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

28 January 2011

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

28 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.

**Secretary-General in Davos

The Secretary-General spoke at a session of the World Economic Forum in Davos today, and he said that climate change is showing us that the old model for economic growth, which was based on an abundance of natural resources, is not just obsolete, but extremely dangerous.  Over time, he said, that model is a global suicide pact.  The Secretary-General called for a free market revolution for global sustainability, and he urged leaders to send the right signals to build the green economy.

He also addressed the press in Davos and discussed the efforts to foster progress on climate change and sustainable development.  Asked about Egypt, he said that all concerned people and leaders should ensure that the situation does not lead to further violence.  He emphasized that freedom of expression and association should be fully respected.

And on Côte d’Ivoire, he urged Laurent Gbagbo and his camp to fully respect the will of the Ivorian people, which has been expressed through the election.  And the transcript is available online.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

Next week, the Secretary-General will travel from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to London, where he will meet with senior officials, including Prime Minister David Cameron and Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs William Hague.  While in the United Kingdom, the Secretary-General will deliver the Cyril Foster Lecture at Oxford University, and he will also give an address at the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in London.

He will then travel to Berlin, where he will hold talks with senior German officials and speak at Humboldt University.  The last leg of the Secretary-General’s trip will be in Munich, where he will address the Munich Security Conference.  And as we announced previously, he will attend a meeting of the Middle East Quartet while he is Munich.  He will be back in New York on Sunday, 6 February.

** Egypt

The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has urged the Government of Egypt to exercise restraint and to protect the rights of its citizens to freedom of expression, information and assembly.

Ms. Pillay noted reports of police confronting protestors with rubber-coated bullets, tear gas, water cannons and batons since the street protests erupted.  While maintaining law and order are important, the responsibility of the Government to protect the rights to life, liberty and security is paramount, she stressed.

The High Commissioner called on the Government to initiate investigations into reports of the use of excessive force, particularly the killing of at least five civilians.

** Lebanon

Michael Williams, the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, met with Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati today.

He said afterwards that he had underlined the importance of maintaining calm and stability in Lebanon during this period.  Mr. Williams reiterated the position of the United Nations that all sides need to engage in dialogue to resolve differences, no matter how sensitive. 

And in that respect, he said, he is sure that the new Government, when it is formed, will maintain good relations with the United Nations and will fully abide by its international obligations.

** Afghanistan

The United Nations Assistance Mission for Afghanistan (UNAMA) has condemned an attack on a supermarket in the centre of Kabul today, which has reportedly killed at least six civilians, including a child.  The Mission says that this terrible attack comes on the heels of a number of attacks on Afghan civilians across the country in the first weeks of this year.  There can be no credible claim that this or other attacks involve legitimate targets, when these attacks indiscriminately kill and injure civilians.

** Côte d’Ivoire

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) reports that the number of Ivorian refugees who fled post-election violence to eastern Liberia has topped 31,000.  The agency is planning for a second airlift of relief supplies — including blankets and kitchen sets — for Monrovia this weekend.  It also notes that the influx of refugees from Côte d’Ivoire to other neighbouring countries, such as Guinea and Togo, has been small and slow to date.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

The UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) is concerned about a steady increase in rapes in North and South Kivu, allegedly perpetrated by members of foreign and Congolese armed groups, as well as elements of the Congolese Armed Forces, since the beginning of this year.

Some of the worst offences took place in early January in Fizi, where Congolese Armed Forces elements were alleged to be involved in a number of violent incidents and rapes.  The Mission welcomes the promptness with which the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo arrested 11 Armed Forces personnel, including the officer in charge of the operation, for their alleged involvement in the incidents.

And since then, at least 53 additional rapes were committed in the Moyens Plateaux, with members of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda believed to be involved.  The Mission has increased its protection activities in several areas to respond to the rapes, including through stepped-up patrolling activities and dispatches of joint protection teams.  I can also tell you that yesterday MONUSCO peacekeepers from the Indian contingent successfully rescued seven women taken hostage by Mai Mai fighters in the North Kivu village of Ntoto.  Reports about the hostage taking were made to the North Kivu Brigade by villagers in the region.  And then the Brigade acted swiftly, cordoned off the village and negotiated the release of the women with any fight.  And those negotiations lasted about two hours.

**Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS

The Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) has expressed its grave concern over the killing of David Kato, a prominent Ugandan gay activist and human rights defender.  Michel Sidibé, the Executive Director of UNAIDS, urged the Ugandan Government to carry out a thorough investigation into Mr. Kato’s death and to ensure adequate security for the country’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens.  Mr. Kato’s death came days after the High Court of Uganda ruled that the country’s Constitution protects the rights to dignity and privacy for all Ugandans, regardless of their sexual orientation.

**Children and Armed Conflict

This weekend, Under-Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict Radhika Coomaraswamy will be visiting Afghanistan to sign an agreement with the Afghan Government to stop the use and recruitment of children in the Afghan National Security Forces.  And Ms. Coomaraswamy will be here at the Noon Briefing on 3 February to report on that trip to you.

That’s what I have.  Questions, please?  Yes, Anita?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Has there been, or will there be, or can we get a statement on the arrest of this big opposition leader in Egypt, Mr. [Mohamed El]Baradei?

Spokesperson:  Well, what I can tell you, as the Secretary-General has already been saying, is that freedom of expression and association should be fully respected, and he is also urging the authorities to see the situation — and this applies not just to Egypt but to other countries in the region — to see this kind of situation as an opportunity to engage in addressing the legitimate concerns and wishes of their people.  If I have something further on that particular point, then I would let you know.

Question:  May I follow up, please?  Does Mr. Ban share the opinion of the High Commissioner about the situation in Egypt?  Why has he had two different statements, one each from Ban Ki-moon and the High Commissioner for Human Rights?

Spokesperson:  Not two different statements.  The High Commissioner is the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  It’s her job to speak out on that specific area.  The Secretary-General himself has been speaking out on the same topic, just in a different setting.  He was in Davos speaking.  Ms. Pillay has made this statement in her capacity as the Commissioner for Human Rights, and she has called for restraint and to protect the rights of citizens to freedom of expression and information and assembly.  The Secretary-General has said precisely the same thing in Davos this morning.  And that’s a very important point.  He has been very clear on this.  Yes?

Question:  The seven women that were released in North Kivu — is there any evidence they were raped?

Spokesperson:  I need to check on that.  To my knowledge that is not the case.  [He later said that there was no sign the women had been raped.]

Question:  In the negotiation, was there anything offered to the captors to let them…

Spokesperson:  As I say, what I have read out is what I have for you at the moment, and I am sure my colleagues in DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] are listening to this and will help to provide some more details.  [He later added that there had been no ransom paid.]

Question:  Has anything like this ever happened before and could this be a model for other situations like that?  It’s a great success, it seems.

Spokesperson:  I am sure it’s not the first time this has happened.  It’s an important development and clearly, as I was saying, the Mission has said it will step up its activities with these joint protection teams, and I know that they are also considering establishing a strengthened military presence in these areas as part of their efforts to try to address this problem.

Question:  As a result of the reforms that were made after the incident…?

Spokesperson:  As we said at the time, what happened was unacceptable, and lessons were there to be learned by the Mission, by the humanitarian community, by the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and so these lessons have been studied and learned, and changes have been introduced as part of that.  Bill, is this on…?

Correspondent:  Egypt.  Does the Secretary-General concur with Ms. Pillay that the 30-year-old emergency law should be lifted and then that investigations should be conducted into the use of excessive force and the reported deaths of five civilians participating in the protests?

Spokesperson:  Well, clearly, it is obvious that where there are reports of excessive use of force, that those reports should be investigated.  I think that is fairly clear.  Yes?

Question:  My other question was concerning Ms. Pillay’s call for the end of the state of emergency that legalizes censorship and enhances police powers and so forth.

Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General said very clearly this morning that he believes that one of the ground principles of democracy is to protect and ensure the freedom of speech of the people.  And he also spoke about the need for freedom of expression and association to be fully respected.  Yes, Ali?

Question:  Thank you.  Is the Secretary-General worried of any kind of domino effect, because of what has happened in Tunisia and what is going on now in Egypt?  Is he worried because the Arab world order is in danger now?

Spokesperson:  He has made very clear… he has spoken today about Egypt, but not just about Egypt.  He spoke about Tunisia and Egypt and indeed elsewhere.  And the key point is that leaders in the region should understand that it is an opportunity to address legitimate concerns that the people in those countries have.  And it is through dialogue with the people that the leaders can better understand what the people of those countries aspire to, what they wish for.  And then they will be better able to address the challenges that they all face.  But the key thing is that this should be done without violence and through dialogue. 

Question:  Has the Secretary-General taken note of the incarceration and house arrest of Mr ElBaradei?  Does he have anything to say about that?

Spokesperson:  I was asked a similar question just earlier, and the Secretary-General is aware of the reports — and there are differing reports out there.  He is aware of the reports that there are, and if I have anything further on this topic then I’d let you know a bit later.  Yes?

Question:  Yesterday, there was a report in The Guardian, it was based on an interview with Rob Orr, and basically said that the Secretary-General has decided to no longer take a hands-on approach on climate change negotiations and he is going to step… while advocating for it, he will step back so that Governments pursue it in their own way.  Is that accurate?  And also, if it is, what happens then to the climate change offices here in New York, and that support team?

Spokesperson:  Well, first of all the article was not based on an interview with Bob Orr.  He was one of a number of people interviewed for that.  And the Secretary-General has addressed this topic very clearly today in Davos, speaking about the linkage between sustainable development and climate change.  So, that’s the first point — that there is no question of disengaging.  It’s a question of approaching this in a joined up fashion, and you saw the Secretary-General’s hands-on involvement in Cancún.  He met with President [Jacob] Zuma in Davos and part of their conversation was about the next meeting which will be taking place in South Africa, COP-17 [Seventeenth Conference of Parties], and the Secretary-General will be as active there.  He also has, in addition, an extremely dynamic negotiator in the person of Christiana Figueres, who heads the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and she was a tremendous force for change in the run up to Cancún and will be in the run up to the meeting in South Africa.

Question:  So the premise of the article is more or less correct, then?

Spokesperson:  No, to the contrary, the two are not mutually exclusive, in any case.  But to the contrary, the Secretary-General remains actively involved.  He also has a very active negotiator.  What happened in the run up to Cancún was the recognition by everybody, and Bob Orr has explained that from here, the recognition by everybody that you are not going to get the big bang deal anytime soon.  So you aim for the small, incremental gains that you can make — small, but important.  And that’s what you saw in Cancún in five different areas, including on deforestation, for example, and in other areas — adaptation and the transfer of technology.  That’s the approach.  And it’s all about seeing a big picture, that climate change is part of the bigger picture of sustainable development.  But it remains a key priority and a defining priority for the Secretary-General.

Question:  And the climate change task force headed by Janos Pasztor remains?

Spokesperson:  Janos Pasztor has a very specific role with regard to sustainable development, and as I have just said to you, this is all part of the same picture.  Yes, Joe?

Question:  Back to Egypt for a moment, given that Mr. ElBaradei used to run an important UN agency, you’d expect he should make a statement on his arrest today.  And to turn Ali’s questions around slightly, rather than is he worried about the domino effect, is he encouraged that this could bring about reforms?

Spokesperson:  Well, look, the point on the first question, we’re aware of the reports.  The Secretary-General is aware of the reports.  And if I have anything to add then I will let you know later.  On the second point, as I have just said a number of times, the people in the region have concerns, legitimate concerns and wishes.  And they are seeking to express those through being able to speak openly, whether that is through use of the Internet, whether that is peaceful protests on the street.  The key elements are that both the people and the leaders should avoid this escalating into violence and that the leaders in the countries concerned see this as an opportunity to engage and listen to the legitimate concerns of the people and their wishes.

Question:  He is encouraged by the opportunity?  Does he also condemn the shutting down of various social media and the fact that citizens are not allowed to just march on the street, they are being met with force?

Spokesperson:  Well, I’d said earlier, he was specifically asked that question in Davos and he said:  “I believe that one of the ground principles of democracy is to protect and ensure the freedom of speech of the people.”  And that was, he said that in…

Question:  He didn’t respond by using the word “condemn”.

Spokesperson:  It’s not a question of condemning… it’s a question of this being a clear principle of democracy, that people should be able to enjoy freedom of speech.  Yes, Ali?

Question:  Lebanon.  You said that Mr. Williams met with the newly designated Prime Minister, and Mr. Mikati said that he strongly supports Security Council resolution 1701 (2006).  Mr. Williams hasn’t mentioned other important resolutions, 1559 (2004), 1757 (2007); my first question is whether Mr. Williams conveyed any specific message from the Secretary-General to Mr. Mikati and why he avoided to mention the other resolutions.  Has Mr. Mikati said he will not abide with the…?

Spokesperson:  Well, I wouldn’t over-interpret that, Ali.  But I would ask you to check with Mr. Williams’ office if you want further details beyond the statement which he has issued from Beirut.  He did specifically talk about, that any new Government, once formed, would maintain — he hoped that, and was sure that it would maintain good relations with the United Nations and would fully abide by its international obligations.  So, it may be that you could speak to Mr. Williams’ office to see…

Question:  Did he convey any message from the Secretary-General?

Spokesperson:  Well, to the extent that he has reiterated the points the Secretary-General has made, and you have heard me repeat from here on numerous occasions, namely the importance of maintaining calm and stability, and that the need to engage in dialogue to resolve differences, no matter how sensitive — those are messages that the Secretary-General has publicly conveyed, and through me, too.  And that has been conveyed again through the meeting that Mr. Williams had today.  So, yes, Masood?  Yeah, I am not forgetting you.

Question:  Maybe I missed it; has the Secretary-General also made a similar sort of a statement in Davos on what he did in Cairo, in the case of Yemen, where also the demonstrations took place yesterday and day before?

Spokesperson:  Well, what he said was he referred to Tunisia, Egypt, now Yemen and elsewhere.  And what I have been saying repeatedly was that, first of all, “all concerned people or leaders should ensure that the situation in the region and particularly now in Egypt, does not and should not lead to further violence and I have been calling on the authorities to see all these situations as an opportunity to engage in addressing the legitimate concerns and wishes of their people”.  So, yes, Matthew, and then I’m coming to you, yeah?

Question:  Sure, I have some questions on Sudan, UN reform.  But on Sudan, in Darfur there is an NGO [non-governmental organization], CRS [Catholic Relief Service], says that it was escorted by UNAMID [United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur] from El Geneina to Khartoum based on complaints made by the Government against the NGO and I wonder what… can you… what can you say about that?  When would UNAMID escort an NGO out of Darfur?  And also what does UNAMID say to these reports that the Sudanese army said that they would burn down IDP [internally displaced persons] camps if UNAMID “interferes in their activities”?

Spokesperson:  Well, as I think we already told you a little earlier, we would expect to have something further to say on the second part of your question a little bit later.  And on the first part on Catholic Relief Service, I will check.

Question:  There is also, there is a Colonel Gai who has been at odds with the SPLM [Sudan People’s Liberation Movement], has some days ago asked for UNMIS [United Nations Mission in Sudan] to get involved in either mediating or somehow trying to bring about a peaceful resolution.  What does UNMIS think of that and are they going to actually get involved in that?

Spokesperson:  Let me check.  I know that’s one of the points that you have already asked and we have sought some information on that.  [He later said that UNMIS has been working with the parties and will continue to do so to ensure that all differences are resolved in a peaceful manner.]

Question:  And one other UN reform question I wanted to ask.  In his last press conference in here, the Secretary-General said when asked about the [Inga-Britt] Ahlenius book, that 99 per cent of officials have made public financial disclosure.  And just having looked at the website of disclosures, it doesn’t, that number is not the number.  The number of his officials including Mr. Choi [Young-jin] of Côte d'Ivoire, [Ibrahim] Gambari, [Haile] Menkerios, Said Djinnit, Michael Williams, whom you mentioned, they have all filled out a form saying “we chose not to disclose”.  So, I just… I have been trying to figure out, what is the 99 per cent figure based on?  Does he include people that say “I won’t disclose” as having made a public disclosure?  Or, what is the actual number?

Spokesperson:  Financial disclosure means to disclose to the United Nations what your assets are and so on.  And then it is fully within the rights of the individual to elect or not to elect for that to be publicly disclosed.  And I think you will see that in the vast majority of cases, this is publicly disclosed.

Question:  When he said public, that’s the phrase that he used — he said that 99 per cent of my officials have made public financial disclosures.  So, is that… that’s not what he meant?  He meant that they have actually… they have made disclosure to the UN?

Spokesperson:  Well I think also I wouldn’t get hung up on the 99 per cent figure as a mathematical absolute, because it is also a metaphorical expression meaning nearly everyone, okay?

Question:  But, Mr. Choi, does he think that Mr. Choi, kind of a close ally, long-time person that he has worked with, does he think that Mr. Choi should publicly disclose?  Would he call on him to publicly disclose?

Spokesperson:  Again, this is a matter for the individuals concerned.  Okay, yes?  Oh crikey, you moved!

Question:  I’m sorry.  On Pakistan, the OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] latest statement says that the appeal is still underfunded, I think 52 per cent or something like that, and there are still innumerable amounts of IDPs still languishing over there and suffering.  Does the Secretary-General, or his representatives, intend make a renewed appeal for this?

Spokesperson:  Well, through various channels, through various voices, the message has been repeated again and again, that everybody is grateful for the generosity shown already to help the people of Pakistan.  But there is a serious shortfall in the funding.  As you mentioned, a little over 50 per cent of the target figure for the overall appeal received, about $1.1 billion of $1.9 billion.  So, there is a way to go, and a lot of work to be done.  You quite rightly mentioned that there are many internally displaced people and those people are often lacking proper shelter.  So, there is a huge amount to be done, and various, different UN agencies have expressed their concern, UNICEF for example, as well as the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.  And the Secretary-General, of course, appeals to all countries and all other donors to look hard and see how much they can contribute to help to reach this target as soon as possible.

Question:  Back to Egypt, are you taking any unusual procedures in your offices in Egypt?  I mean…

Spokesperson:  I don’t quite follow you.

Question:  Okay, I mean, are you taking any security measures or are you aware of any security incidents?

Spokesperson:  I am sure that our security colleagues will have taken necessary steps to try to ensure the safety of UN personnel on the ground. 

Question:  One thing is that Alain Le Roy has met with President [Yoweri] Museveni of Uganda, and I wondered, President Museveni has come up publicly saying he disagrees with the UN on the approach it has taken on the standoff between Gbagbo and [Alassane] Ouattara.  So is that among the issues that DPKO would discuss with Museveni or not?

Spokesperson:  I would think it would be one of the topics to be discussed.  The Secretary-General himself this morning said that he is concerned about the difference of opinions that are now surfacing among the African Union and he said that it is really not desirable that, precisely at this time, that we should be seeing these differences of opinion, where we really need to preserve a solid line.  And that the Secretary-General has reiterated again today that Mr. Gbagbo and his supporters should fully respect the will of the people.

Question:  Mr. Gbagbo has also called for the seizure of the banks of the Central Bank of West African States, including in Côte d'Ivoire.  Is there any thought of UNOCI [United Nations Operation in Côte d'Ivoire] providing some protection to those branches, or what’s the comment of the UN on the statement that they will take over those branches in order to keep money flowing to their administration?

Spokesperson:  Well, if I am not mistaken, in Côte d'Ivoire itself, in Abidjan, there has already been some action on the ground involving Mr. Gbagbo’s supporters and the branch of the bank you mentioned.  This is something that the Mission looks very closely at.  I don’t have any other comment on that at the moment.

Question:  On just Gabon, do you have, is there any update on the opposition figure who went to stay with UNDP?

Spokesperson:  No, there isn’t.  What I can tell you is that — if this counts as an update — that the people, the opposition leader and the people who are with him, remain in the UNDP compound, or the UN compound.  The Resident Coordinator is liaising with the local authorities, with the opposition leader and with UN Headquarters here to seek a way to overcome this obviously rather delicate situation and resolve it.  Yes, Joe?

Question:  Did you note that three helicopters were released from Liberia to go to… three attack helicopters that were authorized by the Council, but there is still some delay on whether they have been released?

Spokesperson:  Let me check on that.  It is obviously imperative that there is swift movement on that.  Let me check.  Okay.  So, thank you very much.  Have a good weekend, thank you.

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