happy to let you know.
Question: And also in Darfur, there is a lot of now criticism by the rebel groups in Darfur that the Government on Monday proposed to add two additional administrative states to Darfur; they are calling it a “divide and rule” regime. I just wonder, given the UN’s role in these negotiations, one, do they think that… what do they make of these criticisms of divide and rule, and two, do they think that the steps that the Sudanese Government is taking to supposedly seek consent of people in IDP [internally displaced persons] camps are sufficient, democratic and the things that the UN would like to see done?
Spokesperson: Well, as I understand it, from the mediation, this has not been formally communicated, this notion of establishing two extra administrative areas in Darfur. This has not been officially communicated to the mediation, and so they are waiting to hear more about that, because, after all, that is one aspect of the negotiations that are going on. They haven’t heard anything officially yet. And if they do, I’ll be happy to let you know. All right, yes, one last question. Yes?
Question: Yes, what will it take exactly for the UN to not recognize any more the Qadhafi Government as the legitimate Government of Libya? What has to happen for something like this…?
Spokesperson: The 192 Member States of the United Nations General Assembly need to decide on that.
Question: Oh? So, a vote of the General Assembly and after that…?
Spokesperson: That’s right. Yeah, thanks very much. Good afternoon.
* *** *