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

8 March 2011

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

8 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.

**International Women’s Day

The Secretary-General marked the 100th International Women’s Day today, and he noted that, in too many countries and societies, women remain second-class citizens.  In the home, at school, in the workplace and in the community, being female too often means being vulnerable, he said.  In many conflict zones, sexual violence is deliberately and systematically used to intimidate women and whole communities.  He said that only through the full and equal participation of women in all areas of public and private life can we hope to achieve the sustainable, peaceful and just society promised in the United Nations Charter.

Michelle Bachelet, the Executive Director of UN Women, said that it is not just women who pay the price for discrimination; we undermine the quality of our democracy, the strength of our economies, the health of our societies and the sustainability of peace.  She said that she has seen what women — often in the toughest circumstances — can achieve for their families and societies if they are given the opportunity.  The strength, industry and wisdom of women remain humanity’s greatest untapped resource.

For her part, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, saluted the women of the Middle East and North Africa for pushing boundaries and breaking gender stereotypes through their active participation in recent efforts for peace and democracy.  The work, however, is far from over.  She says in these moments of historic transition in Egypt and Tunisia, women’s rights should be at the top of the list of new priorities.

** Libya

The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, is alarmed at increasing accounts of violence and discrimination against sub-Saharan Africans in both eastern and western Libya.  It repeats its call on all parties to recognize the vulnerability of refugees and migrants from sub-Saharan Africa and to take measures to ensure their protection.

Yesterday, a UNHCR team at the Egyptian border interviewed a group of Sudanese who arrived from eastern Libya.  They said that armed Libyans were going door to door, forcing sub-Saharan Africans to leave.  In one instance, a 12-year-old Sudanese girl was reportedly raped.

At Libya’s borders with Egypt and Tunisia, most of those awaiting evacuation are Bangladeshi men.  There is currently a critical shortage of flights to Bangladesh, other Asian countries and sub-Saharan Africa.  More than 210,000 people have now fled the violence in Libya, according to the UN Refugee Agency.

A World Food Programme (WFP) convoy is due to arrive in the eastern Libyan port city of Benghazi today.  And this will be the first delivery of food assistance from a United Nations agency to enter the country.  Additionally, a shipment of more than 1,100 metric tonnes of wheat flour, which had been turned back from the port last week amid security concerns, departed for Libya today.

**Security Council

The Security Council held consultations this morning to discuss recent political developments.  Council members received an update from the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Lynn Pascoe, on Libya and other current issues.  You might have seen Mr. Pascoe at the stakeout a few minutes ago.

** Sudan

An estimated 20,000 people have fled Abyei Town, the urban centre of Sudan’s Abyei region, over the past few days.  That’s according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), which adds that the displaced people account for half of the town’s residents.  Most of them settled temporarily in nearby villages, with some 3,000 in the Agok area.

Across the region, aid workers are standing ready to provide food deliveries, emergency shelter, water and sanitation, and medical assistance to the displaced population.  Meanwhile, the humanitarian appeal for Sudan remains vastly under-funded, with only 24 per cent of the required $1.7 billion made available to date.

** Côte d’Ivoire

The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, is calling on opposing groups in Côte d’Ivoire to support humanitarian efforts and avoid placing civilian lives at risk.  The agency says that, as of yesterday, an estimated 200,000 to 300,000 people were displaced in Abidjan and a further 70,000 people in the country’s west.  It adds that humanitarian and protection needs are growing fast.

In Abidjan, thousands of people remain holed up in community centres where conditions are inadequate and where protection needs have not been properly assessed.  In western Côte d’Ivoire, humanitarian access is severely impeded by insecurity and thousands of displaced people are almost entirely without help.

The Agency says that the number of Ivorians fleeing into eastern Liberia has also risen dramatically.  So far, it has registered some 75,000 refugees.  The Refugee Agency and its partners are working to rehabilitate bridges and roads to improve access.  It is also providing direct support, where possible, to refugees and the communities around them.

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) announced today that the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) has allocated $6 million to help those who have fled to Liberia from Côte d’Ivoire.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

And the Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, is arriving in the Democratic Republic of the Congo today for a three-day visit.  During her mission there, she will travel to North Kivu and Province Orientale — two of the provinces most affected by armed violence.  She will also discuss the protection of civilians and how to ensure better access to populations in need in meetings with the authorities, the humanitarian community and the UN Mission in the country (MONUSCO).

That’s what I have.  Questions?  Matthew?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  It’s not one of the main topics today, but I know that the Secretary-General met at 11:00 a.m. with the Vice President of Kenya, [Stephen] Kalonzo, and I wanted to know, now that that meeting has happened, did the matter of deferring the ICC [International Criminal Court] prosecution of Kenya arise?  And separately, what is the Secretary-General’s view on such a suspension?

Spokesperson:  Well, I need to await a readout on that meeting; so I don’t really have any further comment at this time.  But we have requested a readout and I would expect one.  Okay?

Question:  Would that say specifically whether ICC arose or not? I mean, I guess the readout…

Spokesperson:  Well, as I say, let’s see, let’s see.  We have asked for it and let’s see what happens.  Okay, yes, Edie?

Question:  Martin, a senior UN official who was in Tripoli returned and told reporters in Brussels today…

Spokesperson:  UN official?

Question:  EU.  A European Union official returned and he told reporters in Brussels that senior officials in the Libyan Foreign Ministry want the United Nations to investigate the violence that has been taking place and that they have offered a UN fact-finding mission free, unfettered travel throughout Libya with a security escort.  Has any such offer been relayed to the United Nations?

Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, the Secretary-General spoke with the Libyan Foreign Minister, Musa Kousa, on Sunday.  And they discussed the violence that everybody has witnessed on their TV screens around the world and which people on the ground are enduring right now.  They discussed that at some length.  I understand that the Libyan Foreign Minister was indeed keen for some kind of fact-finding mission.  This is very distinct — and I want to emphasize that — that’s very distinct from the humanitarian assessment team, which we are keen to have enter the country as soon as possible; very distinct from that.  What I would also add is that, as you know, the Human Rights Council already passed a resolution in its meeting recently to establish some kind of investigation.  Obviously, with the right conditions of access, that team would be very keen, I am sure, to go and take a look and to assess matters from that perspective.

Question:  May I follow up? What was the Secretary-General’s response to the Foreign Minister, in terms of this discussion?

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General has been quite clear.  First of all, his main demand was that the violence must stop.  No question about that.  That was what he said very clearly and repeatedly.  The second was that he expressed his concern about the growing humanitarian difficulties inside Libya and our inability at this point to be able to have a very good idea of what the needs are.  And therefore he requested access; immediate access for a humanitarian assessment team.  As you know, that access was granted.  And so, that was the other aspect.  I don’t want to characterise everything that the Libyan Foreign Minister said about what is happening in the country.  But the Secretary-General simply made the point that the violence has to stop; indiscriminate targeting of civilians — that needs to stop; there needs to be a clear understanding that human rights of civilians need to be protected and guaranteed.  So, he made these points quite firmly, I would say.

Question:  Can I just do another quick follow up? What is the status of the humanitarian, the team trying to get humanitarian access; is it there or is it going there?  I thought I heard Pascoe just say that it wasn’t in yet.

Spokesperson:  Well, because I was just preparing to come here, I wasn’t able to hear what Mr. Pascoe said.  However, my understanding is that, right after the conversation that the Secretary-General had with the Foreign Minister on Sunday, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, followed up with the Libyan authorities to discuss the details of that access.  That follow-up continues.  The assessment team has been pulled together; the composition of that team has been established.  So they are ready to roll.  As I say, there is still the follow-up with the Libyan Foreign Ministry.  That’s where we are with that.  Yes, Miki?  And then I am coming to you, Erol.

Question:  You said, to follow up, the team that you’ve just mentioned is waiting on the border?

Spokesperson:  They are waiting.  They are ready to go.  The composition of the team has been established.  Obviously, the follow-up with the Libyan authorities in Tripoli continues at this point.

Question:  I have another question, sorry.  The Secretary-General’s envoy to Libya; you said he was coming on Wednesday, but now it seems like he is coming on Thursday?

Spokesperson:  For logistical reasons — simple, practical logistical reasons — he can’t get here until late on Thursday.  My understanding is that he will meet the Secretary-General early on Friday.  When I say early, I mean on Friday morning, and then after that, the Secretary-General will speak to reporters, probably accompanied by the Special Envoy.  That remains to be confirmed.  But that is the plan at this point.  Erol?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  A really quick follow-up:  during that talk with Mr. Musa Kousa, did the Secretary-General tackle any — did the Libyan part tackle any of the credentials issues regarding Mr. [Ali Abdussalam] Treki and any news on Mr. Treki?

Spokesperson:  No.  I answered the same question yesterday — that’s okay; that was not a topic of conversation.  And I have no further updates on the credentials question at this point.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  Do you have any reports that while some of the workers from, the people, immigrants, working there from developed countries have been taken out by their own countries, like the United States, Canada and so forth; but from the poor countries, like Ghana or Nigeria, the immigrants are still stuck there; they have no way to get out.  So do you have any assessment as to how many such people are there in Libya?

Spokesperson:  Well, it is something that I did mention just a little earlier in this briefing, and certainly it remains a concern.  It’s an area that still needs to be addressed.  The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has said, while a lot of progress has been made in moving a lot of people, this has yet to be taken care of in the way that we would like it to be taken care of.  There is still a considerable need for aircraft and ships, boats to be able to help to move people away from the border area and then on back to their countries of origin.  This is a work in progress.  A lot of progress, as I say, has been made, but that is still an area of concern, no question about it.  Yes, Nizar, I think you had a question, and then I am coming to Mr. Abbad.

Question:  Yeah, it is regarding Yemen; the situation in Yemen is getting worse and worse and we have seen a lot of casualties.  Is there any follow-up from the United Nations with the Government in order to make this more peaceful? And is there any negotiation between the two parties?

Spokesperson:  At this point, I would simply say the Secretary-General has repeatedly called for any demonstrations that are taking place in the region to be able to take place in a peaceful way and for those people who are demonstrating peacefully to be allowed to do so without hindrance; and of course, importantly, that the leaders across the region must listen to what their people are saying.

Question:  But it is obvious, the parties who are shooting at the demonstrators are from the Government side, as it looks.

Spokesperson:  Well, Nizar, as I say, freedom of assembly, freedom of expression, these are fundamental rights anywhere.  And part of that surely also means that when you’re exercising those rights that you should not be subject to violence.  Yes, Iftikhar?

Question:  Just to continue on that.  How about the Saudi role here, sending armies and help to other Governments in order to suppress the protestors?

Spokesperson:  We answered this question yesterday, Nizar.  So there is no point repeating it now.  Yes, Iftikhar?

Question:  Sorry, yesterday you spoke about the freedom of expression, but I mean, sending armies…

Spokesperson:  Nizar, I answered the question yesterday, okay?

Question:  Can you remind me what you said?

Spokesperson:  Well, take a look at the transcript.  Yes, Iftikhar?

Question:  Martin, just to find out whether the United Nations knows anything about this deal being worked out by [Muammar al-]Qadhafi in order to leave, step down, from the presidency?

Spokesperson:  We’ve seen reports from both sides, contradictory reports, and that’s what they remain at this point.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask you about the process for selecting the envoy, Mr. [Abdul Ilah] Khatib.  Something, I wanted to confirm if this is in fact true that while he was Foreign Minister of Libya that he threatened litigation against the publication in the country and…  

Spokesperson:  Of Libya?

Question:  Oh, excuse me, I am sorry.  I am thinking now he is the envoy there; of Jordan; the former Foreign Minister of Jordan, while Foreign Minister of Jordan threatened to litigate privately against the publication and also, whether the business connections, he is on the board of a cement company and also of a bank that has extensive interest throughout the area; were these in fact vetted by the Secretariat before announcing him as such, as the envoy?

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General has appointed the former Foreign Minister of Jordan, Mr. Khatib, as his Special Envoy and has every confidence in him to carry out that role.  And as I said, he will be coming to New York to talk about precisely how he will carry out that function later this week.

Question:  Will he continue his outside business interests while serving the UN and will he be subject to the public financial disclosure requirements?

Spokesperson:  These are topics which I am sure will be discussed by colleagues who deal with that kind of thing.  I don’t have anything for you on that point at the moment.

Question:  When they discuss it will the determination be — can you answer that then?

Spokesperson:  As I say, I am sure it is being discussed by the relevant folks; I don’t have anything for you at the moment.  Okay? Yes, Mr, Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  On another subject, the informal discussions on Western Sahara began yesterday in Malta.  And as you know, this is the sixth round.  Does the Secretary-General expect any substantive progress to come out of these discussions?

Spokesperson:  Well, as we have said before, repeatedly, this is part of a process; it’s about building confidence between the parties concerned.  I don’t have a readout yet on the latest discussions.  And once I do, I will be happy to share it with you.  Yes, Erol?

Question:  Thank you. On Kosovo, and I really apologize if you answered that yesterday, I was not here.

Spokesperson:  I didn’t speak about Kosovo yesterday — many things, but not Kosovo.

Question:  Okay.  And I didn’t look at the transcript.  But anyhow, the Kosovo talks, the first dialogue actually is beginning in Brussels.  And since that resolution that actually suggested that the EU, European Union, will sponsor the talks, but the expectations from the United Nations are that the United Nations is going to give good services to that talk, to facilitate somehow with good services.  What are the expectations of the Secretary-General of that round of talks?  Number two, how will the UN be actually represented at the talks, because we know that some administrations are already sending their envoys?  And number three, I forgot!  [laughter]

Spokesperson:  Well, two is enough to be getting on with!  First of all, dialogue is vital, and the Secretary-General welcomes that.  The United Nations has been involved in the preparation of this dialogue and is contributing to this effort in close coordination with the European Union, as you mentioned, and as we have previously said, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Lamberto Zannier, assisted by Andrew Gilmour, the UN Representative in Belgrade, is the UN focal point for coordination with the European Union.  That’s what I have for you.

Question:  I have the third point:  Since the Secretary-General is really now somehow, it seems, preoccupied with the Middle East, with Libya, etcetera.  How much he is really involved, how much he can follow all this by himself, not only by suggestion, how big is his interest in this subject?

Spokesperson:  His interest in what is happening around the world is unchanged.  As we have seen when we have spoken about, for example, the needs right now in Libya, the focus for international attention, media attention in particular, we must not forget what is happening in Côte d'Ivoire, and we must not forget what is happening in Sudan.  And we don’t.  And we speak out about that, as you have heard just earlier in this briefing.  When it comes to Europe and the various topics that there are there, including the talks that you have mentioned, the Secretary-General remains interested, of course, and he is regularly briefed on what is happening.  Yes?

Question:  Does the Secretary-General know anything about this situation in Geneva where there is; they say that, we received an information from UN Watch what there was, there is still as a council for mercenaries that…

Spokesperson:  Say again, I didn’t quite get…?

Question: Yeah, this, I mean, we received an e-mail yesterday saying that…

Spokesperson:  From whom?

Question:  From UN Watch.  Saying that the United Nations in Geneva still has a council that is serving Najat Al-Hajjaji, a long-time mouthpiece of Col. Muammar [al-]Qadhafi, from a post as a council investigator on human rights violation by mercenaries — means in a position to advise the UN or how mercenaries commit crimes, there is somebody sent there by Colonel Qadhafi.  Now, I received, when I received this yesterday, I thought it was a kind of a joke or something.  But does the Secretary-General know about it; does he have a comment about it?

Spokesperson:  As you know, the Special Rapporteurs are appointed by the Human Rights Council, and we would need to check with our colleagues in Geneva on this story.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thanks, Martin.  Still on Libya; the latest reports indicate that the opposition National Council has given Colonel Qadhafi a 72-hour ultimatum to meet certain demands or else you can imagine what.  Would these developments, should he refuse to leave, complicate the task of Mr. Khatib?

Spokesperson:  As I was saying with respect to the other reports that there are, there are many different reports of different kinds relating to what is happening, both the fighting and the politics that goes with that.  I don’t have anything on that.  As I say, there are many reports; we can’t substantiate everything that is coming out there at this point.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Sure, thanks a lot.  There is a, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders, and IFJ said, among two other groups, have said that they have written a letter to the Secretary-General about this case of Prageeth [Eknelygoda], a journalist in Sri Lanka that disappeared about a year ago — their letter actually quotes you, from this briefing on 18 February, but they are saying the UN should get involved in finding out what happened to this journalist; they are saying that the letter was given to Neil Buhne and they said no replacement has been named.  I guess I wanted to know, can you, you know, they are pretty, I would think they would know how to deliver the letter; has this letter been received and is the UN and actually as it’s been asked now for some time by the wife of the journalist, going to get involved in looking into this matter, and who will replace Mr. Buhne?

Spokesperson:  Well, I am sure that international non-governmental organizations with the strong track records as the ones you have mentioned know how to deliver a letter.  The United Nations also knows how to receive a letter.  And it may or may not be that that letter has been received yet; I am going to check.  As for the need to intercede, I understand that this is something that is being actively looked at by colleagues in the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  But this is not something that I think we would have further details on at the moment.  As for the replacement, as and when a replacement is named, I am sure that we will say.  I don’t have anything on that at the moment.

Okay, right.  Thanks very much, have a good afternoon.

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