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

14 April 2011

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

14 April 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 Farhan Haq, Acting Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon, everyone.

**Secretary-General in Cairo on Libya

The Secretary-General co-chaired a conference of international and regional organizations in Cairo today, to discuss coordination on Libya.  He told officials from the League of Arab States, the African Union, the European Union and the Organization of the Islamic Conference that swift and decisive international action in Libya has saved thousands of lives.  But we have an immediate concern:  the deteriorating humanitarian situation, he added.

He said that, in Misrata, Brega and Zintan, where the fighting has been particularly intense, access to basic services and basic commodities has been largely cut off — including food, water and health care.  The United Nations has completed an inter-agency humanitarian needs assessment in the east of Libya, he added, with similar work planned for the west.

The Secretary-General, in a press conference before he departed Cairo for Prague, said that today’s meeting was a concrete demonstration of the international community working together in common cause and with a common voice for the people of Libya.

Today’s meeting, he said, has been very important in outlining the next steps, including an agreement to adopt a unified approach to finding a lasting solution to the crisis in Libya.  The organizations offered their full support to the efforts of the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy, Abdul Ilah al-Khatib.  Mr. Khatib will be returning to Libya soon to continue his engagement with both parties.  And we have the Secretary-General’s remarks in the Spokesperson’s Office.

**Côte d’Ivoire

The UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire, UNOCI, reports that calm is returning to Abidjan.  Water, electricity and basic services have been restored in some areas of the city; businesses are reopening and traffic is returning to the streets.  The mission is actively patrolling Abidjan to establish a confidence-building presence.  UNOCI adds that the ports at Abidjan and San Pedro are expected to open early next week, as well as banks.

And the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that humanitarian agencies have appealed for $160 million to scale up aid over the next nine months in Côte d’Ivoire.  The appeal aims to provide assistance in food security, nutrition, education, protection, water, health care and sanitation to as many as 2 million people throughout the country.

In neighbouring Liberia, home to the largest Ivorian refugee population with over 130,000 people, humanitarian agencies also appealed for $146.5 million to address humanitarian needs.

**Somalia

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, Augustine Mahiga, said that participants at yesterday’s High-Level Meeting on Somalia agreed on the need to end the country’s political transition this August, as planned.  This would require the holding before then of a presidential election, followed by, or in conjunction with, elections for the Speaker and Deputy Speakers of Parliament.

The meeting also proposed that the Parliament’s current mandate be extended for up to two years in order for it to steer preparations for national elections, among other tasks.  And we have copies of Mr. Mahiga’s statement in the Spokesperson’s Office.

**Security Council

Margot Wallström, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, briefed the Security Council this morning to discuss sexual violence in several recent conflicts, including in Libya, Côte d’Ivoire and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

She said that in Côte d’Ivoire, preliminary information suggests that sexual assaults may have been politically targeted, as had been witnessed before in Kenya and Guinea-Conakry.  And she noted the almost daily reports of sexual violence against vulnerable communities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Ms. Wallström also provided details of her recent visits to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Angola, and her efforts to strengthen the prevention of sexual violence in those countries.  And we have her remarks in our office.

The Security Council is continuing its discussion of sexual violence in closed consultations.

**Deputy Secretary-General on Human Security

Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro addressed the General Assembly’s informal thematic debate on human security earlier today.  She said that while the debate continues on what human security is — or is not — the United Nations, through its Trust Fund for Human Security, has supported about 200 projects in 70 countries around the world.  She stressed that, although the Organization has been responding to human security crises, it still needs an expanded definition of security that would take into account a range of other threats to the survival, livelihoods and dignity of individuals.  And we have copies of her remarks online and in the Spokesperson’s Office.

**Press Conference Tomorrow

And last, at tomorrow’s noon briefing, we will have as guests Alain Le Roy, the Under-Secretary-General for the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, and Anthony Banbury, Assistant Secretary-General for the Department of Field Support.  And they will brief the press on a range of peacekeeping issues.

That’s it from me.  Yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yes, I would like to repeat my question of yesterday.  What is the opinion of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the recent arrests of dissidents and artists in China?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  We should have a response ready for you.  I don’t have it just yet, but as soon as we have it I will give it over to you.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you.  On Côte d'Ivoire, the lawyers of the former President Laurent Gbagbo are asking some questions about the role of the UN Secretary-General in his arrest.  First, they are asking the Secretary-General a question:  on what legal basis was he arrested?  And secondly, they are saying that if the former President is mistreated in his detention, the Secretary-General will be personally responsible for that.  What is the response of the Secretary-General?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, one thing I would like to make very clear is that the United Nations has not been responsible for the arrest or custody of Laurent Gbagbo.  That is a matter that is being handled by the Ivorian authorities.  And it is up to the Ouattara Government as the duly constituted Government to deal with the issues of his detention.  What the UN Operation in Côte d'Ivoire is doing is providing close protection for Laurent Gbagbo.  And that is in response to a request from the former President, as well as in response to its Security Council mandate, which, as you will recall, explicitly says that the UN mission is there to protect all political stakeholders.  And that includes Laurent Gbagbo.  So, while he is in the custody of the Ouattara Government, we are there to ensure his safety and protection through our close protection.  Yes, Barbara?

Question:  I just wanted to know again whether the Western Sahara report is out or when it will be.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I am told it is being finalized right now.  So our hope is that it will go to members of the Security Council possibly even later today.  We will inform you once that has happened.  Yes, Nizar?

Question:  Yes, Farhan, in the meeting between the Secretary-General and the Foreign Minister of Bahrain, did they discuss the attacks at night on civilians in their homes and the dismantling of the civil society organizations in Bahrain?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, we put out a readout of that meeting.  He did meet with the Foreign Minister of Bahrain while he was in Doha yesterday.  One thing to repeat from that readout is that the Secretary-General said he hoped the situation would calm down and that serious, inclusive dialogue with all stakeholders could start as soon as possible.  In this context, he urged all the parties to respond constructively to the call for a dialogue.  He said it was important to accommodate the aspirations of the people.  He said he was very concerned about the violence in which demonstrators have been killed or injured.  And he called for maximum restraint and caution.

Question:  But here he talks about demonstrators only, not about people attacked at their homes, kidnapped, killed, mutilated — that kind of thing.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  He has made his concerns about the violence in Bahrain known several times in recent days.  This is the most recent example, but, like I said, this is taken from the readout of his discussions with the Foreign Minister.

Question:  Farhan, may I follow up please?  The medical workers in Bahrain have been attacked; did he bring that up, do you know?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything specific about the medical workers to say from the readout.  I’ll see whether there is anything further to say in the coming days.  But for now, this is what we have in terms of that discussion.

Question:  How about the collective punishment of the people who went to their jobs; they were dismissed collectively — 200 people were dismissed today from the oil company of Bahrain, simply because they took part in demonstrations.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  As you know, both the Secretary-General and the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, have been making their concerns known about Bahrain several times.  And as we get more information we will respond accordingly.

Question:  Why is it when there is someone killed in… a settler in the West Bank, there is straightforward condemnation, whereas here we have so many people killed, so many atrocities committed, there is no condemnation from the United Nations?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I think you have seen that we have responded repeatedly and promptly to the events that are happening in Bahrain, and we’ll continue to do so.  As you know, each different circumstance has its own different political dynamic and we respond accordingly in kind.  Yes, Ali?

Question:  Do you have any information about the doctors and the nurses that have been arrested in Bahrain, and has the Secretary-General raised this issue with the Foreign Minister of Bahrain?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I would just refer you back to the readout.  It doesn’t specifically mention medical workers, but it mentions his concerns in general about the situation.

Question:  You’re not trying to get solid information about what is happening?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  We actually have people on the ground in Bahrain who have been providing us with quite a bit of information.  And to the extent that we can raise them up, we have been raising them up with our interlocutors.

Question:  And I have another question on Syria, please?  There is information that the Syrian army has cordoned the whole city of Banias; do you have anything to comment on that?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  In terms of the recent comments, as you know, we did provide comments about the Secretary-General’s concerns in general about the situation in Syria following his conversation with President [Bashar al-]Assad.  And I would refer you back to what we said a few days ago about that.  That call, as you know, was on Saturday.  In terms of the most recent developments in Banias, we are studying the situation on the ground and if there is anything further to say, we will respond accordingly as we get that.  Yes, please?

Question:  Referring to what you were saying at the beginning about the Security Council being briefed about sexual violence in Libya being politically oriented, has it been clarified who was perpetrating this violence and against whom; who was doing it against whom, first question.  And the second question, totally different, as far as the trip of the Secretary-General to Chernobyl, was it decided long ago, before what happened in Japan, or was it being decided afterwards?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Okay, well, first of all, regarding your question about Margot Wallström, yes, she did talk about how some sexual violence in Côte d'Ivoire had been politically targeted.  The preliminary…  What?

Correspondent:  I said in Libya.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Oh, in Libya, what she says about that is the following:  that sexual violence there, in Libya, has emerged despite the robust action of the international community to protect civilians in Libya.  Ms. Wallström said that, although reports of rape remain unconfirmed, and indeed have even been brutally silenced, they have arrested the attention of the world.  And she said that this is cause for further investigation.  In terms of your other question about Chernobyl, yes, it was planned well in advance of what happened in Japan, that he was going to visit Chernobyl at this time and visit the Ukraine at this time to deal with issues of nuclear safety on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Chernobyl incident.  As the Secretary-General has made clear, what has happened in recent weeks in Japan has made the importance of the issue of nuclear safety even more crucial to discuss and make progress on right now.  Yes, Joe?

Question:  Does the Secretary-General find it useful to speak to the leaders in Syria and Bahrain and sometimes Yemen, when there is no practical effect to these conversations?  They in fact, they might be using, those leaders, the appearance of speaking with the Secretary-General as a way to show the world that they are interested in reform, but the reforms never seem to come.  Is there a point where you see it as pointless to continue these conversations, that perhaps he should just condemn what they’re doing without even engaging them any more?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  That gets to the larger question about the usefulness of diplomacy itself.  Diplomacy sometimes looks as if it is not achieving anything at a time when people are being harmed and people are dying.  And other times there is need for other tactics, which is why, for example, the Secretary-General, in the case of Libya, had argued the need very forceful action to prevent what could have been a devastating assault on the city of Benghazi.  But there are many times when the Secretary-General and the United Nations as a whole believe in the importance of keeping up the route of diplomacy and the route of negotiations.  And although progress may not be immediately visible, our belief is that it does have actual results, including immediate tangible results on the ground, although at a time of conflict or time of crisis, it may be difficult and it may require some patience.

Question:  But is it time for maybe stronger statements than the ones that these readouts portray?  I mean, “concern” — it’s more than a concern for him, I would imagine, on his part.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General and the people who work for him in the Secretariat, the people in Political Affairs, or in other offices, gauge what the needs on the ground are at the time.  If different language is needed, certainly different language will be used.  Yes, Richard?

Question:  How far is the UN exploring a political solution in Libya?  What is the latest… Does the UN and the group there just react based upon what major Powers are telling it, or is the UN trying to make a difference on its own?  And what’s in the Turkish proposal that has been floated that you can tell us?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, as I said earlier, and if you look at the Secretary-General’s remarks, both to the press and to the Cairo conference today, he believes that we have been making progress in terms of getting growing interntional unity in terms of how to deal with the situation in Libya.  And that includes, by the way, growing solidarity behind the work that is being done by the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy, Abdul Ilah al-Khatib, who intends to be returning to Libya.  So we do think that we are making progress.  In terms of particular initiatives, those remain under discussion by all the relevant players.  I don’t have any particular details for or against any initiative to give to you.  Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Yes, when will the Secretary-General give his next monthly press conference?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  That’s tied in with the question of when the Secretary-General will be back here in New York.  He is on the road for a while, so this week and next week, he will be travelling.  But we are hoping that soon after that he can talk to all of you.  And we will announce something as soon as we can.  Thanks very much.

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