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

1 March 2011

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

1 March 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.

** Libya

The Secretary-General has returned from Washington, D.C., and is meeting with senior advisers right now to discuss the latest developments in North Africa and the Middle East.

He will meet with the Member States of the General Assembly at 3 p.m. as they consider their response to the Human Rights Council’s resolution on Libya, which was adopted last Friday.

The Secretary-General made clear in his remarks to reporters after visiting the Holocaust Memorial yesterday that he commended the Human Rights Council for its unanimous recommendation to suspend Libya until the violence stops.  And he welcomed its call for an independent international investigation.  The Secretary-General urges all Member States of the United Nations to act decisively in the General Assembly.  He warned that, in Libya, a Government that has lost its legitimacy has declared war on its own people.

With more than 140,000 Libyans having escaped violence by going to Egypt and Tunisia, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) says that the situation is reaching a crisis point. Yesterday alone, some 14,000 people — the highest number to date in one day -- crossed the border into Tunisia.  The agency voiced concern that many sub-Saharan Africans are not being allowed to enter the country.  Nearly 70,000 people have crossed into Egypt from Libya since late last month, it adds.  The Agency says that it has received desperate calls from refugees in Libya and their family members outside that they feel trapped, threatened and hunted.

The World Food Programme, or WFP, has sent 80 tonnes of food to help Libyans who have fled into Tunisia.  Josette Sheeran, the WFP’s Executive Director, is in Tunisia to discuss humanitarian needs with Government officials.  She travelled to the border area with Libya today.

And for its part, the World Health Organization (WHO) stresses the need for urgent action to avoid the emergence of potential pandemics due to the severe shortage of food and clean drinking water.

** Yemen

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, warned the authorities in Yemen against any violent repression of planned protests today.  She called on the Government to protect the rights of demonstrators and journalists under international law.

Ms. Pillay said that people have the legitimate right to express their grievances and demands to their Government, and she denounced previous violence against protestors in Yemen, which is reported to have resulted in a number of deaths and injuries.  The High Commissioner also cited reports of attacks, intimidation and harassment against local and international journalists covering the protests, as well as the arrest and detention of journalists and human rights defenders.  She is particularly concerned about reports of enforced disappearances of political activists.

** Zimbabwe

Navi Pillay also expressed deep concern about the continuing illegal detention and reported ill treatment of 45 members of civil society in Zimbabwe.  The Zimbabwean detainees have allegedly been charged with treason for discussing events in Egypt and Tunisia.  Ms. Pillay is calling for their speedy release.

** Côte d’Ivoire

The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, is urging humanitarian access for people trapped by fighting in the Abobo district of Abidjan, in Côte d’Ivoire.

The Agency says that many people have already fled Abobo, but that there are reports that armed groups are preventing others from leaving.  This includes, according to church authorities, some 60 families, mainly women and children, trapped in a church.  UNHCR also cites reports of many dead bodies, buses burned and shops looted, and of young militiamen attacking people inside their homes.

The Agency says that there must be no targeting of civilians and that all efforts must be made to prevent civilians being placed in harm’s way.  And UNHCR also says that over the past days, more than 29,000 people have fled across the border to Liberia, joining the 40,000 Ivorian refugees already there.  The Agency is responding to this influx with plans for a further camp and transfers to designated villages and to the existing Bahn camp, where there are basic services such as healthcare, education, and clean water.

** Somalia

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is concerned that a prolonged drought may further worsen life conditions for children in south-central and northern Somalia.  The agency is preparing emergency aid to children and their families, and it is hoping to reach some 900,000 people. This effort will focus on delivering water and sanitation, and health and nutrition, among other necessities.  And there is more information on that in a press release from UNICEF.

**Security Council

China has assumed the Security Council’s rotating Presidency for the month of March. Ambassador Li Baodong of China expects to talk to you in this room at 12:30 p.m. tomorrow, to discuss the Council’s programme of work for this month.

**Press Conferences Tomorrow

And at 11:15 a.m. here tomorrow, there will be a Press Conference on the launch of the annual report of the International Narcotics Control Board.

And there will be three guests at the noon briefing tomorrow:  Alain Le Roy, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO); Yury Fedotov, the Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC); and Ann-Marie Orler, the United Nations Police Adviser in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations. And they will be here to hold the signing ceremony of the new UNODC-DPKO Joint Plan of Action and to brief you on this new initiative.

That’s what I have.  I’m happy to take questions.  Yes, Masood?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  While he was in Washington with President [Barack] Obama, did the Secretary-General and the US President discuss, amongst other things, options on how to settle the situation in Libya, including options of an air strike, or a no-fly zone…?

Spokesperson:  They spent quite a lot their meeting; there was an extended discussion on all of the different types of needs that there are in Libya and obviously an exploration of how the United Nations can help in that regard.  It was obviously a key focus of the meeting, but they did discuss many other topics, as well, including Egypt and Tunisia and Côte d'Ivoire, Sudan, they briefly discussed the meeting that will be taking place next year in Rio de Janeiro, the follow-up to the Earth Summit.  And they also discussed climate change.  So, quite a wide range, but obviously, no question the focus was on Libya.  Yes, Khaled?

Question:  Does the Secretary-General believe it is useful at this stage to impose a no-fly zone on Libya?

Spokesperson:  As I mentioned yesterday, this really is something for the Council to discuss if they so wish.  As you saw last Saturday, there was a very strong resolution; unanimously adopted by the Security Council with a number of measures.  And it is important to see that those measures are implemented and take effect as quickly as possible.  Yes, Erol?

Question:  Obviously a follow up.  Thank, you Martin.  After that Security Council resolution was adopted, we talked to French Ambassador and he said that no-fly zone would not work.  Obviously there is some kind of dispute.  As of yesterday, British Prime Minister was quoted in media saying that Brits are considering involving the no-fly zone.  Whether it is going to be only a matter of the United Nations bearing in mind; also let me say that some experience in previous imposing no-fly zones in Bosnia in Balkans or it could be from nation-to-nation to how it works, actually?

Spokesperson:  As I say, this is really something for the Council to consider if it so wishes.  If they wish to discuss it, it is for them to decide. It is not something that I have any comment on at the moment. 

Question: Can I also, one more? The Secretary-General, after this visit in Washington, was quoted saying that he is personally going to take care for this Security Council resolution to be implemented.  What does it mean by that?  And what made him, if I may put it like that, to be so proactive on this stage with Libya?

Spokesperson:  Well, let’s roll back a bit.  The Secretary-General has been very clear in his messages to address what has been unfolding across the region, not simply in Libya.  Yes, he has spoken out on Libya; he has also spoken very clearly on what has been happening in other countries, too, just to make that point. Yes, he was referring, when he spoke in Washington yesterday, about the importance of the resolution that was passed.  It is a wide-ranging resolution, and he and President Obama discussed that Security Council resolution when they met, too.  The Secretary-General has also said there in Washington, and he said it in the Council, that these are tough measures, but it may be necessary to take further action in future.  And that is why the Secretary-General needs to, along with others, of course, not just the Secretary-General, but along with others, to keep a close eye on whether the measures are implemented swiftly.  When he says he is sure that these measures will be implemented swiftly, he is keen to ensure that that is the case. But obviously it doesn’t just rest with him. Nick and then Matthew.  Yeah?

Question:  Martin, I was just wondering, is there any development or any clarification regarding the statement of the Secretary-General on Sunday about delivery of Belarusian helicopters to Côte d'Ivoire; because it seems like, it’s kind of like information that is coming in is confusing? Laurent Gbagbo himself he denied it; the Belarusian Foreign Ministry denied it flatly, I spoke to someone from the Belarusian Mission; they said that it is not true and heard that some member of the Security Council also said that this information is not true.  So, what’s actually the status of it?

Spokesperson:  I think I want to make three points here.  I understand from the Department of Peacekeeping Operations that the Group of Experts established by the Security Council to monitor the arms embargo against Côte d'Ivoire reported that it had received information that three attack helicopters and related equipment were going to be delivered to the forces loyal to Mr. Gbagbo.  And on Sunday, DPKO advises me that the Mission in Côte d'Ivoire, UNOCI, received reports that a flight landed at Yamoussoukro.  But the Group of Experts that I just mentioned has not been able to confirm this due to restriction on its movement.  And given the seriousness of the issue, it was decided that this would be raised publicly.  The second thing I wanted to say is that any deployment of attack helicopters would present a serious threat to civilians and to peacekeepers and to the Mission supply lines.  And it would also represent a serious threat to the Golf Hotel. And as part of that, obviously for the Mission to be able to carry out its mandated tasks, and that includes monitoring and enforcing the embargo, it needs to have freedom of movement.  That is not a given at the moment.  It is increasingly complex and dangerous in Côte d'Ivoire for our peacekeeping operation, not to mention for the civilian population.

But for the Mission to carry out its work, it needs to have freedom of movement to be able to monitor and enforce the embargo.  And that’s why confirmation of the reports received to ensure accuracy has been made all the more difficult.  The third point I want to make is that the Permanent Mission of Belarus has informed the Secretariat that the Republic of Belarus fully complies with its international obligations regarding the embargo against Côte d'Ivoire and that Belarus has an effective export control system in place to avoid embargo violations.  The Permanent Mission stated that, since the Security Council established the sanctions regime in 2004, Belarus has never undertaken or planned any arms deliveries to Côte d'Ivoire, and we welcome these assurances.  So, that’s what I have for you.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Do you think that you will be able to get some kind of clarification on this point; particularly about the Belarus link, credibility by the Secretary-General; let’s say today?

Spokesperson:  As I just mentioned, Nick, DPKO has advised that the Group of Experts and the Mission has had difficulty in its movements.  But despite those severe restrictions on movement, the Mission will continue to monitor activities at that airport in Yamoussoukro in order to try to verify these reports.  As I say, DPKO has advised me that the Group of Experts that was established by the Council to monitor the arms embargo had received this information and that is why it was taken extremely seriously.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  I want to ask some follow ups on that; this morning in front of the Council, the Brazilian Permanent Representative said that as of Saturday, she believed these allegations were not true.  Ambassador [Vitaly] Churkin of Russia says he has complained within the Secretariat about the announcement that went out, and basically they say that the panel of experts’ guy was able to go and saw no aircraft; they did get shot at, but saw no aircraft on the tarmac and there is no… they’re there. So, I guess I am just, it seems a little more complex, and I notice that a UN News Service article was taken down, paragraphs taken out; is there some way you can, do you accept that, it seemed to be pretty clear, some pretty major ambassadors were saying that this was not, this was wrong to have come out with it that early, and that in fact there may have been reason to believe that it wasn’t true even when the statement was made.  And I just wonder, it doesn’t, I heard, your long explanation, but I wonder: what do you learn from this?  When has Ban Ki-moon in the past issued this type of, yes, “half-baked” might be one word; this is the kind of words that are being thrown around out there.  What’s the standard for the Secretary-General to put out a statement such as he did on Monday morning?

Spokesperson:  As I said, given the seriousness of the matter, and the explanation that I have given, - it may have been long; it was nearly as long as your question – to try to, it was an attempt to try to be clear.  That’s why I wanted to give it in some detail.  Given the seriousness of the matter, it was decided that this would be raised publicly. And again, the other point with this is that any deployment of attack helicopters would clearly present a serious threat to civilians, to peacekeepers, and so on.

Question:  But I guess, I am thinking, contrasting it to things, for example in Darfur where the UN is so cautious in terms of, even when things or bombs are falling, they say, “we can’t say”.  I guess, can you confirm that Russian Ambassador Churkin has complained to the Secretariat and just what, the reason I was, it’s perfectly fine that it’s a long answer; I am just wondering, it doesn’t seem to directly address the idea that this was an improper side-taking; that it reflects sort of a lack of judgement.  Do you accept that?  Is there any re-thinking of the Secretariat’s part that maybe that was a mistake what went out Monday morning?

Spokesperson:  I am not aware - but it doesn’t mean that it hasn’t happened – but I am not aware of any communication by the Russian Ambassador with the Secretariat.  But that doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened; I am not aware of it.  So, your next question, yes?

Question:  Martin, just kind of a follow-up; can you just detail to us , I am not very aware for example, what is the process when some kind of information like important information originates in another continent; how it reaches the Secretary-General? What are the levels, and what’s the likelihood that at some point, it can be distorted or he can be misinformed? I am just wondering; what actually, what’s the process of delivering information to him, and he making a statement?

Spokesperson:  There are a couple of points. The first is that this is about a matter that is within the jurisdiction of the Mission in Côte d'Ivoire that has a mandate, a Security Council mandate, that includes, amongst other things, to monitor and enforce this arms embargo that we have been talking about.  So the reporting from the field is through the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.  That’s the chain of command, if you like.  And obviously, DPKO is within the Secretariat and therefore would be reporting further up the line to the Executive Office of the Secretary-General.  That’s the chain of command; it’s fairly clear.  Yes; Ali.

Question:  There are conflicting reports on the whereabouts of the opposition leaders in Iran. Has the United Nations taken any step to contact the Iranian authorities and to get concrete information about [Mehdi] Karoubi and other leader in the opposition?  Have you taken any step in this regard? Thank you.

Spokesperson:  We’re certainly aware of the reports as you are, and I will see if we have anything further on that. I don’t have anything at the moment.  Yes, Lou?

Question:  Thanks, Martin.  I just had a question about one detail, the way things happened in the Ivory Coast. The original statement, the Secretary-General’s statement, said that it was a violation of the arms embargo.  And then when the Secretary-General was in Washington, the language changed to “if confirmed, it would be a violation of the sanctions”.  So, I am just wondering what happened in between to make the Secretary-General decide to change the way he was speaking, because that move to a conditional is a pretty severe rollback, at least from the way I see it; and he is going from an accusation to saying, well, if true, it would be bad.  So…?

Spokesperson:  As I said just a little while ago, the Group of Experts reported that it had received information and then the Mission itself, I am advised by DPKO, received reports that a flight had landed.  But the Group of Experts has not been able to confirm this due to the restrictions on its movement.  So, for that reason, we are still trying to verify.  DPKO advises that the Mission is trying to verify these reports.  Yes?

Question:  There have been reports, and they come from a priest, whose name is Don Mussia; he is from Eritrea.  And he says that there have been instances of lynching in Libya of immigrants from Sudan, Somalia and Eritrea.  They have been mistaken to be mercenary, [Muammar al-]Qadhafi’s mercenaries.  And also of women and children being corralled; actually he says in the town of Hausha, if I pronounce it well, 40 kilometres from Tripoli. And he is asking help from anybody – and I am talking to you because he wrote to my newspaper in Rome, asking for help.  His name is Don Mussia – M-U-S-S-I-A.  And I was wondering if you have heard anything?  He is in contact with people that are desperate, saying that women and children are being thrown out of houses because they are suspected to be connected to mercenaries, but they are only immigrants.  They were in Libya to work for the oil companies. Have you heard anything about this?

Spokesperson:  Not this specific report; but obviously like you, we have seen many reports along these lines.  And as I mentioned to you right at the beginning of the briefing, UNHCR has said that it has received calls from people in Libya along these lines, and their family members who are outside of Libya saying that they feel trapped, threatened and hunted.  It’s really difficult for the United Nations to be able to verify exactly what is happening inside.  It is very difficult for us to do that. What I would suggest, if I may, is that the person you are referring to should really be in touch with UNHCR and with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  This would be a good conduit, and then both of those agencies would be able to follow up.  Our access on the ground inside Libya at this point is negligible.  Yes?

Question:  Actually you partly just now answered that; I was going to ask you what is the closest location of UN nearby Tripoli or Benghazi? We know that Red Cross, for example, is in Tunisia because it happened to somebody who is working from former Yugoslavia.  But anyhow, also, do you have, does the United Nations have the list of the countries from where the mercenaries are coming from and can you tell us something about it?

Spokesperson:  On mercenaries, no, I can’t.  We have seen reports, the same as you have, about possible countries of origin.  You will have heard the Deputy Permanent Representative of Libya speaking on Saturday on that subject at the stakeout, I believe.

Question:  Can you confirm that?

Spokesperson:  No, I can’t. No, we can’t. We are aware of the reports, but as I say, our presence, the UN presence in Libya, is negligible at this point.  As you heard Valerie Amos, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, say yesterday, UN staff, international staff, have been withdrawn.  So, to answer your first point, there is however, a considerable UN presence of different agencies, and funds and programmes on the borders, particularly the Tunisian border and Egyptian border.  And they are working extremely hard to help those people who are seeking to escape the violence, wherever they are from, as they exit from Libya.

Question:  But you are not saying that there is not UN staff in Libya; you are only saying it is only -- or you are not disclosing their location?

Spokesperson:  No, I said that UN international staff have been evacuated; have been withdrawn from Libya itself.  There is considerable presence of different UN agencies, including the UN Refugee Agency, the World Food Programme on the borders.  Obviously, we as the United Nations, as a whole, would need to assess security very, very carefully before operating inside Libya itself at this point.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  A follow up on Libya and then something on OIOS [Office for Internal Oversight Services].  But on Libya, there is this Suleiman Jamous; there is this high profile JEM leader, the Justice and Equality Movement in Darfur, has said that the JEM has asked the UN to help get Khalil Ibrahim, the leader of JEM out of Libya, maybe to take him to the Doha talks or otherwise.  Can you confirm that a request has been received and what is the UNs response to, not to say that one person, but this is somebody that Mr. [Djibril] Bassolé has been dealing with, it now says they want to go to Doha.  Are they going to be taken out of Libya?  Can the UN do anything about that?

Spokesperson:  I have seen the reports, and we’ll follow up on it.  I think I probably answered the second part of that question just now, given the security constraints that there are at the moment.  What’s your question; the final question now?

[Later, the Spokesperson squawked the following: "The UN-AU joint mediation team has been working for some months with Dr. Khalil Ibrahim of the Justice and Equality Movement regarding his attendance at the peace talks in Doha.  The Joint Mediation continues to work with him on his movement to Doha, including under the present circumstances in Libya."]

Question:  Sure.  I guess, on OIOS, I had wanted to ask this; it has been a long time brewing.  Almost a year ago there was this, issues arose about the hiring within the Umoja project, about Paul van Essche hiring friends and colleagues in violation of rules.  And now the OIOS report itself has become public, and in it, it says, it’s pretty damning, it talks about PricewaterhouseCoopers not being a low bidder; talks about all the hiring, and it says, Angela Kane said that she would respond to this report and take action in some way on accountability by 24 September last year, 2010. So, I am wondering, I know you didn’t; I am not sure if you have issued some kind of a statement about this yet, what action has been taken on this OIOS report about systematic problems within the $300 million Umoja project?

Spokesperson:  Two things: One is that we’ve answered at length and on more than one occasion on this topic, and I don’t really have anything to add except, for a second point, which is that some aspects of the audit report are being still closely studied, to look at what action may be needed.  And that is all I have to say on it.

Question:  But I mean, if it paints a picture of hiring irregularities, and is PricewaterhouseCoopers, given this report, do they still have the contract?  What, I just want, I know that you have issued something, but I am not sure as to the two main components, the head of Umoja and PWC; what’s happening?

Spokesperson:  We’ve issued quite a lot of detailed responses to questions on this from you and from others, and I don’t have anything further to add.

Question:  But I haven’t really seen the response.

Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything further to add at this point, Matthew.  All right, thank you very much.

* *** *

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