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

20 January 2011

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

20 January 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.

**Security Council

Alain Le Roy, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, briefed the Security Council on Haiti in an open meeting this morning.  He said that, after a year marked by the devastating earthquake of 12 January last year, and the cholera epidemic, it is of paramount importance that the present political crisis is brought to a swift conclusion, so that the Government and people of Haiti can focus on the challenges of reconstruction and recovery.

He said that Haiti’s electoral commission has officially received the report of the Organization of American States’ technical mission and must now honour its commitment to fully take into account the report’s recommendations.  Le Roy said that if the electoral commission decides otherwise, Haiti may well face a constitutional crisis, with the possibility of considerable unrest and insecurity.  We have his remarks to the Council in my office, and Mr. Le Roy will be speaking to reporters at the stakeout.

Also, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos briefed the Council on efforts to combat the cholera epidemic.

**C ôte d’Ivoire

In a press conference today in Abidjan, Simon Munzu, the head of the Human Rights Division of the UN mission in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI), said that UNOCI had confirmed 13 new deaths due to post-electoral violence.  That brings the total number of those killed since the elections to at least 260.

In addition, Munzu reported seven new cases of disappearances — bringing the total number of missing people to 68.  He also cited cases of sexual violence in Abidjan, Bouaké, Duékoué and Man.

For his part, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Côte d’Ivoire, Ndolamb Ngokwey, said he was particularly concerned about cases of sexual violence in the western part of the country, involving minors between the ages of 6 and 9.

He also gave an update on the humanitarian assistance in the west, saying that the UN was providing water, hygiene kits and medical equipment to the displaced.  He said that the number of registered displaced persons remains at 16,000, with another 29,000 Ivorian refugees in Liberia and other neighbouring countries.


Michael Williams, the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, met with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri today, and they discussed the various international initiatives, most recently by Turkey and Qatar, and the prospect for achieving a new Government and political stability in Lebanon.

Mr. Williams told reporters afterwards that it is possible to have a new Government, provided that there is a goodwill and cooperation of all political parties in working for justice as well as stability.  We have his remarks in my office.

**Sri Lanka — Bragg Visit

On day two of her three-day visit in Sri Lanka, the Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, Catherine Bragg, travelled across the country to get a better understanding of humanitarian priorities.

Bragg travelled to two districts in the north, which have only recently been cleared of landmines, allowing 263 internally displaced families to return and begin rebuilding their lives.

There, Bragg stressed that, although significant progress has been made in meeting the needs of the displaced and promoting returns, those who have been released now face a daily struggle to rebuild their lives, and have to start from scratch.

She also travelled to the flood-ravaged eastern provinces to assess the extent of the damage, especially in the agricultural sector, which has lost 80 per cent of this season’s harvest in some places.

Bragg wrapped up the day by launching a flash appeal for $51 million to meet the urgent needs of 1 million people for the next six months due to the recent floods.  Meanwhile, a $6 million grant from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) has been allocated to start key life-saving projects listed in the flash appeal.


The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) says that soaring opium prices may induce more farmers to grow opium.  That’s based on an assessment of the findings in its 2010 Afghanistan Opium Survey, which UNODC released today.  The high prices are based on speculation arising from an opium blight that cut production in half in 2010 and from military operations.

In 2010, the report says, the average price of dry opium at harvest time increased by 164 per cent from 2009.  The average annual income of opium-growing households in 2009 was 17 per cent higher than for households that had stopped opium cultivation.  We have a pres release with more details.

I’m happy to take questions.  Yes, Khaled?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  [inaudible] in Lebanon.  It’s obvious that Turkish and Qatari efforts have also failed.  I mean they issued a statement saying that that they’ve basically given up their efforts.  So now the Saudis said they have given up their efforts.  The Turks, the Qataris… What is the Secretary-General… has he taken part in any contacts after all these developments?

Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, he’s just returned from the Gulf, where he has been speaking with officials there, both from the countries he visited and from those who were attending the Conference that we mentioned on the future of energy there in the United Arab Emirates.  I would refer you to what Mr. Williams has said, the full text of his remarks we have in my office.  But he’s made it clear that it is possible to have a new Government, but obviously that depends on goodwill on all sides and for there to be cooperation between all of the political parties.

Question:  I’m particularly worried about the security situation in Lebanon, there have also been security situations in Lebanon.  There were reports of movements by Hizbullah supporters, others.  The situation is far more tense maybe after Mr. Williams’ statement.

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General is keeping a close eye on Lebanon, that’s for sure.  Yes, Ali?

Question:  Has the United Nations taken any unusual measures to protect its staff and personnel in Lebanon?

Spokesperson:  I’ll check.  Usually we don’t comment on security arrangements.  But if that is not the case, I’ll let you know.  Yes, [inaudible], if it is related to Lebanon?

Question:  Do we know if Mr. Ban Ki-moon is aware that we are heading to partition as the Saudis said?  What is the reaction… when Mr. Ban Ki-moon spoke recently with Hariri?  I think he is not trying anymore for Prime Minister.

Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General spoke to Mr. Hariri when the Prime Minister visited New York recently.  That’s when he last spoke to Prime Minister Hariri.

Question:  They haven’t spoken over the phone?

Spokesperson:  Not to my knowledge, no.  Matthew?

Question:  Sure, on Darfur and also Sri Lanka.  In Darfur, I wanted to know whether, now, several days after it happened, UNAMID has any confirmation or I guess denial of shootings of students in El Fasher right near the UN’s base, reported by Radio Dabanga and others.  Has it been able to confirm that?  Or did it not take place?

Spokesperson:  What I can tell you is that, as the mission understands it, three students were hurt in this shooting incident at a high school in El Fasher, as you mentioned, on 18 January.  The mission tells us that those three students have been evacuated by the local authorities to Khartoum for medical treatment and one of them is listed in critical condition.

Question:  Who were they shot by, and why?

Spokesperson:  That I can’t tell you, I don’t know, I would need to find out.  But this is information that I have from the mission.

Question:  Can I also ask, the Sri Lankan Government has confirmed a visit to the United States by President Mahinda Rajapaksa.  I just wonder, is there any attempt made by this panel to try to speak with him?  Who are they speaking with, and do they see this as an opportunity to speak to somebody at least identified, in many media reports, as being involved certainly in the accountability process, but also in the underlying events?

Spokesperson:  Let me check, Matthew.  Yes, other questions?

Question:  I know the remarks made about the panel of inquiry into the Marmara incident yesterday.  I want to ask you again if there is still a deadline for the conclusion of the panel of inquiry’s work, because it was earlier stated that it was going to finish its work by the end of February.  Is this still the same, or has there been any change?

Spokesperson:  This obviously depends on the panel receiving the input from Israel, and we understand now that will be happening, as we’ve said, with a delay, which is disappointing, but it appears now to be happening in the coming days.  That means that the panel still needs to be able to look at both of the reports, from the Turkish national investigation commission and from the Israeli one, too.  So it’s for the panel to decide how long it will take them to complete that work.

Question:  Do you know if both sides are going to submit another report?  Because Turkey has given one, now Israel, I think, is going to give another one — will give one very soon.  But do you know if these are final reports?  Are they going to present any more documents or…?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think you’d have to ask the Turkish and Israeli authorities whether they consider those reports to be conclusive, or whether they consider that there will be more information coming.  As you know, as you mentioned yourself, time is pressing on.  The panel does need to complete its work, but in a very balanced way.  That is why the panel needs to receive information from both the Israeli authorities and from the Turkish authorities, which is already the case, as you know.

Question:  You mentioned that you expect the Israeli side to deliver the report in the next few days.  Is this like, the SG has been officially informed?

Spokesperson:  No, I’m just saying that we have been told that it is going to be forthcoming, but there is another delay, a slight delay, as I think we already told you yesterday.  And clearly, we want to see this happen promptly.  Yes, Ali?

Question:  Thank you again.  There is this draft resolution which was put in two days ago and it is before the Security Council.  This draft resolution has gained a lot of support internationally and there are 122 countries sponsoring the draft resolution.  Would the Secretary-General support an action from the Security Council despite US opposition?

Spokesperson:  As you know, Ali, it’s for the Security Council to deliberate on this, and it is not for the Secretary-General to comment on the work of the Security Council.  They have an important job and role here, and I know that they are looking at this very carefully.

Question:  On Ivory Coast, two days ago, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General said that former President [Laurent] Gbagbo was interested in having discussions about sharing power with President [Alassane] Ouattara.  It is also being reported today that he was looking to the opportunity to have some kind of direct talks with Ouattara.  But we have not had any indication as to the attitude of President Ouattara to these offers from former President Gbagbo.  Do you have any updates as to the response of President Ouattara to these offers by former President Gbagbo?

Spokesperson:  I think that’s something that you’d need to ask Mr. Ouattara’s spokesman in Abidjan.  What I can say is that we are supportive of the efforts of ECOWAS and the African Union to find a political solution to this crisis, which is obviously now dragging on.  You heard about this from the Special Representative of the Secretary-General when he spoke to you by videolink earlier this week.  Yes?

Question:  I have a follow-up.  It’s because he was the one that made that disclosure.  That is why I am asking, that if you are the Spokesman to the Secretary-General, he is the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, he was the one that said during that videolink that former President Gbagbo said that he wanted to have talks about sharing power with Ouattara.  But he did not have anything regarding Ouattara’s response.  So it’s not a question of me asking Ouattara’s people in Ivory Coast or not, because he was the one that gave that one-sided report.  So I’m asking you…

Spokesperson:  Well, it’s not…

Question:  It’s not about me going to talk to the guy in Ivory Coast.

Spokesperson:  That’s because Mr. Ouattara has his own spokesperson.  When the Secretary-General’s Special Representative briefed you, he gave you a snapshot of all kinds of elements — what’s happening on the streets, what’s happening politically, the humanitarian picture, and he was giving you an overview.  You know what the position has been from Mr. Ouattara when there have been previous calls of this kind.  And obviously, it’s for Mr. Ouattara or his spokesperson to say what the position is at this point.  Matthew?

Question:  On Georgia and Haiti.  In Georgia, beginning tomorrow, there are scheduled to be evictions of some 1,500 [internally displaced persons] from the Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions settled in Tblisi.  First, I want to know if there is any UN system involvement in stopping this or any comment on it, and two, whether this in any way falls within the ambit of the Secretary-General’s… whatever, his envoy on the issue of Georgia.  Does he have any…?  These are people from Abkhazia that are now being ejected.

Spokesperson:  I will ask my colleagues about that.  What’s your question on Haiti?

Question:  Maybe I misunderstood it… just factually…  Michèle Montas, my understanding is that she is still paid as a special adviser to Mr. [Edmond] Mulet.  And she’s obviously now widely reportedly known to be one of the complaint-filers against Mr. [Jean-Claude] Duvalier.  I wanted to know, what is the relation between that probably laudable action and her UN employment?  Did she check with Mulet?  Are there any rules applicable to the outside activities of UN officials or staff?

Spokesperson:  Ms. Montas was speaking in her personal capacity, as she has every right to do on a matter of that kind.

Question:  I’m aware of UN staff being told that they cannot participate in non-violent events outside of the UN.  I know of a UN employee from Serbia who was told not to participate in a protest on 47th Street regarding the UN’s position on Kosovo.  And they were told you can’t do it, even on a weekend.  That’s why I’m asking — maybe it’s OLA [Office of Legal Affairs] or OHRM [Office of Human Resources Management], but are you sure that there are no rules applicable to this?  Because…

Spokesperson:  I’m not talking about the rules here.  I am saying that Michèle has made it clear that she has been speaking in a personal capacity and in this particular matter, she has every right to do so.  Yes, Iftikhar?

Question:  Has there been any official request from Pakistan to the United Nations for help in dealing with the earthquake in Balochistan?

Spokesperson:  I would ask my colleagues in the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs if what I’m about to say is not outdated.  My understanding is that the Office has been in close touch with the Pakistani authorities.  One, to get an assessment of the damage and the needs where the earthquake took place, where it occurred, and secondly, to make it clear that the United Nations stands ready to assist if Pakistan asks for assistance on this particular matter.  Obviously, already, the United Nations has a substantial presence there to help with the aftermath of the floods.

Question:  It’s been reported that Human Rights Watch will be presenting soon its annual world report in which it will criticize what it calls the Secretary-General’s failure to speak out on human rights in China.  What is your response to the subject?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think the Secretary-General has spoken very clearly about this topic a number of times.  He’s been very clear about his view on this, and I don’t have anything to add at this point.  Yes?

Question:  Just a quick follow-up on the Ivory Coast. I know that the ECOWAS chiefs are meeting in Bamako this week.  I want to know whether the UN has some kind of representation in that meeting.  Is any UN representative attending that meeting or not?

Spokesperson:  Not to my knowledge.  I think that it’s obvious that the United Nations would be very keen to ensure that it’s fully briefed on what is happening, but I’m not aware of a presence at the meeting.  Okay?  Thank you very much.

Question:  On UNRWA… [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East]

Spokesperson:  Sorry?

Question:  On UNRWA, there are these reports of John Ging leaving his post of head of UNRWA in Gaza.  One, can you confirm them, and what post is he taking up?  It’s reported that he’s coming to New York, but the article didn’t say which he’s taking.

Spokesperson:  Yes, I can confirm that John Ging is being promoted to a senior post in the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs as the Director of its Coordination and Response Division.  As you know, he’s been serving with UNRWA for almost five years, and he’s expected to take up the new position in New York in a couple of weeks.

Question:  And I just wanted to know…

Spokesperson:  Is it about UNRWA?

Question:  It’s not, it’s about this Montas thing, but is a separate question.  I just want to understand, is it the case that, a UN official, as long as it’s personal, it’s in a personal capacity, it’s not a matter of the UN checking the content?  If an official spoke in favour of Gbagbo, for example, would that be fine, as long as it was in a personal capacity?

Spokesperson:  What we’re talking about is a lawsuit that Ms. Montas and three others are bringing.  That’s what we’re talking about.  That’s the point here.

Question:  Lately, you may have seen this, there this call by a group saying that Richard Falk, this special… this is a UN system… I understand he is a Special Rapporteur.  He’s endorsed what’s called a kind of a 9/11 conspiracy theory, the allegation that 9/11 was caused, not by those in the plane, but was somehow covered up, so people have asked the UN to somehow take a position on it.  Is that something that the UN just says, that’s his personal opinion?

Spokesperson:  Well, that’s not connected at all with the topic we were talking about.

Question:  It has to do with UN-affiliated people taking actions or making statements…

Spokesperson:  I think you answered the question yourself quite nicely that Special Rapporteurs and other independent experts are working, either reporting to the Human Rights Council or to other bodies, and they’re not speaking on behalf of the UN when they speak in their personal capacity.  That’s… that happens quite a lot.

Question:  So if a UN official were suing Ouattara, for example, someone who the UN supports, that would be fine, so long as it’s a lawsuit?  I wonder if the UN checked what she’s doing… I mean, I’m in favour of what’s she’s doing, but…

Spokesperson:  It’s really beside the point whether you’re in favour or not, Matthew, to be honest.

Question:  But I want to make it clear.  Are you, from this podium, saying that UN officials can sue any former or current president they want to, as long as it’s a lawsuit and it’s personal?

Spokesperson:  Well, Matthew, I think it’s really appropriate to try to extrapolate from one particular case that we’re talking about to suddenly apply this across the board, I think that’s a bit of a leap.  There are obviously rules that apply in various contexts, and I think that you can be sure that Ms. Montas will have been speaking to her colleagues in the Mission before she spoke.

Question:  But that’s just what I mean.  Can we attribute this action to the UN?

Spokesperson:  Now you’re changing the tack all together.  Look, I’ve said it’s in her personal capacity…  Matthew, it’s not about vetting, it’s about informing, and that’s very different.

Question:   And if they said don’t…

Spokesperson:  Well, again, this is hypothetical.  I don’t want to go down the line of “if”, “could” …

Question:  I just want to find out what happened in this one case.

Spokesperson:  I’ve told you what happened.

Question:  What did you say?

Spokesperson:  You heard what I said, and I’m not going to keep going down that track, and I wish you all a good afternoon.  Thank you very much, thank you.

* *** *

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