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

10 March 2011

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

10 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.

** Bahrain

I have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Bahrain.

The Secretary-General has continued to follow closely the situation in Bahrain.  He remains concerned at the apparent impasse in launching a national dialogue a few weeks after King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa asked Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa to initiate such a process.  The Secretary-General is of the view that this offer has created an opportunity for all sides to address political and constitutional reform and facilitate national reconciliation.

The Secretary-General calls on all parties in Bahrain to seize the moment and engage in a broad-based, peaceful and meaningful dialogue involving the political opposition and civil society in the interest of all Bahraini people.  To this end, the Secretary-General reiterates the readiness of the United Nations to provide support to nationally led efforts, if requested to do so.

The Secretary-General also calls on all of Bahrain’s regional neighbours and the wider international community to support a dialogue process and an environment conducive for credible reforms in Bahrain.

**Security Council

The Secretary-General spoke at today’s Security Council meeting on Somalia, saying that the situation in the country requires urgent attention.  He said that the military gains by the Transitional Federal Government and the African Union Mission, AMISOM, are fragile, while the humanitarian situation is dire.

The Secretary-General said that AMISOM and the Transitional Federal Government forces are delivering on the military front.  But AMISOM would be even more effective if it had more resources, including helicopters and support for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.  The international community must keep its end of the bargain.

He added that piracy off the coast of Somalia remains a grave and growing menace.  The Secretary-General said that we must forge an integrated response based on three pillars: deterrence, development and security.  We have his remarks in my office.

** Libya

The Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Valerie Amos, has called on all parties in Libya to protect civilians after reports of heavy fighting and bombardments in the country’s west that have resulted in an unknown number of deaths and injuries.  She expressed deep concern about the reportedly indiscriminate nature of the fighting, particularly the use of heavy artillery and aerial bombardments.

And the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, condemns the detention and possible torture of a BBC news team as they sought to cover the situation in the western Libyan city of Zawiya.  The three-person crew was reportedly beaten and subjected to mock executions by members of the Libyan army and secret police.

Ms. Pillay says that for the news team to be targeted, detained and treated with such cruelty — which could amount to torture — is completely unacceptable and in serious violation of international law.

For her part, Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, says that her office has received unconfirmed reports of violations against children in Libya.  They include killing, maiming, the use of children as combatants and the denial of humanitarian access.

Ms. Coomaraswamy reminds the Libyan Government, pro-Government forces and opposition groups of their obligation under international law to protect children during armed clashes and that recruitment and use of children may constitute a war crime.

** Sudan

The United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) expressed its growing concern at the ongoing operations by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) against the rebel forces in Jonglei State, and the impact it is having on the civilian population.

The UN Mission says that, while the Government of Southern Sudan has a responsibility to address a security threat within its territory, it must do so in accordance with international humanitarian law.  It also must allow the Mission to have access to victims of the conflict.

The Mission calls on all parties to refrain from any actions and activities that may result in harm to civilians or that may endanger their lives and property.  And the Mission further appeals to all groups to allow unhindered access to these areas, so that the humanitarian situation and immediate needs on the ground can be assessed.

** C ôte d’Ivoire

On Côte d’Ivoire, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said that the human rights situation appeared to be deteriorating alarmingly in the country — with a sharp increase in inter-communal and inter-ethnic confrontations.

According to investigations conducted by UN human rights officers in the country, at least 392 people have been killed in Côte d’Ivoire since mid-December, including at least 27 in just the past week.

Pillay urged all sides to respect the rights of civilians.  She said she was particularly worried about the constant incitement to violence by influential leaders who appear to be deliberately provoking attacks against political opponents, other ethnic groups and nationals from other West African countries, as well as against the UN staff and operations working in Côte d’Ivoire.

**Press Conferences

As I have mentioned already earlier this week, the Secretary-General and his newly appointed Special Envoy to Libya, Abdul Ilah Khatib, will address the press at the North Lawn stakeout at 11:15 tomorrow.  And this will be right after they have met.

And then at 12:45 p.m., there will be a press conference with Academy Award-winning actor Forest Whitaker and international film director Chen Kaige on UNESCO’s [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization] high-level panel on peace and dialogue amongst cultures.

That’s what I have.  Yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  A procedural question.  The French Government has recognized the transitional national government in Libya.  What would it take for the United Nations to recognize the transitional government as the Government of Libya?  What is the process?

Spokesperson:  Well, ultimately all Member States have to approve such a move.  And so, it rests with them.  And that’s…

Question:  With the General Assembly, a majority vote or unanimous vote…?

Spokesperson:  I would need to check on the precise mechanics of that.  But ultimately this is in the hands of the Member States.

Question:  It’s the Security Council that is rather involved in that process of recognition.

Spokesperson:  Yes, but all Member States have a say.  All 192.  Yes?  Okay, yes, please?

Question:  Martin, two prominent members of the United Nations Security Council have now expressed their serious concern about Lithuania’s totalitarian violation of the human rights of Mr. Algirdas Paleckis.  I know you said that the letter that was sent to the Secretary-General was not received, but these are permanent members of very large international departments and they acknowledge receipt of the letter.  Now the letter was sent by certified mail in the United States and the confirmation number that the central records department here has is 11701.  Can you look into that and find out why the Secretary-General… why this letter has not been brought to the Secretary-General’s attention?

Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, a letter has to be received, and as I have said, that so far is not the case and we’ll certainly check again.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  Martin, do you have any idea, because there are reports, one after another, from various correspondents at the newspapers and so forth that the loyalist forces are now taking over, one after another, cities back in Libya.  Do you have any idea or any assessment from the United Nations people on the ground how many cities have been taken back and how many people have been so far either injured or killed by the Libyan forces?  Do you have an assessment to that effect?

Spokesperson:  Well, Masood, as you know, we don’t have people on the ground.  That’s the whole point.  So, therefore, it is very difficult for us to assess and we are still working for precisely such an assessment team to enter the country.  That has not yet happened.  And it is something that we are working on extremely hard, not least because it is obvious from the news reports that there is an increasing humanitarian need.  As you have just heard, the Humanitarian Coordinator, Valerie Amos, is very concerned about the impact this is having on civilians, in particular.  So we don’t have confirmed figures, because we don’t have access at this point, and we are pushing to be able to carry out the assessment mission as quickly as possibly can.

Question:  As far as Bahrain is concerned, I understand that the situation is ongoing over there and the Secretary-General, he issued this statement which seems that it was triggered by some incident; because that ongoing situation, it had simmered down.  Has it flared up again, and the Secretary-General was prompted to issue such a statement for reconciliation and talks between the opposition and the Government?

Spokesperson:  I think this is simply recognition that there had already, some time ago, been a clear indication that a process of dialogue would be launched.  But that has yet to happen.  I think the Secretary-General is just expressing his concern that that has not yet happened, and as I said, the statement makes clear that it is for all the parties in Bahrain to take part in that dialogue.  And that the United Nations, if requested, would be ready to provide support to those efforts.  Yes, Richard?

Question:  Martin, I wondered, is the UN willing to accept what State television in Ivory Coast announced yesterday, that the UN stop flying or landing — I don’t think you commented on that earlier, unless I missed it — is there an official response from the UN?

Spokesperson:  There is, indeed.  I would anticipate that I’ll have a statement from the Secretary-General a little later.  But I can tell you already that the mission has made it extremely clear that it will be continuing its air operations and it is mandated to do so by the Security Council.

[The Spokesperson later read out the following statement:

The Secretary-General notes with satisfaction the statement issued by the Government of President Alassane Ouattara regarding as invalid a declaration by the authorities supporting Laurent Gbagbo, banning United Nations and Licorne flights inside Côte d’Ivoire.

He deplores this latest attempt to disrupt the operations of the United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) and warns all parties that any attempt to disrupt flights conducted by the impartial forces is unacceptable.

The Secretary-General confirms that UNOCI will maintain its flight operations and take all necessary measures, as directed by unanimous Security Council resolutions, to protect its assets and fulfil its mandate, particularly with regards to protection of civilians.]

Yes, and then I will come to you.  Yes, Erol, and then I am coming to you, Matthew, okay?

Question:  Thank you.  Can I ask you on Kosovo or you will go with the other questions?

Spokesperson:  Yeah, I’ll take a question on Kosovo and then I’ll move to Matthew, by all means.

Question:  Martin, as you know, the first round of talks on Kosovo dialogue has been finished in Brussels.  And it seems to me that definitely the UN is now on the backseat on that, and that EU, European Union, is calling the shots; although the European Union, when you contact them and ask them, they would tell you the UN has its role in preparation, they recognize that.  But it seems to me it’s really a little bit back.  So, what is the position, I am struggling to understand that, of the United Nations, for example, on whether these talks, dialogue talks, should be on status as the Serbs are saying, or only technical, as the Kosovo Albanians are saying.  What do you say on this, after this first round?

Spokesperson:  Well, what I can tell you is that, as I have told you before, that the UN has been involved in preparing the dialogue.  And I have also told you that the Secretary-General welcomes the dialogue that has been taking place.  And that the UN has been contributing to this effort in close coordination with the European Union.  As you know, the UN is the focal point; the head of the Mission in Kosovo, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Lamberto Zannier, is the focal point for the UN’s coordination with the European Union, and he is assisted by Andrew Gilmour, who is the UN Representative in Belgrade.  That’s what I can tell you.

Question:  But what is the position of UN?  If you ask Americans, for example, who are really involved in that, or the European Union, they will tell you what is their position on the status, whether these talks, dialogue is about the status or technical; Americans would say this is not about status, but we recognize the practical way of touching upon that issue could come out during the negotiations.  So, I am struggling to understand, what is the position of UN?

Spokesperson: Well, I think that the UN; there is a UN Security Council resolution if I am not mistaken, that remains in place.  And therefore, that sets out rather clearly what the UN position is.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask first a couple of helicopter questions.  But on this Côte d’Ivoire one, maybe it is clear, but did the UN fly Mr. [Alassane] Ouattara out of the Golf Hotel for his visit to the AU meeting, and will they be flying him back in?

Spokesperson:  We’re not talking about movements at this point.  What I can tell you is that, as I just already mentioned, the mission has made it clear that it will continue its air operations.

Question:  And will they be using those Ukrainian attack helicopters in that context?

Spokesperson:  As I said, it will continue its air operations.

Question:  I wanted to also ask about this flight of Ahmed Haroun, there has been a new report that when he was flown into Abyei that actually 400 Dinka youth stormed the UN’s compound, angered at his presence and that McClatchy/Miami Herald story says that [Salah] Gosh, who is this former intelligence chief, and Haroun were evacuated by helicopter from their visit to Abyei.  So, I wanted to know, one, can you confirm that in fact the UN flew him in and then upon protest by youth, Dinka youth, flew him out?  Is that true?

Spokesperson:  Well, I can tell you that Governor Haroun was transported there and back again.  That is correct.  I have already said that.  As for what happened at the time around the location where the meeting was being held, there were some disturbances that ended peacefully, and if I have more details precisely on what happened, then I’ll let you know.

Question:  But I guess my thing is that, when it first came up, it was presented, this is a very positive visit, that he’d brought peace and, in fact, if 400 youth protested him and destroyed vehicles and he left under fire, it seems to… would the UN fly him there again?

Spokesperson:  As I say, I would need to check on the precise details.  There were protests; that is the case.  But also there was a result, in the form of the agreement that I have mentioned before.  But if I have more detail, I’ll be happy to give it to you.  Yes, James?

Question:  Thanks, Martin.  This is a question back on the SG’s statement on Bahrain, in which he made reference to the role that regional neighbours could play.  I think out of Kuwait today there was news that the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] is creating a $10 billion fund to help bolster the Governments of Oman and Bahrain.  Does the SG consider this a positive move?

Spokesperson:  I’d have to check on that.  I don’t have an answer for you at the moment.  But clearly, the regional neighbours and indeed the wider international community do have a role to play in supporting the process that is under way there.  I don’t have anything further at the moment.  Yes, Miki?

Question:  Martin, as the Libyan Government seems to be stepping up its diplomatic efforts to present their case, to especially European countries, is there any indication that Dr. [Ali Abdussalam] Treki will come very soon or if the Libyan Government will send another letter or, you know, pushing more for him?

Spokesperson:  The position is the same, that Mr. Treki has been designated by the authorities in Tripoli as their Permanent Representative.  For that to happen, Mr. Treki needs to present his credentials personally to the Secretary-General here in New York.  That has not happened yet.  Yes?

Question:  There are some news reports coming from Cyprus that two separate delegations will be coming to New York to meet with UN experts on property issues.  Is that true, and can you give us some information about these talks?

Spokesperson:  I’d need to check on that.  I don’t have anything for you right now.  I am sure I can find out from my colleagues who deal with the topic.  Yes, Sylviane?

Question:  On overall in Lebanon, what is the assessment of the situation in Lebanon through the United Nations’ eye, right now?

Spokesperson:  Well, that is a rather broad question, and I hesitate to give a broad answer.

Question:  That is not broad, because we don’t hear… We hear about Bahrain, Libya and Egypt, and there is something going on…

Spokesperson:  That’s right; Mr. [Michael] Williams has spoken recently quite clearly about developments there.  If I have anything more specific to add, I would do so.  I am happy to try to find out a little bit more after the briefing to see if I can help you further.

Question:  More especially, do you know if the Tribunal, the indictment, will be delivered soon, to the public soon, or has it… it has been said March 10 or something…

Spokesperson:  As you know, it has already happened that the indictment papers have been handed over, but the names in that indictment have not been made public yet.  And it is for the Tribunal to announce if and when that will happen, and not for me.  Yes, Erol?

Question:  Martin, on a separate issue, but since Sylviane mentioned ad hoc tribunal, on ICTY [International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia]; ICTY in several cases did clear or acquitted some personalities, including former member of the Bosnian war presidency, Mr. [Ejup] Ganić, and recently GeneralJovan Divjak, also from Bosnia, but then they were still apprehended, one in London last year, and the last one in Vienna, Austria, respectively, under the war arrest warrants from Serbia.  Now, what will be the position of UN?  Why or how the States should, and how would, respect clearance that is coming from the ICTY in order not to send that kind of arrest warrants or to undertake anything on their own in regard of the possible war crimes or…?

Spokesperson:  I need to check and it may be that you could get a quicker answer from the ICTY itself, but…

Question:  I know, but I really need to see how the UN is looking on it, since this is somehow under the UN umbrella.  I will, and we have a correspondent in Hague, but I would like to…

Spokesperson:  Of course, of course.  If I have anything further, but typically, these…

Question:  I will articulate more precisely this question, it is also broad.  I don’t like broad questions, but I will definitely send you an e-mail on this, and…

Spokesperson:  Typically, as you know, these various tribunals, international courts, work independently.  And therefore, I doubt that we would have anything very specific to say on that.  But if we do, I’ll let you know, okay?  Yes, Miki?

Question:  Can I just check with you again; when the Secretary-General spoke to [Libyan] Foreign Minister [Musa] Kousa, on the telephone, they agreed to receive the Special Envoy, Mr. [Abdul Illah] Khatib?

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General has certainly informed the Libyan authorities that he has appointed a Special Envoy, and obviously we have made it clear that the role of the Special Envoy is to undertake urgent consultations with the authorities in Tripoli.  I think tomorrow you will hear more about that from the Secretary-General and, indeed, from the Special Envoy himself.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask two quick budget questions; then something on Somalia, since it is on the Council’s agenda.  Yesterday, you’d said that this 3 per cent cut applied to a $5.4 billion budget.  I just wanted to know, does it apply in any way to the peacekeeping budget, which is $7.5 billion a year or $15 billion on a biennial?  Or is it only for the Secretariat’s regular budget?

Spokesperson:  Well, what I can tell you, that $5.4 billion is the budget outline figure, and it obviously is not the peacekeeping budget, as you know.  But what the Secretary-General has made clear is that similar measures should be looked at for the regular budget and for peacekeeping.  But this is something — it really is a work in progress.  And of course it is really vital to remember the role of the Member States here.  They approve the budget, and therefore, what is being talked about here is the Secretary-General urging the various department heads within the Secretariat to look at their budget submissions with a view to cutting that by 3 per cent.  And the whole point here is to show budget discipline at a time of financial constraints for all.

Question:  Okay, now that that is helpful.  The other thing is, earlier this week in the Fifth, in the resumed Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary), this $100 million tax equalization fund came up.  And the head of the G-77, María Luz Melon [of Argentina], said that the scope was supposed to have been presented… any change of scope like this was supposed to have been presented to the Budget Committee in advance, raised a number of questions about it.  I am wondering, what is… there didn’t seem to be a response at that time; what is the Secretariat’s response to G-77 saying that the $100 million was done improperly?

Spokesperson:  As I have mentioned numerous times, this is US money and this work that needs to be carried out is something that US authorities have agreed to and have agreed to fund from the fund that you mentioned.  If I have anything further specifically responding to the point you have mentioned, then I will be happy to let you know.  But at the moment I do not.

Question:  Okay.  Because they…  When you look into it, you will see, they cite a specific resolution, 62/87, said that any change of scope or this is also going to delay the Capital Master Plan, that this was supposed to come back to the GA.  I am just sort of…

Spokesperson:  Well, I think it would be for the Capital Master Plan people, the people in charge of the renovation of the building, to say whether that would constitute a delay or not.  That is not our understanding. Let’s hear from the Capital Master Plan, all right?

Question:  Okay, that’s great.  The last thing is just this, because Somalia is on it.  Médecins Sans Frontières has put out a statement today, it’s largely criticizing the DFID [Department for International Development], the UK, cutting back on funding to some countries and saying it should be security-related.  But their position is that they have put out is that the UN is not neutral in Somalia.  They say that because the Resident Coordinator wears both political and humanitarian hats, it shows that the humanitarian side is in the service of the, quote, “the UN’s political aims” and that it has compromised the UN’s ability to safeguard independent humanitarian assistance.  And I just wonder, this critique has been made before, of the UN decision there, but is it, is it a conscious decision by the UN to blur, to merge these two things?  Is there a place for humanitarians that is not totally aligned with the UN and the Security Council support of the [Transitional Federal Government?  What do you make of the Médecins Sans Frontières saying that their work is actually impaired by the UN’s process in Somalia?

Spokesperson:  I’ll ask my colleagues who deal with this specifically.  But as I recall, Mr. [Mark] Bowden, sitting right here, has spoken quite clearly on that topic already.  But if there is anything further, then we’ll let you know.  Yes, Masood, last question?

Question:  Yeah, just this… there are threats reported, threats on the cricket teams in India by terrorist organizations.  Are you aware… is the Secretary-General aware of these threats which are coming, it has been reported in the Indian media and so forth?

Spokesperson:  No, I don’t.  That is not something that we would be specifically involved in, I think.  I have not heard anything related to that, and I think tht that is something that would be dealt with by the national authorities.

Question:  On this terrorist attack in Pakistan, did you issue a statement yesterday at all?

Spokesperson:  We provided an answer to a question, and that answer I believe was sent out to correspondents.  If you don’t have it, I will be very happy to let you have it.  All right.  Okay, thank you very much.  Thank you.

* *** *

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