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

16 May 2011

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

16 May 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.

** Middle East

In a statement we put out yesterday, the Secretary-General expressed his concern that a significant number of people were killed or injured during the incidents along the Blue Line, in the occupied Golan and in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  He called on all concerned to show restraint and refrain from provocations to prevent escalation of tensions and ensure civilians are not killed or injured.  The Secretary-General called for calm throughout the region and utmost responsibility from all concerned.

The Secretary-General is acutely conscious of the unsustainable status quo in the Arab-Israeli conflict, which is only thrown into sharper relief by the profound political changes now under way in the region.  He reiterates the urgent need for a just, lasting and comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace, which ensures dignity and security for all, including an end to occupation, an end to conflict and a just and agreed solution to the plight of Palestinian refugees.

The Secretary-General calls for a renewed and sustained effort to resume Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and advance the broader goal of a comprehensive regional peace in the Middle East.

**Occupied Palestinian Territory

Over the weekend, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, visited Ramallah, East Jerusalem and Area C of the West Bank.  In Ramallah, Ms. Amos met with President Mahmoud Abbas and also with Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

She reiterated the determination of the United Nations and the humanitarian community as a whole to continue to assist those in need in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, particularly in areas where the Palestinian Authority cannot fully operate.  She expressed her support for the Palestinian Authority and reaffirmed the United Nations commitment to the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, statehood, sovereignty and freedom from occupation.  There is a press release with more details.

** Libya

The Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Libya, Abdul Ilah Al-Khatib, made a one-day visit to Tripoli yesterday, continuing with diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis in Libya.  The Special Envoy met with the Foreign Minister, the Prime Minister, the Secretary-General of the Libyan Public Congress and the pro-Qadhafi Tribal Forum.  Their discussions focused on the need to fully implement Security Council resolutions 1970 (2011) and 1973 (2011), to allow full humanitarian access and to establish a ceasefire and political process.  The Special Envoy’s interlocutors said they were open and ready to fully engage and to cooperate with his efforts.

In a follow-up to the Special Envoy’s visit, the Secretary-General also spoke yesterday with the Prime Minister of Libya.

And the Special Envoy met the Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation, Sergey Lavrov, in Moscow today.  Mr. Khatib expressed his desire to maintain close contacts with the Russian Federation on Libya and his appreciation for its role.  He highlighted the importance of working in a unified manner in the international community to find a political solution for the situation in Libya. 

**Security Council

The Security Council is holding an open debate today on the work of its main committees dealing with terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.  The Council heard briefings from the ambassadors chairing the Counter-Terrorism Committee and the Committee dealing with Al-Qaida and the Taliban, as well as the Committee dealing with non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

**Sudan

The UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) has welcomed the completion of gubernatorial and legislative elections in Sudan’s Southern Kordofan state.  It urges all parties to remain calm and encourages those with complaints regarding the electoral process to address them through legal means or dialogue.  The Mission also noted that the elections were conducted in a peaceful manner and were monitored by a large number of official observers.

**Secretary-General Appointments

The Secretary-General has appointed Mariano Fernández of Chile as his Special Representative for Haiti and Head of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH).  Mr. Fernández will succeed Edmond Mulet of Guatemala, who took on the position in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti.  Mr. Mulet will complete his assignment on 31 May 2011.  We have more information on that appointment in my office.

**Press Conference Today

At 1:10 p.m. today, here in this auditorium, there will be a press conference to launch the tenth session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.  And speakers will include Myrna Cunningham Kain, Chair of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

**Press Conference Tomorrow

And then at 11 a.m. tomorrow, there will be a press conference on extractive industries and mega projects in indigenous peoples’ territories.  And speakers will include Devasish Roy, a member of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

That’s it.  Questions?  Yes, Masood?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  On the situation in the Middle East, which is spiralling, again spiralling out of control, on which the Secretary-General has issued a statement, I just want to know, maybe I don’t see anything in it.  Why is it that the Secretary-General is so understated when it comes to condemning the killing of… I mean, he expressed his concern about the killing of 12 people by Israeli authorities at the border, but when it comes to condemning three people or two people anywhere else, rightly so, he does it quickly.  Why is he so understated about Israel, when it comes to Israel?

Spokesperson:  Well, I disagree with you, Masood.  He has spoken out very clearly about what happened over the weekend, yesterday, along the Blue Line and in occupied Golan, and also in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  He has been following this extremely closely.  They are obviously very serious incidents, and he said two things particularly important in this regard.  One is the need for restraint and to avoid provocations, and the need for there to be — demonstrated by all — utmost responsibility.  That’s quite strong, direct language.  The second point is that he has stated quite clearly that he is extremely aware, acutely conscious, as he says, of the unsustainable status quo in the Arab-Israeli conflict, and that this has only been thrown into sharper relief by the events that have been unfolding in the region in the past few weeks and months.  This is fairly clear language, I would suggest.  And obviously, what he is calling for is for there to be a sustained effort, a dialogue and to try to overcome the obvious difficulties that there have been with the negotiations.  Yes?

Question:  A follow-up on Masood’s question and what happened over the weekend.  Do you, I know I read… I have listened to your statement, Mr. Ban Ki-moon’s statement, but I want to know more about the UNIFIL [United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon] situation.  Is it considered as a violation of [resolution] 1701 (2006), this particular situation that happened last weekend?

Spokesperson:  I’ll have to ask my colleagues in UNIFIL precisely what they are saying on this.  Obviously, they have been monitoring this extremely closely, and I know that they have been reporting back.  And I will let you know as soon as I have something concrete on that.  I expect it is available, and I just don’t have it right now.

[The Spokesperson later added that UNIFIL says that it was a very serious incident in contravention of resolution 1701 (2006).  UNIFIL is now conducting a thorough investigation into the incident in close collaboration with the parties in order to ascertain all the facts and particularly the circumstances that led to the civilian deaths and injuries.  UNIFIL must await the completion of the investigation before it can make more definitive conclusions.

Question:  Can I just follow up on the same?  On this barrier, which Ms. Valerie Amos is now talking about, on the same, on the Middle East context and the barrier, how it has affected the lives of the Palestinians, and on Gaza, what she has been saying again and again, has anybody… I am sure that Ms. Amos is going to talk to some people.  The way it seems to me, this is an ongoing process for very long, arduous process of barrier building and then disrupting the lives — has the Secretary-General recently talked to anybody in Israel about this barrier being taken down?

Spokesperson:  As you know, he speaks regularly and periodically to leaders in the region, both in Israel and elsewhere.  And he raises questions of concern — whether it is related to access to Gaza or out of Gaza or related to other areas where access is impeded.  It is in nobody’s interest that access should be impeded for people, and that they should not be able to go about their lives in a dignified way.  Yes?

Question:  Good morning, Martin.  Thank you.  I agree with you that the Secretary-General’s statement was clear and fairly quick yesterday.  The question is: what can you share about what actions the Secretary-General may take, whether it’s asking for action from the Security Council or from anyone else within the United Nations?  Security Council draft resolutions usually wind up in the same place, that are anti-Israel, are vetoed.  It feels like a road that we’ve travelled down many times before.  When Israel does one thing… it seems that there is two different sets of rules — those for Israel and those for the rest of the world.  Is the Secretary-General considering any sort of original type of an action, maybe something different, because the same things often seem to wind up yielding the same results?

Spokesperson:  Well, action within the Council is obviously for the Council to take.  And if Council members wish to take up the events of the last 48 hours, then it’s for them to do so.  I think the Secretary-General, by making his statement and drawing attention to his view of the serious nature of these incidents, he is already stating publicly what he feels about the topic.  But again, it’s for the Security Council itself to decide what topics it takes up.  And I am sure that the current presidency of the Council would be happy to answer any question you have on what they may or may not be planning in that direction.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Sure, I have a number of questions.  One is, I see the… about Sudan, I see this UNMIS press statement put out in your office, welcoming the completion of the elections in South Kordofan State, and they are… I just want to… the SPLM [Sudan People’s Liberation Movement] of South Sudan has said the election was rigged, that the winner was the ICC [International Criminal Court]-indicted Ahmed Haroun, has stolen the election.  And I just wondered, is this… there doesn’t seem to be… there is no qualification here.  I understand the UN didn’t observe the election, but what… does the UN have any response to South Sudan saying that the election in this important flash point was rigged? 

Spokesperson:  Yeah, and I already just read it out.  And I think if you have the statement in front of you, you’ve got the language right there; that the Mission urges all parties to remain calm, and encourages those with complaints regarding the electoral process to address them through legal means or dialogue.

Question:  I just… I saw that before I asked this question.  I guess I am wondering… it’s a more… it’s a… given the importance of this area, and given the commitment under the CPA [Comprehensive Peace Agreement] of fair referendums, that’s all, this is the full statement the UN has?

Spokesperson:  That’s right, that’s right.   And the key point is that this is for the parties concerned to address through a process that there is within the electoral system.  They need to address through legal means or through dialogue, and that is how it should best be done.  And you’re quite right that the Mission did not observe the election in that sense.

Question:  What about in Darfur?  There is a report by Radio Dabanga that 13 people have been killed by Government bombing from an airplane?  Is that something that UNAMID [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur] has gone to check out?  And are they going to say if it happened or didn’t happen?

Spokesperson:  Well, what I understand from UNAMID, from the UN-African Union mission in Darfur, is that UNAMID has confirmed that the Sudanese air force launched air strikes yesterday on the towns of Labado and Esheraya in South Darfur.  The numbers of casualties and possible displacements have not yet been determined, but the mission is intending to send a team to the area to look into this further.

Question:  Well, I mean, is there no… given that, is it… does the UN view it as legitimate for the Government to be bombing from Antonov aircraft?

Spokesperson:  Matthew, I answered your question, I guess that’s the question that you were asking and I have given you an answer.

[The Spokesperson later added that UNAMID Joint Special Representative Ibrahim Gambari is deeply concerned over recent air strikes in South Darfur.  While the number of casualties and possible displacements cannot yet be accurately determined, UNAMID is nevertheless troubled at the actions carried out by the Sudanese air force.]

Question:  Okay, sure.  Let me ask you another question.  Now that the International Criminal Court has indicted Saif al-Islam Qadhafi, I’d like to know, there is various reports that both of UNDP [United Nations Development Programme] and maybe other UN agencies having worked with Mr. Saif al-Islam Qadhafi’s foundation, the Qadhafi International Charity and Development Foundation, and I just want… one, you know, UNDP has confirmed some back and forth with that foundation, and I just wonder… and has described a meeting in which I believe the Secretariat was involved; is there some way to get to know what had been the UN Secretariat, under Ban Ki-moon, not previously, interactions with this foundation of an individual now indicted for war crimes?

Spokesperson:  Well, let’s ask UNDP for some more.  I am sure that you could do the same.  And obviously, any action taken by the International Criminal Court is something for them, it’s an independent international judicial authority and it’s not for us to comment on the workings of the International Criminal Court.

Question:  Sure, I mean, I guess, it ties back into this [Ahmed] Haroun question.  It’s sort of the Secretariat’s or peacekeeping mission’s interaction with people who have become indicted for war crimes.

Spokesperson:  Again, Matthew, you’re trying to draw parallels between very different topics, and I don’t think that that’s particularly helpful.  I have said if we have any information that would help you with the first question you asked, then we can obviously provide it.

[UNDP later clarified that there was no agreement signed between UNDP and the Qadhafi International Charity and Development Foundation.]

Question:  And finally, at this meeting on Buddhism this morning, Wimal Weerawansa, it’s reported, it’s under the Colombo page, that the Minister of the Sri Lankan Government who led the protest against the UN compound in Colombo was present here.  I don’t know if it’s true or not, I just know it’s reported in the press there.  Is that the case, is the UN aware of Wimal Weerawansa, and what do you say about that?

Spokesperson:  And what would be your problem if that person was there?

Question:  No, I want to know, did Ban Ki-moon meet with Wimal Weerawansa, and if so, would you have any…?

Spokesperson:  I have no idea.  As you would have also seen if you went there, there was a lot of people and I do not know.  I suspect that the Secretary-General moved on to other appointments without working his way around the room, Matthew.

Question:  No, my point is the UN accredits people to come into the building.  Since this is an individual that the UN condemns his organization of a blockade of UN staff in Colombo…

Spokesperson:  Well, as we’ve said before, peaceful demonstrations are legitimate.  Where someone has crossed the threshold and the authorities have taken action against them, that would be a different matter.  But peaceful demonstrations are not against the law.

Question:  Didn’t you condemn the Wimal Weerawansa sponsored demonstrations at the time?

Spokesperson:  The point I am trying to make is that if people are demonstrating, they are legally entitled to demonstrate, and the demonstrations are peaceful, then they are legitimately entitled to do that.  If I have any information about this person’s presence, and as you yourself said, you don’t know for a fact that that person was there.  But you’ve seen reports.

Question:  These are reports I am asking you to check with DSS [Department of Safety and Security] whether a pass was granted for Wimal Weerawansa…?

Spokesperson:  Yes, yes, Matthew, I hear, and as your dutiful servant, I will take a look and find out, okay?  Thanks very much.  Good afternoon.

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