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

15 March 2011

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

15 March 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, and welcome to the briefing.

** Libya

The Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Libya, Abdul Ilah Khatib, is in Tripoli today, where he is continuing his discussions with Libyan officials.  Yesterday, he arrived with his delegation and met with Foreign Minister Musa Kousa.  During that meeting, he reiterated the calls by the Secretary-General and the Security Council for an immediate end to the violence.  He also called for cooperation from the authorities on human rights and humanitarian concerns.

The Special Envoy requested that the Libyan Government allow unfettered access to all relevant UN agencies in order to be able to assist the Libyan people and alleviate the suffering of those affected.  He was briefed by the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Libya, Rashid Khalikov, about talks and field visits that Mr. Khalikov conducted earlier in Libya with the aim of assessing the country's humanitarian needs.  And we would expect an update on Mr. Khatib’s visit a little later today.

Meanwhile, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is becoming worried that people needing to flee combat areas and seek refuge are either unable to go or have been prevented from doing so.  UNHCR appeals again to all parties to ensure safe passage for all civilians fleeing violence.

** Japan

The UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) team in Japan is supporting the Japanese Government in its efforts to deal with the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunamis that struck last Friday.  The team is based in Tokyo, helping with information management and with international offers of assistance to the Japanese Government.  It plans to send a reconnaissance mission to the prefectures of Fukushima and Miyagi tomorrow.

Meanwhile, the Government of Japan has asked the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to send a technical support team to the area affected by the recent developments at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.  The International Atomic Energy Agency is coordinating international support on the nuclear response to Japan through the Response and Assistance Network.  The Agency continues to monitor the situation and is providing regular updates on its website.

** Bahrain

A statement we issued late yesterday said that the Secretary-General was troubled by the growing violence in the Kingdom of Bahrain that has left many people injured over the past few days.  He noted with concern that troops from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates under the auspices of the Gulf Cooperation Council had reportedly entered the territory of Bahrain.

The United Nations is in touch with all the Bahraini parties on the ground, including the Government and key opposition parties who have conveyed their concerns to the Secretary-General on the latest developments.  The Secretary-General strongly believes that peaceful means should be adopted to ensure national unity and stability.  He appeals to all concerned to exercise maximum restraint and to do everything possible to prevent the use of force and further violence.  He also underscores the responsibility of all parties to act in strict accordance with international human rights and humanitarian law.  The full statement is in my office and is available online.

**Security Council

Alexander Downer, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser for Cyprus, briefed the Security Council in its closed consultations this morning on the progress of the talks on Cyprus.

Mr. Downer told the press afterwards that it is important that the Cyprus process maintain its momentum.  He noted that the one hundredth meeting between the Cypriot leaders will take place at the end of the week and expressed his hope that the leaders will continue to move forward in their talks with each other.

**Secretary-General’s Appointment

The Secretary-General has appointed Major General Gnakoudè Béréna of Togo as the Force Commander of the United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI).  Major General Béréna will replace Major General Abdul Hafiz of Bangladesh, whose tour of duty ends on 22 March 2011.  We have more information on Major General Béréna available in my office.

**Panel on Global Sustainability

Tomorrow, the co-chairs of the High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability will hold an interactive dialogue with Member States at the invitation of the President of the General Assembly in the ECOSOC [Economic and Social Council] conference room.  The President of the General Assembly and the Deputy Secretary-General, along with the panel co-chairs — Tarja Halonen, the President of Finland, and Jacob Zuma, the President of South Africa — will take part in this panel discussion.  Several other Panel members will also speak.  President Zuma will join by video link.  And the meeting is open to accredited UN journalists.

Questions, please?  Masood?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I just want to know about this question about Japan.  This United Nations emergency relief team, does that also include the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] team, or the IAEA team that is going there is separate?

Spokesperson:  That’s separate.  The Disaster Assessment and Coordination team is looking at the humanitarian coordination and response.  The International Atomic Energy Agency support team is of a technical nature, to deal with the difficulties at the nuclear power plant.

Question:  And the other thing, the other question I was going to ask about Bahrain.  The Secretary-General… do we expect the Secretary-General to send one of his advisers, or a person, over there to Bahrain to counsel the Government of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia on the action that has been taken by now?  At least about 200 to 300 people have been injured; two have been reported killed in Bahrain.  So, I mean, it seems that it is going out of hand.

Spokesperson:  Well, as I just mentioned to you, the Secretary-General did issue a statement yesterday, saying precisely that he was troubled by the growing violence in Bahrain, and indeed that many people had been injured in that violence in the past few days.  The United Nations is in touch with all the Bahraini parties, as we’ve said.  And the Secretary-General has reiterated his call in the statement that was issued yesterday on all national stakeholders to reach a common ground without delay on a meaningful and broad-based national dialogue, and also to address the point that you have made.  Specifically, the United Nations continues to stand ready to provide support to nationally led efforts, if requested to do so.  And I would also point out that we do have a country team based in Bahrain with a Resident Coordinator, and I can tell you that they are in close contact with the authorities and indeed all Bahraini parties on the ground.  James?

Question:  It is the same thing; and I have read the statement and I appreciate it greatly.  Has the Secretary-General had any contact with either Riyadh or Abu Dhabi about the deployment of forces?  And, I read the statement, but I couldn’t ascertain whether or not the Secretary-General believed the deployment of foreign forces in Bahrain was a positive or negative development.  Can you clarify that, please?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think this is something that has been decided by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), and I would simply reiterate what I have already read out in the statement, and I don’t think that helps you if I read it out again.  So, this is a Gulf Cooperation Council decision, and I think I will leave it there.  Yes, Nizar?

Question:  Can I follow up on that?  Has he had any contacts with either Riyadh or Abu Dhabi?

Spokesperson:  The short answer is no.  No.

Question:  But does he have any position whether or not that’s a positive or negative…?

Spokesperson:  I have answered that question — or not answered it.  But that’s as far as I am going.  Yes, Nizar?

Question:  According to the GCC, they said they are working under the GCC defence, joint defence agreements.  Do you, does the Secretary-General believe that there are any foreign interference in Bahrain away from the Saudi and the UAE [ United Arab Emirates] interference, military one?

Spokesperson:  What do you mean?

Question:  But if they are acting according to the defence agreements, that means they are acting against a foreign power inside Bahrain.  Does the Secretary-General believe that it is an internal issue or an external issue?

Spokesperson:  As I have said, the Secretary-General is troubled by the growing violence that everyone has witnessed in Bahrain, in which many people have been hurt in the past few days.  And he has also noted with concern that troops under the auspices of the Gulf Cooperation Council have entered the territory of Bahrain and he has called very clearly for maximum restraint and to do anything possible to prevent the use of force.

Question:  Does the UN team in Bahrain see that the demonstrators were violent; did they use any violent means against the…?

Spokesperson:  What we have said is that the Secretary-General has underscored the responsibility of all parties to act in strict accordance with international human rights and humanitarian law.  What the Secretary-General has also specifically mentioned in that — repeatedly, and in this context specifically — that there are basic freedoms at stake here; freedom of expression, freedom of association.  And those need to be guaranteed.  And that is incumbent on the authorities to guarantee them.

Question:  Did the team visit the hospitals and see the wounded and how they have been wounded?

Spokesperson:  That is a statement, not a question.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  It wasn’t a statement.  I say, I am asking you did the United Nations team the hospitals and see…?

Spokesperson:  As I have said to you, the country team is in touch with all Bahraini parties on the ground and has a rather detailed overview of what is happening.  Yes?

Question:  Would it be available for us to get that?

Spokesperson:  Well, as I say, they have a good overview and I do my best here to provide you with the information that is coming from them.  If I have more, I’d be happy to share it with you.

Question:  But why do you say that my question was a statement?

Spokesperson:  Because I didn’t hear you properly; that’s as simple as that, Nizar.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Sure, I have actually something on Sudan, but I want to ask also about Bahrain.  Some time ago, I had asked you whether the UN system is, believes that the use by Bahrain of security personnel, not governmental, but personnel from Pakistan and Yemen, if this is… if these are in fact mercenaries, as the UN has used that word in Libya and elsewhere.  Or even if hired by the Government as police officers or otherwise, if they shoot at protesters, are those mercenaries or not?  And I don’t know if there was any… I know I asked it, but I don’t know if there was any, is there any, I guess, what does the UN think of that?

Spokesperson:  If I have anything for you, I will let you know, Matthew.  Yeah, you wanted to ask something on Sudan?

Question:  Yeah.  The SPLM [Sudan People’s Liberation Movement] has released documents that they say prove conclusively that Khartoum has been providing weapons and support to George Athor and Lam Akol, the two renegade general in Southern Sudan.  So, many hundreds of people have been killed in these two battles and I am wondering what UNMIS [United Nations Mission in Sudan], it seems right in UNMIS’ area of work.  Did they… do they believe that Khartoum has been supporting these two renegade generals, and if so, what are they going to do about it?

Spokesperson:  Well, I’d have to ask UNMIS to see if they have anything further on that.  What UNMIS has said and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Haile Menkerios, has is that there needs to be restraint on all sides.  If I have anything further, then I’d come back to you on that.  Yes, please?

Question:  Jut to come back to Japan for one moment.  Are you aware if the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) was ever considered as tool to jumpstart efforts, relief efforts in Japan?

Spokesperson:  I’d have to look into that.  I do not know the answer to that right away.  If it is felt necessary, then that kind of assistance can be provided.  But I think that it would be in coordination; that’s why we have this Disaster Assessment Coordination team on the ground with the Japanese authorities.  And if they felt that they needed it, I am pretty sure that they would ask our colleagues on the ground in Tokyo about that.  If I have anything further from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, then we’ll let you know.

Question:  A follow-up on that? Will there be any kind of advice on making extra safeguards for existing reactors everywhere since these 8.9, 8.8 Richter scale earthquakes are happening, recurring.  One that happened in Chile, another one in Indonesia earlier; the risks are much higher now.  Will there be… should there be reinforcement to the existing reactors worldwide, and would the IAEA do something about this, inspecting them?

Spokesperson:  Well, you correctly mentioned the International Atomic Energy Agency.  They are experts in this area, working very closely with national Governments that have nuclear power programmes around the world, whether in earthquake-prone areas or not.  And I think I would leave it to the International Atomic Energy Agency to comment on what may or may not need to happen as a result of the earthquake, the most recent earthquake in Japan.

Question:  How about the reactors which are not under the IAEA, such as those which are in the Middle East?  There are many reactors which are not under the IAEA.

Spokesperson:  Well, as I say, the International Atomic Energy Agency is the agency that is responsible for the peaceful use of nuclear energy throughout the world, and they have the technical expertise to be able to comment on this.  I do not.  Yes?

Question:  But they don’t have jurisdiction over the Israeli ones, for example?

Spokesperson:  As I say, they have the technical expertise to comment on this kind of thing.  Oikawa-san, you had a question?  No?  Okay, all right, okay.

Question:  Sure, I want to ask about the Global Compact and then something else.  There is a, this is a Joint Inspection Unit report on the Global Compact saying that it presents, it comes out in January, saying that it presents a reputational risk to the UN system, that it has expanded its mandate and may be allowing corporations that don’t live up to any kind of standards to claim association with the UN.  I have noticed recently the Global Compact has allowed a private military contractor called G4F to join the Global Compact.  I wonder, what is the Secretariat’s, since it is a Secretariat initiative that was started under Kofi Annan, it’s been continued, what’s the Secretariat’s response to that?  Are there any plans to rein it in?  Is the Secretary-General comfortable with what the Global Compact has been doing?

Spokesperson:  I think, yeah, I read the Fox News piece as well, Matthew, and you will also find in that piece a fairly strong rebuttal from Georg Kell, and I am sure that my colleagues in the Global Compact office could provide more details on precisely their points made to the Fox News people, and they can make them to you, too.

Question:  I know Mr. Kell; I guess my point is the Secretariat where, I know the Secretary-General may be travelling, but he is supposed to be overseeing it.  Does the joining by private military contractors of a UN programme, does he stand behind that?

Spokesperson:  As I said, the Global Compact is in very good hands with Georg Kell, and I am sure that they will provide you with an answer on that particular point.

Question:  The other thing I wanted to ask is, I had asked here yesterday, but I’ve tried to follow up, I asked a simple question whether the son-in-law of the Secretary-General was still being paid by UNOPS, [United Nations Office for Project Services] as well as whether his educational things may be being paid.  Farhan [Haq] said, “Ask UNOPS”.  So, I sent them an e-mail, I don’t have an answer, but I also notice that Farhan is listed as the New York Spokesman for UNOPS on their web page.  So, I just, I think you may… maybe you have an answer to it and so then all of this is now moot, but, what is the answer?

Spokesperson:  It is, Matthew. First of all, UNOPS will probably be sending you the e-mail saying what I am going to say, which is that Mr. [Siddarth] Chatterjee left his position as UNOPS Regional Director for Europe and the Middle East in July 2010 and, after taking accumulated annual leave, went on special leave without pay until 31 May, of this year, 2011.  The end of the special leave without pay coincides with the end of his period of secondment to UNOPS from UNICEF.  And during his special leave without pay, Mr. Chatterjee does not receive any payments or funding from UNOPS.  And for your information, a new Regional Director for Europe and the Middle East joined UNOPS on 4 October 2010.  That’s what I have for you, okay.

All right, thank you very much.  Good afternoon.

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