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

18 March 2011

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

18 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 everybody.

**Secretary-General on Yemen

I have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Yemen.

The Secretary-General strongly condemns the use of live ammunition today by the security forces of Yemen against demonstrators in Sana’a that has reportedly left more than 30 people killed and many seriously injured.

The Secretary-General is deeply troubled by the continuing violence and instability in Yemen.  He reiterates his call for utmost restraint and reminds the Government of Yemen that it has an obligation to protect civilians.  He calls on all to desist from any provocative acts that might lead to further violence.  The Secretary-General believes that there is no alternative to an inclusive dialogue on all political, social and economic reform to address Yemen’s political crisis and maintain its national unity.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

The Secretary-General is in Spain today, where he met Prime Minister [José Luis Rodríguez] Zapatero and Foreign Minister [ Trinidad] Jiménez.  And he will later have an audience with King Juan Carlos.

Talking to the press after his meeting with the Spanish Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, the Secretary-General said they had discussed the dramatic developments in the Middle East and North Africa, including the violence in Libya.  The Secretary-General emphasized that Libya must cease all hostilities immediately and that those responsible for human rights violations will be held accountable.

The Secretary-General added that he would do all he could to fulfil his responsibilities to coordinate closely with Member States on a common, effective and timely response, as mandated by Security Council resolution 1973 (2011).

And tomorrow, he will follow up on yesterday’s historic Security Council resolution by travelling to Paris and meeting President [Nicolas] Sarkozy and other European, Arab and African leaders.

And then after that, as the Secretary-General told you earlier, he will travel to Egypt and Tunisia, so that he can see at first-hand how the people of those countries are moving ahead with the transition to democracy.  He intends to listen to the views of a wide range of people, from government officials to civil society to women and youth, on the way forward in each country.  We expect him back in New York by the middle of next week.

** Libya

And the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, says that there is an increased risk of mass displacement in Libya.  It has done extensive contingency planning with partners and adds that it is ready to work with the Egyptian Government to prepare for a massive influx of people fleeing the violence in Libya.

The agency says that it has seen an increase in the number of Libyans fleeing into Egypt in the past few days, with around 1,500 arriving on Wednesday, out of a total of 3,163 people.  It also says that a steady flow of some 1,000 new arrivals continued to cross into Tunisia, the majority originating from sub-Saharan Africa.

** Côte d’Ivoire

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN mission in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) say that the attack against civilians by the security forces of Laurent Gbagbo at a market in Abobo yesterday could constitute a crime against humanity.  After sending a patrol and human rights experts to the area yesterday afternoon, the mission has confirmed that the security forces fired at least six 81-millimeter mortar shells — killing 25 to 30 people and wounding 40 to 60 others.

The mission says that the perpetrators of these acts will be held accountable.  I would expect to have something further to say on this later today.

Meanwhile, the UN refugee agency says that the escalating violence in Abidjan is causing further displacements.  It adds that in the west, the ongoing fighting has forced more civilians to flee across the border.  The number of Ivorian refugees in Liberia has now reached 90,000 as you heard also yesterday.

And the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, has said that she is worried by the escalating violence and the restrictions on access.

[The Spokesperson later issued the following statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the situation in Côte d’Ivoire:

The Secretary-General is shocked by the firing of mortars, allegedly from a military camp of forces loyal to Mr. Gbagbo, into a market area in the Abobo district of Abidjan on 18 March, which resulted in the killing of at least 25 civilians with more than 40 others wounded.

A UNOCI patrol, as well as human rights investigators that went to the area, have confirmed that six mortars fired into the market area caused the casualties.  The Secretary-General condemns the attack, as well as the escalating violence in Abidjan and in the western region of Côte d’Ivoire.  He warns the concerned Ivorian parties to bring the violence and related human rights violations to an end without further delay.

The Secretary-General urges the Security Council to take further measures with regard to the Ivorian individuals who are instigating, orchestrating and committing the violence.  In the meantime, UNOCI will continue to investigate and record all such violations of human rights and will continue to take the necessary steps to protect the civilian population.]

** Japan — International Atomic Energy Agency

The Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will convene a meeting at the Agency’s headquarters in Vienna on Monday.  Director General Yukiya Amano will brief Member States on the nuclear emergency in Japan, following his current trip to the country.  And Mr. Amano is also expected to hold a press conference that afternoon.

**Press Conference Monday

On Monday, there will be a press conference here in the auditorium at 2:15 p.m. on the eighth plenary session of the Contact Group on piracy off the coast of Somalia, and that is with the Permanent Representative of Turkey, Ertuğrul Apakan.

**Former AFP Correspondent

And finally, on a sad note, I wanted to let you know that Bernard Estrade, a former AFP correspondent at the United Nations, passed away yesterday in Paris.

Bernard was unmistakeably French.  He had a sharp, contrarian mind, and he was fortunate during his more than 40 years with Agence France Presse to have witnessed some of the most momentous events of our times.  Whether on the streets of Tehran during the fall of the Shah, in Sniper Alley during the siege of Sarajevo or covering the creation of a new Russia, Bernard was there practising the craft that was his life’s passion.

Many of you were fortunate enough to get to know him during his time at the United Nations, which coincided with the unfolding of the Iraq War.  It was a time of high-stakes political manoeuvring right here in this building, and Bernard was truly in his element.

Our hearts go out to his wife, Kate Hunt, who is the CARE representative at the United Nations.

So, that’s what I have for you and I am willing to take questions.  Yes, Erol?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Martin, it was really nice to hear those kind words for Bernard.  My question:  Now, when we have the Security Council resolution on Libya, putting in historical perspective, it seems that we have the Secretary-General, if I may put only short statement:  who is on the right side of the history, unlike his predecessors; for example, Boutros-Ghali who was during the actual no-fly zone in Bosnia was rather complicating the situation with the double key.  The end of my statement.  My question is:  What now and does it mean that this Secretary-General really is for the military action in Libya?

Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General has said very clearly that yesterday’s decision was an historic one, and that it clearly and unequivocally underscored the determination of the international community to fulfil its responsibility to protect.  And I think that is the key phrase here:  responsibility to protect civilians from violence being perpetrated by their own Government.  And the resolution of course, as you well know, authorizes the use of all necessary measures.  And, as the Secretary-General did say, given the critical situation on the ground, he expects immediate action on the resolution’s provision.  And that’s precisely why, as you just heard me say, the Secretary-General will be going to Paris tomorrow for this meeting that has been convened by France, and is bringing together representatives from the region, not least, League of Arab States and African Union.  And there will also be European Union representatives.  So, all of this to say that this is a concerted international effort.  It’s a very important Security Council resolution.  There are provisions in there that require action by the Secretary-General — to report on the implementation, for example, of the resolution and to form a panel of experts.  So, there is a clear involvement of the Secretary-General in the implementation of this.  Yes, Nizar?

Question:  Martin, the situation in Bahrain is deteriorating badly.  I mean, we have seen a lot of footage of slaughter, literally, that police spraying people with bullets randomly, killing, even helicopters at houses from the air indiscriminately. Arrest…

Spokesperson:  What’s the question?

Question:  …arrest of people without any rules. And…

Spokesperson:  What’s the question, Nizar?

Question:  The question is, I mean, the protection of civilians, the Bahraini people have appealed to the Secretary-General and to the Security Council to take some action.  This is a real mayhem taking place there in Bahrain and it seems the international community, we don’t hear even condemnation of that.  The situation in Yemen…

Spokesperson:  Well, it is interesting that you should say that, because the Secretary-General, as you will have seen, spoke yesterday afternoon to the King of Bahrain, and in that telephone call, he expressed his deepest concern over the reports of excessive and indiscriminate use of force by the security forces and police in Bahrain against unarmed civilians, including, allegedly, against medical personnel.  And the Secretary-General noted that such actions could be in breach of international humanitarian and human rights law.  And while urging maximum restraint, he underscored the solemn obligation of the security forces to protect civilian lives.  And he also called for an open dialogue on genuine political, economic and social reform, which alone could lead to sustainable peace and stability in Bahrain.

Question:  But it seems, I mean, there is no response; people who are supposed to have dialogue with are in jail.  Most of the leaders of the opposition who represent more than 70 per cent of the Bahrainis are in jail.  I mean, shouldn’t there be a follow-up on that?  Any actions by the United Nations?

Spokesperson:  Well, if you are referring to the Security Council, then I am sure that you can ask Security Council members whether they intend to take it up.  What I can do is to tell you what the Secretary-General has done, which is rather significant.  And that is to speak to the King of the Kingdom of Bahrain yesterday while he was in Guatemala.  He made that call.  And as you can see, he did not mince his words during that call.

Question:  Yeah, but in Yemen, the case of Yemen we have condemnation, clear condemnation, straightforward.  Where in Bahrain, this has been going on for many weeks, and we haven’t seen…

Spokesperson:  Again, I think look back at what the Secretary-General has been saying, including earlier this week, and what I have just told you today.  James, I think you had a question?

Question:  Yeah, it was a continuation of what you were talking about with Erol.  Like you said, the Security Council resolution on Libya last night makes frequent reference to the Secretary-General; it sort of involves him intimately in the flow of information.  For example, Member States are going to be obliged to notify the Secretary-General if they are going to get militarily involved.  And also send updates on their involvement and operations in Libya.  I am just wondering what happens to that information.  Does it go to through secretariat, DPA, DPKO?  And, obviously, it is going to be useful to us journalists to be able to access it.  So, my question is, how do we get it?  Is it going to be public and…?

Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, let’s bear in mind that the ink is barely dry on the resolution.  Yes, it has been some time in the making, but it is now a reality.  The Secretariat and the Secretary-General himself obviously are keenly aware of the provisions within the resolution that require the action of the Secretariat and the Secretary-General.  And I think you can be sure that right now, as we speak, my colleagues are putting together the mechanism and finalizing the mechanism that they will already have been anticipating, of course, so that we can provide the information in the first instance, to the Security Council.  And the broader ramifications, including how we inform you, I think will be worked out.  But I can’t tell you exactly how that will be at the moment.

Question:  Out of interest, have any Member States actually notified the Secretary-General that they are going to be involved?

Spokesperson:  I would have to check on that.  You will have seen the same as I have, reports on countries that have declared what they will be doing or not doing.  I will need to check precisely what the information flow is.  But also, let’s come back to the meeting in Paris tomorrow.  I think that is also a very important part of the exercise that we are referring to here.  I think that, and more will become clear after that, I think.  Yes, Oikawa-san, yes?

Question:  Thank you.  So, how does the Secretary-General recognize the announcement by the Qadhafi regime, accepting the ceasefire?  So, will it be good reason to refrain from using military force?

Spokesperson:  Well, he is obviously aware of it and he addressed it during his meeting with journalists after discussions he had with the Prime Minister of Spain.  He is obviously aware of it.  And as with others, I think he is monitoring this, looking at this and I think when we get to Paris tomorrow, or when he gets to Paris tomorrow, there will be a clearer picture including the discussions he has with the leaders who are there.  Yes, Matthew.

Question:  Sure, yeah.  On this as well, there is a report in the Financial Times quoting this Khaled Kaaim, who is the Deputy Foreign Minister of Libya as saying that, quote, the Government, the Qadhafi Government, had already discussed the ceasefire on Wednesday with a representative of the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.  So I wonder, is that Mr. [Abdul Ilah] Khatib?  Can you confirm that communication, and where is Mr. Khatib now?

Spokesperson:  The Special Envoy is in Cairo, and he will be meeting the Secretary-General over the course of the weekend while he is travelling in the region and possibly even before that, on the margins of the Paris meeting.  Well, two things:  We’ve already explained publicly what Mr. Khatib outlined to the Libyan authorities while he was in Tripoli.  And secondly, we put out, as you know, a fairly toughly-worded statement on the need for an immediate ceasefire.  This was already…

Question:  [inaudible]…you take that to be a reference?

Spokesperson:  So, I am not seeing cause and effect here, because I was not privy to that conversation.  I am simply saying that we have publicly stated that there needs to be a ceasefire, and in addition, Mr. Khatib made perfectly clear to the Libyan authorities what the view was of the international community and of the Secretary-General as through his public statements.

Question:  And just factually, is the UN, does it have any way to, I guess you know, give some facts about this reported attack on Misurata that even after the passage of the resolution there continued to be bombardment?  And does the UN have any view of this stated intention to send anti-terror units into Benghazi while observing what Libya calls a ceasefire?

Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, we are not in a position to be able to confirm what is happening on the ground there because, as you know, we don’t have a presence on the ground at this point.  We have seen reports – the same as you have – and obviously, my colleagues who are more closely dealing with this will be seeking to ascertain precisely what is happening, not least because of the ramifications for a stated ceasefire and the provisions of the Security Council resolution.  I think what is also rather important in this context is that there are many elements to this Security Council resolution, not simply a ceasefire, which of course is a fundamental aspect, but it is not the only provision in there.  And there needs to be quite a lot that is implemented in the framework of that resolution.  I can see other questions.  I’ll come back to you, Matthew.

Question:  Just on the [inaudible], I just wanted to ask, does he have any, does he think that’s a…?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have any information on that.  As you well know, the Security Council resolution is extremely explicit on what is required of the Libyan authorities.

Correspondent:  Okay.

Spokesperson:  Yes, Barbara, and then Masood, yes?

Question:  The Libyan Foreign Minister asked for an international fact-finding mission to check out the facts on the ground.  Is that something that they have asked the UN to do and if so, I mean…?

Spokesperson:  I am not aware that we have specifically been asked.  If this is something that’s just been announced by the Libyan authorities, as you know, when Mr. Khatib, the Special Envoy was there, there was talk, and indeed even before that, of the need for some kind of fact-finding mission.  When I say “talk”, I mean on the part of the Libyan authorities.  But what we have already said, what the United Nations has already said, and what the Human Rights Council has decided in parallel is that there needs to be a fact-finding mission to look at the humanitarian, human rights aspects of this.  And obviously a key provision there to be able to do that is access, and that is one reason why Mr. Khatib, the Special Envoy was there in Tripoli to try to secure that access.  And I am sure that he will be briefing in more detail the Secretary-General over the weekend.

Question:  So, that will be coming from the Human Rights Council; this fact-finding mission?

Spokesperson:  As I say, there is a parallel track:  the Human Rights Council, there is also what the Special Envoy is doing and what he is trying to secure, which is greater access for humanitarian workers.  So, if you like, two parallel tracks.  If the Libyan authorities are serious about the need for a fact-finding mission, then clearly a major aspect of that is unfettered access.  And that, we would like to see.  Yes, Masood, and then Evelyn.

Question:  Yesterday, Martin, you had said that you would find out whether the GCC, the Gulf Cooperation Agreement, in it, I mean, obligated the Gulf of Bahrain to inform, I mean, the GCC to inform the United Nations whether this induction of foreign forces was required because it was being invaded by, I mean, it was being affected by the extraneous forces?  Is that…?

Spokesperson:  Well, as I said to you, I think that’s something for the Gulf Cooperation Council to comment on, precisely what the provisions are for their presence in Bahrain.  I would simply reiterate what the Secretary-General has said, which is that he noted with concern the presence of the Gulf Cooperation Council forces there, and his concern about the escalating violence.  And as you know, the Secretary-General then, as I told you just earlier, spoke with the King of Bahrain yesterday afternoon.  That’s what I have got.  Yes, Nizar?

Question:  Follow-up on that; shouldn’t there be an investigation on these crimes?  These are very serious crimes against humanity here, war crimes, and the connivance of the GCC with these crimes, I mean, by helping and aiding the Bahraini Government.

Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General in his telephone conversation with the King noted that such actions, meaning the reports of excessive and indiscriminate use of force against civilians could be in breach of international humanitarian and human rights law.  And that would need to be established.  Yes, Evelyn?

Question:  [inaudible]

Spokesperson:  Well, it would need to be established.  How that would happen is obviously something that would need to be worked out.  Yes, Evelyn?

Question:  I understand the Special Envoy had difficulty in mobility and getting access in Tripoli; do you have any details of that?  Or is that a rumour or is that something that has been cleared up?  And then secondly, thank you very much for moving tribute to Bernard Estrade; thank you, your colleagues.

Spokesperson:  Well, that’s very nice of you to say, and obviously, it is something that one does not wish to have to read out, but if people found that good to hear, then that’s something I am also pleased to hear.  On the question of Mr. Khatib’s access, access to Tripoli at this point is clearly not easy.  But he went and he returned.  And he will certainly be endeavouring to keep up contacts with the authorities in Tripoli.  And as we have made clear, with those groups based in Benghazi.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Sure, I want to ask about Côte d’Ivoire and a couple of administrative things.  In Côte d’Ivoire; I mean, obviously there is this market attack which is, you now, quite bad, but there, I also, I wanted to ask, I don’t know if the UN had said anything about, Human Rights Watch has documented what they say are killings by the pro-Ouattara forces as well, in this village of Anonkoua-Kouté.  They say that, you know, some 60 pro-Ouattara fighters killed nine civilians.  And I, you know, obviously, the Gbagbo Government there says that the UN has, is, that its reporting is very partial, etcetera.  So, I am just wondering, has the UN system had anything to say about this, you know, whatever, misdeed, at a minimum on the other side and where have they said that?

Spokesperson:  Human rights are fundamental and are for everybody.  The mission in Côte d’Ivoire of the United Nations has as its mandate to protect all civilians in an impartial way.  And that also includes monitoring human rights abuses from wherever they may emanate.  And I know that my colleagues there would certainly look into any allegation from whichever quarter.  And if I have any further details, then clearly I would let you know.

Question:  That would be great.  Especially, you know, if they’d said anything in the past because it seems like it was a widely, at least alleged, thing there.

Spokesperson:  As I say, we need to be very clear that human rights are universal and that any attack from whichever side, any provocation from whichever side needs to be looked at.

[The Spokesperson later said that in the statement just issued by his Office, the Secretary-General had warned the concerned Ivorian parties to bring the violence and related human rights violations to an end without further delay.  The Secretary-General also urged the Security Council to take further measures with regard to the Ivorian individuals who are instigating, orchestrating and committing the violence.  The Spokesperson also noted that in a report released at the end of February, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, had documented human rights violations by both the forces loyal to Mr. Gbagbo and by the Forces Nouvelles.]

Question:  And just, if you don’t mind, there is, this may seem like a small thing, but the, the several UN staff members that work in what is called the Luggage Building, or whatever it is now being called on 42nd and Second have said that they have concluded after speaking to the Green Focal Point, etcetera, that there is no recycling in the building; that they put the recycling, that they are asked by the UN to put them in separate blue containers and that ultimately everything is put together and dumped.  And they have said that they have raised this and have been told that the UN can’t do anything about it.  I wonder, I mean, am not expecting you may be to respond from the podium, but they are pretty, they see it as sort of hypocrisy, and I just wonder, maybe, may you or whoever responds to these things can find out if that is the case and if so why it is acceptable?

Spokesperson:  Well, let me look into that.  I think it is in everybody’s interest to ensure that the recycling is available.  Yeah.

Question:  [inaudible] sort of making it appear that it was [inaudible].

Spokesperson:  As I said, as I said, I would need to look into it to find out what is behind this, if anything, and secondly, the main principle here is that recycling is obviously in everybody’s interest.  Right, other questions?  James, and then I’ll come back to you, Matthew.

Correspondent:  Okay.

Spokesperson:  Yes?

Question:  It is one question, and a request for two updates.  The question is, does the Secretary-General have any concern or comment on the return of Jean-Bertrand Aristide to Haiti this morning?  Two, the updates, could we expect next week to have anything available or released on either the cholera probe for Haiti, or the Secretary-General’s panel on the Gaza flotilla?

Spokesperson:  Just to start with the cholera panel, I think I have already said from here that this is still in the works and the report is expected later this month or early next month.  And as for the flotilla incident panel, as you know, the different parts of the jigsaw puzzle came in at different times, and it is still something that the panel is working on.  I don’t have a date for you at this point.  As for the return of former President Aristide to Haiti, obviously we are aware of the reports, and we are following the situation.  My colleagues in Haiti are following the situation and the most important thing to emphasize here is the need for a smooth and a well-run election on Sunday.  And that’s our focus at this point.  Yes?

Question:  I do it as fast and furious as possible.  That, that…

Spokesperson:  Maybe fast, but not furious!

Question:  Yeah, no, no, I won’t, no!  It is said in this, because it is a Security Council, is, some people think it is important that this job, a top Security Council affairs currently held by Norma Chan, that the UN has selected Movses Abelian and they have had, the Secretary of the Budget Committee to take that post.  Is that, are you, can you confirm that?

Spokesperson:  Yes, I can.

Question:  Okay.  And what is going to happen with the Budget Committee?  Is that… I guess my question led me to wonder, since the Budget Committee is supposed to oversee the Secretariat to some degree, is it just a straight DPA appointment?  Is there some, what is the process for selecting a new head of the Budget Committee?  Is there any kind of [inaudible]?

Spokesperson:  That I would have to find out, I don’t know.

Question:  Okay.  And then, yesterday I’d asked about an Assistant Secretary-General in the Department of Safety and Security.  Can you confirm that that post was given out and why wasn’t there an announcement?

Spokesperson:  I had asked; I don’t have an answer yet.  That doesn’t mean that there isn’t an answer in my Office.  I don’t personally have it with me at this point.

Question:  [inaudible] fast, and the last one is just, you probably knew of it, it is something that I asked yesterday about this, if you could, just, could you…

Spokesperson:  It’s 20 questions, keep going.

Question:  Yeah, for the purpose of knowing… on this Haiti, the two statements that went out about the…

Spokesperson:  Yeah, I know, I know.

Question:  …the expectation of removing rubble, what… just… rather than, it’s not to get anyone in trouble for the first statement, just to know, what is the UN’s expectation of when the rubble will come, will be removed?

Spokesperson:  I’ve looked into this, and that’s the reason I wanted to do it that way round was to be able to look into it.  It was a simple error by my Office.  The first text was not the right text.  The second text we put out was the text that the Secretary-General used and articulated.  And that is where we are.

Question:  Because it still, does the UN in fact expect the rubble to be more than removed [inaudible] by the end of the year?

Spokesperson:  Well, Matthew, as I’ve just said, the text, the amended text is where we are this point.

Correspondent:  Okay.

Spokesperson:  Yeah.  All right, thank you very much.  Have a good weekend.

* *** *

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