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

18 May 2011

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

18 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.


**Libya


The United Nations is calling for an additional $233 million to help as many as 2.1 million civilians affected by conflict in Libya.  The funds are intended to last until the beginning of September.


The Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Valerie Amos, said that the conflict, the breakdown of State infrastructure and shortages of cash and fuel are causing serious problems in Libya.  She said that widespread shortages are paralysing the country in ways which will gravely affect the general population in the weeks and months ahead, particularly the poorest and most vulnerable people.


An initial flash appeal for $160 million was issued in early March, based on projections of up to 400,000 people fleeing Libya and 600,000 people needing help within the country.  But as of today, more than 800,000 people have escaped Libya and up to 1.6 million people require assistance within its borders.


**Security Council


The Secretary-General told an open meeting of the Security Council this morning that security has improved in most of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  In the east, he said, there is progress in dismantling foreign and Congolese armed groups.  But the humanitarian situation remains serious, with 1.7 million people displaced.


The Secretary-General said that the presidential and National Assembly elections scheduled for 28 November, followed by provincial and local elections, can help to further consolidate peace and stability.  These elections must be timely, transparent, credible, peaceful and secure, offering all Congolese a full opportunity to participate freely without fear of harassment and violence. 


The Secretary-General also welcomed the DRC Government’s increased leadership in addressing sexual violence, including the fight against impunity.  This has included strengthening the military justice system and prosecuting some of those accused of sexual and gender-based violence and other crimes.  And we have the full remarks in my Office.


**Darfur


Peacekeepers for the UN-African Union mission in Darfur (UNAMID) are en route to the village of Sukamir, where an air strike by Government forces was reported yesterday afternoon.  The team will attempt to collect information on possible casualties and newly displaced persons.


UNAMID flights to the regions of Shangil Tobaya, Fanga Suk and neighbouring regions in North Darfur have been suspended until further notice, because of what Government officials say are security concerns.  In South Darfur, restrictions on the movement of aid groups have led to the cancellation of a number of humanitarian missions.


**Press Conferences


At 1 p.m. today, there will be a press conference to launch a 2011 report, on the theme “Governing development — the role of the State in economic transformation”, and that’s a report by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.  Speakers will include Robert Vos, who is the Director of the Development Policy and Analysis Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs.


And then at 11 a.m. tomorrow, there will be a press conference by Saul Vicente Vasquez, a member of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, who will brief on indigenous peoples in Latin America.


And at 4:30 p.m. tomorrow, there will be a press conference by Erika Feller, Assistant High Commissioner on Protection in the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and that’s on the topic of the sixtieth anniversary of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the fiftieth anniversary of the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.


So I am happy to take questions, please.  Yes, and welcome back and congratulations.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Thank you.  The $233 million — this may be a question for OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs], but I just wanted to get it on the record — what’s the time frame for it?  When are they expecting to get the money?


Spokesperson:  Good question.  I’d need to check on that.  If I remember, it says here the funds are intended to last until the beginning of September.  So I think that’s the time frame we’re looking at — until the beginning of September.  If there is any difference, then we’ll let you know.  And as we’ve said, the original flash appeal was on 7 March, and that was for $160 million at that point.  And then today, the revised appeal is for a total amount of $408 million.  Of course, the point is that $175 million had already been received.  So, in other words, the original flash appeal for $160 million was oversubscribed.  But there is still now a shortfall for this revised appeal, because of the increased requirements that we have spelled out both in the projection of those who have fled Libya and those who require assistance inside the country.  Both of those projections have gone up substantially, and therefore so has the requirement for funding.  I hope that’s clear.  Let me know if it is not.  Yes, Masood, and then Mr. Abbadi.  Yes?


Question:  On this situation in Libya, a follow-up on what you are saying.  All these things are as a consequence of the clash between the [Muammar al‑]Qadhafi forces and the rebel forces.  Has assessment been made that the people fleeing the conflict are a direct consequence of Mr. Qadhafi and does the Secretary-General still continue to believe that Mr. Qadhafi has to be removed before things get better?


Spokesperson:  The flight of people from Libya, whether third-country nationals or Libyans, is a direct result of those people’s fears for their own lives and their family members.  And that in turn is a result of action that’s been taken on the ground in Libya by Colonel Qadhafi’s forces, and of course, subsequently, because of clashes between those forces and rebel forces.  That’s the first part.  The second part, the Secretary-General has said two things: one, that because of what has happened in Libya through Colonel Qadhafi’s forces, that he, Colonel Qadhafi, has lost legitimacy.  But he has also said, the Secretary-General has also said, that it is for the people of Libya to decide what the future leadership of the country looks like.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?


Question:  Thank you, Martin.  There are indications that some kind of arrangement has been agreed to by the opposition as well as by the Government in Yemen.  Do you have any confirmation of that?


Spokesperson:  No confirmation at this point.  We’re aware of the reports, and obviously this is something that had been anticipated some time ago, and then at the last minute things did not quite work out.  Obviously we are keeping a close eye on that.  And I would anticipate that once there is some kind of confirmation that a deal has indeed been reached and signed, that we’d have something further to say on it.  Yes?


Question:  There has been some talk of the Security Council possibly looking into a resolution on Syria.  Do you have anything on that?


Spokesperson:  I don’t.  This is obviously something that, again, is there in press reports.  It is for the Council to decide on what matters it takes up and what potential resolutions it would seek to adopt.  I don’t have any information on that.  I am sure that Security Council members would help you.  Yes, Matthew, and then Louis.


Correspondent:  Sure, I want to ask about Sudan, Gaza and Sri Lanka.  I want, in Sudan…


Spokesperson:  Let’s take them one at a time as there are others with questions.  Let’s start with Sudan.


Question:  Sure.  Okay, yeah.  In Sudan, the UN staff member that was arrested, Hawa Abdullah, people are saying that she should be covered by immunity.  What’s the UN done since she was arrested by the Government to secure her release?  I think last, it was said it was being looked into by UNAMID.  What is the status of this UN staff member?


Spokesperson:  I do understand that Mr. [Ibrahim] Gambari has been liaising with the authorities to try to have access to this person.  And if there is more information, then I would let you know.


Question:  Does the UN believe that she is covered by immunity as…?


Spokesperson:  As I say, if I have more information, I’ll let you know.


Question:  What about the two journalists?  This is also on Sudan.  It’s up to you how you want to do it.


Spokesperson:  Yeah, it is up to me, actually, so I’ll go to Louis first, and then I’ll come back to you.


Question:  Thanks.  Just UNCA [United Nations Correspondents Association] business, we have a few things out there that we’re looking for responses, because the matter that Giampaolo [Pioli] and I sent to the Secretary-General on behalf of the Executive Committee on Thursday, and we were wondering if there is any response to that.  And then there is our 1 March letter requesting that Patricia O’Brien brief UNCA correspondents.  And Matthew has raised the request to Mr. [Vijay] Nambiar for him to brief us, as well.  I am just wondering what the status of those requests are?


Spokesperson:  Well, let’s start at the top and work down.  The letter was received by the Secretary-General, of course.  And those who are copied on the letter and deal with this in an operational way — in other words, in the Departments of Public Information and Safety and Security — they are looking at the letter, and I am sure they will be in touch with you, if they have not been already.  On the second, I do not believe that Ms. O’Brien will be briefing you any time soon.  And as for Mr. Nambiar, the Chef de Cabinet or Special Adviser on Myanmar, he will be briefing the Security Council, as I have mentioned, at some point, possibly as early as tomorrow, and will also be speaking to the Group of Friends at a time not yet determined.  I do not believe that he will brief you personally.  I am seeking to provide more information in a readout from the meeting of the Council.  But that’s where we stand at the moment.


Question:  Why is Ms. O’Brien not planning to brief us any time soon?  Is there a specific reason?


Spokesperson:  No, I don’t think people have to give reasons why they are not wanting to brief or not able to brief at any particular point.  Your request is noted, and I hope you will note my response.  Yes, Matthew, coming back to the two journalists in Sudan, I think.


Question:  Sure.  Has UNMIS [United Nations Mission in Sudan], and also I have a follow-up on that, but I’d rather, I want to be sure to get this asked…


Spokesperson:  There is plenty of time.


Question:  Okay.  So, the thing of the two journalists that were arrested, that were detained for covering the election in South Kordofan, yesterday it was said that UNMIS was going to look into that.  Have they been able to verify, and do they have anything more to be said?  There was some discussion around the [Security] Council yesterday about that UNMIS statement welcoming the elections in South Kordofan.  Is there any further statement UNMIS would like to make, because one delegation is saying now Mr. [Ahmed] Haroun should meet with the Security Council when they visit Kadugli, since UNMIS has welcomed the election which he claimed to have won?


Spokesperson:  Well, let’s be careful.  The conduct of the election, not the outcome of the election, and I think that you need to be careful how you characterize that.  As for the journalists, I don’t have any further information from UNMIS at the moment.  And we can certainly ask them again.  We have asked; if we have some more information, we will let you have it.  Okay?  I am looking for other questions and I will come back to you for the other things on your list.  I’m going to come to Anita first, yes?


Question:  Yes, thank you, Martin.  Speaking of journalists, do you happen to know if UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization] or any other UN agency is involved in the case of this woman journalist who was working for Al-Jazeera and she was picked up in Syria and shipped to Iran because she had, I guess, she was born in Iran?  I think she is Iranian-American or Iranian-Canadian, and she had an expired Iranian visa in her passport.  So supposedly she was shipped from Syria to Iran.  She’s being held in Iran now.


Spokesperson:  Well, the news reports I have seen suggest that she has been… she flew out and that she is in Doha.


Question:  When was this, today?


Spokesperson:  This morning.


Correspondent:  Oh, I didn’t see that.  Okay.


Spokesperson:  Yeah, yeah.  Mr. Abbadi, and then I’ll come right to the back, okay?


Question:  I wonder if the Secretary-General has any intention of giving his monthly press conference.  I think the last one, if I am not mistaken, was given in February.


Spokesperson:  I know that you have asked about this before.  When we reach that time, I will let you know.  But as you know, it is not as if the Secretary-General has not been available.  He has done numerous stakeouts at various points.  But once we get to the stage of having a press conference, then I’ll let you know.  Yes?


Question:  Good morning, Martin.  Thank you.  Can you tell me when Under-Secretary-General [Valerie] Amos will be back to brief the Security Council, if she will be back to brief them on her visit to Jerusalem, one?  And has the SG made any further statements since his statement on Sunday regarding the Nakba killings and the hundreds of people that were hurt on Sunday?


Spokesperson:  To answer the second one first, no.  But the statement that was made at the time I think still stands and has the same relevance it did at that point.  I’ll ask my colleagues in the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs when Ms. Amos is due back, and whether she will be briefing the Council, and indeed whether she will brief you, as she has done repeatedly in the past.  Yes?


Question:  Good afternoon.  I just had a question in regards to the IMF [International Monetary Fund] chief, Dominique Strauss-Kahn.  We want to know, would he… the [United States] State Department has already said that he would not receive any kind of immunity because he was not here on official business.  We want to know whether the UN… because of his IMF head, would any immunity fall via the UN at all?


Spokesperson:  I would need to check on that.  I certainly don’t have any comments on the case itself, which, as you know, is sub-judice.  If I have any further information, then I’ll let you know.  Matthew?


Question:  Sure, I’m just… on Gaza and Sri Lanka.  On Gaza, there is this reported strike by the workers of UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East], many workers striking because three people were fired.   The strikers, or the UNRWA workers, said that these people were cleared by the court system in Gaza.  So is it, one, what… what’s the UN doing, given that its workers are not coming in?  How are services being provided?  And two, what’s the UN’s policy on firing workers who have been charged but not convicted by local authorities?


Spokesperson:  I’m sure my colleagues will help on that.  I don’t have anything.  Yeah, so, as that was quick, what is the next one on Sri Lanka?


Question:  Sure, sure.  On Sri Lanka, this is the two-year anniversary of the end of the conflict, and there are people, one of… among other things, I have two questions on this.  One is, you previously said this visit by Wimal Weerawansa, who is the minister who organized the blockade of the UN in Colombo, I think you’d said that you were going to check if he had come into the building.  I mean, I saw him shaking hands with Mr. [Kiyo] Akasaka, so I believe that he… you never said this, but he did come in.  Did he speak with any other UN officials?  And also, a memo has emerged saying that Vijay Nambiar was offered live, unmanned aerial vehicle footage of the final stages of the conflict while he was in Sri Lanka as the Secretary-General’s envoy in the final stages of the conflict.  This is in a…


Spokesperson:  Says who?


Question:  This is in a WikiLeaks memo, says the US Ambassador at the time of Sri Lanka… I mean to Sri Lanka, the US Ambassador in Colombo.  So, I wanted to know, it seems, it’s a straight factual question: did Mr. Nambiar observe these final stages, which have become so contentious in terms of war crimes, and could… it seems to me he should do a stakeout tomorrow, after he briefs the Council, but if he doesn’t, can you get an answer from him on this factual question whether he in fact… his knowledge of the issues that are so much in dispute to this day?


Spokesperson:  I’ll certainly ask.  And on the first — well, two things, really.  One, if you saw the person, then I am not sure why you needed to ask whether he was there.


Correspondent:  You said you’re a dutiful servant, you’d get the answer, I don’t know why it didn’t happen.


Spokesperson:  Well, the second part, if you let me answer the question, Matthew, because sometimes I do wonder whether you want the answer or not.  The second part is that we did ask, and the answer was the best thing is for you to check with the Sri Lankan Mission.  After all, that’s where the person… the country from where the person concerned comes from.  Okay?


Question:  I would like to follow up on some loose question, on this question of Mr. Nambiar.  I mean, I understand individuals are free to… we can’t make them take questions if they don’t want to, but wasn’t there an earlier stage… it was the Secretary-General who said he encouraged his highest officials to be accessible to the media to describe the work of the agency.  And if his own Chief of Staff is unwilling to do it on a trip he just made to Myanmar, what does it say?


Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, you make it sound as though nothing has been said on the topic.  As you well know, Mr. Nambiar spoke to the media while he was there at some length.  And you have the statement that he made, and I am sure you are privy to the answers he gave to questions that were asked.  As I have said to you, a briefing is envisaged at the Security Council; likewise, the Group of Friends.  We’ll do our best to provide extra information to help you with the stories you wish to write.  If it is not through a briefing, a stakeout, because that’s not what is envisaged at the moment, then we’ll do our best to do it in another way, to provide you with extra information that you may wish to have.  As for the more general point, we’ve had many senior officials, most recently, Angela Kane was here, Valerie Amos is a repeat visitor at the briefings, and many others too; Mr. [Alain] Le Roy frequently goes to the stakeout.  I find it… it’s pretty clear that senior officials make themselves available regularly, and will continue to do so.


Question:  But none of those can speak on either Myanmar or Sri Lanka, for example.


Spokesperson:  There are many topics beyond those, and senior officials speak very regularly about them in different circumstances here, at the Security Council stakeout and elsewhere.  I think that’s entirely normal.


Okay, thank you.  Have a good afternoon.  Thank you very much. Thank you.


* *** *

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