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

24 February 2011

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

24 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; welcome to the briefing.

**Security Council

Robert Serry, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, briefed the Security Council this morning on the latest developments in the region.  He conveyed the Secretary-General’s profound concern at the continued impasse in the peace process.

He said that the longer the impasse persists, the greater the worry that the modest achievements made so far will unravel.  He noted efforts by Quartet envoys in recent days to meet separately with the parties and representatives of the Arab Peace Initiative.  Mr. Serry called on Israel to freeze all settlement activity, including natural growth, in accordance with international law and the Road Map.  Mr. Serry is about to speak to reporters at the Security Council stakeout, as the Council meeting has now ended.

Earlier today, the Security Council also approved a resolution extending the mandate of the UN Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) until 26 February next year.

** Egypt

As the Secretary-General announced yesterday, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, B. Lynn Pascoe, will leave for Cairo today.  He will be accompanied by other senior UN officials.  And the mission will arrive in Cairo on Friday.

The team will meet Egyptian officials and representatives of civil society and political parties.  It will also meet the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States.

I’d like to be very clear about the purpose of this mission.  Together with the UN country team in Egypt, the mission will reiterate the UN's strong commitment to supporting Egypt in its transition, and it will explore ways the UN can do so in a variety of fields, including socio-economic issues, electoral assistance, and human rights.

** Côte d’Ivoire

The United Nations Mission in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) says that the clashes between the Defence and Security Forces and the Armed Forces of the Forces Nouvelles in the western part of the country are a breach of the ceasefire.  It adds that this could lead to the resumption of armed conflict.

The Mission also says that this could have serious consequences for Ivorians and for the subregion.  The Mission is urging all parties to use peaceful means to resolve the current post-electoral crisis.

And also on Côte d’Ivoire, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has released a new report highlighting a continuous pattern of serious human rights violations since the presidential elections on 28 November last year.  The report was commissioned by the Human Rights Council and covers events up to 31 January of this year.  It documents a constant trend in rights violations, with almost 300 people killed, most as a result of extrajudicial killings committed by elements of the security forces loyal to Laurent Gbagbo.  That pattern continues.  On 22 February alone, it was reported that 16 individuals were killed.  You can find that report online.

** Darfur

The UN-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) is reporting that internally displaced persons (IDPs) continue to arrive at North and South Darfur camps in large numbers.  The IDPs are fleeing last week’s outbreak of fighting between Government forces and armed groups in the region around Shangil Tobaya.  The mission says it continues to provide water and other necessities, as well as security escorts for aid groups delivering supplies to the IDPs.

**Trilateral Meeting

At the invitation of the Secretary-General, the President of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea, Mr. Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, and the President of the Gabonese Republic, Mr. Ali Bongo Ondimba, will gather on 25 February 2011 at the United Nations Headquarters in New York to discuss the ongoing UN-led mediation on the border dispute between the two countries.  It will be the first time that the two Heads of State will meet to talk specifically about this issue.

The meeting is expected to constitute a meaningful step towards the submission of the dispute to the International Court of Justice as well as in the overall relations between the two countries.

** Tunisia

The UN expert mission that travelled to Tunisia to assess human rights there has come out with a report that says that Tunisians have high expectations that the country’s institutions will dramatically transform, and that their rights will be protected and respected.

The report stresses that human rights will be integral for the construction of Tunisia’s future.  A new legal framework creating a clear separation of powers between the executive, legislative and judicial branches is essential, it says.

The report, which was shared with the transitional Government for comment, sets out 10 areas requiring the attention of national and international actors, in particular the Tunisian authorities, in the run-up to the elections and beyond.  These areas respond to the principal demands of Tunisians today for inclusive participation in public affairs, accountability and justice, and equity and social justice. We have a press release with more details on that.

** Somalia

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is horrified after hearing reports that more than 50 Somali refugees drowned over the weekend when their boat capsized while crossing the Gulf of Aden to Yemen.  This is the largest loss of life in the seas between Somalia and Yemen in more than three years, according to the Refugee Agency.

There was only one survivor, a 42-year-old man who swam for 23 hours before reaching the Yemeni coast.  He tells the agency that he fled fighting in Mogadishu with his wife and three children. Including these latest deaths, nearly 90 people have drowned or gone missing in the waters between Somalia and Yemen this year.

**UN Women

The Secretary-General will attend the celebration of the launch of UN Women this evening.  In his remarks at the event, he is expected to say that the campaign to establish UN Women is part of a larger global drive to promote gender equality, empower women and demand an end to sexual violence.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, and although we have come a long way, we still have far to go, the Secretary-General will stress.  And UN Women takes us in an important step in the right direction, he will say.

**Press Conference

And tomorrow at 10:30 a.m., here in the Auditorium, UNICEF will give a press conference to launch the 2011 State of the World’s Children report, entitled “Adolescence:  An Age of Opportunity”.

Questions?  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  As you said, Robert Serry, the Special Coordinator on the Middle East Peace Process, addressed the Security Council this morning.  He also said that the Quartet intends to engage the parties into serious talks, including on substance.  Is there any timeframe for that, as to when it will start that process?

Spokesperson:  Well, maybe you are in the wrong place, because Mr. Serry is speaking at the stakeout round about now, and it may be that he could tell you that.  So, I can’t really give you much too more beyond what he will probably say at the stakeout.  But I think it is clear in general terms, as the Secretary-General has said as one of the Quartet principals, that there is an obvious need to have additional momentum in the peace process, where there is unfortunate stagnation.  And part of those efforts is precisely what Robert Serry has been talking about this morning.  Yes?

Question:  As you know, the Human Rights Council is discussing a resolution on the situation in Libya, which would include an effort to keep Libya off the Human Rights Council and also calls for an investigation into brutality against the protesters.  Does the Secretary-General support this resolution?  Does he think that would be a good idea, and have any steps been taken to launch an investigation yet?  What would that entail?

Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General did speak about this yesterday at the stakeout that he held yesterday afternoon.  He said, “I welcome the decision of the Human Rights Council to convene a special session on Friday, including the possible establishment of an international inquiry into the events in Libya”.  And he was subsequently asked about it, as I recall.  And obviously that meeting is taking place tomorrow.  And it is important that that meeting does take place and we see what comes out of it.  But I think that he has sent a fairly clear signal there.  Yes, Nizar?

Question:  Should Libya be on the Council?

Spokesperson:  That’s something really for the Human Rights Council to discuss.

Question:  And the other question was about the investigation; if the investigation…

Spokesperson:  And I just answered that part of your question.

Question:  No, I know he welcomed it; but what would likely be the format for something like that?  Could it be a team, or could they do it without going into the country?  Would they have to be allowed into the country or…?

Spokesperson:  Well, it would be for the Council to decide.  The Human Rights Council, as you know, can initiate investigations and I think they have a set format for the way that they do that.  They have conducted investigations and inquiries on various topics in the past, as I understand it.  And I think that they would be able to tell you more about it. As I say, the meeting is tomorrow; let’s see what happens.  Yes, Nizar?

Question:  Are you aware about any plans to send medicine and food supplies to the areas where there is no authority in Libya?  The safer areas close to Tunisia and Egypt?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is closely consulting with other UN agencies to look at what requirements there may be.  As I understand it from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, they themselves have a very limited presence and it is very difficult for them to assess the humanitarian needs.  They say there is some concern over access to health services for the injured and some lack of medical supplies, as well as the need for blood.  But that is still being assessed.  As you mentioned yourself, access is quite difficult.  But certainly, they are looking into what may be required with other parts of the UN system.  Yes?

Question:  Has the Secretary-General set a date yet on which to meet with Republican Congressmen to discuss funding reform issues, particularly pertain to [Ileana] Ros-Lehtinen’s legislation?

Spokesperson:  Not to my knowledge.  What the Secretary-General has said is that he does plan to have such a meeting.  And once that is fixed, I am sure we will be able to let you know.  Yes, Nick?

Question:  I was wondering, what is the situation right now with the Libyan Mission to the UN?  So, part of the Mission or the Ambassador says one thing and his deputy says another thing.  In terms of the point of view of the United Nations, what is the legality when an appointed-by-a-certain-Government official may say things against that Government even though the Government may be accused of violation of international law, and so now it seems like some kind of divide?  So, how do you handle these matters, and who is actually from the point of view of the United Nations Secretariat the legitimate representative of Libya right now?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think I addressed this question earlier in the week.  But I am happy to do so again.  From a strictly protocol perspective, a country sends a Permanent Representative and provides credentials, which are accepted by the United Nations.  And until such time when that country revokes those credentials, those credentials are recognized by the United Nations.  And that is something that you will see in diplomatic practice; not just relating to the United Nations.  So that’s from a protocol point of view.  I think that that is what I have on that.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  I mean, just, so, I mean, you can say that no communication has been received from the Qadhafi Government saying anything about Mr. [Ibrahim] Dabbashi?  I just want to be sure that that is what you are saying.

Spokesperson:  Well, even when such communication arrives, then obviously we would be able to say something.  But to my knowledge, there has been no such communication.

Question:  And can I ask, I wanted to ask, this is actually, this is sort of, this may also be viewed as protocol, but yesterday after some days of questions, you’d said that Aisha al-Qadhafi is no longer a Goodwill Ambassador.  There is a story out of Tripoli in which she says, she is claiming, she is saying she was unaware of the United Nations announcement on Wednesday that she had been dropped as a Goodwill Ambassador.  So, I guess I just wanted to know, I am not, I mean, I am not disputing that she is no longer on, but how was she informed?  Or what was the basis of saying that she was, was she told that?  Because she is saying she wasn’t told.

Spokesperson:  Well, perhaps you could ask UNDP [United Nations Development Programme] and see; she was a UNDP Goodwill Ambassdor, perhaps they can elaborate on precisely how that was communicated.  But it has been communicated fairly clearly from me right here.  Right, yes, first of all, Masood, and then back to you, yes?

Question:  Yesterday the Secretary-General made a very strong statement saying that Qadhafi may have committed crimes against humanity.  And now the new reports that there are some Libyan forces attacking the protesters and so forth.  Is the Secretary-General considering, or will he consider, asking the Security Council to in fact authorize force to remove Mr. Qadhafi by force, deeming it a threat to international peace and security?  After making such a strong statement, will he follow up?

Spokesperson:  He certainly did make a very strong statement yesterday for a very good reason; not least saying that those responsible for the kind of attacks that we have been seeing must be held accountable in courts of law.  And as you also know, he was quite explicit about that.  He also said in answer to questions there that any further action by the Security Council is really a matter for the Council.  But he also said that the international community — let me just read it out — “I am sure that the international community are considering a broad range of options”.  And he was asked a couple of times about the kind of topics, and he said he would leave it to the Security Council to discuss and to determine the future course of action.

Question:  The Secretary-General, as the head of this Organization, can, even under the Charter, recommend to the Security Council what kind of action should be taken…

Spokesperson:  I am fully aware of Article 99 of the Charter, the same as you are.  The point here is that the Secretary-General is in close contact with key Member States, including those in the Security Council, because obviously this is an important moment, as the Secretary-General has repeatedly said.  The situation in Libya, in particular at the moment, is unpredictable.  So, to cut it short, it really is a matter for the Council and I think that you may well be able to ask them what they are planning to do next.  Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Martin, should the Human Rights Council decide to set up an investigative team and to dispatch it to Libya, does the Secretary-General assume that Qadhafi will accept the dispatch of such a mission to his country?  And if not, what preventive measures have been taken to head off this situation?

Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t think it is for the Secretary-General to assume anything in this case.  Let us see what the Human Rights Council decides tomorrow and then we will be able to judge what next steps are necessary to be able to make whatever they decide happen.  Yes, Nizar?

Question:  What we have seen today from the footage coming from Libya is that there is real carnage in the country and Qadhafi did not mince his words that he is going to pursue this brutal campaign to the end.  So, why isn’t there any meeting today in the Security Council or any consultations regarding Libya?  Why doesn’t the Secretary-General call an emergency meeting?

Spokesperson:  Well, Nizar, this sounds like the same question that Masood asked, just in a more loaded way.  And I think that the point here is that it is for the Security Council to decide.  You can ask the Security Council members what they plan to do, I am sure.  Yes?

Question:  I want to ask about Côte d'Ivoire and also Sri Lanka.  In Côte d'Ivoire there was a briefing yesterday given by one of the Security Council ambassadors, on the record, in which he said that…

Spokesperson:  In or on?

Question:  On, on.  But still out of discretion, but I guarantee that what he said is that, as a Council member, he was surprised that the troops meant to get to Côte d'Ivoire, voted on by the Council in December, not being there was surprising and that, he said, you should ask DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] why they are not there yet.  So, I wanted, it seems to me, it’s, especially with this renewed fighting, that’s what sort of brings it to a head.  Is there some way to get a statement of what, if DPKO had expected them to get there faster, if this is the fastest that the UN can get troops to a place?  What happened that an emergency call to send troops in December is still not acted on in late February?  Is there, I mean, do you know, can you give a short answer?

Spokesperson:  I am sure my colleagues in DPKO are listening right now.

Question:  The other one is yesterday there was that meeting on the Secretary-General’s schedule with the Sri Lankan contingent, including this Shavendra Silva, the Deputy Perm[anent] Rep[resentative], that there is some controversy he was a general at the time of the final stages of the conflict.  I wanted to know two things:  one, is this the first meeting between the Secretary-General and Mr. Silva; there is some interest in that?  And two, what is the readout of the meeting?  What, does it, how does this relate to Mr. Ban’s panel and to the LLRC [Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission] of Sri Lanka?  And what’s the deadline for Mr. Ban’s panel?  That’s the three questions.

Spokesperson:  Well, the first one:  no idea.  The second:  the high-level delegation from the Government of Sri Lanka, which included the Attorney-General and the Foreign Secretary, paid a courtesy call on the Secretary-General yesterday.  This provided an opportunity for the delegation to update the Secretary-General on ongoing post-conflict reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts, and for an exchange of views on different aspects of those efforts.

And that covers the third question as well.

Question:  Doesn’t that mean, I guess I don’t mean to, I think even you would, there is some, there has been so much controversy around Mr. Ban had said this panel would go to Sri Lanka; then it was reported that they couldn’t, there’s been, I know for a fact that there has been a lot of back and forth.  Can you say, what, how does this meeting relate to that, pretty, process about which Mr. Ban has spoke in December and January?  There is not a word about the panel or about his panel or accountability in that a readout.  Is it, was it truly not discussed in the meeting, or is that a mutually agreed statement?

Spokesperson:  As I say, well, first of all, this is a readout that I am providing you from the UN Secretariat, okay?  Let us be very clear about that.  The second is that it says what it says.  And it talks about post-conflict reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts and for an exchange of views on different aspects of those efforts.  To come back to the first part of your follow-up question on the panel, we have said repeatedly that, while useful, it is not essential for the Panel to visit Sri Lanka.  There are other ways for the Panel to gather the material that it needs to do the job on accountability that it has been asked to do by the Secretary-General, to advise him.  And on the timing, the Panel will let us know when they are ready to let you know.

Question:  Wasn’t it extended, wasn’t it the deadline extended to the end of February or was that…?

Spokesperson:  As I said that the panel will let us know when we can let you know what is happening with the report.  Okay.  Yes, Masood, then Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Just a follow-up to the earlier question by Nizar.  Are you aware of the reports that certain human rights groups who were taking some medicines and food inside Libya were killed at the border and were not allowed to move in with any help at all?

Spokesperson:  I am not aware of those reports.  There are many reports; some, given the kind of difficulties that we have talked about, are difficult to confirm. There are many reports out there.  If I hear anything more specific on that, I will be happy to update you.  But I don’t have anything on that right now.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi, we’ll make this the last question.

Question:  You have touched on this before; and I would like to know if there are any developments on the issue.  As you are aware, several countries have now evacuated their citizens from Libya, or are in the process of doing so.  What is the situation with respect to the UN staff in the country?

Spokesperson:  Well, as I have mentioned a couple of times, and Mr. Pascoe has mentioned, we do have a presence in Libya; it’s not a large presence, but it is still important.  These are staff.  And I can tell you that our security colleagues are evaluating security conditions on the ground day by day and that the United Nations is looking at evacuation of non-essential personnel and their dependants.

Question:  Looking at?

Spokesperson:  Looking at.

Question:  Doing it now is not an option?

Spokesperson:  They are looking at it.  And they review it every day.  Okay, thank you very much.  Have a good afternoon.

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