Daily Press Briefing by the Offices of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General and the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

16 March 2011

Daily Press Briefing by the Offices of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General and the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

16 March 2011
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

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

and the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President


The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and Jean Victor Nkolo, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Good afternoon, everybody.

** Libya

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

The Secretary-General has remained closely abreast of the situation in Libya and the critical discussions under way in the Security Council over measures aimed at protecting civilians.   He spoke by phone late yesterday evening with Libya’s Foreign Minister.

The Secretary-General’s Special Envoy, Abdul Ilah Khatib, has departed Libya today with his delegation after two days of discussions in which he conveyed to senior Libyan officials the strong calls by the international community to cease the fighting and the violence, to ensure humanitarian access and to work towards a peaceful solution of the crisis.  The Special Envoy stressed the need for a firm and unambiguous commitment on the part of the Libyan Government to cease hostilities immediately.

The Special Envoy’s efforts continue, including contacts with representatives of Libyan political groups in Benghazi, as well as with the authorities in Tripoli.  The Secretary-General is gravely concerned about the increasing military escalation by Government forces, which include indications of an assault on the city of Benghazi.  A campaign to bombard such an urban centre would massively place civilian lives at risk.  The Secretary-General is urging all parties in this conflict to accept an immediate ceasefire and to abide by Security Council resolution 1970 (2011).  Those responsible for the continuous use of military forces against civilians will be held accountable.


This morning, the Secretary-General spoke with Naoto Kan, the Prime Minister of Japan.  The Secretary-General once again extended his sympathy and condolences to the people of Japan for the catastrophic impact inflicted by the earthquake and tsunami on 11 March, and he commended the massive efforts being undertaken to assist those affected.

The Secretary-General and Prime Minister Kan also discussed the situation at the Fukushima nuclear plants.  The Secretary-General remains very concerned while appreciating the Government of Japan’s efforts to contain the risk to the population.  The Secretary-General reiterated that the United Nations stands ready to provide any additional support if requested.

I can also tell you that the Security Council observed a minute of silence this morning for the victims of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

The World Food Programme (WFP) has been asked to assist in the relief efforts in Japan of the devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan last Friday.  It will provide specialized logistics support in the delivery of water, tents and blankets to families who need them the most.

The Japanese Government has requested assistance from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in the areas of environmental monitoring and the effects of radiation on human health.  It has asked for teams of experts to be sent to Japan to assist local experts.  Preparations for these missions are currently under way.

This development follows the Agency’s offer to Japan to make available the Agency’s direct support and coordination of international assistance.  The Agency continues to liaise with the Japanese authorities and is monitoring the situation as it evolves.  It continues to provide regular updates on its website and on Facebook.

**Secretary-General in Guatemala

The Secretary-General is in Guatemala, where he has just held talks with President Alvaro Colom and members of his Cabinet, as well as with Nobel Peace Prize laureate Rigoberta Menchu.  The Secretary-General and President Colom should be speaking to the press shortly.

The Secretary-General will also meet today with the Heads of State of Central America.  He will hold bilateral talks with several of those regional leaders.  Among those he is scheduled to meet are the leaders of Costa Rica, Belize, El Salvador, Panama, the Dominican Republic and Honduras.

This afternoon, he is scheduled to launch the United Nations Peacebuilding Fund’s engagement in Guatemala.

**Security Council

Ellen Løj, the head of the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), briefed the Security Council this morning about that Mission’s work.  She provided an update on the work being done by the Mission to help with voter registration and other preparations for forthcoming elections.  She also emphasized the importance of the independence and objectivity of the work of the National Electoral Commission.  And Ambassador Løj also pointed to the continuing challenges facing Liberia’s security sector.

The Security Council then continued its discussions on Liberia in closed consultations.  Council members also expect to continue their discussions on Libya in consultations.  Then, at 3 this afternoon, there will be an Interactive Dialogue between Security Council members and the Kenyan and African Union representatives in New York.

** C ôte d’Ivoire

The United Nations mission in Côte d’Ivoire, UNOCI, is condemning the deadly violence that is increasing in many Ivorian towns and, in particular, in Abidjan.  The mission says that last night, 18 people, including three women and a baby, were wounded by a grenade in Attecoubé.  One person died.  The mission says it is imperative to put an immediate end to this escalation of violence and reiterates its urgent appeal to all parties to exercise restraint.

** Sudan

The Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Francis Deng, and his Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect, Edward Luck, issued a statement today highlighting their concern at the recent deadly violence in Abyei, in which more than 100 people have been killed.

They warned that the reported deployment into the region of the Popular Defence Forces militia and the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) on one side, and the Southern Sudan Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA) on the other, could easily trigger further ethnic-based violence in Abyei.

The two Special Advisers reminded the Government of Sudan and the Government of Southern Sudan of their responsibility to protect all people in Abyei, irrespective of their ethnicity or religion.  They urged both parties to refrain from any actions that could put the lives of civilians in danger and risk a return to full-scale hostilities.

** Darfur

The UN-African Union mission in Darfur (UNAMID) today dispatched a human rights team to the South Darfur village of Amar Jadeed to investigate recent allegations of widespread rape.

Meanwhile, on Friday, the mission’s gender advisers will begin a series of workshops for community leaders and police officers in South and West Darfur on the impacts of sexual and gender-based violence.  Participants will also learn the proper procedures for reporting cases of rape and for caring for victims of rape.

**Guests Tomorrow

Tomorrow, we will have two guests here at the Noon Briefing: Ndolamb Ngokwey, the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Humanitarian Coordinator for the UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI), and Moustapha Soumare, the Humanitarian Coordinator for Liberia.  They will be here to give an update on the situation in the area.

I am also pleased to recognize Jean Victor Nkolo, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.  And he is here to brief you after me.  Questions?  Matthew?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Sure, I meant to ask you whether the Secretary-General or the UN system in general has received any request for assistance or involvement from the protesters in Bahrain?  There are some reports in which it is said that they have asked for such UN involvement; there is obviously shooting, firing and killing going on.  So, what is, has the UN system received such a request?  Has it… whether it has received it or not, is it considering… what does it have to say about the use of live fire against the Bahraini protesters?

Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, the Secretary-General has already this week said how troubled he is by the growing violence in the Kingdom of Bahrain.  And I would anticipate that we would have something further to say a little bit later.  What I can tell you is that our UN colleagues in Bahrain, the country team, they have been in touch — specifically the Resident Coordinator in Bahrain —has been in touch with the Government of Bahrain to convey the Secretary-General’s statements, including the one I just referred to, and those statements include concerns about violence and note with concern the presence of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) forces, and also reiterating the Secretary-General’s support for peaceful dialogue.  And also, the Resident Coordinator has followed up on the Secretary-General’s offer of assistance in the dialogue process, if that is requested.

I can also tell you that staff members in Bahrain have been listening to demands of demonstrators, youth groups and mainstream opposition political societies and civil society organizations.  And that has been happening directly, and I know that there have also been e-mails and phone calls.  UN staff themselves have not been able to visit any hospitals yet, because of the security and access restrictions, but they are trying to obtain more information on what has been happening.  Yes?

Question:  Yeah, a follow-up on this, on the induction of this 2,070 troops inside Bahrain, is it the understanding of the United Nations that the GCC agreement is for support when the Kingdom is threatened from without or from within?  What is the understanding of the United Nations?

Spokesperson:  Well, as I said yesterday and I have just repeated now, the Secretary-General has noted with concern that troops from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates under the auspices of the Gulf Cooperation Council have reportedly entered the territory of Bahrain.  It is for the Gulf Cooperation Council to explain under what basis they are operating there.  But as we understand it, this was a Gulf Cooperation Council decision.  But it is for them to speak about that.

Question:  No, I understand that, but the thing is you must also be in, having the elements of the agreement basically, for your understanding as to what is it that is prompting the Saudis to send 2,000 troops which is basically would have been considering…?

Spokesperson:  Our concern at this point, Masood, is for civilians caught up in growing violence and our concern is for the people who have been hurt in recent days, including overnight.  That’s our focus at the moment.  And as I have mentioned, the UN Resident Coordinator is in contact with the Government of Bahrain and has conveyed the Secretary-General’s statement.  I would also expect to have something to say further later today.

Question:  On the GCC agreement…?

Spokesperson:  I would have something further to say on what is unfolding in Bahrain later today, I would anticipate.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you.  When you were speaking about Libya, you referred to several political groups that Mr. Al-Khatib has spoken with while there, in addition to the Libyan Foreign Minister.  About these political groups, would that include armed rebellion groups; and if so, what did this Special Envoy say to the SG about these meetings?

Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, let’s be clear what I said and what the statement says.  The Special Envoy’s efforts continue, including contacts with representatives of Libyan political groups in Benghazi, as well as with the authorities in Tripoli.  Once those contacts have taken place, we will see what we have to say about them.  At the moment, Mr. Khatib, the Special Envoy, has left Libya, having held talks, as you know, for two days with senior Libyan officials.  And that’s what we have.  The statement, otherwise, speaks fairly clearly and for itself.  Okay.  Matthew?

Question:  Sure, Martin, I want to ask about Haiti, the budget and then something about the special leave.  In Haiti, there is a study just published in The Lancet by the University of San Francisco, California at San Francisco and Harvard, saying that the UN’s estimate of cholera is wrong by almost a 100 per cent.  They are estimating 779,000 cases, as opposed to 400,000.  And their specific critique is that the UN estimate did not take into account existing disease trends, factors such as well water contaminated, disease transmitted or human immunity to cholera, say the scientists who are in the study.  And I just wondered, is that… is the UN… are they aware of this critique and what do they say about the analysis in The Lancet that they’ve wildly underestimated the number of cholera cases?

Spokesperson:  Well, in both cases, in the study that’s published in Lancet online, and those estimates provided by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), which is the lead agency on this particular matter — in both cases these are estimates.  And the experts at the Pan American Health Organization said that the basis used until now to reach their own estimates, is consistent with the reality on the ground in Haiti.  And the focus of the effort of the Pan American Health Organisation and the World Health Organization (WHO) in Haiti has been to save lives by rapidly treating people who have become infected with cholera and working together with non-governmental organizations and other agencies to provide clean water and education on cholera prevention, and to provide that to as many Haitians as possible.

Question:  And what about the panel… the actual… the UN-formed panel on the… including kind of causes, where does that stand?  Where is it… when is going to be…?

Spokesperson:  The panel members have informed us that they are still working on their report, and they expect it to be ready at the end of the month, this month, or at the beginning of next month.

Question:  Can… you may have said this; is it known yet whether the report will be made public?

Spokesperson:  The panel, as I understand it, will make their findings public.  I do believe that they will be speaking to reporters once they have submitted their own report.  That’s what I understand.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  On this, I just want to know, this IAEA team which I believe is being readied or is it… when will it be on its way to Japan, and when can it begin work?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know the answer to that.  But I am sure that my colleagues in Vienna would be able to help you.  As I understand it, the preparations for these missions by experts on environmental monitoring and on the effects of radiation on human health, the preparations are actively under way right now.

Question:  So the briefing on the assessment that they make after they arrive there, will it be on the website and not…?

Spokesperson:  A lot of information is certainly being placed on the Agency’s website, and also, I understand, Facebook, their page on Facebook is rather active.  So, I would certainly urge you to keep an eye on both of them.

Question:  Martin, another thing, on Libya, the talks between the United Nations representatives, ones he just had in Libya, what were… did he say as to what was the response of the Libyan Government that he is bringing back with him?

Spokesperson:  It is not for us to characterize what the Special Envoy’s interlocutors had to say.  It is for us to make clear that Mr. Khatib put across in no uncertain terms the Secretary-General’s message; something that we have said publicly as well as privately, namely, that there needs to be an end to the fighting and to the violence, and there needs to be humanitarian access to the country.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Can I ask you, on Mr. Khatib, I just… I saw yesterday a clip in which they said he has a spokesman, Bahaa el-Kousy.  Is it… is there a UN spokesman, UN staff member assigned to be his spokesman on this trip?  Did he bring somebody in from… that he knows, do you know who this individual is?

Spokesperson:  I believe this is someone from within the UN system.  I can let you know.  But this was simply to help to coordinate the Special Envoy’s media work while in the region.

Question:  And is he a USG?  What is his position and compensation for this role?

Spokesperson:  Special Envoy; I’d need to check precisely what the rank is.

Question:  Okay, that’s great.  Now, if you don’t mind, I have a budget and then special leave theme, I’ll try to keep them both brief.  On the budget, I’d wanted to know, this announcement of a 3 per cent cut, does it include posts or just non-post resources?

Spokesperson:  This is something that, let’s take it back to the beginning.  The Secretary-General has a budget outline, which is the envelope, the broad parameters for which are agreed by the General Assembly.  And then it is for the various departments within the UN Secretariat to pull together their submission, which then goes back to the Fifth Committee.  It is that submission which the Secretary-General has asked Secretariat department heads to scrutinize and to reduce by 3 per cent.  The exact details of that are in the making, and what is obviously really important to underscore is that this is a submission and that it is for Member States to then decide what the budget will be.  Okay?

Question:  Is there a memo from Mr. [Jun] Yamazaki to the agencies, kind of giving, to the departments, giving them some guidance on post or non-post…?

Spokesperson:  This is about operational costs.  This is about operational costs.  It’s not about, for example, mandated tasks.  And mandated tasks are linked to the number of posts.  So this is about how you work on operational costs.  But all of the details of this will ultimately be in the hands of the Member States.  It is simply that the Secretary-General is very keen to ensure that the UN plays its part during these belt-tightening times.

Question:  And then, if you don’t mind, just, I wanted to ask you this, I want… it is an answer that you gave yesterday.  I tried to follow up with UNOPS [United Nations Office for Project Services]; again I don’t have an answer from them.  So, I wanted to know, there are specified grounds on which a person can go on special leave, and I know that the Secretary-General’s son-in-law was described as being on special leave without pay, but there are enumerated grounds.  So, I wanted to know, what’s the ground on which he was given it?  And the second question is, I remember in 2009 when he was given this post, awarded the post of Middle… head of Middle East for UNOPS, at least I didn’t know then that he was actually, that the maximum time he could serve was two years, and in reality it looks like he has served one year.  Was this understood when he applied, did this high recruitment that he was only on secondment from UNICEF, or it’s a maximum of two years, or this came up later?

Spokesperson:  Well, with respect, Matthew, for any staff member, any staff member, the details of their contract are private and not for public consumption.

Question:  In this case, it may be.

Spokesperson:  This is a staff member like any other staff member.  The rules apply just the same.  And that’s the first thing.  The second is on what happens after the special leave is up on 31 May; at that point we’ll be able to follow up with UNICEF and find out.  But until then, I don’t think we have anything further to say on the matter.

Question:  There is one other question, which is just… because he was a pretty… he was described… I remember asking about it at the time in 2009 when the post was given out, and they described it as a very extensive recruitment, 100 applicants, multiple interviews, and it just seems… it seems like a big waste of resources to do that if somebody is applying to you saying, “I am only going to stay two years”.  Why would you assign… why would the post… it is now described that he is leaving because his secondment expires.  But was that known at the time?  That is the sort of yes or no…

Spokesperson:  Two-year contracts are not uncommon, I know myself.  Two-year contracts are not uncommon, okay?  There is nothing unusual about that.

Question:  So, if I misread it, the idea that’s being portrayed that he is leaving UNOPS…

Spokesperson:  I have said, Matthew, that I think we have gone around the houses quite enough on this.

Question:  Why is it they can’t answer the questions that I sent to them if I am told to ask them questions and I do?  I don’t know why not.

Spokesperson:  Well, if they have answers I am sure that they will provide them and we will be able to help you with them, for sure.  Okay, thanks very much.  I am handing over to Jean Victor.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Good afternoon, bon après-midi.  Nice to be here.

**President Deiss Meets with President Tarja Halonen of Finland

President Deiss, the President of the General Assembly, met with Tarja Halonen, President of Finland.  The meeting took place today, ahead of the interactive dialogue with the High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability held today at the General Assembly in New York.  The High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability was launched by the United Nations Secretary-General in August 2010.  The Panel is co-chaired by President Halonen and President Jacob Zuma of South Africa.

The interactive dialogue with the Global Sustainability Panel offers an opportunity for Member States to interact with the Co-Chairs and some members of the Panel, as well as to share their views and suggestions.  The Global Sustainability Panel consists of 22 authoritative world figures who work together to produce a comprehensive blueprint for a low-carbon, sustainable future.  Their final report is expected to help inform relevant governmental discussions.

The President of the General Assembly expressed his appreciation to President Halonen and other esteemed members of the Panel and participants for their invaluable contributions.

**President Deiss Meets with the President of the Security Council

I would also like to recall that yesterday, the President of the General Assembly met with Li Baodong, the Permanent Representative of China to the United Nations, in his capacity as the current President of the Security Council for the month of March 2011.

Both Presidents discussed a number of important regional issues, focusing mainly on Libya, Côte d’Ivoire and Sudan.  They exchanged views on various global issues, including the upcoming thematic debate on green economy.  President Deiss briefed Ambassador Li on his recent official visit to Finland and Russia.  The two Presidents noted the importance of further strengthening the coordination and interaction between the General Assembly and the Security Council.

The President of the General Assembly holds regular meetings with the Presidents of the principal organs of the United Nations, as provided for in the relevant resolutions of the General Assembly, to ensure enhanced cooperation and coordination in their work programmes in accordance with their respective responsibilities under the UN Charter.

That’s what I have for you today.  Questions?  Yes, Masood?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yeah, on this, the negotiations that are going on in the Security Council reform thing, Ambassador [Zahir] Tanin [of Afghanistan], has he submitted to you some more, I mean, ideas or something to move the process forward?  Or are they… or is he ready to tell us if there is any movement forward as yet?

Spokesperson:  Well, I will put the question to him.  We will just take it from where we last discussed this matter and we will see if he is ready to come and brief you on these intergovernmental negotiations.  We will ask him.

Question:  So, you are not aware of any [inaudible] because as they go on the G-4 are saying that they are making rapid progress and the new [inaudible] group is formed and they have a great chance of moving forward.

Spokesperson:  I hear you, but that is a comment that you quote from the G‑4, so you may want to ask them.  For what concerns Ambassador Tanin, we will ask him when and if he is ready to come and brief you.  And I am sure he will, as he usually does regularly, he will do so.  We will put that to him.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  It’s been too long, so I have a couple of GA questions.

Spokesperson:  Yes?

Question:  One is, there was this report by the Joint Inspection Unit (JIU) calling for greater GA oversight, or at least some GA oversight over this thing called the UN Global Compact.  It is a Secretariat initiative, but it is obviously a UN programme.  And they were saying that it is funded, it’s unclear how it is funded, whether corporations are dominating it through funding, and it represents a reputational risk to the UN system to be partnering… I mean… One, I haven’t asked any questions about a mercenary firm that runs prisons in the West Bank of Palestine that joined the Global Compact — G4S (S4).  So, I wanted to know, is the President aware of this JIU, UN system call for GA action and what does he think about it?  Should the GA have some oversight over the Global Compact?

Spokesperson:  As you said yourself, Matthew, this is a Secretariat programme, but when it comes to possible oversight by the President of the General Assembly, or the General Assembly for that matter, we will go back to the specific committee dealing with these matters.  And I can promise you that we will come back with an answer.  Yeah, that’s a good question.

Question:  The other one is a Fifth Committee question that I wanted… I have tried here and I don’t get anywhere.  In a recent meeting of the Fifth Committee, the first of the March session, the head of G-77, Argentina, said that there is $100 million that have been added to the Capital Master Plan that’s going to actually result in a delay of the programme.  And she seemed to be saying that this violated a GA resolution, which said that any change of the scope of the CMP had to come to the Fifth Committee and the GA before being done.  The Secretariat seems to feel since it’s the United States, US Tax Equalization Fund money, they can just do it without the GA having approved it.  As the President of the General Assembly, I know you going… you may say it is a committee question, but both of these questions are sort of about the powers of the GA and global… and governance.  Does the… is the PGA aware of this and what does he think of the argument made by the head of the G-77 and the Budget Committee that the GA has been, you know, circumvented by the Secretariat?

Spokesperson:  Well, the GA, the President of the General Assembly may or may not be aware of this.  I think he is, he has heard, we have all heard this matter being discussed and you yourself have asked these questions several times to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.  But I don’t think that, on this very specific topic, the President of the General Assembly has specific input on that matter, simply because it really is a committee matter and it is dealt with through the Secretariat.  You want to ask both the Secretariat, the Capital Master Plan, but I promise you that, indeed, I will take the question again and see whether there could be an input from our own perspective, from the PGA’s perspective.  But there is no guarantee that he has.  I doubt that he has a specific input into that.

Question:  And just one last, I think this may be right more on the sweet spot.  I know that he’d said, President Deiss had said that he was for more openness, that he wanted even some of these interactive dialogues to be open.  This week, there was a meeting of something called the GA… the Committee on the Revitalization of the General Assembly.  It was held in the ECOSOC Chamber.  I went to the first part of it, then I was informed by the US [Deputy Permanent Representative] that it was a closed session, and to leave it.  And I am wondering, well, that it was a closed session.  And I am wondering why a session about revitalizing the General Assembly, which Member States were saying there should be better more media coverage of the GA, would itself be closed to the media.  Is there some… can you… maybe offhand you don’t have an answer, but this one I had asked you to ask President Deiss whether he thinks it is appropriate that meetings about revitalizing and making more public the work of the GA would themselves be closed to the press?

Spokesperson:  Well, this is a very important question.  I think that President Deiss is very much in favour of openness.  And he has expressed himself and as you may recall yourself, we have tried the best we could to make sure that meetings, including informal briefings, remain open to the press.  And we have done so, and we are going to do so more and more.  But for this specific question you are asking, I cannot comment on statements allegedly made by the representative of a Member State.  But…

Question:  [inaudible] actually said on the TV screen.  When I left, it said “closed”.  And my question is just whether he can take steps to see that these meetings about revitalizing the GA are not closed to the press.

Spokesperson:  I can only tell you what the President stands for, which is that he stands for openness and will try to have as many meetings open to the press as possible, because President Deiss is very much in favour of openness.  And he has shown so since he took office last September.  But we will go back to the tape and see exactly how we can respond further.  No, further questions?  Yes, if…

Correspondent:  No, no, I was raising in my hand in…

Spokesperson:  As a reflex?

Correspondent:  Yeah.

Spokesperson:  Anyway, keep warm, thanks and have a very pleasant afternoon.

* *** *

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