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

26 May 2011

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

26 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, everybody, and welcome to the briefing.  Sorry for the slight delay.  And welcome to the students from Rutgers University and their Middle East and Politics Professor, Hamid Abdeljaber, who as you know, is a former DPI staff member and indeed once worked in the Spokesperson’s Office.  So, welcome.

**Ratko Mladić

I have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the arrest of Ratko Mladić:

The Secretary-General welcomes today’s arrest of Ratko Mladić, former commander of the army of Republika Srpska in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  He commends President [Boris] Tadić and the Serbian authorities for this significant step towards ending impunity for those indicted for serious violations of international humanitarian law during the conflict in the former Yugoslavia.

The Secretary-General’s thoughts today are first and foremost with the victims and their families, who have waited almost 16 years for Mr. Mladić to be brought to justice for crimes including those committed at Srebrenica.  This is a historic day for international justice and for the world’s collective fight against impunity.  It sends a powerful message that those who are alleged to have committed crimes against humanity may try to evade justice but they will, in the end, be held accountable.

This important arrest will enable the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia to move closer to completing its mandate.  Ending impunity is essential for reconciliation, sustainable peace and justice in the region.

For its part, the Tribunal’s Prosecutor, Serge Brammertz, welcomed the arrest of Mr. Mladić, who was a fugitive from justice for nearly 16 years.  Mr. Mladić is charged with genocide, crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war.  The Prosecutor said the Tribunal awaits arrangements for the transfer of Mr. Mladić to The Hague to stand trial.  Mr. Mladić’s arrest is significant for all people in the former Yugoslavia, the Prosecutor said, adding that it can have a positive impact on reconciliation in the region.

** Western Sahara

I also have an announcement on the next round of talks on Western Sahara.  As agreed during the sixth round of informal talks on Western Sahara in March, delegations of the parties to that conflict — Morocco and the Frente Polisario — and the neighbouring States — Algeria and Mauritania — will gather for a seventh round of informal talks from 5 to 7 June this year in Greentree, Long Island.

This meeting will take place at the invitation of the Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General for Western Sahara, Mr. Christopher Ross, within the mandate provided by the United Nations Security Council for UN-led negotiations.

And during the upcoming talks, the first to be held since the Secretary-General’s latest report on Western Sahara was issued, and since the approval of Security Council resolution 1979 (2011) renewing MINURSO’s mandate, the parties will, as previously agreed, further deepen their discussion of their respective proposals on a settlement and will also examine possible measures of conciliation and the avoidance of acts of provocation.  They will also have the opportunity to review the status of confidence-building measures, engage in a preliminary examination of the specific topic of demining, and identify additional innovative approaches and specific topics for future discussion.

**Secretary-General in France

The Secretary-General is on his way to Deauville, in France, where he will take part in the G-8 Summit.  The Secretary-General will participate in sessions of the G-8 outreach programme and is expected to meet with a number of leaders attending the Summit.  He has already met with the President of Niger, Mahamadou Issoufou, on his way to Deauville.

This morning, in Paris, the Secretary-General addressed the launch of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s Global Partnership for Girl’s and Women’s Education and its High-Level Panel, together with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova.  The Secretary-General said that investing in education for women and girls enriches them while also creating a more productive workforce.  Education provides the fuel to ignite global progress, he added.

**Abyei

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations [DPKO] report that the situation in and around Abyei remains volatile and tense.

The Sudan Armed Forces maintain their presence in the town, and a large number of Misseriya militia has also been reported.  The Sudan Armed Forces is in control of the area up to the River Kiir and sporadic fighting south of Abyei is still reported.  However, looting and burning of property continues.

We have repeatedly made it clear to commanders at all levels from the Sudan Armed Forces, including the Officer-in-Charge on the ground, that by virtue of being in control of the area, the Sudan Armed Forces is responsible for stopping the looting and arson and bringing those responsible to justice.  Unfortunately, so far, we have not seen sufficient steps taken by the Sudan Armed Forces to stop it or hold those responsible accountable for it.

Yesterday, the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) and UN agencies conducted road and air assessments, which indeed confirmed the heavy presence of armed men.  Tens of thousands of displaced people from the Abyei area have arrived in various locations in southern Sudan, and assessments of displaced communities are under way.  Initial findings indicate that the most urgent needs are food and water, while the recent heavy rains have already increased the risk of water-borne diseases.

However, identifying the precise locations and numbers of people that have moved south of Agok remains very challenging, with many groups still on the move or hiding.  Assessments are hampered by limited access to the area and the heavy rains.

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Haile Menkerios, has been in touch with the leadership on both sides, as was President [Thabo] Mbeki of the AU High-level Implementation Panel on Sudan, to contain the situation, and bring the parties back to the table.  The NCP [National Congress Party] has agreed to withdraw forces from the area, but only after new security arrangements for the Abyei area are agreed to by both sides.  No timetable for this agreement has so far been agreed between the parties.  The Panel will introduce a proposal for new security arrangements allowing for a withdrawal of Sudan Armed Forces during the post-referendum negotiations on security arrangements scheduled to restart this Saturday in Addis Ababa.

**Peacekeepers Day

The International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers will be commemorated tomorrow.  At 9:15 a.m., in the UN Secretariat Visitors Lobby, here in New York.  Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro will oversee a wreath-laying ceremony in honour of fallen peacekeepers.

And then at 10 a.m., she will preside over a ceremony during which Dag Hammarskjöld Medals will be awarded posthumously to the military, police and civilian personnel who lost their lives in 2010 while serving in peacekeeping operations.

And then, at noon, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Dmitry Titov, DPKO Police Adviser Ann-Marie Orler and Chief of DPKO’s Criminal Law and Judicial Advisory Service, Robert Pulver, will be guests at the noon briefing.

And then in the afternoon, at 2 p.m., Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Alain Le Roy, will award medals to military and police officers.  A multimedia exhibit will also be unveiled, highlighting efforts to enhance rule of law in peacekeeping operations.

**Press Conferences Tomorrow

A couple of press conferences.  Tomorrow at 11:15 a.m., there will be a press conference by Joseph Deiss, the President of the General Assembly, who will update you on the work of the General Assembly and the issues on its agenda.

And then as I mentioned, we will have guests from the DPKO at the noon briefing.

And at 2:30 p.m., there will be a press conference by Mirna Cunningham, Chairperson of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, to close the tenth session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

That’s what I have.  Questions?  Yes, Tom?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  A question on [inaudible] Tripoli team had been reporting that the Deputy Foreign Minister of Libya had written to the Secretary-General about two days ago in a letter, which reiterated Libya’s willingness to consider the AU peace deal.  I was wondering a) if that letter had been received and b) if there was anything further in the letter beyond the details of the AU peace deal.

Spokesperson:  Well, I have checked.  I am not sure that, so far, that a letter has been received.  But I will check further.  That’s the first thing.  The second thing is that we have obviously heard most recently from the Secretary-General’s telephone conversation with the Prime Minister about the need for a ceasefire.  That remains the case today.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?  I’ll come to you in a second, Matthew.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Are there any more details regarding the circumstances of the arrest of the Serbian General Mladić?

Spokesperson:  I think that’s a question for the Serbian authorities at this point.  And I am sure that those details will be forthcoming, including on when a transfer is likely to take place to The Hague.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  No, I just…  Yeah, I wanted to ask a follow-up on Libya.  There is also the story that the Vice-Chairman of the national transitional council has said that even if Qadhafi were to leave it would take up to two years to organize elections, and I wanted to know whether, I don’t know if that would be Mr. al-Khatib, or Mr. Martin, but who in the UN… is there any response to that?  Do you think that’s a reasonable period of time or the initially stated six months is a more… Do you have… I guess, does the UN have any… given that it has at least two sort of envoys or people working on it, what’s the response to that?

Spokesperson:  Well, in addition to the two people you mentioned, there is of course a team within the Department of Political Affairs that deals with election support of various kinds, and would have the expertise to provide advice if asked at the time.  I don’t think we’re quite at that point yet, to answer your specific question.  But I think you can take it as read that our colleagues who deal with this matter will be preparing to help if they are asked.

Question:  And what’s the… I mean what’s the level of contact?  Does, for example, this DPA unit of Mr. Martin, do they have any… are they in communication with the transitional, national transitional council?

Spokesperson:  Well, Al-Khatib, the Special Envoy, met with representatives of the Transitional National Council in Doha just the other day.  Yes, Evelyn?

Question:  In Abyei, would you characterize the actions there as ethnic cleansing?  And, on the arrest of General Mladić, does this mean the Tribunal would close down after trials of Dr. Karadžić and General Mladić, which admittedly could take a century, but is that it?

Spokesperson:  On the first, I think it’s too early to make this kind of assessment.  What we do know is that there are Misseriya people present in the area.  But as you also know, these are people who traditionally have moved backwards and forwards across this territory.  So, I think that it’s too early to make this assessment.

On the second point, I think it would really be for the Tribunal to comment on what cases may still be outstanding beyond the ones that you have mentioned.  I think the Secretary-General’s support for the Tribunal is there and steadfast, as it is in the support for its independent work.  And, therefore, I think it would be for them to comment on what other possible trials might be forthcoming or what other people still need to be brought to justice.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  On this ongoing situation in Yemen, it was… the question I am going to ask, because there was an agreement that, between Yemen and GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council], between the President Saleh and GCC, and that never came through and now the situation has gone from bad to worse.  Has the Secretary-General spoken to… I mean, I know there was a statement issued by him earlier, has the Secretary-General spoken to the President of Yemen again on this agreement?

Spokesperson:  Not recently.  But as you pointed out, as recently as yesterday, there was a fairly clear statement on what the Secretary-General believes is necessary and that remains the case today.  Yes?

Question:  Good morning, Martin.  Thank you.  I wonder if the Secretary-General has made any comment at all, or had anything to say about some legal affairs that are under way by which the precedent, or rather the immunity that, the UN has enjoyed in American courts could be broken by a lawsuit — and forgive the wordiness — the lawsuit by a Turkish billionaire who was contracted to clear an Iraqi harbour, did the job, and he claims he is owed $150 million by the UN Development Programme (UNDP).  The plaintiff, this billionaire, hired a lawyer, George Irving, who used to work in the Legal Affairs Department of the Secretary-General’s Office and here is what he said, and I quote — admittedly he is the plaintiff’s attorney — he said:  “It’s not unusual for the UN to play these kinds of games with contractors, they try to frustrate them at every turn so that they give up and go away.”  Has the Secretary-General reacted to this, because if this lawsuit goes through, it could change everything and dozens of corporations could also file suit the way this gentleman has.

Spokesperson:  Well, I can inform you that this matter concerns a claim against the Organization, which the United Nations has been appropriately addressing in accordance with its status, privileges and immunities, and obligations under international law.  The United Nations has been in discussions with the claimant in this matter, including with respect to the appropriate manner and forum to address the claim.  Accordingly, it would be inappropriate for me to comment any further.  Yes, please?

Question:  Hi, thank you, Martin.  I am just curious if you have any information on Amnesty International, as I am sure you know, they’re celebrating their fiftieth anniversary this weekend.  So, any statements?

Spokesperson:  I don’t think necessarily a formal statement, but obviously the United Nations works closely with non-governmental organizations, including in the area of human rights, and obviously respects the work that they do.  Yes?

Question:  Martin, just about [inaudible] on the International Day for Peacekeepers. [inaudible]

Spokesperson:  It’s very difficult to hear you, it’s very difficult.  Could you speak up, please?

Question:  [inaudible] Benjamin Netanyahu in the US Congress, he talked about attack on my country, Iran, about Islamic countries.  Do you think it’s good for peace and global peace?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have any specific comment on the remarks made by Mr. Netanyahu on that topic, no.  Right, any other questions?  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  I want to ask about Kyrgyzstan and then something, I guess, management.  But on Kyrgyzstan, this Kimmo Kiljunen.

Spokesperson:  Kiljunen, Kiljunen, yeah.

Question:  All right, I thought… okay, however said, he is now being blocked from the country.  The Parliament has voted to bar him because of his report on the violence that was in Kyrgyzstan.  Given the UN’s role, you know, and stated… he said that the UN sort of supports his report.  Is that true and do you have any comment in [inaudible] country?

Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, you know, let’s be clear that it was not a UN report.  Some technical, logistical advice was provided to Mr. Kiljunen and those who put together the report.  It’s an important step in the right direction.  Again, talking about the need for accountability for actions that took place and crimes that were evidently committed last year in Kyrgyzstan.

Question:  But I mean… so… but does the UN, if you are thinking it’s a useful thing, what about this, the country now seeking to bar the author of the report.  Is that…?

Spokesperson:  Well, that’s really a matter for the Kyrgyz authorities and Mr. Kiljunen.  I don’t have any comment on that.  Yes, management?

Question:  Yeah, yeah, I wanted to ask you this, I had asked before what’s going to happen with Mr. [Atul] Khare, but I’m now, at least I believe, on pretty solid sourcing, I am told that he is going to becoming Assistant Secretary-General for change management under DSG Migiro.  And I just…I wanted to know one, if that’s true, and two, if you can describe what this change management… what is… what post is exactly going to… going to accomplish and whether… what are the goals of that post?

Spokesperson:  Well, if and when we have an announcement on what Mr. Khare will be doing next, I’ll let you know.  I don’t have a formal announcement at this point.  The notion of change management as defined by the Secretary-General is to help push forward the reforms that have already been started and undertaken in the last four and half years.  But this is a concerted effort to bring together the different parts of the United Nations to ensure that the changes that need to be made to equip the United Nations for the future are made in a very coherent and coordinated fashion.  That’s what it’s about.  And should I have an announcement then, I’ll let you know, okay?  Yes, Masood?

Question:  Martin, this question that I am going to ask is about this meeting that the Secretary-General is going to attend in France on this G-8, G-20 meeting…

Spokesperson:  It’s G-8.

Question:  …G-8 meeting that he is going to attend, which is evolving into a G-20 meeting.  Now, what I am asking… my question is, has the Secretary-General really examined the role that the United Nations is going to play in this context?  Because, slowly, it seems as though the United Nations role is totally marginalized and his being there is just because he is the Secretary-General of the United Nations and nothing else.  Relevance of the United Nations is what I am talking about.

Spokesperson:  Well, I think you kind of answered your question yourself.  The fact that he is there shows the relevance of the United Nations.  That’s why he is there.  The G-8 is a very small club, but with rather large countries involved, rather large economies involved.  It’s the Secretary-General’s role as he feels it to ensure that the voices of those countries that are not at the table are heard.  The Secretary-General at the G-8 does not sit at the table when the G-8 leaders meet.  However, as I mentioned at the outset, they have what are called outreach sessions where they meet other leaders, and including the Secretary-General.  And he will be speaking on three different occasions during the course of those outreach sessions.  The same goes for the G-20, in a different way.  The G-20, yes, is growing in importance and significance.  The United Nations role within the G-20 context is firmly enshrined and the United Nations has an important role to play; the Secretary-General himself personally, in ensuring that the voices of the other 172 countries are clearly heard.  He did that in Toronto; he’s done that in Seoul and he will continue to do it.  Yes?

Question:  Yeah, Martin, this answer brings me to this question which I admit is a long shot, but considering that we have to find a new Director for the International Monetary Fund and there is a strong push for a representative from the emerging countries, what is the position of the Secretary-General?  Does he have one?

Spokesperson:  You’re right, it’s a very long shot.  We don’t comment on these kinds of appointments.  Yeah, okay.  Thank you very much.  Have a good afternoon.

* *** *

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