|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.
The Security Council is holding a high-level debate on Haiti today, chaired by the President of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos Calderón.
The Secretary-General said that he was encouraged that the second round of polling was peaceful. He urged the next Government to build on President Préval’s legacy of political tolerance and respect for human rights. The Secretary-General also said that recovery and reconstruction are slowly gathering momentum.
He added that the number of earthquake-affected people living in camps has decreased from more than 1.5 million in July of last year to 680,000 today. Unfortunately, he said, some of this reduction has not been entirely voluntary, and many camp dwellers are at risk of forced eviction.
The Secretary-General also said that the people of Haiti were looking to the next Government and Parliament to deliver. As a signal of its commitment to change, the incoming Parliament should complete the process of amending the Constitution before the next President is inaugurated.
President Préval and the former US President, Bill Clinton, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Haiti, also addressed the Security Council.
And the Office of the Special Envoy for Haiti has conducted a new analysis of pledges made for post-earthquake recovery activities, and that analysis shows a disbursement rate for the 2010-2011 period among public sector donors of 37.2 per cent. There is more information on their website.
**Secretary-General at Wreath-Laying
The Secretary-General today marked the passing of several dozen UN and associated personnel in recent days by laying a wreath in their memory and vowing to continue their work. He said that the roster of the fallen, in recent days, has been shocking and profoundly sad.
He noted that more than 40 UN staff have died in service so far this year, in places ranging from Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to Haiti, Sudan and Côte d’Ivoire.
The Secretary-General said that we stand in solidarity with their friends and families, united in sorrow, but united also in our mission. He added that the United Nations has been asked to take on greater and greater responsibility, at greater and greater risk. In light of these evolving realities, the Secretary-General has instructed senior managers to undertake an immediate review of the UN’s personal security needs and policies.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that there remains a dire need for further access and humanitarian action in conflict-affected areas in north-western Libya, and particularly in Misrata.
While access to information is limited, the humanitarian community is extremely concerned about the protection of civilians, including from gender-based violence, landmines and human rights violations.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs adds that between 13,200 and 13,600 people remain stranded at camps and transit points in Tunisia, Egypt, Niger and Algeria. We expect a statement concerning the latest developments in Libya later this afternoon.
And also the UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres and the Goodwill Ambassador for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Angelina Jolie, expressed “deep shock” today at the reported drownings of dozens of people in rough waters some 60 kilometres off the southern coast of Italy. According to survivors, the group, including Somalis, Eritreans and Ivorians, set off from Libya three days ago in an attempt to reach the Italian island of Lampedusa. They told UNHCR that many women and three children were among the dead. The Italian coastguard rescued 47 people, including two women, one of them pregnant.
Michael Williams, the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, met with the Lebanese Prime Minister-designate, Najib Mikati, today. Mr. Williams expressed to the Prime Minister his concern over the abduction two weeks ago of seven Estonian cyclists in the Beqaa Valley. He welcomed the diligent efforts of Lebanon’s security forces and the Lebanese Army to secure their release.
The leaders of the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities met today in Nicosia and continued their discussion on the internal aspects of security. Following the talks, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Lisa Buttenheim, told reporters that the hour-long meeting was held in a positive atmosphere. The leaders, together with their representatives, will hold a working dinner next Thursday, 14 April.
Today, between 4 and 6 p.m. in Conference Room 2, here at United Nations Headquarters, the Permanent Mission of Bangladesh and a US-based non-governmental organization, Autism Speaks, will host a panel discussion on autism.
The Secretary-General will deliver opening remarks, and he intends to say that we can respond to autism effectively, with the right tools and schools. He will highlight that more and more children and people are being diagnosed with autistic conditions. Meanwhile, people living with autism can suffer intolerable discrimination that must stop.
The event will include a panel discussion and a question-and-answer session with international experts in the field of autism and mental health.
**Press Conference Tomorrow
Valerie Amos, the Under-Secretary-General and Emergency Relief Coordinator for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, will be the guest at tomorrow’s noon briefing; joining me at around at 12:30 p.m. She will brief you on her recent mission to Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire.
So, questions, please? Giampaolo?
**Questions and Answers
Spokesperson: Okay, thank you.
Question: I have two questions on Ivory Coast. The first is, there are a number of foreign nationals who are trapped in the Novotel, which is about half a mile from the presidential palace, including 30 journalists, as well as the Wall Street Journal’s correspondent. Four foreign nationals have been kidnapped from the hotel in the last couple of days, armed supporters of Gbagbo have twice entered the hotel, there is heavy fighting outside the hotel, the hotel manager is a Gbagbo supporter and he has cut off Internet service. The journalists have appealed to the French and the United Nations to give them armed protection to be evacuated. That happened several days ago. They have received assurances for two days this would happen. And nothing has happened, except that a UN helicopter hovered over the hotel this morning for 10 minutes. My question, if they’re civilians and the resolution is there to protect all civilians — I don’t think just Ivorians — will the UN immediately go there to help these people get out of there, since their lives are in danger?
Spokesperson: Well, as you know, the mandate of the United Nations mission in Côte d’Ivoire is to do everything possible to protect civilians, you’re quite right. There is no distinction between foreign civilians and Ivorian civilians in this regard. And also the mission is doing its level best to deter against the use of heavy weapons. I think you will also understand that the conditions are extremely precarious. Indeed our mission headquarters at Sebroko came under fire again today from heavy weapons. This makes it extremely difficult for our mission to patrol to the extent it would like to do. But I hear what you are saying and I will check with the mission what the status is.
Question: Assurances were given, so you saying they just can’t do it?
Spokesperson: No, I said I will check. It’s not a question… please don’t misinterpret what I’ve said. I’ve said I will check. I’ve said that it is difficult for them to do everything they would like to do. There have been instances where we have needed to evacuate from their residences UN staff to bring them to the compound — the Sebroko headquarters — that was also something that was extremely difficult to undertake. So, I think that you can take it from me that they will be doing their very best. And I will check afterwards what the status is.
Question: My second question is about Gbagbo. What is… what the conditions are in which he is having these discussions? The ICC has not issued any arrest warrant, and it won’t for some time, if they do. While Ouattara was inaugurated as President, he can claim he is legal President, but I doubt he can get a court to issue an arrest warrant. He is there, it seems like, being, in a way, being protected by the UN and France. Because if he stepped outside he’d probably get killed. So there is no pressure on him to sort of make a deal, is there? Because as I say, he is not under arrest by the UN, he is in discussions. What are the conditions under which he is being held right now?
Spokesperson: Well, at the moment he is not being held by anybody, is he?
Question: Is he being protected… My question, is he being protected by the UN, in essence?
Spokesperson: At the moment, as you know, there is an action going on by President Ouattara’s forces. There are a couple of points I’d like to make. One, first of all, on the question of accountability: this is first and foremost a matter for the people of Côte d’Ivoire and their justice system. Yes, the International Criminal Court, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, is looking at an investigation. This is first and foremost a matter for the people of Côte d’Ivoire and their justice system. And obviously anybody who is found to have committed crimes in the course of this crisis should be held responsible. As to the role of the United Nations, the United Nations has a very clear mandate from Security Council resolution 1962 (2010) from December which says that the Security Council requests the mission to support in coordination with the Ivorian authorities the provision of security for the Government and key political stakeholders. So, it would be part of our mandate to protect key political stakeholders.
Question: Including Mr. Gbagbo?
Spokesperson: Including Mr. Gbagbo.
Question: And what incentives does he have to make a deal then, if he does wait this out?
Spokesperson: You’d have to ask him.
Question: He’s not under arrest…
Spokesperson: You’d have to ask him.
Question: …he is under protection, if he steps outside he may get shot. So he can sit there…
Spokesperson: Well, as you say… You say he is under protection…
Question: You just said that. You said that, you said you’re protecting him.
Spokesperson: No, I said it is for us to… The Security Council requests us to support, in coordination with the Ivorian authorities… in coordination with the Ivorian authorities to… the provision of security for the Government and key political stakeholders. So, at the moment, as you well know, it is extremely fluid, but as you also know there is action under way by President Ouattara’s forces in Abidjan around the presidential palace. I don’t have any further details on that. But it is obviously something that is still playing out. Yes, Giampaolo, yes?
Question: Is he, I asked you yesterday, do you know who is, if there is any negotiating going on, who is going to negotiate with Gbagbo and the others?
Spokesperson: As I said to you yesterday, what I can tell you is that discussions are going on, those discussions continue.
Question: Between whom?
Spokesperson: And as I said yesterday, I am not getting into that. What I can tell you is that discussions continue. Yes, Matthew?
Question: Also on Ivory Coast. First on that, and then something on the ground. But yesterday, in Paris, Alain Juppé said Gbagbo must sign a letter ceding power to Ouattara and recognize him as the winner. And he said Ban Ki-moon agrees with me on this. This was a direct quote, I mean I have seen the video. So, I wonder, is that true?
Spokesperson: I am not the spokesman for Mr. Juppé.
Question: But he said what Ban Ki-moon said. So, you are the spokesman for Ban Ki-moon. Is that Ban Ki-moon’s position?
Spokesperson: As I say, I am not going to characterize conversations that the Secretary-General may have had with Mr. Juppé. The important point here, as the Secretary-General said this morning in an interview, is that we are doing our best to have a peaceful resolution of this. And it is totally unacceptable that Mr. Gbagbo is still persisting against the will of the total international community. He has to cede power peacefully.
Question: Also, just now in front of the Council, at the Council, a Security Council diplomat said that in Abidjan that the Ambassador of Japan and also the representative of the Vatican are unable to get out of their houses and that UNOCI has not been able to reach their houses. He was unclear if it is supporters of Gbagbo or Ouattara that’s blocking that. You know, are you aware of that and who, if so, who is actually blocking access to, particularly the Vatican representative’s house?
Spokesperson: I mean, this is similar to Joe’s question in the sense that it underscores that this is extremely difficult at the moment. It is a very difficult set of circumstances. The mission is doing its best, while under heavy weapons fire, to seek to protect civilians and to try to reach those who do need assistance. I would need to check precisely on the instances that you refer to.
Question: Would it be possible just to know, like, which side is actually blocking access? Because I think of it, it seems [inaudible].
Spokesperson: Obviously this is something that… it is extremely confused, to say the least.
Question: Did Ouattara forces have heavy… When you say heavy weapons, do they also have heavy weapons?
Spokesperson: As I say, it is extremely complex what is happening there at the moment. Yes, Masood, then I am coming to you.
Question: Yeah, on this situation in Libya, can you tell us something about… Does President Obama hope to send his emissary over there, and is the United Nations in touch with him or where, where does it stand, I mean, overall?
Spokesperson: I don’t have any details on President Obama’s special envoy. I think you’re knocking at the wrong door there, but what I can tell you is that…
Question: Have you been in touch, I mean eventually, has he been in touch with the Secretary-General’s Special Representative…?
Spokesperson: I can check, but what I can tell you for now is, as I mentioned at the outset, we are extremely concerned about the need for humanitarian access, and in particular in north-western Libya and specifically Misrata. We need to see urgent action on the health sector and to be able to protect civilians. And also, as we have said, there are still people stranded in camps and the transit points on the borders. And what I can also tell you is that the flash appeal for the Libyan crisis, which appeals for $310 million, that is 36.5 per cent funded at the moment — so with $113 million committed and $1.4 million in pledges. Yes?
Question: According to the UN, I mean, your report, what has been told to the United Nations, are the rebels retreating or are they standing still? What is happening? They are…
Spokesperson: Well, that is a very difficult for us to assess, simply because of the conditions and access. But we are certainly extremely concerned about the humanitarian situation in north-western Libya and specifically in Misrata. And you are seeing that and hearing about it as you know, from broadcasters who are there. Yes, and then… Okay, first at the back here, yes?
Question: Yes, Côte d’Ivoire: we just heard the former President Carter gave an interview to CNN and he said that the difference in this moment between Ouattara and Gbagbo is that just one won the election. As far as to do with the crimes against humanity and people and civilians, looks like in this situation, at the moment, what the soldiers are entering the city turned the situation… at least the former President Carter said, is it that they are very similar. My question is, what is the Secretary-General doing to make sure or to prevent that the soldiers of Ouattara are not doing the same thing that the others were doing just a few days ago?
Spokesperson: The mission of the United Nations in Côte d’Ivoire is there to protect civilians and it is impartial in the work that it does, and even-handed in the work that it does. And specifically regarding any allegation of crimes, mass killings that we have heard about — these need to be thoroughly investigated, as I have said. The Secretary-General spoke to President Ouattara late on Saturday and expressed his alarm and concern about these reports that possibly pro-Ouattara forces had killed a substantial number of people. And, as you will also remember me saying, President Ouattara said that his people were already investigating and he would welcome an international investigation. As you’ve also heard me say, both Valerie Amos and Ivan Simonovic, who is Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, have been in Duékoué, the main place where mass killings are alleged to have taken place. This underscores the seriousness of the matter and how seriously we take it, and also that the United Nations will want to see whoever is responsible brought to justice. That’s clear. Yes?
Question: On Libya humanitarian access — and I am sorry if you addressed this at the beginning and I missed it, but I don’t think you did — what is the latest on humanitarian access and what is preventing it? Is it the ongoing security situation? Is it Qadhafi saying they can’t get in or…? I mean, is there no other way to access…?
Spokesperson: Security is a major concern, indeed. That’s right. Yes, Giampaolo?
Question: In Misrata [inaudible] from the rebels there or from the population, and do you have someone in place in Misrata, beside broadcasters, that can tell the UN what to do and is there any ship coming in soon?
Spokesperson: Well, the short answer is we don’t have anybody in Misrata at this point to my knowledge. That’s one of the reasons why we are extremely concerned and why we believe that it is really crucial to have the access to be able to assess and then to help. As for any further actions along the lines of the Turkish Mission we saw recently, I don’t have any further details at this point.
Question: Just a follow-up on that?
Spokesperson: Yes, okay, yes.
Question: If security is a problem, I don’t understand, we have this no-fly zone and a mandate to protect civilians. Can no-fly zone… can’t the NATO forces offer some sort of security for…?
Spokesperson: I think your own colleagues on the ground would be able to tell you that security is not necessarily wholly guaranteed by a no-fly zone. Yes?
Question: Just two quick questions. Number one, I don’t know whether you can clarify the nationality of the peacekeeper that was killed recently in Darfur, if you have the information? Just a second quick clarification I am seeking on Ivory Coast, I just wanted to know, I recognize that you said that the situation is fluid, obviously, but at what point will the Secretary-General or you be able to tell us, you know… at what point… at what time will you be able to tell us what is the exact role of the Secretary-General in the negotiations, whether there are negotiations or not. It is fluid, you’ve said so. You said this morning that the UN base has been attacked again. Will the UN respond in self-defence? Do you have an idea?
Spokesperson: Well, the Security Council resolution gives the United Nations mission the right to use the necessary measures to ensure that heavy weapons are not used against civilians. And the UN mission also has the right to self-defence. But it is for operational commanders on the ground to decide how that happens, where it happens and what happens. And as for the other question about the role of the UN, of the Secretary-General, the Secretary-General is being closely briefed pretty much in real time on what is happening on the ground in Côte d’Ivoire, I can assure you. And as for further details, I think we’d have to wait.
Question: Darfur? Darfur?
Spokesperson: I beg your pardon. I think we have that information. I don’t have it with me. But I’d be very happy to – well, I would not be happy — I would be keen to share that with you just as soon as I get back to my office. Yes?
Question: Martin, Reuters has just reported that Juppé told…
Spokesperson: You’re doing it again to me.
Spokesperson: You’re doing it again to me.
Question: What am I doing to you?
Spokesperson: I’m just… Never mind. You have real time news there. Tell me, what is Reuters saying?
Question: Yeah. Reuters is reporting Juppé told parliament “the negotiations which were carried out for hours have failed because of Gbagbo’s intransigence”. Also the report said that pro-Oauttara people were trying to get into the palace to get him. So, (a) does the UN agree that they failed since you’re involved in the negotiations, too? And (b), if the pro-Oauttara forces go in, and you’ve just said that they’re protecting him, will they protect…?
Spokesperson: Who is they?
Question: The UN. It’s [inaudible] French and, because you did, so…
Spokesperson: No, wait, wait, wait. No, no.
Question: So, members of the Government… are being… that is part of the mandate…
Spokesperson: It’s part of the mandate to support, in coordination with the Ivorian authorities, the provision of security. That does not mean necessarily at this point that we have peacekeepers at the bunker; of course, it does not. It does not mean that.
Question: So, you will not protect him? You [inaudible]?
Spokesperson: It’s our job, the mission’s job, under Security Council mandate to provide support in consultation, in coordination with the Ivorian authorities.
Question: Who are the Ivorian authorities?
Spokesperson: This is to… for all key political stakeholders.
Question: The Security Council refers to Gbagbo in the last resolution as the former President.
Spokesperson: That’s right.
Question: So, therefore, the authorities are the Ouattara people?
Spokesperson: That’s right.
Question: The UN will support the Ouattara people. If they are coming in with powers to get him, you still [inaudible]?
Spokesperson: I can assure you that the mission in Côte d’Ivoire is being impartial and even-handed in its approach. That’s extremely important, because we need to see a peaceful resolution to this. We need to see the use of heavy weapons stop, and we need to be able to begin to help civilians who have been traumatized enough as it is, in the past few months and most intensively in the past few days.
Question: The UN agreed the talks failed?
Spokesperson: As I have said, discussions are continuing. I don’t have any further details at this point.
Question: Do you know if there are French troops in there, in the area where he is being… where the negotiations are going on? Any security?
Spokesperson: I don’t have a fix on who is where.
Question: There are no peacekeeper there; you just said that.
Spokesperson: That is not the case.
Question: I understand that it is difficult to seat a new [inaudible]. But to follow up the Joe question, who do you think are today the Ivorian authority, because this clarifies, this… what the UN thinks that today are the Ivorian authority would only operate in order to protect civilians. Because the thing is fear, there are also [inaudible].
Spokesperson: I think you can take it as read that our colleagues at the mission in Côte d’Ivoire have maintained contacts throughout with armed forces belonging to both parties, because we are impartial and our role is to protect civilians. So, I think you can take it as read that there have been contacts throughout. As you well know, because we’ve said publicly, three generals commanding the three different parts of the armed forces — the FDS and the Gendarmerie and the Republican Guard — said that their troops would be laying down their arms. So, that says very clearly that there is a contact right there. And of course, likewise not least because President Ouattara has been in the Golf Hotel all these weeks under UN protection, there are contacts with the forces that are loyal to President Ouattara as well. Yes, Matthew, then I am coming to you. I beg your pardon. Yes?
Question: I’ll do it as quick as I can…
Spokesperson: No, well, in which case, I am going over here first. Is it Côte d’Ivoire?
Spokesperson: Is it Côte d'Ivoire?
Correspondent: No, Haiti and DRC. So, go ahead.
Spokesperson: All right, okay.
Question: I’ll go fast. One is on Libya. There is a statement put out by the UN in Geneva quoting Mr. Al-Khatib saying that the rebels have asked for UN assistance urgently to export oil. And I just wanted to know, it seems… it’s a little unclear what’s the UN’s response to that request that was made to the Envoy? Are they asking the Security Council? What…?
Spokesperson: This was something that Mr. Khatib addressed here in New York when he spoke to the Security Council.
Question: They put that out, they put that out in Geneva quite recently.
Spokesperson: As I say, I think it is something that was addressed here in New York when the Special Envoy was here. What’s your next question?
Question: I want to ask you about, on Somalia, there is quite a lot of protest within the country about a supposed consultative meeting that Mr. Mahiga is organizing in Kenya and there have been calls to boycott it. The Government has also asked that the UN move its offices to Mogadishu. So, what’s the UN’s response to these two critiques, both from clan leaders and from the TFG?
Spokesperson: Well, Mr. Mahiga extended this invitation to various parties there to take part in some discussions and we are aware of the report or the reports that you refer to about the presence of UN offices in Somalia; we’re aware of that report. I don’t have anything further on that at the moment, simply to say that the people who work for those offices are regular visitors to Mogadishu. Indeed Mr. Mahiga was briefing the Secretary-General last week when we were in Nairobi, within hours of having just returned from Mogadishu.
Correspondent: Western Sahara question, but I know that Saeed is waiting, too.
Question: Thank you, Matthew. And Martin, thank you for taking my question. First, let me say, to me, unconscionable that the issue of Haiti, which is very important, there is no press conference. There is nothing scheduled, nothing called. We have a very important person, the President of Haiti; Bill Clinton, the other President of Haiti, is in the building and I don’t get an opportunity to speak to them — and I don’t want to put Giampaolo on the spot, but something has to be done to try to get some transparency in this building to the press. They can come in here, they have an open meeting…
Spokesperson: What’s your question, what’s your question?
Question: No, this is a statement. Unconscionable. Now, question, question…
Spokesperson: But this is not a place for statements, but for questions.
Question: Why, whose decision… Well, you know, I noticed my erstwhile colleagues sit in here and make statements, but when it comes to the final call, I guess there is a double standard. Now, number one, who makes that decision that on an important issue like Haiti, there is no press conference? And maybe we get them at stakeout, and maybe we don’t. How can they come into this building and hold an open meeting and there is no press conference?
Spokesperson: With the greatest of respect, I do believe that the President of Colombia, whose country presides in the Security Council and the country which organized this event today went to the stakeout to speak on this topic.
Question: He is not Préval, he is not Bill Clinton. And that’s very nice of [inaudible] but these are not the people that I need to talk to.
Correspondent: Now, let’s move on to my next question.
Question: The DRC, when is the UN going to deal with this issue of the mapping report? It seems that… I talked to one of your colleagues, they said that there was no attempt by the UN to bury that report, but nothing has been said. Nothing, those, the Congolese activists went up on Capitol Hill a few weeks ago, we reported extensively on it. And one of their questions to me was when is the UN going to actually deal with the mapping report in the Democratic Republic of the Congo?
Spokesperson: Let me have a look-see where we are with that. Okay, and I am going to take one last question here. Okay, yes?
Question: Regarding the seven Estonian cyclists abducted in Lebanon, whom you mentioned, besides the actions of the Estonian Foreign Ministry, do you have any details on what is actually being done on the part of the UN to facilitate their release?
Spokesperson: Well, as you rightly said, I addressed it earlier. The fact that Mr. Williams, the Special Coordinator for Lebanon, met with the Prime Minister-designate shows how seriously we take that. And Mr. Williams has appealed again, as he did from here — sitting here — for their release. And he is obviously working extremely hard to that end, as are Lebanon’s security forces and the Lebanese Army.
Thank you very much. Have a good afternoon.
* *** *