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

22 February 2011

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

22 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.

**Security Council

The Security Council held consultations this morning following a request from Libya’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations.  After that, Council members agreed to hold a private meeting at 3 this afternoon, on “peace and security in Africa”.  At that meeting, Council members expect to receive a briefing from the Secretariat on the latest developments in Libya.  The meeting will be followed by consultations.

Also this morning, the Security Council held an open meeting on Timor-Leste.  They heard from the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for that country, Ameerah Haq, who said that the political and security situation there continues to be stable.  She added that the Government and opposition continue to deal with their differences through established democratic channels.


The Secretary-General held a press encounter last night in Los Angeles on developments in Libya, saying he had been disturbed and shocked by the reports of Libyan authorities firing at demonstrators from warplanes and helicopters.  “This is unacceptable,” he said.  “This must stop immediately.  And this is a serious violation of international humanitarian law.”

The Secretary-General told reporters that he had had a 40-minute phone conversation yesterday with Colonel Muammar al-Qadhafi and urged him that human rights, including freedom of assembly and freedom of speech, must be fully protected.  The Secretary-General forcefully urged Colonel Qadhafi to stop violence against demonstrators, respect their human rights and heed their aspirations.  He added that he hopes that the Security Council will take this matter up on an urgent basis, and as I just told you, the Council is indeed meeting on this topic today.

The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has called for immediate cessation of the grave human rights violations committed by Libyan authorities.  In a statement today, she urged an independent international investigation into the violent suppression of protests in the country.

And also, the UN refugee agency (UNCHR) is increasingly concerned about dangers faced by civilians — especially asylum seekers and refugees — as many may inadvertently be caught up in the violence in Libya in recent days.  The agency says that it currently has no access to the refugee community in the country.  It says that reports from third-party sources are worrying, with some Somalis in the capital, Tripoli, saying that they are being hunted on suspicion of being mercenaries.

**Secretary-General on Middle East and North Africa

As we made clear in a statement over the weekend, the Secretary-General remains very concerned about reports of escalating violence and bloodshed in many different countries in the Middle East and North Africa.  The Secretary-General reiterates his call for the non-use of force and respect for basic freedoms.

And during the past few days, the Secretary-General has also discussed the situation in the region with a number of leaders.  He talked to the current top leadership in Egypt, for example, and agreed to dispatch senior UN officials to Egypt.

And as you know, we have circulated a readout on the phone conversation the Secretary-General had on Monday, Los Angeles time, that was early in the morning here in New York, with the Emir of Qatar, to discuss the situation in Libya.  The Secretary-General in that conversation expressed his concern at the reports of grave violations of human rights in Libya.  They agreed on the need for the international community, in particular Arab leaders and the UN, to call for an immediate end to these acts of violence, and for the launch of a broad-based dialogue.

And they also discussed the situation in other countries in the region, including Yemen.  The Secretary-General, in the phone conversation, again emphasized his call for leaders in the region to exercise restraint and to respond to the legitimate grievances of the people.

**Côte d’Ivoire

The United Nations mission in Côte d'Ivoire, UNOCI, has deplored the level of violence reached over the past few days during demonstrations in the city of Abidjan and surrounding areas.  The mission condemned the disproportionate use of force, including the use of heavy weapons.  It also calls on all parties to exercise restraint at a time when political and diplomatic efforts are under way at the highest level to find a peaceful solution to the Ivorian post-electoral crisis.  I can tell you that the Secretary-General is fully briefed on what is happening in Côte d'Ivoire, and he shares the mission’s concerns.


Over the weekend, the Joint Special Representative and Head of the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID), Ibrahim Gambari, voiced grave concern over renewed fighting between Sudanese Government troops and rebel movements in North Darfur.

Mr. Gambari said he is particularly disturbed by the fighting in Shangil Tobaya, near El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur, which saw Government forces fighting a coalition of rebel groups.  Mr. Gambari called on all parties to refrain from further violence and to allow unfettered humanitarian access to the area and to civilians in need of assistance.  He also urged them to engage fully in the peace process, exercise restraint and help protect civilians.

Separately, the mission, UNAMID, also notes with grave concern the so-called “warning statement” by a Darfur rebel leader against the mission’s use of Sudanese airports, especially airports in Darfur.  In response, the mission stressed its impartiality in the Darfur conflict and reminded all parties of its mandate to protect civilians and ensure unfettered access for aid deliveries.  It called on the parties to ensure the safety and security of peacekeepers, aid workers and their equipment.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Margot Wallström, has welcomed the conviction and sentencing for rape and crimes against humanity of several army officers by a Congolese military court.  The rapes were committed in January in Fizi, a town in the north-eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Ms. Wallström noted that the military court in Baraka, in eastern DRC, not only reacted swiftly to the deal with the crimes, but by all accounts also conducted the legal proceedings in a fair and efficient manner.  The sentences send a strong signal that sexual violence is not acceptable and will not be tolerated, she said.  It also shows that accountability for sexual violence is possible.  We have copies of her statement in my office.

The Secretary-General is also aware of the sentencing and he certainly agrees with Ms. Wallström’s statement.  He is likely to address this topic in Los Angeles later today.

**Commission on the Status of Women

Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro addressed the Commission on the Status of Women earlier today, and said that the creation of UN Women marks a historic achievement.  “Our hope is that UN Women will galvanize worldwide efforts to realize the rights and opportunities of women and girls,” she said.  We have copies of her statement in my office.

**Secretary-General’s Statement on New Zealand Earthquake

I have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the earthquake in New Zealand.

The Secretary-General is deeply saddened by the loss of life and destruction of property in New Zealand as a result of the earthquake that struck Christchurch and surrounding areas on 22 February.

He extends his deepest condolences to the families of those who have been killed, injured or rendered homeless by this still unfolding tragedy.  He acknowledges the ongoing efforts by the Government of New Zealand to help those affected.  The Secretary-General stresses the readiness of the United Nations to contribute to its efforts in any way needed.

That’s what I have for you.  Questions?  Yes, Masood?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Martin, in his conversation with Mr. Qadhafi on Monday, as you said, did… I know what the Secretary-General said because that was part of your statement.  Did the Secretary-General say that Mr. Qadhafi was alleging that there are some gangs of youngsters high on drugs doing these activities and that is why the situation is becoming that bad?  Did he say that to the Secretary-General?

Spokesperson:  Well, as I think you know, Masood, it is not customary to divulge the interlocutors’ comments.  But what I can tell you is that the remarks in that 40-minute telephone conversation were rather similar to the comments that we have heard Colonel Qadhafi make this morning.

Question:  Okay.  Also, I wanted to ask you about this earthquake in New Zealand.  Has the Government of New Zealand asked for any help from the United Nations so far or not?

Spokesperson:  At this stage, I don’t think so.  But, as we have just said, the United Nations is obviously ready to contribute to its efforts if asked to do so.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  In his statement attributable to the Spokesperson on 21 February on Libya, the Secretary-General said, and I quote: “Such attacks against civilians, if confirmed, would constitute a serious violation of international humanitarian law and would be condemned by the Secretary-General in the strongest terms.”  And in his remarks to the press on Libya in Los Angeles, also yesterday, and as you read, he was shocked and disturbed by scenes of airplanes and helicopters shooting civilian people.  Is the Secretary-General now ready to condemn strongly the violence in Libya?

Spokesperson:  Of course!  Of course, it goes without saying, absolutely, that he condemns the violence that has been unleashed on demonstrators in Libya; there is no question of that.  And also… sorry?

Question:  Why doesn’t he say that?

Spokesperson:  It says very clearly, in the statements and in the remarks that he has made, the way he feels about this.  What is really important here is that the Secretary-General spoke to the Libyan leader to make it absolutely clear that the violence needed to stop, violence against demonstrators.  And he spoke extremely clearly, and indeed forcefully, with the Libyan leader, Colonel Qadhafi, to underline the importance of respect for human rights.  And he said yesterday evening in Los Angeles again that the scenes that have been reported and witnessed are, of course, unacceptable and they must stop immediately.  And he also said that they would constitute a serious violation of international humanitarian law.  You have seen that the High Commissioner for Human Rights has made similar comments on that particular aspect.  Yes, Sylviane?

Question:  Thanks to you, Martin.  Do you hear me?  In light of the situation in the Middle East, do you think that it is now time for the Secretary-General to travel to the area, to the Middle East, and to come or do something about it, instead of doing only declarations or statements?  I have a second question also.  Can I have it now or say it now or not?

Spokesperson:  Please do.

Question:  It is about Lebanon.  It is demarcation [of] the maritime border between Lebanon and Israel.  UNIFIL [United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon] Director of Political and Civil Affairs Milos Strugar said that the demarcation of the maritime border required the approval of both sides and also a request from the specialized circuit at the UN.  Has this request been done already by the UN regarding the demarcation of the maritime border between the two countries?

Spokesperson:  On the second, let me find out.  On the first, the Secretary-General has spent a lot of time, valuable time, because it is an extremely important moment that we are witnessing, on the telephone with regional and world leaders to discuss what has been unfolding across the Middle East and North Africa.  As you also know, the Secretary-General will be dispatching senior officials to Egypt in the coming days, and I would hope to be able give you a bit more detail on that quite soon.  I think that that is an important part of the picture.  Any visit by the Secretary-General requires careful planning, of course, and we would need to look at that quite carefully.  Harvey?

[The Spokesperson added that, regarding Lebanon, the Lebanese army has suggested that a maritime security line be established in the area.  UNIFIL could assist in this process, but only if both Lebanon and Israel would request or agree to our involvement.  This is a matter first and foremost for the parties to agree on.]

Question:  A follow-up on an issue of protocol.  Who does the Secretariat regard as being in charge or its interlocutor at the Libyan Mission, given that Mr. [Ibrahim] Dabbashi yesterday seemed to be speaking as Chargé d’Affaires, but this morning, the Ambassador turned up after being absent for a few days, with a slightly different take on the Mission’s position.  So who is the one to speak to or to listen to?

Spokesperson:  Well, going by protocol, Ambassadors, Permanent Representatives, present their credentials to the Secretary-General.  The person who has presented those credentials is the official representative of that Government unless the Government says otherwise.  Yes, Jonathan?

Question:  Yeah, Martin, I know you can’t disclose the specifics of the 40‑minute conversation that Ban had, but that’s an extraordinarily long conversation to have.  Is there any sense of the reaction that Qadhafi gave Ban that you can share with us, because we’re sort of in the dark here?  Perhaps you can fill us in a little bit as to whether he agreed with what Ban Ki-moon was saying, or he defied what Ban Ki-moon was saying.  And also, does the Secretary-General plan to have any further telephone conversations with Qadhafi, has he tried to reach him today, for instance, and been denied a conversation?

Spokesperson:  On the latter part of your question, I think the Secretary-General has made his views to Colonel Qadhafi abundantly clear.  And to the first part of your question, you are right, and I mentioned it already — it’s simply not the way that it is done for us to disclose the details of what the other party has said during a conversation.  However, as I have said, I would certainly characterize the remarks as being strikingly similar to those that were made today by Colonel Qadhafi in his speech, which was of similar epic length.  And I would also note that the Secretary-General himself said that whatever the explanation provided by Colonel Qadhafi, the violence needs to stop and human rights need to be respected.  I’m going this way, and then I am coming to you.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you a couple of things on Libya.  One is, can you confirm that Colonel Qadhafi’s daughter, Ayesha, is a UN system Goodwill Ambassador with a Laissez-Passer that remains open until 2013?  And what does… If so, what does the Secretary-General think about this goodwill ambassadorship?  Will it be revoked?  Is it, what is your position on it?

Spokesperson:  As I understand it, she is a national Goodwill Ambassador in Libya for UNDP [United Nations Development Programme].  On the other details you have asked, I will check.

Question:  I want to ask on some mercenary question.  There are some press reports that Colonel Qadhafi has published advertisements seeking mercenaries in Nigeria and Guinea and — in Ghana, it’s unclear if it’s in writing or not — and I just wonder, since the UN has some presence in these countries, one, are you aware of it — maybe you are not — is it something that the UN, the type of thing that the UN will look into in the sense of how it would violate as would relate to international law, the solicitation and recruitment of people to fight against domestic protesters and opponents?

Spokesperson:  Well, we have heard reports along these lines about the use of mercenaries or seeking mercenaries.  At this point, I don’t have any further detail on what the UN may or may not be doing to look into that further.  Okay, yes?

Question:  Martin, this might just be very trivial clarification, but I am just wondering if the Secretary-General specifically mentioned that he would support or call for investigations into war crimes, rather than saying that it was a violation also of international law?

Spokesperson:  I think the expression is international humanitarian law, that’s specifically what he has mentioned.  And obviously, Ms. Navi Pillay has talked in more detail.  She is a judge of some experience, and she has spoken quite specifically about what she has in mind.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  Martin, maybe on Friday, is the Secretary-General getting ready to visit Egypt, am I correct in understanding what you are saying?

Spokesperson:  No, that’s not what I said.  That’s not what I said, Masood.  I said “senior officials”; the Secretary-General has said that senior officials will go to Egypt in the coming days.

Question:  So, the question arises, will the Secretary-General visit…?

Spokesperson:  And I just answered that question when Harvey asked me. 

Question:  Okay.  No, no, I am just saying; no, he is not visiting — I just wanted to make sure that such a thing did not take place on Friday; that your conversation to the effect they didn’t take place on Friday.

Spokesperson:  No.  And I think I am losing you a bit here, Masood.  To be very clear, the Secretary-General has said that he is going to dispatch senior officials to Egypt soon.  And I was asked just now, by Harvey — or, I beg your pardon, by Sylviane — whether this would include a visit to the region; that it was time for a visit to the region, and I answered about the senior officials’ visit to Egypt and that he has spent a lot of time, important time, in conversations with regional leaders and world leaders.  And that any visit by the Secretary-General, any visit, requires careful planning.  That’s what I said.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi, and then I am coming to you.

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Just as a follow-up to the question earlier from my colleague on the protocol aspect, if you will.  Request for a meeting of the Security Council normally is by request from Member States, not from ambassadors sitting in missions.  Ambassadors ask for a meeting of the Council on the basis of a letter from the Foreign Ministry and, in this case, presumably there is no such letter emanating from the Foreign Ministry of Libya.  So, on what basis, legal basis, is the Security Council meeting?

Spokesperson:  I think you know what I am going to say, Mr. Abbadi — ask the Security Council.  Next question?

Question:  I have a political question.  We were told outside the Security Council this morning that the Deputy Ambassador would be addressing that private meeting at 3 p.m.  If the Libyan Ambassador turns up to that meeting, does the Security Council have to defer to him and take his briefing, or can they hear from both?

Spokesperson:  I think you’d have to ask the Council what they plan to do.

Question:  Did the Council share any information with you, whether they will at 3 p.m. go for a resolution?  Did they share any such information?

Spokesperson:  Well, the short answer is no, they have not, because they have yet to meet.  Yes, Jonathan?

Question:  Is the Secretary-General pleased that Libya is now being debated within the Security Council and is it his position that — I know that he is not in a position to recommend something going to the Security Council officially, but it’s up to Member States to determine what they want to do in the Security Council — but would he like to see many of these matters that we are witnessing in North Africa and the Middle East to be debated within the Security Council?

Spokesperson:  Well, look, I think the Secretary-General was quite explicit yesterday evening when he spoke to journalists in Los Angeles where he said that I hope again that the Security Council will take this matter up on an urgent basis.  And I think that that speaks for itself, that he wanted to see that.  Of course, in the meantime, that has now come to pass.  More generally, the second part of your question, it really is for the Council to decide.  Everybody knows what is happening in the region, and everybody is watching it very closely.  It’s for the Council to decide what topics they wish to take up.  Okay?

Question:  I wanted to ask you a non-Libya question.

Spokesperson:  By all means.  Make a change.

Question:  Sure.  There was a filing over the weekend on, with the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC)…

Spokesperson:  Start again, please.

Question:  Yeah, there was a filing with the Prosecutor of the ICC that has been widely reported in the Australian media.  It’s largely against the [Permanent Representative] of Sri Lanka, saying that he should be prosecuted.  But it has a couple of paragraphs, one which says there is a basis to question whether Vijay Nambiar was in fact an innocent neutral intermediary.  And then it has a factual, a paragraph that it says is facts, saying that Nambiar, through the UN’s 24-hour dispatch, told Colvin that Mahinda Rajapakse, Gotabaya Rajapakse and Palitha Kohona had assured Nambiar that the LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] members who surrendered would be treated like normal prisoners of war if they hoisted a white flag high.  I wanted to know what the UN’s response to this now, why the reported filing?  Is that an accurate statement of fact and what’s the UN’s response to the characterization?

Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, the filing is as reported in the newspaper.

Question:  No, no, the file; I can give you a copy of the filing if you want it, it’s public, it’s been made public by two Tamil organizations that filed it with [Luis Moreno] Ocampo’s Office.  It was picked up in Australia, I guess because of the Kohona angle, but I just want to know, since Mr. Nambiar is the Chief of Staff of the UN, what is the response to the characterization of him as possibly involved and the factual statement of him conveying these assurances from the President of Sri Lanka?

Spokesperson:  Well, a couple of points.  The second is that I think you would need to check with the International Criminal Court’s Prosecutor about something that has been filed to the ICC Prosecutor.  I think you would need to look at that.  Secondly, on the second part of your question, I really don’t have any comment on that at this time.  Okay?

Question:  [inaudible] what Mr. Nambiar…

Spokesperson:  I said I don’t have any comment on it at this time.  Okay, all right, thank you very much.  What’s that?

Question:  Qadhafi has apparently just said that he has vowed to fight to the last drop of blood.  So that doesn’t sound like he is heeding the Secretary-General’s call here.  So what might we expect of…?

Spokesperson:  Well, Jonathan, with the greatest of respect, Jonathan, it’s not just the Secretary-General who has said this.  Of course, he picked up the phone and spoke to Colonel Qadhafi.  But you have seen statements from very many people around the world making the same point.  Whether it was, it might not have been on the phone, to Colonel Qadhafi, but it was said publicly.  That’s one point.  And the other is that his comments were not made just while we were sitting here; they were made before this briefing started.  I’ve seen them.  It does not change the urgency of the call, not just by the Secretary-General, but by many people in the international community for the bloodshed to stop, and for the Libyan authorities to respect human rights.  And it is obviously in that context that there will be a meeting of the Security Council this afternoon.  Thank you.

Question:  Is there a UN team in Libya…?

Spokesperson:  There is a country team in Libya; there is a country team in Libya.  There are obviously concerns, security concerns; that goes without saying.  I can assure you that my colleagues who deal with safety and security are taking the right precautions to ensure that our people are kept safe.

Question:  Have they sent any cables, stuff like that, to update the Secretary-General on the situation there?

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General is extremely well briefed on what is happening, not just in Libya, but across the region, I can tell you.

Question:  Does the SG believe that Qadhafi’s stepping down is the proper solution for this ongoing crisis in Libya?  In his conversation with him, all this, what is happening, is this the proper thing for Qadhafi to do now?

Spokesperson:  What’s important is for the leadership in Libya, as elsewhere across the region, and indeed beyond the region, to listen to what the people are saying.  What they are saying is quite clear in many different respects.  They have social grievances, political grievances and other concerns — that the leadership in Libya and in any other country in the region should listen very carefully to what the people are saying.  And that’s something the Secretary-General has said consistently and repeatedly in the last couple of weeks, as I think you know.  Thanks very much.

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