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

6 September 2011

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

6 September 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 Eduardo del Buey, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  Welcome to the 12 p.m. briefing.  I hope you have had a nice, relaxing long weekend.

**Secretary-General in New Zealand

We are going to start off with the Secretary-General in New Zealand.

The Secretary-General will attend the opening of the Pacific Islands Forum in Auckland in a few hours from now, and hold a group discussion with Pacific Island leaders.  He'll then fly back to Australia for the final stage of his visit to the South Pacific.

The Secretary-General started the weekend in Australia, holding talks with Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd in Canberra before flying to the Solomon Islands and Kiribati to see for himself the effects of climate change.

In Kiribati, the Secretary-General joined President Tong and many young people to plant mangroves on a beach to help fight coastal erosion.  He told reporters he was urging world leaders to act now.  He said the high tide showed it was high time to act.  The Secretary-General met villagers, including young children, who spoke of their fears and of their experiences already with water inundating their homes.

The Secretary-General also discussed women's empowerment with leaders in Kiribati and the Solomon Islands as well as with other Pacific Island leaders when he got to Auckland.  He said it was crucial to boost the status of women, not least through increasing the number of women in Parliament in Pacific Island countries — five of which are among the only nine countries in the world with no women members of Parliament.

In Auckland, the Secretary-General gave a speech at Auckland University and also met with the Prime Minister of New Zealand to discuss climate change and developments in the Pacific region and beyond, including in Libya and the Horn of Africa.

** Libya

With respect to Libya, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser for post-conflict planning, Ian Martin, has been in Tripoli since Saturday.  He is on a five-day visit for talks with members of Libya’s National Transitional Council, to establish their urgent needs before briefing the Secretary-General and Security Council.

Martin said he was in Libya to discuss the kind of support wanted from the United Nations — not just today but in the weeks and months ahead.  He added that clear priorities had already been given by leaders of the National Transitional Council, including support for the electoral process, advice and assistance in the area of transitional justice, how to strike a balance between accountability within the law for the most serious human rights violations while seeking national reconciliation.

The Special Adviser held discussions with various groups in Tripoli, including lawyers, judges, youth, women and human rights activists.

Martin met with the Minister of the Interior and other interlocutors, and discussed the challenges they face in respect to public security.  He also visited two police stations and the Al-Jedaida prison in Tripoli.  He spoke with both Libyan and non-Libyan prisoners, including sub-Saharan Africans detained during the fall of Tripoli.  Martin stressed the urgent need for the basis of detention to be reviewed by public prosecutors, and to inform the prisoners’ families of their whereabouts.

Today, Martin met with Tripoli City Local Council.  And tomorrow he will travel to Benghazi to meet NTC Chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil and Dr. Ahmed Al-Jehani, Minister of Reconstruction and Stabilisation, before returning to New York.

On the humanitarian front in Libya, the Humanitarian Coordinator and a number of key UN agency representatives, including the World Food Programme, the UN Children’s Fund, and the UN refugee agency, re-established a presence in Tripoli since last Thursday.

According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the situation on the ground remains fragile.  Urgent priorities include water, health care, and protection. 

The UN has already shipped in initial deliveries of bottled water over the past week to cover the needs of approximately 30,000 people for several days.  The World Health Organization is procuring and ensuring the delivery to Tripoli of urgently required medicines and other supplies. 

** Cyprus

Moving over to Cyprus, the leaders of the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities met under UN auspices in Nicosia today.  Speaking after the meeting, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser, Alexander Downer, said that the leaders had focused almost entirely on the property issue and that both of them brought along a series of proposals on property. 

He added that officials from the two sides were now discussing these proposals and that discussion at the leaders’ level would resume on Thursday.  Downer said that the meeting was held in a good atmosphere which was an example of both sides continuing to work hard to build convergences.

**International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia

Moving over to the former Yugoslavia, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia today convicted Momčilo Perišić, the former Chief of the General Staff of the Yugoslav Army, for crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia.  He has been sentenced to 27 years’ imprisonment.

Today’s judgment is the first handed down by the Tribunal in a case against an official of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia for crimes committed in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Perišić is entitled to credit for the 1,078 days he spent in custody.

You can find more details on this on the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia website.

**Press Conference

And finally, there will be a press conference today at 12:30 p.m., in the Auditorium, on the fourth session of the Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  Speakers will include:  Ambassador Mårten Grunditz, Permanent Representative of Sweden to the United Nations; Maria Larsson, Minister for Children and the Elderly, Ministry of Health and Social Affairs of Sweden; and Ronald Clive McCallum, Chairman of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

That’s all from me.  Questions, please.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Eduardo, please, a few questions actually.  Approximately a year ago, the Secretary-General was addressing the issue of the name of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and the negotiations that are ongoing for 17 years with Greece.  What is the newest on that?  What is his position?  Is he satisfied with the work of the Special Representative, Mr. Ambassador Nimitz, also?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I will have to check on that and get back to you.

[The Deputy Spokesperson later said that the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy had been in touch with both sides and expected to meet with their delegations at a senior level in New York.  He is also expected to meet with other delegations and is encouraging the two sides to meet bilaterally as well.  The Personal Envoy has said that he will make new proposals only if the two sides encourage it, and if he believes this would be useful at this stage, added the Deputy Spokesperson.]

Question:  And also, you mentioned Libya, several points.  Who is going actually to represent Libya on the General Assembly?  Do we know?  Who is going to come and be, since the Head of States (sic) and Head of Governments (sic) are coming.  So, who is going to represent Libya?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have that information.  Again, I’ll have to check on it for you. 

[The Deputy Spokesperson later noted that no one was accredited to the Libyan Mission at present.  He said that, according to the Protocol Office, the former representatives of the Mission held courtesy passes allowing them to access the corridors of the UN building.  Individuals holding courtesy passes can access the Security Council or the General Assembly if invited to do so and accompanied by a Member State’s or an official from the Secretariat, he said.]

Question:  And just one more on the records; we have a problem with the second elevator which is not going and we are all working here under tight deadlines.  Can you please take that in consideration?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I hope the powers that be listened.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you very much, Eduardo.  First of all I want to congratulate you on your appointment as the Deputy Spokesperson and wish you the best in your duties.  The Secretary-General, as you know in, at Auckland University, said he called for new thinking, bold thinking and for a vision to resolve world problems.  Does the Secretary-General think that the major development goals are that bold thinking and new vision or does he have something else in mind?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General has been a very strong proponent of the Millennium Development Goals since assuming office, and they are one of his major priorities for the second term in office.  I think that is what he is looking to see accomplished by 2015, and he is constantly reminding world leaders that these are the objectives that they committed themselves to in 2000.  Yes?

Question:  Just a follow-up.  So he is not looking forward to putting out a new peace agenda as his predecessors have done.  He will confine himself to the major goals?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I wouldn’t say he will confine himself to anything.  I think that the Secretary-General will announce what he wants to do when the time comes for him to announce it.  For the time being he is very committed to the Millennium Development Goals; they are the objectives for Member States through the year 2015, and that’s where I would leave that.

Question:  Eduardo, do you have anything on the update on the Libyans fleeing to Niger?  And it is said that some of the rebel groups are going to attack the Libyans now.  Do you have any update on the situation over there now?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, I have no information on that right now, no. 

Question:  Okay, on this conflict between Israel and the Turkish Government over the flotilla report, the Secretary-General has been calling for some sort of a rapprochement between them and that’s not happening now.  Is there any other initiative that the Secretary-General can take to somehow get these people together, or is it impossible?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General has reviewed, is reviewing, the Palmer report, and of course he has always called on the Turks and the Israelis to find a way to smooth out their differences and come together once again.  Their relationship is extremely important for the Middle East region and it is something that is very close to the mind of the Secretary-General.  So he hopes that both countries will be able to get together.

Question:  What’s the latest — and I missed it if you brought it up at the top, but I don’t think I heard it — what is the latest on why, what is going wrong in Haiti with the peacekeeping mission there, the sexual, alleged, sexual abuse of this video tape?  I know it was announced over the weekend the UN is investigating; what information, who is conducting that?  Why does this keep happening, even though we were told by the Department of Peacekeeping Director that [inaudible]…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the UN is investigating, the Uruguayans are investigating and the Haitians are investigating.  The five alleged perpetrators have been confined to barracks in Les Cayes, and we are waiting to see what the outcome of the investigations [is].  If the investigations are proven that the allegations are true, we would expect that these people be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

Correspondent:  But the way it is set up now is that [inaudible] there is no way the UN knows or has any role in prosecuting them and they could be let off.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we’re very gratified with reports that we have had from the Uruguayan Defence Ministry that they will take the appropriate action at the appropriate time if the allegations are proven to be true.

Question:  A follow-up on that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I’m sorry; okay, you had your hand up before, yes, sorry.

Question:  Sitting right where are you on 18 August, Farhan Haq said that the allegations were unfounded, that they had been investigated by the UN, the allegation of, of sexual abuse captured on, on a cell phone.  So I am wondering, one, is that being retracted?  And two, when did the UN become aware or actually view the video?

Deputy Spokesperson:  It’s not being retracted.  What it is, we did not comment on the video because we didn’t know the provenance of the video.  We didn’t know where the video came from or who took it.  We didn’t have a, sort of a chain of evidence to be able to show that the video was bona fide.  That video is now part of the court case that the family is bringing against — that the Haitian prosecutor and the family are bringing against the five perpetrators.  So, in that sense, the video is something that we would not like to comment on because it is evidence in an ongoing investigation.

Question:  But I mean, at that time — and I am looking at the transcript — Farhan Haq said local authorities confirm that these allegations were unfounded.  And that was said from right here.  So I am wondering, is that now, there seems to now be the acknowledgement by the Uruguayans that at least abuse if not full rape took, occurred.  So…?

Deputy Spokesperson: Well, the information we have is that something occurred, and is being investigated, and we are looking forward to seeing what the conclusions of the investigation are.  And as I’ve said, if the allegations are proven, then we expect full legal treatment.

Question:  And one related question; a journalist there has taken photographs of what, something that took place before with the Nepalese battalion which is the dumping of garbage and the seeping of sewage from that same Uruguayan Navy post.  Has the UN, is it aware of that?  What’s the, what’s its response?  These, you know, these photos are on the Internet and they, they, including interviews with people saying that MINUSTAH (United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti) comes and drives, and dumps this garbage which includes like frosted flakes boxes in, you know, sort of global non-Haitian products?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, you might want to check with our colleagues in DPKO (Department of Peacekeeping Operations) on it; they will probably have more information.

Question:  When does Mr. [Hervé] Ladsous begin, and can we get a…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Sorry?

Question:  When does Mr. Ladsous, the new head of DPKO, begin, and can we get a kind of a briefing from, and does he, has any views on this?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have any dates yet for his commencement, but we’ll try and find out.  Up there.

Question:  Thank you.  Has the Secretary-General received the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs report on Syria and does he have any plans to call President Bashar al-Assad of Syria?

Deputy Spokesperson:  He does not have any plans to call the President of Syria at the current moment.  He has spoken with him in the past about his concerns, and continues to call on the international community to act, as he did this weekend in Auckland.

Question:  Has he received the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs report?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I’ll have to check on that and get back to you.

[The Deputy Spokesperson later repeated that no external report was issued after the Syria mission.  However, as usual, all parts of the system, including the Secretary-General, were informed about the mission findings.]

Question:  I wonder if you can tell me about the International Security Assistance Force and the allegations of widespread torture in Afghan jails, and that there is a new UN report and that they are going to stop the transfer of detainees into Afghan jails because of these allegations of widespread torture?

Deputy Spokesperson: I don’t have any information on that.  Again, I’ll have to check and get back to you on it.

Correspondent:  It’s a UN report.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Sorry?

Correspondent:  It’s a UN report talking about the treatment of prisoners in Afghanistan.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, I’ll have to check into it.  I am just getting into the job and getting all the reports up to date and getting the information for you.  Richard?

[The Deputy Spokesperson later said that the UN Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) had not yet finalized this report.  The Mission had shared the report's findings with the Government of Afghanistan, including the National Directorate of Security.  According to the Mission, the Government was taking the findings very seriously and proposing a series of remedial actions.  UNAMA said their findings indicate that the mistreatment of detainees is not an institutional or Government policy of the Government of Afghanistan.]

Question:  When is the Palmer report coming out?  No, just kidding!  [laughter].  There is always a pre-General Assembly [press conference] by the Secretary-General; if it was announced, I’m sorry I missed it, but is there one planned?  He does like holding press conference more on the road, as we know, I wondered when the New York event might be?

Deputy Spokesperson:  If there is an announcement to be made it probably will be made after he returns from his trip this weekend.

Question:  But are you expecting one?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Sorry?

Question:  Are you expecting one?

Deputy Spokesperson: We will have to wait and see what he decides.

Question:  Sure, I want to ask, in Sudan over this three-day weekend, the Government has outlawed and locked up members of the SPLM, which is the main opposition party, shut down a newspaper, and I am just wondering what’s the, at the same time, Ms. Wallström, the Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, praised the Government for it, its new openness to journalism for two pardons.  Is there any UN response to what is seen by many as, as a major crackdown in, in a country with at least one-and-a-half UN peacekeeping missions there?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we’re looking into what’s happened and we are trying to get a report on that.  But I don’t have any further information on that right now.  Sorry.

Question:  The Secretary-General is one of the four members of the Quartet; has he been in contact with President [Mahmoud] Abbas in recent days about the plan to come to the UN on 20 September?

Deputy Spokesperson:  To the best of my knowledge, no.  He has been on the road for the past few days dealing with situations like Libya.

Question:  Regarding the Middle East conflict, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, there are some indications that the Quartet may be preparing a resolution in order to head off the efforts of the Palestinians to seek an admission of their State in the General Assembly.  Do you know of any such efforts?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have not heard anything, no.

Question:  Eduardo, since you mentioned that the first judgement of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia was delivered on behalf of the implicit somehow of the former officer of former, of Yugoslavia, Mr. Perišić, General Perišić.  And you put it like that.  What that would mean actually when you put it like that?  Some kind of implication for Yugoslavia in, in the conflict in, in Bosnia and Croatia, or what?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, I am not implying anything.  What we have said is we have read a report that the International Criminal; that the Court — I will quote it here again:  “that the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia today convicted the former Chief of the General Staff of the Yugoslav Army for crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia”.  That is a factual statement; it is the outcome of the Tribunal’s findings.  He has been sentenced to 20 years; 27 years’ imprisonment, and any further questions I would refer you to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

Correspondent:  I just try my best.

Deputy Spokesperson:  I know.  So do I [laughter].

Question:  Sure, I wanted to, on Libya, I wanted to know, what’s the, what’s the role now of this, Mr. Al-Khatib, as mediator?  I mean, there is this stand-off between the, the NTC and the Qadhafi supporters in Bani Walid which seems, which seems to call out for some kind of mediation; is he totally out of the game now?  When is the last time he went to Libya?  What is his continuing role with the UN as a mediator between these two parties?

Deputy Spokesperson:  He continues in his role as he had been appointed to, and it is a question now of the hostilities coming to a cessation and the transition over to the post Qadhafi era in Libya, where Ian Martin’s group will take over and do the work with the Transitional Council to implement the changes that are going to take place in Libya.

Question:  Did, I mean did the UN ask the NTC if they, if they had any desire for this kind of mediation and this, they have been obviously speaking to, to Qadhafi supporters and tribes there, but is there some, it seems to be a kind of a mediatable (sic), you know, mediation situation.  Is there no role for Mr. Al-Khatib in that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I’ll have to find out and get back to you on that.

Question:  Okay.  And, I want to ask you a question about Sri Lanka, if I could.  There is, I am going to be at a screening this afternoon here of a Government response to a film about alleged war crimes in 2009.  And I know that there was a lot, been a lot of questions in this room about whether the Secretary-General — since it criticizes the UN’s performance — has seen this movie called The Killing Field.  Has there been any update on Ban Ki-moon?  He was given a DVD by the producer.  Farhan Haq said he would see it when he had time.  Has he seen it and, and what is his, does he have any comment on it?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I am afraid I can’t answer that.  I don’t know if he has seen it or not.  One more question?

Question:  I was wondering if the Secretary-General feels [inaudible], is he calling for Muammar Qadhafi to turn himself in and fetch a future of carnage and bloodshed?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I think that the desire of the international community, as has been manifested, is that the situation, the violence in Libya, should cease, and that the democratic transition should take place.  I won’t go beyond that, but read into that what you may.

Question:  Going back to Haiti, there are reports that UN peacekeepers are having sex with local women and that these women are giving birth.  I mean, in one case the girl was 17.  So is the UN aware of this and are they investigating?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I am not aware of that particular case; I don’t have any information on that particular case, but we continue to investigate all issues of misconduct by UN peacekeepers and we try and do the best we can and take the fullest measures that we can to prevent these things from happening.  When they do happen, we investigate them and we have a zero-tolerance policy.  And if proven, we call on the signatory States to prosecute the people who are involved.

Question:  But does the UN have any policy on consensual relations with local women, between peacekeepers and local women?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I would have to check on that.  I imagine that the individual armed forces have their own fraternization policies which would have to be looked into, but I will check on that and we will provide a response.  Yes?

Question:  Yes, sir, I just want to know, I mean, given multiple questions on the Middle East, and especially the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, does the Secretary-General plan to unveil any plan, I mean, soon, as a vote is also impending on the statehood of, I mean, the Palestinian is going to ask for it?  A plan for furthering the Middle East process on the basis of Quartet or whatever, does he have any plan at all?  Has he thought about it at all?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General has the Middle East on his mind constantly; it is one of the major issues facing the global community.  And he is in constant contact with members of the Quartet and through his own Special Representative for the Middle East to follow on what is happening, to make suggestions when it is appropriate and to meet with the parties to make sure that the process begins again.

Question:  And on that question, do you know when the Quartet will hold its next meeting?

Deputy Spokesperson: We will find out and let you know.  Okay, thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen.  Have a good afternoon.

* *** *

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