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

26 August 2011

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

26 August 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 morning, everyone.

** Nigeria

Around 11 o’clock this morning, local time, the United Nations House in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, was struck by a car bomb.

In remarks to the press this morning, the Secretary-General condemned the attack, which he called “an assault on those who devote their lives to helping others”.  He said that we do not yet have precise casualty figures but they are likely to be considerable.  A number of people are dead; many more are wounded.

The Secretary-General has asked the Deputy Secretary-General, Asha-Rose Migiro, to go to Nigeria immediately, along with the UN security chief, Under-Secretary-General Gregory Starr, to mobilize the UN system in responding to this emergency.

** Libya

The Secretary-General is meeting with the heads of regional organizations by videoconference at 3 this afternoon to discuss Libya.  The invitees include the African Union, the European Union, the Organization for Islamic Cooperation and the League of Arab States.  The objective of the meeting is to develop ways in which these organizations will continue to work together, especially on the post-conflict phase in Libya.  The Secretary-General will then speak to reporters at the second floor stakeout in the North Lawn Building once that meeting ends, at around 4 p.m.

**Deputy Secretary-General on Libya

The Deputy Secretary-General spoke to the African Union’s Peace and Security Council at its meeting in Addis Ababa today, saying that the African Union has always been one of the United Nations’ most important strategic partners and will remain so.  In Libya, she said, the African Union has been unrelenting in seeking a peaceful solution — and is instrumental in helping Libya to rebuild its future. 

She informed the Council that, in Doha on Wednesday, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Libya, Abdel-Elah al-Khatib, along with Special Adviser Ian Martin, met with National Transitional Council leaders to discuss post-conflict planning in greater detail.

In addition to immediate humanitarian assistance, particularly as it relates to medical help, they placed special emphasis on early support from the international community for elections, transitional justice and policing, as well as longer-term assistance in social and economic reconstruction, rule of law and institution-building.  We have her remarks in our office.

**Security Council on Peacekeeping

Addressing the Security Council’s open debate on peacekeeping this morning, the Secretary-General said that peacekeeping is one of the most visible, difficult and critical roles played by the United Nations.  It is also a role which only the UN can play in a truly global sense, he noted.

To be successful, peacekeeping operations must have a clear and achievable mandate, unified political support from the Security Council, as well as adequate and predictable human, material and financial resources.

The Secretary-General acknowledged the sacrifice of the thousands of colleagues and friends who have given their lives in the line of duty.  He paid tribute to all those working in peacekeeping today for their commitment to this noble cause.  His full remarks are available on our website.

**South Sudan

The UN Mission in South Sudan, UNMISS, announced today that it began deploying peacekeepers and teams of civilian experts to vulnerable areas of Jonglei State.  Peacekeepers from the Mission will work closely with the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) — which also began deploying — to support their efforts to deter violence.  And civilian staff from the Mission will help with local reconciliation efforts.  UN surveillance flights over the conflict-affected areas are also being conducted on a continuous daily basis.

As you know, 600 people have reportedly lost their lives in recent days in Jonglei State.  The Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Hilde Johnson, continues to urge restraint by all communities and to ask for reconciliation efforts.

**Press Conferences

For press conferences, on Monday at 4:30 p.m., there will be a press conference with Bruno Lemaire, France’s Minister for Agriculture, Food, Fisheries, Rural Affairs and Regional Development, on the outcome of the Group of 20 (G-20) Agriculture Ministers meeting which was held in June of this year.

**The Week Ahead at the United Nations

We also have available “The Week Ahead” document for the United Nations.  I just wanted to draw your attention that on Wednesday, there will be a UN holiday and the United Nations Headquarters will be closed.

Yes, Bill?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Three things, if you will, Farhan, concerning the incident in Abuja.  One, what was the threat level at the time of this incident that took place?  Two, what was the nature of the security situation there in terms of types of barriers, distance from the street, how would you describe it?  And three, what adjustments have been made in terms of security for UN facilities around the world?  We’ve certainly noted some out here on the street.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Okay.  Regarding that, well, let’s take the second of your questions first, about the nature of the security.  Yes, there were barricades and different gates around the UN.  It is regarded as a well-defended building, and we will need to investigate how it was that the attackers managed to get past different levels of protection so that they could cause the damage that they did.  As you know, Gregory Starr, the Head of the Department of Safety and Security, will be going to Nigeria and he will try to see what we can learn better about how our defences were breached.  But yes, we have, to answer your third question, we happen…

Question:  Just a quick one before that.  What was the nature of… or specifically, what was the nature of the barriers and so forth?  What distance from the street?  Were they concrete barriers?  Did they have the zigzag…?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  There were a series of barriers outside the building.  There was a way, it seems, in which this particular vehicle-borne explosive device got through.  In other words, the car got through a couple of gates that were defended by security guards.  How that happened, how they got past security, we’ll need to determine how that was the case.  But we will try to investigate how our defences were breached.  Certainly we have been — and this gets to your third question — we have been increasing our security profile in a number of areas around the world, trying to make buildings compliant with different potential threats that they face.  What happened today is a sign that, even so, some attackers have been able, might be able, to breach our defences, which is why we’ll need to look at this thoroughly and see how they got through and how that can be prevented.

Question:  My first question?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  And your first question about the threat level, we don’t actually give out threat levels.  There was no previous threat on this UN compound in Abuja.  Yes?

Question:  Do you have any idea of casualty figures since the Secretary-General spoke a couple of hours ago?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  There are no real casualty figures that I’d want to put our names to.  We are aware of numbers of bodies that have been pulled from the wreckage.  Who those people are — whether they constitute Nigerian security personnel, people who were passing by on the street, UN personnel or others — that remains to be determined.  And of course, for our personnel, before we would provide information, we would need to make sure that the next of kin are informed.  But I don’t have any figures from our side to provide to you that would be reliable.  It is a large number.  As you know, we’ve had some large attacks, for example when 17 people died several years back in Algiers.  And this is something, in terms of raw numbers, that could rival that.  Yes?

Question:  As to the identity of the attackers, as is being alleged that they were some… in some quarters in Nigeria, they were Islamic in character, is that right?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t want to speculate on who the attackers were or who they could have been.  At this stage, no one has claimed responsibility for the attack.  We don’t have any solid determination of the attackers were.

Question:  But they were… there were these earlier… there were these threats from the Islamic groups or not?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  There is a group that has, for example, attacked, known as Boko Haram, that has attacked a compound of Nigerian police in Abuja, the same city, earlier, some weeks ago.  But whether they are linked to this attack or not, I couldn’t say; we don’t have any determination on that.  Yes?

Question:  A question on this and then a couple of other things.  But on this, was… I mean, you… you said you wouldn’t say what the threat levels were, but was this building, number one, was it “MOSS [Minimum Operating Safety Standards] compliant”, which is the UN word for that?  And two, after the previous attack, I know that there was funds raised, plans issued.  Were any improvements made to this structure since the… since that last attack and the… the report that was commissioned and the funds that were raised?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Regarding MOSS-compliance, yes I believe that this building was compliant with the minimal operating safety standards.  At the same time, of course, it has now been hit by a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device, which has done some damage to the building.  I don’t have any answer to your other question, which is basically a larger issue that’s not really about today’s particular attack.

Question:  Okay, can I ask you something that is beyond that?  I wanted to ask you, the… the… this… it has emerged what’s call… the… the [Ian] Martin report on… on… on Libya.  It’s a 10-page document, and among other things, there is two things I want to ask you about and both… as… as it appears in the report and what’s more generally, there is a statement, apparently it’s a UN statement saying that… that… that… that NATO’s role will continue to have responsibility after the fall of the [Muammar al-]Qadhafi Government, and saying that for this UN planning, including for 200 military observers, that no further mandate is needed from the Security Council.  I wanted to know, is this something… what is the Secretary-General’s position on this, on those two statements?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  As far as that goes, I wouldn’t comment on the text of this document, which was an internal document for the Secretary-General’s information and for the information of his advisers.  The Secretary-General will be talking to regional organizations at 3 p.m. this afternoon to coordinate planning, and he will talk to the press after that.

Question:  One more, one follow-up.  I mean, how would you characterize this… this pretty detailed planning with the idea that… that… that… that Mr. Martin and Mr. al-Khatib went out to hear what the NTC [National Transitional Council] wanted or that on the video conference today he is going to hear?  It seems to be a pretty detailed plan.  Is this a preliminary plan?  What… what… what… how would you… what adjective would you put on it, because it looks inconsistent with this now out, you know, outreach after the fact?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  No, not at all.  The sort of efforts that we have been doing and the sort of efforts that Ian Martin was in place here at the United Nations to do is to plan for a possible transition down the line.  We are now at the stage where we need to talk with our various partners about that.  But it helps to have concrete ideas about the way forward.  And those are what, for example, Ian Martin and Abdel-Elah al-Khatib were talking with people in Doha.  This is what the Deputy Secretary-General has been talking with people in Addis Ababa earlier today, and this is what the Secretary-General will discuss with the regional groups this afternoon.  Yes?

Question:  Can you say something about the SG’s forthcoming visit to Australia; when and how long?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  We hope to have a trip announcement for you in the early part of next week.  I don’t have a confirmation about any of his travels, because, as you are aware, given the nature of different things happening in the world, some of the specifics of his travel are up in the air.  But we hope to have some details about where he will be going next some time in the early part of next week.  Yes?

Question:  Will he be seeing the flotilla report while he is away?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Like I said, we expect the flotilla report some time at the end of August.  If it slips by a day or two, we will let you know at that point.  Yes?

Question:  Yeah, there is some suggestion… I think China has also expressed some apprehension that… it was saying that United Nations peacekeeping forces should be now deployed in Libya to distribute this $1.5 billion in aid because it fears that it may be misused or arms and ammunitions could be bought by it.  Is there not a fear that… that has been conveyed to the Secretary-General?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  At this stage, the only thing I can… the Secretary-General has been in contact, as you know, in recent days with a wide number of people, including, by the way, by phone contact with the Foreign Minister of China.  The only thing to say about any plans for a UN peacekeeping force is that it would be up to the members of the Security Council to determine what role if any the UN would have.  Yes, Bill?

Question:  A couple of things here.  What’s the plan for the mission, the humanitarian mission that went to Syria to report to the SG and or the Security Council?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  The Syria mission?  Okay, what I can say on that is a UN team has completed a humanitarian mission to Syria, which took place from 20 to 25 August.  Its primary goal was to independently assess the potential humanitarian needs of the Syrian people.  The mission concluded that although there is no country-wide humanitarian crisis, there is an urgent need to protect civilians from the excessive use of force.  The constant presence of Government officials limited the mission’s ability to fully and independently assess the situation.  However, the people it was able to talk to in areas of previous or ongoing unrest said they felt extremely intimidated and under constant threat.  Beyond that, I’d like to add that the UN system will continue to engage with the Syrian authorities, and maintains its urgent calls for its security forces to refrain from the excessive use of force against civilians.

Question:  So what’s the answer to my question?  The question was, is there a schedule for the mission leader to report to the SG, either writing or verbally? And then there is also the Security Council.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I expect that the mission will report back to the Secretary-General.  As for the Security Council, it would be up to the membership of the Council to determine whether it is going to hear from the mission.

Question:  What was the nature of the limit that is described in your statement, just there that was placed on their access or movement?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, all I can say about that is that although the mission was permitted to visit any location that it requested, it is doubtful that Syria has fully complied with its assurances of providing free and unimpeded access.

Question:  What does that mean?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  What it means is, like I said, we had a constant presence of Government officials, and the people who spoke to the mission reported feeling intimidated.

Question:  But could they go… were they able to go where they wanted to go within the… around the country?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, they were permitted to visit any location that they requested to visit.

Question:  Also, concerning the meeting on Libya this afternoon, what are the specific names of the people who will be participating via video conference?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  The specific people will be Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, who is the Secretary General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation; Nabil Al-Araby, the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States; Catherine Ashton, the High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy of the European Union; and Jean Ping, the Chairman of the Commission of the African Union.

Question:  Will Mr. Martin and Mr. al-Khatib also be participating?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I believe Mr. Martin is travelling, but Mr. al‑Khatib is here in New York and he will join that meeting with the Secretary-General.

Question:  Will he come to the stakeout also with the Sec… will he speak to us?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  We’ll try to get him.  Yes?

[Both Mr. al-Khatib and Mr. Martin participated in the meeting and the stakeout afterwards.]

Question:  Just a follow-up on Bill’s question, then I have two short other things.  Did… wasn’t that said… wasn’t it said that in Homs that the… the… the UN mission was told to leave, that there was “a protest condition” and they… they left and then these people were shot and killed.  Was that… how is that consistent with being… they were able to go there, but they weren’t able to stay there, is that… or am I misreading what you said about that incident?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, about Homs, yes, the mission visited Homs, the mission proceeded to Homs, a protest situation developed and the mission was advised to leave for security reasons.  The mission did not come under fire, as was reported by some media outlets, and the mission is unable to verify reports of people killed after its departure, but is deeply distressed by the reports.

Question:  Did Valerie Amos say that there were people killed after the…?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, yes, you’ve seen what her statement was.

Question:  Okay.  So, okay.  Alright, this is what I want… I mean, you could… I wanted to ask you this, one, on this notification of… of next of kin there are… there is an article — and I’ll… I’ll… I guess I’ll source it to the Concord Times in… in… in Sierra Leone — that the peacekeeper killed in Darfur, Mr. Shekou Mansarai, that his next of kin… he’s, you know… he died in Darfur, was killed by assailants, that his next of kin weren’t told, that they were upset about that.  It was somehow reported in this newspaper that he was out gathering charcoal.  So I wanted to know if that… is that… is that… if that’s a function that UN peacekeepers in UNAMID [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur] do?  And… and the… and the… the other thing… and more systematically, the article reports that… that although the Government gets $128… $1,028 a month, that the peacekeepers themselves receive $450 with a $50 living expense and that the rest of the money is not given to the peacekeepers.  And so, this is a kind of a… it seems like a pretty… pretty troubling report for UN peacekeeping.  What’s their response to it?  Is any of it true?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  The logical thread of your question has rambled a bit.

Question:  There are three issues, I had to break it down for you.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yeah, there are several different issues.  As for peacekeeping arrangements, we pay troop-contributing countries and trust that the troop-contributing countries seriously undertake the responsibility to pay their troops.  Beyond that, you can talk to our colleagues in peacekeeping about the nature of those arrangements.  Regarding informing next of kin, yes, it is our policy once someone has died in service to the UN that the next of kin are to be notified, and we have procedures in place for that, and that’s what is supposed to be followed.

Question:  Can we find…? In this case, the third one was literally they say that he was out gathering charcoal and so it seemed kind of a strange, well not, you know…

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Honestly, you can talk with colleagues at the field level about that.

Question:  But I mean, just on this issue of re… of paying peacekeepers…

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, Masood?  Actually other people besides you have questions.

Correspondent:  Okay, I understand.

Question:  On this issue of mass graves being discovered in Indian-occupied Kashmir, which is being reported in the Indian newspapers a lot, has the United Nations looked into the issue and have they… because just… this has been going on since 1989.  I mean, there were… they say that the dissidents who were killed in 1989 and afterwards in that movement, so-called Kashmiri Intifada movement, that the mass graves that are discovered are those.  Has the Indian authorities complained about this, or how did these graves come about?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  We are aware of your question and are looking into it.  Once we have something I’ll let you know.  Erol?

Correspondent:  Farhan, first of all, I am… I heard that you are leaving today, and I want to thank you for everything, for the cooperation and all the answers and everything and wish you all the best in your endeavour.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Thanks.

Question:  Sure.  My question is, did you… did the United Nations plan anything for this — and sorry if I am repeating this question because I came late — regarding this Irene hurricane that is coming, since the main building is in the…?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, our security and management personnel are looking into how this could affect our operations on Monday, and we’re coming up with contingency plans if the hurricane disrupts the normal flow of life in New York City.  But we have nothing to announce just yet.  At this stage we anticipate we will try to go about our normal functions as best we can.  Yes?

Question:  After this conviction of the MONUSCO [United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo] staff for… national staff for moving cassiterite, the Spokesman for MONUSCO has been… has said he “challenges anyone to prove that, apart from this one, there have been any other incidents in the past 11 years”.  And there are many people who say that there was an OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services] investigation of just this topic, trading in… in minerals by peacekeepers.  So I just want to know, since apparently, I mean, you must all be in the same organization, what is the UN’s position on whether there has been a history, more than one incident of trading in minerals by UN personnel in the Congo in the past 11 years, or do you… or is that statement going to be taken back?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I wouldn’t comment on what someone else says from there.  Certainly, we’ve been looking into any sorts of allegations about this.  I wouldn’t make any sort of blanket denial of any previous improprieties.  What I would like to stress, as Roger Meece has stressed, is that anyone implicated in these sorts of illegal activities will be fully investigated and appropriate action will be taken in full cooperation with the Congolese authorities.

Question:  Whatever happened to the OIOS report, 2007 OIOS report, on… on mineral trading by peacekeepers?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I believe it was completed and its recommendations were acted upon.  Beyond that, the basic point is that all of these reports are there to inform the officials on how to improve the way that these situations are handled.  Yes?

Question:  Farhan, just as a follow-up, do you still believe that Monday, the UN is going to be open and the Security Council meeting on Kosovo will be held?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  It’s hard to predict.  I don’t want to predict the course of a hurricane or whether the transit system of New York City is working or anything like that.  We will do our best to carry on, and if there is any problem with the infrastructure of the city that makes it difficult to do things, we will try to have contingency plans in effect so that we can resume our work as quickly as possible.

And with that, have a good weekend, everyone.

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