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

24 January 2011

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

24 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 Farhan Haq, Acting Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Just to let you know, the Secretary-General is aware of the deadly bombing today at Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport, and we do expect a statement on that shortly.  It is not ready just yet.


The UN-African Union mission in Darfur (UNAMID) reports that the Sudanese Government on Sunday conducted an extensive cordon-and-search operation in the Zamzam camp for internally displaced persons (IDP), which is located on the outskirts of El Fasher, North Darfur.  The mission says the authorities informed UNAMID of their plans nearly three hours after they were set in motion.  According to the mission, the reasons invoked for the measure were to search for and arrest criminal elements, seize weapons and confiscate illegal substances.

As the action did not abide by an agreement between UNAMID and the Government, requiring notification and consultations prior to any actions regarding internally displaced camps, the senior leadership of the Mission urgently contacted the Government security officials and the Wali, or Governor, of North Darfur to address the matter.

The Joint Special Representative, Ibrahim Gambari, called on the authorities to act with the utmost restraint, particularly with regard to the use of force, and to ensure that no one is harmed.

Mr. Gambari also instructed that the mission rapidly dispatch an integrated team of its civilian, police and military personnel, joined by an inter-agency assessment group, to the camp to ensure that the safety and rights of the community were respected.  A UN mission patrol and team were initially denied access for security reasons, but were eventually allowed to proceed.


As Somalia approaches the anniversary of two decades without a functioning national Government, the United Nations called on the international community to step up its support to the war-torn nation as it struggles to consolidate peace, stability and progress for its people.

The UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator, Mark Bowden, said: “Somalia is one of the world’s most intractable crises.”  He said that, despite decades of conflict, many of Somalia’s development indicators have improved since 1991 and the United Nations and local partners have increased support for the provision of essential social services to vulnerable communities.

Mr. Bowden said progress is possible even in these difficult circumstances.  Across the country, increasing numbers of children are enrolling in schools, health clinics are opening and the economy, led by the agricultural, banking and telecom sectors, is growing rapidly.  But he also warned that much more needs to be done.


António Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, wrapped up a three-day visit to Iraq today.  In his meetings with officials — including President Jalal Talabani and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki — he underlined the need for a Government-led action plan to allow thousands of Iraqis uprooted abroad and within the country to return home.  Mr. Guterres also stressed that forcing people to return home against their will where insecurity prevails is unacceptable.

**Press Conferences

Tomorrow at noon, the guest at the briefing will be Michelle Bachelet, the Executive Director of the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, known as UN Women.

At 3 p.m., Jack Lang, the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on legal issues related to piracy off the coast of Somalia, will give an update on recent developments.

And at 4 p.m., there will be a press briefing by Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.  All these briefings will be in this room.

That’s it for me.  Yes, James?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  It’s a question about Haiti and the prosecution of [Jean-Claude] “Baby Doc” Duvalier, the former dictator.  Has there been any meeting between MINUSTAH [United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti] officials and Haitian judicial officials about possible support the United Nations could provide towards the prosecution, bearing in mind that the UN has helped with judicial cases and other cases abroad?  Second part of the question, the former Spokesperson, Michèle Montas, is a UN adviser to the Special Representative there, but she is also involved in a case against “Baby Doc” for human rights abuses.  Is that in her capacity as a private Haitian citizen?  Does that in any way impact her role in the United Nations?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  On your second question first, you’re absolutely right, that is in her private capacity as a Haitian citizen, and she’s exercising her legal rights in her capacity as a Haitian citizen.  This is not related to her work for the United Nations, and she made that clear to us as she was doing that.  Beyond that, I’m not aware of any meetings between the United Nations Mission and the Haitian Government regarding any support for the case involving Mr. Duvalier.  As far as I know, that has not come up.  Yes?

Question:  I’d like to know your position on a Human Rights Watch report.  The report said that Mr. Ban avoids putting pressure on abusive Governments, and they mentioned his visit to China as an example of that.  Also his position on what’s happening in Tunisia can be a good example on that.  So what do you have to say?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, the Secretary-General is a defender of human rights around the world.  As you know, he is a staunch supporter of the work that the United Nations system does in human rights and we are, as you know, the safe-guarder of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  The Secretary-General does value the role of independent human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, in promoting human rights around the world.

Now, what this report seems to be about is also about a dispute about quiet diplomacy versus more vocal diplomacy.  Regarding that, the Secretary-General’s view is that diplomacy and public pressure are not mutually exclusive.  They are separate tactics, if you will.  In each particular case, the Secretary-General makes a strategic decision on the most effective way to secure respect for human rights and accountability.  He has applied public pressure where he has considered it the most likely means to achieve results.

The record shows that the Secretary-General has achieved results, both through quiet diplomacy as well as public pressure.  For example, in quiet diplomacy, you’ve seen certain results in improving basic rights of civilians in places like Darfur, or for example in the case of Malawi, where he made an intercession regarding the gay couple in that country.  So there’s a series of different situations, and he evaluates each case individually, to see whether it’s a case where public pressure or quiet diplomacy will be more useful, and then acts accordingly.  Yes?

Question:  The Nigerian Minister for Foreign Affairs has called on the United Nations… he’s writing a history published in the Nigerian dailies today calling on the UN to support the use of force in Côte d’Ivoire.  I’d like to get your comments, thoughts on this.  And again, the Secretary-General informed us during his press briefing for the year that he has been in touch with President Goodluck Jonathan about his plans to send ECOWAS [Economic Community of West African States] envoys to the UN, maybe to the United States, to brief them on their planned actions in Côte d’Ivoire.  I would like to also find out whether the names of the envoys who will visit the UN have been made public to the UN?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I’m not aware of the names of these envoys.  That’s really a question for ECOWAS.  Regarding the question of the use of force, as you know, the UN has a mission on the ground.  That mission has a mandate that would potentially allow it to use force under a variety of situations having to do with its specific Security Council mandate.  Aside from that, I know there’s been a discussion going on about whether there would be a separate entity of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) that would go into Côte d’Ivoire with its own mandate.  Any question of a mandate for that separate type of ECOWAS force, though, is a question ultimately for the members of the Security Council to consider.  And we would leave it to the Security Council to determine what kind of authorization they would be willing to give that group.  Yes, Tala?

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  The Israeli Government has come up with their own decision on the flotilla raid and they are going to be presenting it to the Panel, the UN-selected Panel.  They have a part two, in terms of additional information they want to send.  Do we have any idea of a date in February where that’s going to all come together and we’ll be able to get something from the commission?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  At this stage, I don’t have a precise date.  We’re hopeful that we can get this completed by February.  The crucial thing was, of course, to get the reports from Israel and Turkey.  Now we can confirm that the Panel of Experts, headed by Sir Geoffrey Palmer, has now received those two reports, so now hopefully it can go along with this work and we’ll see how quickly it can now conclude it.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  As you know, on Western Sahara, the fifth round has come and has passed without achieving any substantive progress.  The parties still reject each other’s proposal, and last week I asked a question about the duration of this conflict, which is close to 35 years.  And the Spokesperson said the Secretary-General is very concerned about the duration.  Can you find out for us, please, how much this conflict has cost the United Nations, inclusive numbers from the budget department, office, and relating to all the activities on this conflict, including the discussions in the General Assembly, in the Fourth Committee, in the Security Council, the…

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  It would be very difficult to parse out the specific expenses of, for example, General Assembly services and so forth for each year for those specific topics.  We don’t break down General Assembly costs of services by year.  What we could do is give you the expense of what MINURSO [United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara] has cost since its creation.  That is a figure we have.  I believe the figures for MINURSO’s expenses are even available on its website.  But we could provide you with that.  Yes?

Question:  Concerning the meeting between the UN Secretary-General and the Estonian Foreign Minister, Urmas Paet, last Friday, besides the Middle East and issues such as UN Women and Sudan, did they discuss human rights violations by the authoritarian regime of President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  All I have for you is the readout that we provided on Friday afternoon.  Beyond that, I don’t have any further details to provide.  I will bet you this is a statement on Russia.  It is. 

**Statement on Moscow Airport Bombing

I have the following statement, attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, concerning the bombing in Russia:

The Secretary-General is appalled by the deadly bombing today at Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport, which has reportedly killed dozens of people and injured more than a hundred.  The Secretary-General condemns this deplorable and unjustifiable act of violence against innocents.  He conveys his deepest condolences to the families of the victims and his solidarity with the Government and people of the Russian Federation.  Yes?

Question:  About the democratic process in Lebanon, obviously, Saad Hariri, the caretaker, has decided not to take part in the future Government.  Do you think that this division can affect, in any way, the work of UNIFIL [United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon]?  And what’s the opinion of the United Nations regarding the current process of forming a new Government by the opposition?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, we wouldn’t comment on the precise political makeup of any Government.  We have simply stressed in general that we would like the process by which a Government is formed in Lebanon to be one of dialogue.  And certainly, we are hopeful that the parties will work with each other towards forming a Government.  Regarding the effects on the work of UNIFIL, UNIFIL goes about its own work.  It assesses the situation on the ground as needed and makes any adjustments to its forces as needed.  But at this stage, UNIFIL is enjoying good cooperation from the Lebanese authorities, as per usual.

Question:  I just have a follow-up about that.  How concerned are you about the Hariri supporters cutting roads and burning tires and making riots in many areas of south Lebanon, including the south?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  That’s a hypothetical claim.  I don’t really have anything to say about that.  Yes, Ali?

Question:  Is the United Nations going to cooperate with the new Government that’s going to be formed by the opposition, led by Hizbullah?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  At this stage, I don’t want to prejudge what the composition of a new Government would be.  We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.  Yes, Barbara?  Barbara has been waiting.  Yes, please, Barbara?

Question:  Just to follow up on the question about the Human Rights Watch report, does the Secretary-General have a response to specific examples that Human Rights Watch mentioned, where they felt that his quiet diplomacy had failed?  For example, they say there was a tepid response to repression in Myanmar; political prisoners, aside from Aung San Suu Kyi, weren’t released, despite calls from the UN.  And they also specifically said that quiet diplomacy was too often other interests at stake, really, rather than diplomacy.  And here, the suspicion that the Secretary-General did not publicly call for release of Liu Xiaobo in China for that reason… those specific examples where they felt quiet diplomacy was regressive or didn’t work.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, actually on those two specific examples, those are both cases… both China and Myanmar are cases where the Secretary-General did speak out in those very countries about human rights.  In Myanmar, I believe in 2009, the Secretary-General gave a very strong speech, and actually a speech that deals very sharply with the issue of human rights, while he was in Yangon.  Similarly, last year, if you look at his speech to a university that has trained many of the future leaders of China, that also includes language on human rights and I’d suggest you look at the language of those particular speeches.  He did not shy away from the topic of human rights in either country.  Yes?

Question:  What I talked about is not hypothetical, because the riots have already started in Lebanon.  This is happening in Sidon, in Tripoli, Barja and many areas.  The supporters of Hariri have already blocked the roads.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, Michael Williams, our Special Coordinator in Lebanon, has been dealing, has been talking with all of the various parties, all the various factions in Lebanon.  He will continue to talk with them and he has been keeping the press advised of his various meetings.  If he has any particular comments to make about the current situation, we’ll share those with you as they arise.  Yes?

Question:  Yes, it’s about the Human Rights Watch report.  If the Secretary-General has some comment on the matter about the immigrants, the illegal immigrants, especially in the open sea, where the report says that a certain country, I’m referring especially to Italy… They condemned the policy, the Italian policy of pushing back those immigrants in the open sea.  Because there already UN report that are condemning, too, I would like to know the reaction of the Secretary-General.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I think the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has spoken out very clearly about the issue of people on the open seas.  And I believe, regarding Italy, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has also spoken out about that.  So I just refer you to what they have said.  Yes, IPS?

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  I have a question on the recent documents published by Al Jazeera entitled “The Palestine Papers”, in which negotiations show that the [Palestinian Authority] was willing to concede almost all of East Jerusalem, to which Israel offered virtually nothing in return.  I’m just wondering, in light of these negotiations, whether the Secretary-General will be planning on taking a more firm stance with Israel and its aggressive policy of settlement building.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, the Secretary-General’s views on settlement building are well known.  Regarding the documents disclosed by Al Jazeera, the one thing I want to point out is that in the aftermath of the publication of certain documents in the media, the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry, said that some of the commentary he has seen conveys an inaccurate impression.  Mr. Serry said he could personally attest to the commitment of the Palestinian leadership to secure the legitimate rights and interests of the Palestinian people, based on international law and UN resolutions.  At this crucial time, he urged both parties to show their readiness for a negotiated peace based on a two-State solution, and to deliver on the ground.  It is to the genuine credit of the Palestinian leadership that they are doing so, and this is widely acknowledged in the United Nations, he said.  Yes?

Question:  Does Mr. Ban have any comment about the flotilla report of Israel?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  In terms of that, the only real comment that we have had to make is that I can confirm that the Secretary-General’s Panel of Inquiry received a copy of the Turkel Committee’s report on Sunday.  As you know, to help complete their important mandate, it is essential for the Panel to review material provided by both sides, Israel and Turkey.

Question:  What is the next step of this process?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the next step is really in the hands of the Panel that is headed by Sir Geoffrey Palmer.  They now have both reports and they now can prepare their own response, after they review the material that they received from the two sides.  Yes?

Question:  When Turkey submitted its report in September last year, they didn’t disclose it.  But Israel made public the report yesterday.  Isn’t there any rule about this disclosing the material and the reports?  And also the second question is, Turkey has made public the report today and what we see from these two reports is that they are contradictory to each other.  What they say is just opposite of each other.  So in such a circumstance, what can the UN Panel of Inquiry do?  Because there are opposing views.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we leave it to the Panel of Inquiry to decide how they will deal with the contents of these reports.  Remember, it was envisioned when the Panel was set up that it would look at reports from both Israel and Turkey, and then take into account any other information as needed.  And so this is what the Panel is doing.  Now, it has received both reports and it will evaluate them.  And it’s up for them also to evaluate whether there was any problem having to do with the public disclosure of any of the contents.

Question:  So there are not any rules about it?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Like I said, I’ll leave it over to the Panel themselves to make a determination about whether the matters have been handled appropriately or not.

Question:  I still don’t understand what the next and after the next step of this process.  The SG is going to put his own view, I guess, of the Palmer people… Will they go to the Security Council or something or what?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  It will be up to the Secretary-General to determine what the next step is once he receives the report from the Palmer Panel.  Hopefully now that the inputs have been received, they can set about to completing their work.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you.  At the start of the meeting, you read a few minutes ago about the attack at the airport, I noticed that the communiqué is very carefully drafted.  The Secretary-General does not refer to the attackers as terrorists; why?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  As you can see, I just was handed this statement, mere minutes ago.  I have no further information.  Yes, Mr. Shabazz? Speak up, though, since you’re way back.

Correspondent:  With these seats, this is better for my arthritis.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Oh, I’m very sorry about that.

Question:  It’s okay.  You’ll get to that point one day.  The question I have is about Haiti and the election.  Now it’s being said that the Government has until 31 January to accept the commission’s report.  Actually the electoral commission has until 31 January to accept the OAS [Organization of American States] recommendations for how to move ahead with the election.  President [René] Préval constitutionally is supposed to leave by 7 February.  Now, last Tuesday, I handed over… or I had Martin go to Maxine Waters’ website, where she is claiming that the UN, US and possibly OAS were in a secret meeting in Haiti, discussing what flight or what way Mr. Préval was going to be removed from the country.  Now, I haven’t come back and said: “Is this true, is this not true.”  But if the election now was not going to be held on 31 March, and he’s supposed to leave the country on 7 February, what is the UN… Is the UN now finding itself in a ticklish situation?  Because you’ve got MINUSTAH on the ground, you’re going to have a President whose constitutional reign runs out by 7 February… Is there discussion, either here or in Port-au-Prince, about what to do, since the election now, it seems, is not going to be held until… the run-off will not be held until March?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, we are always in discussions with authorities on the ground about our presence there.  Beyond that, it’s up to the constitutional authorities in Haiti to determine what the next steps are for the run-off.  What we have said is that we support the work that’s been done by the Organization of American States, and certainly we hope that will be taken up.  Yes?

Question:  I may have missed something because I got called out of the room but again, on the Human Rights Watch report, it points to a couple points.  It makes a couple of particular critiques of Ban Ki-moon and it points especially to, not just his failure to speak out on Myanmar, but his failure to speak strongly about the elections and, in fact, his optimism about the elections as they approached.  And it also talks about…

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I wouldn’t characterize his view about the elections as they approached as optimism.  You can see what our statements themselves said.

Question:  Okay, the other thing I was interested in is it talks about the UN’s deferential attitude towards Sri Lankan wartime atrocities.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well on that, what I can tell you is, on Sri Lanka, the Secretary-General appointed an advisory panel, which will present its report to the Secretary-General soon.  It would not be proper to prejudge the value of its work in promoting accountability and, more importantly, preventing human rights violations in Sri Lanka and other countries in future.  But certainly, we are at work on that.  Regarding Myanmar, the Secretary-General has continued to press for inclusiveness in the process there, and I would just refer you to the very large number of statements he has made, both before and after the elections.  They’re not by any means optimistic about the situation.

And with that, I wish you all a good afternoon.

* *** *

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