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

11 March 2011

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

11 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 Farhan Haq, Acting Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon, everyone.

** Japan

The Secretary-General has expressed his deepest sympathies and condolences to the Japanese people and Government, especially those who lost family and friends in today’s earthquake and subsequent tsunamis.

The United Nations, he said, stands by the people of Japan and will do anything and everything it can at this very difficult time.  He expressed his hope that Japan will be able to overcome this difficult time as soon as possible.

Experts from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) are in contact with their Japanese counterparts.  We have offered to send a UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) team to Japan and are awaiting a reply.  Dozens of international search-and-rescue teams are also monitoring the situation and stand ready to assist.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has been informed by Japan that a heightened state of alert has been declared at a power plant north of Tokyo.  The plant has been shut down and no release of radiation has been detected.

** Libya

The Secretary-General met this morning with his Special Envoy to Libya, Abdul Ilah Al-Khatib, and they spoke to reporters afterwards.  The Secretary-General said that his message on Libya has been strong and consistent.  The violence must stop.  Humanitarian aid must get to those in need.  Those responsible for violence against civilians will be held accountable.  A peaceful resolution must be found.

He said that he has decided to dispatch Mr. Khatib to Libya soon.  He will depart from New York over the weekend, accompanied by a team that includes senior humanitarian officials and staff from the Department of Political Affairs and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).  They are expected to arrive in Tripoli next week for several days of discussions.

Their objective will be to assess the situation on the ground and undertake broad consultations with Libyan authorities on the immediate humanitarian, political and security situation.  And we have the transcript of the Secretary-General’s opening remarks in our Office.

** Libya — Humanitarian

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) reports that some 2,500 people are arriving at the Libya-Tunisia border daily.  But it notes that evacuation flights are not keeping pace with arrivals.  At the Choucha border transit camp, 17,000 people of 25 nationalities — mostly Bangladeshi — are awaiting onwards travel or other solutions.

New arrivals in Tunisia continue to say that there are many checkpoints between Tripoli and the Ras Adjir border crossing with Tunisia.  The agency says it has heard consistent reports that telephones, SIM cards and cash have been taken at these checkpoints, as well as accounts of threats and discrimination on the basis of skin colour throughout Libya.

According to Eritrean and Somali refugees who recently arrived in Tunisia, some of their friends and family in Tripoli are too afraid to travel to the border.  To date, more than 230,000 people have fled the violence in Libya.

The World Food Programme (WFP) says that a ship carrying nearly 1,200 tons of wheat flour — enough to feed some 94,000 people for one month — has now arrived in Benghazi.  It had been forced to turn around last week due to the aerial bombardments in the city.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has delivered five health kits — capable of treating 50,000—people for more than three months — to hospitals in Djerba, Tunisia.  The supplies will be used in Libya once access is established or at the border area, if needed.

And in Geneva, the Human Rights Council established today an independent, international Commission of Inquiry to investigate alleged violations of international human rights law in Libya.  Three high-level experts have been appointed, and they are:  Cherif Bassiouni; Asma Khader; and Philippe Kirsch.  The Commission is due to report to the Council at its next session in June.


I have a lot of appointments for you today.

The Secretary-General today made five senior-level appointments:  three Under-Secretaries-General and 2 Assistant Secretaries-General.  They are the Heads of the UN Office in Nairobi (UNON), the UN Office in Geneva (UNOG), the UN Regional Office for Central Africa (UNOCA), and two Deputies in UN Women.  In making these appointments, the Secretary-General has taken into account geographically balanced distribution and gender balance.  He has also been aware of the need to bring in fresh blood and to encourage motivation in the rank and file within the Organization.

** Nairobi

So, going through the list; the Secretary-General has appointed Sahle-Work Zewde of Ethiopia as the Director-General of the United Nations Office in Nairobi (UNON).  Ms. Zewde will be the first person and woman leader to be appointed to this newly-created position at the level of Under-Secretary-General.  Ms. Zewde brings to this position more than two decades of progressively responsible experience at the national, regional and international levels.  She is currently Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in the Central African Republic, known as BINUCA.

** Geneva

For Geneva, the Secretary-General has appointed Kassym-Jomart Tokayev of Kazakhstan as the new Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG), the first Asian serving in this position.  Mr. Tokayev brings to this position a wealth of experience at the senior levels of government, including his long tenure as Foreign Minister, Chairman of the Senate of the Parliament and Prime Minister.  Mr. Tokayev also has extensive knowledge of the issues and deliberations of the Conference on Disarmament, coupled with extensive hands-on management experience.

**Central Africa

For the UN Office for Central Africa, the Secretary-General intends to appoint Mr. Abou Moussa, of Chad, as the first Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Regional Office for Central Africa, or UNOCA, based in Libreville, Gabon.  UNOCA was established as of 1 January 2011 and was inaugurated on 2 March 2011.  Mr. Moussa, who currently serves as the Secretary-General’s Principal Deputy Special Representative in Côte d’Ivoire, brings to this position many years of considerable diplomatic, political and humanitarian experience from his long years of service within the United Nations system.

**UN Women

On UN Women, based on the recommendations of Ms. Michelle Bachelet, the Executive Director of UN Women, the Secretary-General has appointed two new Deputies to her in UN Women at the Assistant Secretary-General level — one woman and one man, reflecting the need for gender balance.

Ms. Lakshmi Puri, of India, was appointed as Assistant Secretary-General for Intergovernmental Support and Strategic Partnerships at UN Women.  Ms. Puri brings a wealth of experience to this position, including a long experience at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), and has worked in different capacities for gender equality and women’s empowerment in the context of development, human rights, and peace and security.

Mr. John Hendra, of Canada, was appointed as Assistant Secretary-General for Policy and Programme at UN Women.  Mr. Hendra brings a wealth of experience to this position, in particular over 20 years experience in development programming in a number of positions within the UN system, including his responsibility as Resident Coordinator in Viet Nam, his tenure in Republic of Tanzania and Latvia, and conducting development policy dialogue with Member States at the highest levels.

** Côte d’Ivoire

Concerning Côte d’Ivoire, at a press conference earlier today in Abidjan, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Choi Young-jin, said that the post-electoral crisis, which is entering its fourth month, was not showing signs of abating.

He said that the UN Mission’s role was to protect civilians and the Golf Hotel, as well as to protect the certification of the election results.  On the protection of civilians, Choi said the Mission, UNOCI, was not only patrolling and intervening when needed but that it was also documenting, investigating and gathering proof of human rights violations.  The Special Representative also said that attacks against UNOCI were increasing.

Meanwhile, the World Food Programme (WFP) said today it would scale up its operations in the country.  It plans to assist 125,000 people over a six-month period in Côte d’Ivoire and some 186,000 people in Liberia.

**Secretary-General’s Travel

As he just told reporters at the stakeout, the Secretary-General will travel to Guatemala next week, from Tuesday to Thursday.  While in Guatemala City, he will meet with President Alvaro Colom and cabinet members.  He will visit the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala, known as CICIG.  He will also take part in a ceremony to launch the United Nations Peacebuilding Fund’s engagement in Guatemala and meet with representatives of civil society, including indigenous people.

On Wednesday, the Secretary-General will attend a meeting with the Heads of State of the Central America region to discuss regional issues.  He will also take this opportunity to engage with regional leaders on a bilateral basis.

**Human Rights

And last, the Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) today expressed its concern regarding allegations of recent threats against human rights defenders in Bahrain, whose names, addresses and photographs are being circulated on social networking websites.

On Yemen, it called on the Government of Yemen to exercise restraint and to investigate all allegations of extrajudicial killings and human rights violations by the country’s security forces.  Nearly 40 protesters and at least six security officers have reportedly been killed since the unrest began in the country.

The Human Rights Office also voiced its concern over developments in Saudi Arabia, where the situation is very tense.  As in other situations in the Middle East, the Office urges restraint on the part of both authorities and protestors there.  It also stresses that people should be allowed to exercise their internationally recognized rights to freedom of assembly and freedom of expression.

**The Week Ahead at the United Nations

And I expect we will also have the Week Ahead for you.  Yes, Erol?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Farhan, in regard with my question yesterday; and I apologize it’s not on Libya, et cetera, it is still on the Balkans, but anyhow, whether the United Nations is concerned that, in particular, Serbia, is showing that it does not respect the decisions of the International Criminal [Tribunal] for former Yugoslavia (ICTY), since they are sending, continue to send, so-called “red arrest warrants” through the INTERPOL for the people that are cleared by the ICTY.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, certainly we do expect that all Member States will respect the work that is being done by the Interntional Criminal [Tribunal] on this crucial issue.  Beyond that, as Martin told you yesterday, our involvement in the current talks that are under way is being handled by the head of our Mission in Kosovo, Lamberto Zannier, and the head of our Office in Belgrade, Andrew Gilmour.  Yes, Kristen?

Question:  When I asked about whether or not the Special Envoy to Libya would be welcomed in Tripoli, the Secretary-General referred back to this conversation with the Foreign Minister on Wednesday.  But it is my understanding that the UN has had trouble since then in getting in a humanitarian team.  So, why are you confident — or are you confident — that this trip is going to go through?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, whether the trip goes through or not, time will tell.  Certainly, we are dispatching Mr. Khatib and his team, and we do expect them to be arriving in Libya sometime early next week.  Beyond that, the Secretary-General has been in touch with the Foreign Minister; the most recent call, you are right, was on Wednesday, and he is expecting to receive cooperation.  That is what we have been promised. Yes?

Question:  It seems after weeks of this slaughter, which took place in the centre of Bahrain in the Lulu Square, and because people went unpunished for that and no investigation happened, another incident happened today.  I have heard your statement or Ms. [Navi] Pillay’s statement today, but it seems also there is an alliance between monarchists in the area that support each other against the protesters.  What is the opinion of the Secretary-General of the United Nations in this regard?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General has clearly and repeatedly said that he believes that all of the leaders in the region need to respect freedom of expression, freedom of association, and they also, first and foremost, need to listen to the genuine aspirations of their people.  And so he has asked for them to do that.  And you will see that Ms. Pillay today spoke about a number of situations in the region, and we have the full press release available.

Question:  Shouldn’t there be an investigation into the slaughter that took place in Bahrain and still continuing today, using thugs in Yemen and Bahrain against the demonstrators?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, you will have seen what we said about our concerns there, and that remains the case.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  This appointment that was made by the Secretary-General of Ms. Lakshmi Puri, is she in any way related to Ambassador Puri of India?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I am not aware of the family relationships of the people I just named.  I only just got this list.  The point is that she has been a long-time expert from the UN Conference on Trade and Development.  Yes, in front?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Regarding Japan, first, has there been any request from the Japanese Government to assist it — I mean, assist Japan?  And secondly, the Secretary-General just said that he was ready to organize humanitarian assistance and risk reduction teams.  Would you give us an update on that?  In what field; in specific fields…?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yeah, the basic point about the UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination Team:  we have a team that is ready on short notice to deploy on the ground if the Japanese Government wants us to do so.  We have made that offer to them, and we are awaiting their reply.  Once that team gets in, the basic usefulness of it would be that there are a number of international search-and-rescue efforts that could begin.  There are search-and-rescue teams from outside of Japan who are willing to come in and assist the Japanese authorities in their search-and-rescue efforts.  And what we could help do right away then would be to help coordinate what the international search-and-rescue teams are doing, which would be a crucial need in the next few days.

Question:  So, that means that there is no specific request from the Japanese Government yet?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Not yet; we are awaiting the reply.  Of course, this has just happened in recent hours.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask on Mr. Al-Khatib and then something on Sudan.  On Mr. Al-Khatib, earlier this week I had asked whether his outside business interests in a Jordanian cement company, and in the bank, that actually he is co-owner of another bank with the Libyan Central Bank controlled by [Muammar al-] Qadhafi, whether these will be suspended during his service for the UN as an envoy to Libya.  Is there an answer to that, given that he is [inaudible]…?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  No, not specifically to that.  Just that he is a senior official, and just as with other officials of that rank, he would be required to fill out the standard financial disclosure.  So, he will go through the same financial disclosure process as everyone else.

Question:  On what time frame?  Has he filled it out yet?  Has OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services]…?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  He was only just appointed, Matthew!

Question:  I understand, but it seems to raise possible conflicts of interest even as his service begins.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  You don’t file a financial disclosure the minute you get appointed.

Question:  That’s only the UN, that’s an official has to file a form after the person is already named?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  If there is any particular conflict regarding Mr. Khatib, it would be incumbent on him to remove any particular conflicts before he begins work.  However, in any case, any conflicts would be determined once he goes through the financial disclosure process, which he has to do, just as with any other senior appointment.

Question:  A follow-up on that, follow up?  There will be conflict of interest here.  Someone going to Libya to mediate or work on the human rights issues and then he has interests in the regime, within the regime, if he is…

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  That’s not proven; that’s just based on something that, a report that he is saying.  No, no, like I said, if there is anything that poses a conflict of interest, it would be incumbent on him to remove that before he begins his work.  He is going through the same sort of vetting process as anyone else, which includes of course, the financial disclosures.  Yes?

Question:  Farhan, yesterday the question of Al-Jazeera, they asked whether somehow the Secretary-General has any hints from the Member States or leaders that he is talking with, that anybody else besides the French would consider recognizing the part of Libya, the rebels of Libya; and how it goes, how it goes, actually?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  As far as that goes, the Secretary-General was just asked about this a few minutes ago, and he made it very clear that it is a matter for Member States to recognize Governments.  We, the UN Secretariat and the Secretary-General do not, in and of ourselves, confer recognition.  Now, as far as that goes, he did speak with the members of the Security Council yesterday and he did talk to you about that at the stakeout.  So, I would refer you to his remarks that were made just recently.  Yes, please?

Question:  Journalists usually ask questions that are based on reliable, accurate information; that are based on the truth.  I’d like to…

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Anne, Anne, I don’t want to interrupt, but if this matter is what I think it is going to be; if this is about your dispute with another journalist, I would rather that the two of you resolve this with each other outside of the briefing.

Question:  I am not in any dispute with any journalist; I have a dispute with the fact that the dissemination of information; that is, deliberate dissemination of false information is an issue that should concern the Department of Public Information, the Spokesperson’s Office and UNCA [United Nations Correspondents Association].  Is this a normal thing; you just ignore it and…?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  We certainly hope that all journalists, whether they are asking questions or presenting statements at this briefing, are being accurate.  I know that from time to time, there are inaccuracies in what you say.  If I catch them, I will correct them from the podium.  In this particular case, I know that you and one of your colleagues have had a dispute with each other.  I would enjoin you, please, sincerely, to deal with this outside of this room.

Question:  I have no dispute with this person.  I have no dispute, I have no comments.  I am talking about general principles.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well and good.  We trust for all of you to be accurate in what you say.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  About this leak in the Japanese nuclear power plant; this, which is now being reported at this point in time — how would the United Nations or the international community be able to deal with it?  Or have the Japanese not asked for any help as yet?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, in terms of that, all I know about the latest is from media reports.  But the media reports indicate that the situation has now been resolved.  However, the International Atomic Energy Agency does have the expertise, and it can provide experts to see what the after-effects were of this particular problem, and they stand ready.  Like I said just now, they were informed about the heightened state of alert; and they are aware that the plant has been shut down and that no release of radiation has been detected.  Yes, Nizar?

Question:  Going back to Libya, there are reports that Chad and Algeria both are sending mercenaries to support Muammar Qadhafi in Libya.  Has the United Nations been in touch with any of these two countries, since they are violating [resolution] 1970 accords in this respect?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we don’t have information to substantiate those particular reports.  As you know, we have a Special Envoy who will be travelling and he can follow up on any information that he gets over the course of his travels.  Yes?

Question:  Some of the prisoners have been talking about that; they came from Chad and Algeria.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, but we don’t have the substantiation.  Yes?

Question:  I have a Sudan question.  I think you probably have an “if asked” on it.  I wanted to ask one follow-up to where you said you interchanged with Anne, which is, it has to do with this, there was a filing with the International Criminal Court (ICC), admittedly not by a Government but by a private group, naming the Sri Lankan Ambassador here, but also having two paragraphs concerning the Chief of Staff of the Secretary-General, Vijay Nambiar.  And I, it has come to my attention that you wrote to a journalist saying that this is inaccurate; that there is no complaint filed with the ICC.  And I wanted to know what the basis of that statement was, since they claim it was filed and they have proof of filing?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Again, you know, this briefing is not for me to discuss all of your personal things.  We can always discuss this outside.  The basic point is a reporter — and I don’t know what his exchange with you was, but his exchange with me was whether a complaint had been filed naming Mr. Nambiar.  That is not the case.

Question:  I have seen his e-mail.  Okay. I wanted to ask you on Sudan.  There is, a document has come out showing that the SPLM [Sudan People’s Liberation Movement] or the southern military officials asked the UN not to go to these regions in Jonglei State where they are fighting with forces of Mr. [George] Athor, and seems pretty bad in the sense that the UN document, as reported by AP, says in the no-go zones, there should be no UN operations, land, air or both will be carried out in the no-go areas.  These are areas in which civilians are being killed by both sides.  I wonder if you could state what is UNMIS’s [United Nations Mission in Sudan’s] rules of engagement when civilians are being killed in the area in which they are spending a billion dollars for a peacekeeping operation?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  UNMIS is trying, actually, to get access to this area.  As our people on the ground have repeatedly said, we are having problems with the various forces on the ground, including the SPLM, but others as well.  In terms of the freedom of movement of UNMIS, we are working with the parties on the ground to make sure that we have the freedom of movement to do our mandated tasks.

Question:  But is this document accurate, in which the UN missed, the UN put out a document to, both NGOs as well, saying that there should be no UN activity, not just by air but by all the means that I listed in those areas, is that accurate?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  No, I don’t have any comment on that.  You can follow up with UNMIS if you want.  But my basic point is that UNMIS has been trying to get freedom of movement, and it has been imploring all of the various parties on the ground to provide it with the freedom of movement it needs to go about its work.  Yes, please?

Question:  Is there any news on the Libyan representation here at the UN?  Has Mr. [Ali Abdussalam] Treki asked for an appointment to come and present his credentials?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  So far, there is no scheduled appointment by Mr. Treki with the Secretary-General.

Question:  But he is not in New York?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I am not aware that he is in New York.  I do not know what his precise whereabouts are.  But he has not asked; he has not scheduled any appointment to meet the Secretary-General.

Question:  Does that mean that Mr. [Mohammed] Shalgham continues to represent Libya here?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I did check, and right now, Mr. Mohamed Shalgham and Mr. Ibrahim Dabbashi continue to have pass cards into this building.  We have received the letter withdrawing their credentials, but when that takes effect, I can’t quite determine just yet.  Yes?

Question:  Let me just ask you just a little bit more about the earthquake in Japan.  Which organization, which UN organization is the point of contact between the UN and the Japanese Government?  Which organization is organizing the UN assistance?  Is it OCHA?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, exactly.  It is the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Question:  We have had criticism of violence in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, but in Kuwait today there was an attack against the Bidoon, those, the citizenless [sic] people who were demonstrating.  There were some injuries; they were attacked.  Do we expect anything regarding these people?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the Human Rights Office has been studying the situation in a number of places, and yes, it has been preparing reactions to individual countries as it comes.  So, yes, we do expect that if there is a concern that they have to express, they will put that out in due course.

And with that, I wish you have a good weekend!

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