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

8 February 2011

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

8 February 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 at Security Council

The Secretary-General will brief the Security Council at 3 this afternoon on his recent travels, including his meeting with the Cypriot leaders in Geneva and his participation in the World Economic Forum in Davos, the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, the Munich Security Conference and a meeting of the Middle East Quartet, which also took place in Munich.  Throughout his travels, the dramatic events in Egypt were a major topic of discussion.

The Secretary-General will speak to reporters at the Security Council stakeout at about 4:30 this afternoon.

**Security Council

And this morning in the Security Council, members have been discussing cooperation with the European Union.  Catherine Ashton, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, participated in the open debate.  And as you know, Ms. Ashton is speaking at the stakeout around now.

** Sudan

The Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) has confirmed that all movement restrictions at the Malakal airport in Sudan have been lifted and it is now open for regular traffic.

The airport was closed following a number of deadly clashes in Malakal, which is in Sudan’s Upper Nile State, between 3 February and 5 February.  The clashes took place within the joint integrated units made up of Northern and Southern Sudanese soldiers.  Fifty-four soldiers were killed and another eighty-five wounded in the clashes, our Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) has been told.

DPKO says that while no UN properties or personnel were targeted, a national staff member for the UN refugee agency was killed in crossfire. 

The situation in Malakal is now relatively calm and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) has deployed troops into the town.  UN peacekeepers have also positioned armoured personnel carriers and are patrolling the area, reinforced by an additional company.  The United Nations urges the parties to remain calm and exercise caution.

** C ôte d’Ivoire

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) is bringing in more assistance to Côte d’Ivoire as the number of internally displaced persons continues to grow in the west of the country.  UNHCR says it started today a simultaneous airlift and road convoy to preposition aid ahead of distribution.  A cargo plane from Belgium will carry 2,450 tents which will provide shelter for up to 12,000 people, and the road convoy is bringing thousands of blankets, mats, mosquito nets and kitchen sets.  The refugee agency says that 31,000 internally displaced people have been registered so far in western Côte d’Ivoire, most of them in Duékoué District.

** Sri Lanka

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that the magnitude and impact of a second wave of floods that hit Sri Lanka are worse than those which struck a few weeks ago.  Official figures show that more than 1.1 million people have been affected by the floods, including nearly 200,000 displaced persons.  Further heavy rainfall is expected in the days ahead.

The UN system is supporting an effort to assess the extent of the damage, as well as what the immediate relief needs are.  UN agencies are already responding with a wide range of supplies, including food and medicine.

The Sri Lanka floods flash appeal has reached $7.7 million as of today, and that is out of $50 million that had been requested — that’s about 15 per cent.  The flash appeal will be revised at the end of this month.

**Deputy Secretary-General’s Travels

Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro addressed the Regional Coordination Mechanism meeting of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) earlier today in Santiago, Chile.  She praised the work of the Commission in strengthening policy coherence and in enhancing regional and subregional cooperation.

Stressing the Secretary-General’s commitment to foster a strong relationship between UN Headquarters and the Regional Commissions, she said that the UN family must redouble its efforts to raise living standards and help countries in the region and elsewhere achieve the Millennium Development Goals.  And we have copies of her speech in my office.


A United Nations study released today is recommending greater action by UN peacekeeping missions in the effort to increase the participation of women in peace negotiations, national security institutions and governance in post-conflict situations.

The study comes 10 years after the adoption of the landmark Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security.  That resolution was the first to address the impact of conflict on women and to call for women’s engagement in peace processes.

With the study reporting a mixed record for UN peacekeeping in implementing the resolution, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Alain Le Roy says that the findings are a call to action.  He pledges to continue to prioritize this work and mobilize the entire peacekeeping family to help build more just and equal post-conflict societies.

We have, in my office, copies of a press release with data on the role of women in UN peacekeeping, and the study is available online.

**Press Conferences Tomorrow

Tomorrow, at 11 a.m., there will be a press conference with Amir Dossal, Special Envoy to the World Youth Peace Summit.

And then at 11:30 a.m., there will be a press conference with Joseph Deiss, President of the General Assembly, and Margareta Wahlström, Assistant Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction, on the occasion of the informal thematic debate of the sixty-fifth session of the United Nations General Assembly on disaster risk reduction.

And both of those press conferences will be taking place here in the Dag Hammarskjöld Auditorium.

So, questions, please?  Nisar first, and then Erol.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Martin, does the Secretary-General believe that an early election after the process of forming a new Government in Egypt is urgent or required?  Are early elections in Egypt recommended after this process, or this turmoil?

Spokesperson:  Well, as we have been saying, it is really for the Egyptian people to decide on the nature of the transition.  And clearly, we have heard very clearly, the Secretary-General has heard the calls that there have been in Egypt and the kind of changes that people are looking for.  It is obvious that the people are demanding bold reforms and change; a transition.  It is for the people to decide what form that takes and how it shapes up.  The United Nations is clearly ready to help, if asked for assistance.  And that would, of course, include election support, should that be requested.

Question:  A follow-up; as the indictment against the Internal Minister, Internal Affairs Minister in Egypt has been passed and he is facing charges that he was involved in the explosions that took place on the New Year on the church in Alexandria which killed many people, is there any statement or any line on that?  What’s the opinion of the United Nations?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think anything that is in the hands of the judicial authorities is not something that we would comment on.  Erol?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Two quick and I will have to leave, and I apologize because I have a deadline.  I understood that Mr. Secretary-General met with Mr. Bakir Izetbegović, Member of the Presidency of Bosnia, this morning.  Anything out of that?

Spokesperson:  We should have a readout a little bit later, but we don’t have one right now.

Question:  Do you know when?

Spokesperson:  I’ll check with my colleagues.

Question:  Okay.  Another one; I know that I am probably now bothering you with these questions for all these years, but tomorrow there is a meeting with the two sides from Macedonia — the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Greece.  And my question is like this, does the Secretary-General has anything new that would make him more optimistic after these 17 years that they are going to move a little bit more fast forward?

Spokesperson:  Well, as you pointed out, those discussions will be taking place tomorrow.  And I understand that the parties concerned are discussing precisely where and precisely what time tomorrow those discussions will be taking place.  I can also tell you that there will be a readout provided afterwards.  And I think it is at that point we will be able to tell you a little bit more.

Question:  What about Secretary-General’s feelings or information?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think you saw what he said in Berlin, which is essentially that this is an extremely long-standing set of difficult circumstances that both parties have sought to address in good faith, and are continuing to do so with the assistance of the Special Envoy, Mr. [Matthew] Nimetz.  And what I can also say is that the Secretary-General, if you will recall, in Berlin, was also making the point that this is obviously an important bilateral matter, but it has ramifications for the broader region.  And that’s why it is important to be able to resolve this.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  Now that the Egyptians, it seems, are dug in to stay in Tahrir Square until the Egyptian President leaves, has there been anything, that I asked you also yesterday, from the United Nations officials on the ground?  They’ve briefed the Secretary-General as to what is happening, because it seems that the protesters are now unrelenting; they will not leave until… no matter what the Egyptian Government is doing.  The situation is becoming untenable.  Have you had any briefings from the UN officials on the ground?

Spokesperson:  As I said to you yesterday, the Secretary-General is being briefed through various channels, including by our country team on the ground in Egypt, and through other channels within the broader UN system and here at Headquarters.

Question:  Can you share anything that they have told the Secretary-General or anybody else in the Secretariat about what is happening in Egypt as to…?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think that there is extensive coverage from your colleagues on the ground in Egypt and notably in Cairo on what is happening on the ground — live coverage in many cases; it’s being played out very much in the public eye.  And I think, in addition, the Secretary-General will be speaking at the Security Council, as I mentioned, and that will obviously cover Egypt in part as one of the topics.  And he will then be coming to the stakeout afterwards and doubtless will field questions on the same topic.  Yes, Nisar?

Question:  Do you have any comment regarding the footage which has been released on prisoners and criminals unleashed on condition that they will wreak havoc in the country and destroy the country by the security apparatus?  They were let go on condition that they will go and set fires, loot.  Do you think that the internal security should be brought to account on that?

Spokesperson:  Well, Nisar, we have said the Secretary-General has said, on a number of occasions, that there should be peace and there should be restraint; stability is vital in this country at this time.  And in addition, he has also said that some of the actions which we saw earlier, which have now stopped it would appear, or at least substantially reduced, where journalists were targeted and human rights workers were targeted; he spoke out very clearly that that needed to stop and that people should be brought to account for any actions against journalists or human rights workers.

Question:  Shortly after the demonstrations started, there were a lot of fires and breakdown of law, which many people attributed to the withdrawal of the police from the streets and allowing criminals to go out and destroy the country.

Spokesperson:  Well, as I said, it is fairly obvious that a key prerequisite for any transition is that it should be peaceful and orderly.  And the Secretary-General has repeatedly said that that is a key factor.  Yes, Kate, yes?

Question:  Catherine Ashton just spoke about the need to build the kind of society that is ready for democracy in Tunisia and in Egypt.  And she said that the EU can play a key role in this and that those countries are not actually ready for democracy yet.  What’s the UN’s position on this?  Is there a point at which a country becomes ready for democracy?  And also, what kind of role would the UN play in helping to build civil society?

Spokesperson:  Well, there are a couple of points.  The first is that I haven’t heard precisely what Ms. Ashton said; I am sitting right here, as you know.  The second it that the successive Human Development Reports, dating back, starting from 2002 and on, have set out very clearly and in some detail what the challenges are in that region and what the potential solutions could be.  In any country, the direction that any change takes, any transition takes, is for the people there to decide.  The United Nations and clearly other regional organizations have an important role to play if they are asked to do so.  Yes, and then I am coming to you, Matthew?

Question:  Yes, the question is on the general election in Central Afrique.  According to the result published this weekend by the Independent Electoral Commission, 27 per cent of the polling stations have not been counted into the final result, which of course means that the final result doesn’t mean… that these votes just simply haven’t been counted.  So, I know that Ban Ki-moon, before the election, called for a transparent and fair election in Central Afrique.  So I would like to know, do you have, would the UN, have any comment on this result?  And does that mean that you will recognize, or not, the result, knowing that not all the votes have been counted?

Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, it is certainly the case that these are important elections for the Central African Republic.  And it is also important to note that the UN has not had an election observer role, but it does continue to follow the process closely through its peacebuilding mission, BINUCA, and that has been coordinating support of the international community for the elections through an electoral steering committee.  So, that is on the role, if you like, of the United Nations.  It has not been an election observer role.

But since the announcement of the provisional presidential election results, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in the Central African Republic, [Sahle-Work Zewde], has been encouraging the authorities to address allegations of irregularities in a transparent manner, for candidates with grievances to follow the established legal procedures for lodging appeals and for the Independent Electoral Commission to communicate on the decisions regarding the polling stations.  And in addition, I can tell you that the UN is also calling on the Constitutional Court to play its role fully and impartially, as defined in the Constitution.  So, that’s what I have for you.  Yes, Matthew, yes?

Question:  Sure.  I have several questions, but I wanted to ask you about this tax equalization fund that’s being discussed in Congress.  There is a quote by the [United States] Assistant Secretary of State, [Esther] Brimmer, saying that $100 million of this $179 million equalization of US staff members has been repurposed for security.  So, I wanted to know, how did the US indicate to the UN that it could be repurposed in that way?  How much of that money — she says almost $100 million —has been spent?  How was it spent?  And have other countries made similar multi-million dollar contributions?

Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, I would suggest that you ask the State Department.  I have seen those quotes, but I think that it would be better if you asked the State Department about that aspect of it.  We did provide you with some figures a little earlier, and as I say, I think that in the first instance you ought to check with the State Department.

Question:  But is it true… for how they communicated to the UN, maybe it is up to them to say.  But how the UN used the $100 million seems like a fair question.

Spokesperson:  No, I am not saying it’s not a fair question, Matthew, I am just saying start there.  I am not saying that we are not going to try to find out the answer to the second part, but please try to start at the right address.

Question:  And can I ask — the Prime Minister of Thailand’s office has said that he is going to be speaking with the Secretary-General at 8 p.m.; I guess that’s their time.  Has that call been scheduled and what is the Secretary-General trying to do on this conflict between Thailand and Cambodia?  Has he spoken with the Indonesian Foreign Minister?  Is it… What role does he seek the UN Secretariat, I guess, to have?

Spokesperson:  Well, 8 p.m. Bangkok time is 8 a.m. in the morning New York time.  The Secretary-General spoke to the Thai Prime Minister and has also placed a second call to the Prime Minister of Cambodia, as well.  And so he has spoken to both Prime Ministers this morning.  I think he will be able to tell you a little bit more about those calls at the stakeout this afternoon.

Question:  My question is on the billions of dollars you have in Tunisia, taken in Arab Government financing, also Egypt; you have two Presidents who had 30 years each, and each one wanting to put families to take over this form of dictatorship.  Is there any way to have more stringent monitoring, instil more transparency in Government to prevent this corruption?

Spokesperson:  Well, good governance is an essential part of any functioning democracy.  And one of the key calls that we have heard from people on the streets in Tunisia and in Egypt, and in other countries, is precisely the desire for good governance.  It is, as I have repeatedly said, a matter for the people of the countries concerned.  But it is also obvious that, for any change to be meaningful, it must include a clear and strong element of good governance, which goes to the very heart of the question that you raise.  I think I saw Kate, yes?

Question:  Again on the tax equalization fund, there are also news reports that say that the UN asked the US whether it could keep the surplus money to use for security reasons.  So which happened first?  The UN requested, or did the US offer?

Spokesperson:  Well, as I said, please check with the State Department.  I have also seen those reports, and I would expect to have something a little bit later on that.  Yeah.  Okay, have a good afternoon.  Thank you very much.

Question:  Can I ask about Haiti?  There are these reports of I have seen the protests of the extension of Mr. [René] Préval’s term.  And I just wanted to know, first, there are the reports of the peacekeepers, it said that against those protesters, tear gas and bullets have been shot in the air.  Is that something that MINUSTAH [United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti] is doing?  What is MINUSTAH’s role in the crowd control there?  And what’s its view of… what does it say to the protesters who say this is a bad sign for democracy in Haiti?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think you know very well what the role of MINUSTAH’s peacekeeping forces is with regard to security on the streets of Haiti.  This is a supporting role with the Haitian National Police.  I am sure that my colleagues in MINUSTAH would help on the specifics of the cases that you are referring to.  And obviously MINUSTAH itself is not, does not, play a role in the politics of the country that is unfolding at the moment.  It is there to help to ensure that there is stability, and is also helping to ensure that the recovery efforts from the earthquake, and also in tackling the cholera outbreak, can be carried out as efficiently as possible to the best effects for the people.

Yeah.  All right, thank you very much.

* *** *

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