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

22 March 2011

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

22 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, welcome to the briefing.

**Secretary-General in Tunisia

The Secretary-General is in Tunis today where he will talk to civil society groups shortly.  He’s expected to tell them that he has come to the country to show solidarity at this historic time, to listen to the concerns of the people and to offer the help of the United Nations.

Earlier today, the Secretary-General met with President [Fouad] Mbazaa, Prime Minister [Beji Caid-] Essebsi and Foreign Minister [Mouldi] Kefi, as well as with political party members, civil society and youth leaders.  He heard about Tunisia’s map for the path ahead in its democratic transition.

A team of UN electoral experts is already on the ground in Tunisia.  The Secretary-General made clear that the United Nations stands ready to do much more if requested.  The Secretary-General will be returning to New York tomorrow.

** Libya

The UN Refugee Agency is hearing from new arrivals at Libya’s border with Egypt that thousands of Libyans are displaced in the east of the country.  Tomorrow, it will send trucks loaded with blankets and other supplies to Benghazi.  At the border, Libyans have told the Agency that they feared reprisal attacks by pro-Government supporters in the east.

The World Food Programme has stepped up its provision of food to hungry people leaving Libya and is making preparations should greater needs emerge in the region.  It has also moved enough to feed more than 100,000 people for one month into eastern Libya.  The World Food Programme has expressed concern about reports that food prices have risen sharply in Libya in recent weeks and that nearly all shops in areas such as Misrata and Sirte were closed.

The World Health Organization says that, while the situation at the border seems to be under control, humanitarian organizations still do not have access inside most of Libya.  There is a huge shortfall of drugs to treat non-communicable diseases and of physicians and nursing staff in intensive care units.

For its part, the UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, is supporting a campaign to vaccinate children under the age of 5 living in the Shousha camp, the largest temporary site on the Libya-Tunisia border.

**Security Council Resolution 1973 (2011)

Yesterday we informed you that the following countries had so far notified the Secretariat under the terms of Security Council resolution 1973 (2011):  the United Kingdom; France; the United States; Denmark; Canada; Italy; and Qatar.  I can tell you the following additional countries have notified the Secretariat since then:  Belgium; Ukraine; Norway; Spain; and the United Arab Emirates.  All these notifications have been transmitted to the Security Council.

**Refugees in Italy

The UN Refugee Agency is calling on Italy to take urgent action to alleviate overcrowding on the island of Lampedusa, warning that the humanitarian situation for the 5,000 mostly Tunisian migrants is deteriorating.  There are now as many migrants as there are islanders, and the congestion is raising tensions.

The vast majority of the migrants on the island left Tunisia due to economic hardship, with most not intending to seek international protection.  The Agency says that it is crucial that the situation on Lampedusa does not impede Italian preparedness for the arrival of people fleeing Libya, as they would be likely to have international protection needs.

**Security Council

This morning, the Security Council adopted a resolution extending the mandate of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan [UNAMA] by 12 months.

Following that meeting, the Council discussed the Middle East.  Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, an Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, told the Council that the wider region has continued to witness dramatic developments.

He said those developments add to the importance of redoubling efforts to break the deadlock because progress towards peace and meeting the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people to statehood could be an important stabilizing force in the Middle East.

In the afternoon, the Council will meet on non-proliferation and receive a briefing from the Chairman of the Security Council’s Committee on Iran sanctions.

** Somalia — World Water Day

The United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, Mark Bowden, is calling for greater access to deliver aid to Somalis affected by a protracted drought and continued armed conflict.  Mr. Bowden said the situation is particularly dire in south central Somalia while 2.4 million people countrywide need humanitarian assistance.

As we observe World Water Day today, Mr. Bowden says that the drought has worsened conditions all around.  Food prices are up; malnutrition rates are soaring; conditions for internally displaced persons have become even harsher.  Meanwhile, the rainy season due to start in April is also forecast to fall short of expectations.  Copies of Mr. Bowden’s statement are available in my Office, as are copies of the Secretary-General’s message for World Water Day.

** Sudan

And finally, I was asked yesterday about Abyei.  The UN Mission in Sudan [UNMIN] has confirmed the deployment of additional northern police in north-western Abyei.  This is a violation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement as is the deployment of southern “ Juba” police in the south of Abyei.

The UN Mission in the Sudan is calling on both parties to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement to cease this build-up of forces, abide by the Kadugli agreements; withdraw all forces other than the agreed Joint Integrated Units and Joint Integrated Police Units out of the Abyei area.

The Mission is also calling on the parties to proceed with the agreed joint police evaluation on the policing needs in Abyei and to refrain from any provocation or violence in the meantime.

That’s what I have.  Questions, please?  Yes, Nizar?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  [inaudible]…visiting Bahrain.  Do you have any information about the missing people?  Is there any investigation going on regarding finding what is happening there?

Spokesperson:  Well, I know that this is something that is of concern, continued concern, to the Secretary-General.  He has raised it again while in Cairo yesterday.  And I know that the Office for the High Commissioner for Human Right has also addressed this topic today in Geneva at the briefing that they give there.  It is clear that people should not be arbitrarily arrested and should not be detained without clear evidence that they have committed a recognized crime.  And I know that the Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights has expressed its concern about being able to contact people.  They have received reports that it has been difficult for them to contact people because phones have been, mobile phones have been disconnected.  So, they are certainly keeping a very close eye and trying to monitor what is going on.

Question:  What was the state of emergency in Bahrain for three months?  Is there any opinion on the United Nations’ side?

Spokesperson:  Well, what I can tell you is what we’ve said before, really, Nizar, that the Secretary-General is certainly concerned about the violence and he has taken note of the presence of the forces from the Gulf Cooperation Council, and he certainly would urge the Bahraini authorities to allow people to demonstrate peacefully without fear of reprisal and furthermore, to engage in the dialogue which had already been announced, but which has not really yet taken place.  Christine, I think you had a question?

Question:  Yes, State media in Yemen is reporting that they have a new UN ambassador; I am wondering if you’ve got any official notification of this or recall notice for the former ambassador who is affected?

Spokesperson:  Not to my knowledge, but I’ll certainly check.

Question:  So, do you foresee any, you know, the situation, the Libyan ambassadors has been a bit ambiguous and vague and, but just kind of continue to operate; if we have more situations like this with the Yemeni, is this going to get a little messy and complicated?  Is there any move to get the Credentials Committee involved yet that you know of?

Spokesperson:  Well, that’s — on the Credentials Committee — that’s for the Member States to decide.

Question:  [inaudible]…question?

Spokesperson:  It’s for Member States to decide whether the Credentials Committee is required in a given circumstance.  And what I was saying yesterday is that in the case of Libya, just to handle that part of it, both the Permanent Representative and the Deputy Permanent Representative from before, so, in other words, Mr. [Abdurrahman Mohamed] Shalgham and. Mr. [Ibrahim O.A.] Dabbashi.  As you know, we received communication from the Government of Libya on 27 February, and that said that both of these gentlemen were no longer authorized to represent or to speak on behalf of the Libyan authorities at the United Nations.  So, in light of that, neither Mr. Dabbashi nor Mr. Shalgham can be regarded as officially accredited representatives of Libya to the United Nations.  But as I also mentioned yesterday, both gentlemen have been issued courtesy passes, and this reflects the fact that the situation in Libya remains in a state of flux.  And that it was felt appropriate in these circumstances that they should continue to have access to UN premises.  That’s dealing with Libya.  We’ll deal with Yemen if and when we get some kind of correspondence from the authorities.  I will check with my colleagues.

Question:  [inaudible]…  Who makes that decision?  Who decided to issue the courtesy passes?

Spokesperson:  The United Nations.  Yeah, the United Nations decided, yeah.

Question:  Can I just follow up on that?

Spokesperson:  Yes?

Question:  I just, I mean, it gives rise to the question is there any precedent for this courtesy pass and does it, is it a Libya courtesy pass?  Is it a “D” pass; like is it a “C”?

Spokesperson:  What do you mean?

Question:  I mean, the actual physical thing, like the “P” is Press, “D” is Diplomat, “N” is NGO.  So, is there a “C” or does it still say “D”?  Is it a Libya, are they affiliated with Libya or they are just friends of the UN?  What’s the…, just describing the status [inaudible]…?

Spokesperson:  I haven’t seen the passes, Matthew, so I don’t know what it says on them.  And what was your other question?

Question:  No, I guess, the… I also want, I mean, yesterday in front of the Security Council, and this is very high, on this very matter, one of the non, not top two Libyan diplomats said that Mr. Shalgham will decide who, you know, who will speak for Libya or represent Libya on Thursday, which is, you know, I am just, so, I guess my question is, is that, what is the UN’s understanding…, I guess of the sort of the…, I know that there’s rules about even stakeouts; I am not trying to make it more difficult, but I just wonder… that’s why I am asking about the precedent, is there a precedent for deciding what this status means if Mr. Shalgham wants to speak at the stakeout on UNTV, is that permissible?  What is the UN, has it thought through…?

Spokesperson:  Well, again, as I think we have said in another context in this Organization with such a long history, you could probably find a precedent for just about everything.  So, I would need to check into that.  I do not know the answer to that, Matthew.  But…

Question:  [inaudible]…the question who decided?  It was a pretty good, I mean, that seems…

Spokesperson:  Yeah, and I said the United Nations decided.  And so, the United Nations Secretariat if that helps you any further, Matthew.  And what I can also say is that, as we understand it, the rest of the Mission is not being recalled, and they can continue to operate as they have done before.  But it is not for us to decide which of those diplomats should speak on behalf of the Libyan authorities or on behalf of the Mission.  That’s not for us to decide, that’s for the Mission to decide.  Yes, James, and then I am coming to you.

Question:  Thanks, Martin.  When you were giving us an update on the additional countries that have informed the Secretary-General that they are going to be involved in the Libya no-fly zone, you mentioned the United Arab Emirates…

Spokesperson:  Well, let’s be very clear.  That’s not what I said.  They notified the Secretariat under the terms of the resolution.  I did not say that they will be taking part in enforcing a no-fly zone; I didn’t say that.

Question:  I’m sorry; that was actually going to be my question, because you mentioned the United Arab Emirates as one of those countries.  In its official Government news agency they said that their assistance is going to be purely humanitarian.  I was wondering if that is what it says in the information that they have given to the Secretary-General.

Spokesperson:  I haven’t seen their notification, the specific letter, I haven’t seen that letter.  We need to be clear that each of the countries, when notifying the Secretariat and when we transmit that notification to the Security Council, that notification can take different forms.  The content is not the same for each one.  Each country is saying something different about what measures it is taking or simply how it is supporting the resolution.  But the details of each of those would need to come from the Member States concerned.  Yes?

Question:  I’m sorry, the document itself wouldn’t be made public through a different mechanism?

Spokesperson:  If a Member State requests that a document should be circulated, in other words, made an official document that is circulated and available, then that will be done.  But I don’t know any specific case what has happened.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  May I ask you about Mr. [Abdul Ilah] Khatib, the UN Special Envoy to Libya’s visit to eastern Libya yesterday?  The operative paragraph two of the Security Council 1973 (2011) says, or notes, that the aim of sending the UN Envoy to Libya is to facilitate the dialogue that leads to the political solution.  And also the Secretary-General, Mr. Ban, recently said that the aim of sending the UN Envoy to Libya includes the political dimensions.  So, did Mr. Khatib yesterday encourage dialogue even with Mr. Qadhafi’s Government?

Spokesperson:  Well, in that meeting yesterday in Tobruk, the Special Envoy and his colleagues in the delegation met with a range of people from the opposition; from the rebel forces and the opposition there in Libya.  And they talked about a wide range of topics, and in particular, the key point was that Mr. Khatib wanted to hear from them, their concerns and their understanding of the status at the moment in the areas where they are located.  And it is his intention to report in greater detail to the Secretary-General on that.  And I think beyond the readout that we have provided this morning, I would anticipate that there would be more details once the Secretary-General has been fully briefed on the conversations that took place in Tobruk.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  I just wanted to know this, about the latest report about Israeli jets attacking inside Gaza.  Has the Secretary-General got anything to say about that?

Spokesperson:  Well…

Question:  And there is a report of ethnic cleansing in East Jerusalem by the United Nations expert [inaudible].

Spokesperson:  Well, specifically related — Erol, I had spotted you, but welcome to the front.

Question:  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  Yeah, we are concerned about increased tensions in Gaza and southern Israel and we would call for restraint by all.  And we’d ask both parties to respect international law.

Question:  This, Israel is attacking restraint, by all.  Why is Israel given a special, what you call, consideration by the United Nations?  Every time they attack, there is ethnic cleansing going on, nobody says anything about this.  I mean, it is the United Nations own report, that in East Jerusalem there is a pattern of ethnic cleansing going on.  Even in West Bank.

Spokesperson:  The specific point that you raised was about the activity in Gaza and out of Gaza, and that is what I am responding to.  That we are certainly concerned about the increased tensions there and call for restraint by all.  And all, I think, is pretty all-encompassing.  Erol?

Question:  Yes, thank you, Martin.  I was afraid that you are not going to hear me from the back seat.  Anyhow, I would like to follow up on the story of Mr. Secretary-General in Tunisia.  It is my understanding that he did not meet with Abdussalam Treki, the new designated ambassador.

Spokesperson:  He did not.

Question:  He did not?

Spokesperson:  No.

Question:  Okay, is there any reason?  Can we put more details in that story, if I can put it, since he didn’t meet, and it was announced that he is going to meet him.  Why, and how?

Spokesperson:  Announced by whom?

Question:  We were talking here at the briefing that probably it is a probability, it was suggested that he is going to meet him.

Spokesperson:  I think, if I remember correctly, I said let’s wait and see.  I did not say that they were going to meet.

Question:  I understood it [inaudible]…

Spokesperson:  I said let’s wait and see.

Question:  So, why…

Spokesperson:  And we waited and we’ve seen and they did not meet.

Question:  Okay, did he receive a request from Mr. Treki to meet him and he refused him or they simply were not there [inaudible]…?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know the answer to that.  My understanding is that Mr. Treki had apparently already left Tunisia by the time the Secretary-General arrived.  Yes, Matthew, I think you had another question?

Question:  Yeah, sure, yeah, I did.  I actually have one on Tunisia and then Côte d’Ivoire.

Spokesperson:  Right, well, let’s deal with Tunisia and then I’ll see if anybody else has any questions.

Question:  Sure, absolutely.  I mean, there’s a report of a protest very much saying, “Ban Ki-moon get out of Tunisia” by this group called Hizb At-Tahrir in Tunisia.  I am just wondering, I know that yesterday the idea was that, you know, was that that protest wasn’t directed at the UN, wasn’t anti-UN; he just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  But what is his response, I guess to a protest, you know, very much, you know, directed at him by a group that says it has applied to become a political party and been denied by the Government there?  Does he, is he aware of the grounds of the protest and what does he think of it?

Spokesperson:  Well, I haven’t spoken to the Secretary-General about that particular protest.  What he said, more generally speaking, after the incident in Cairo was that the whole point of a democratic transition is that it then allows for peaceful demonstrations.  And it is important for people’s voices to be heard, whether you like what you hear or not, and it is important for their voices to be heard.  Where you draw the line is where demonstrations are no longer peaceful, where they are threatening or violent.  I am not saying that was the case in Tunisia.  I am speaking in general terms.

Question:  What about groups such as this being prohibited from being a political party?  [inaudible]

Spokesperson:  Well, this is something for the Tunisian authorities to work on.  This is clearly something that is in transition and is really for them to be able to work on that and to address that.  Yes?

Question:  Was the Secretary-General in any danger at that time when he was being heckled and in Cairo?

Spokesperson:  No, he was not, no he was not.  I…

Question:  It’s on the photograph that one has seen.

Spokesperson:  Yeah, I have seen the photographs as well, and I am also reliably informed by people who should know that he was not in danger.  Of course, the whole point, if there is a crowd and there is jostling, it is better not to stay put for obvious reasons.  But there was no specific danger to him or indeed to the rest of the delegation.  Yes?

Question:  Just more clarification on the no-fly zone.  Can the UN confirm that any Arab countries are signed on to take part in the no-fly zone patrols?  Qatar is the other country that is mentioned, and there was some talk — I heard some, a report somewhere than contributing jets.  Can the UN confirm that, or…?

Spokesperson:  No, I can’t.  I think it would be for the individual countries to say precisely what their notification contained or to speak more generally about what their role is.  I am simply telling you what notifications have been logged by the Secretariat and transmitted to the Security Council.  That’s where we are.  Yes, Nizar, I think you had a question?

Question:  Yeah.  Today, I mean, in the briefing in the Security Council, Mr. Fernandez-Taranco condemned the attack from Gaza against southern Israel.  But we do not hear the same condemnation with regard to attacks by the Israelis to hundreds of Palestinians, injuring them, to the settlers who kill Palestinians regularly and who attack them and burn their houses.  We don’t hear the same language.  Is there any particular reason why the United Nations is not even-handed on that?

Spokesperson:  We’ve called for restraint by all and we have consistently, where there have been instances of civilians being hurt in Gaza, we have spoken out about that.  The whole point…

Question:  …condemnation and just concern?

Spokesperson:  The point here is that there are increased tensions in Gaza and southern Israel.  And that does concern us; and we need to see restraint by all, meaning both sides.

Question:  What happens in Silwan in East Jerusalem is far bigger than any other area, I mean, more than 110 people were injured in the last month alone.  And even his report speaks about extensive violence there by the settlers and by the Israeli authorities.  There is no condemnation at all to these incidents.

Spokesperson:  The point here is that any incident or instance that leads to increased tensions from whichever side, anything which is provocative and causes a spike in tensions, is something that we would rather not see.  The peace process is difficult enough as it is.  And I think that’s why we are calling for restraint.

Question:  [inaudible]…a jet attack…[inaudible]…

Spokesperson:  As I say, we are calling for restraint and we are also asking both parties to respect international law.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Sure.

Spokesperson:  We’ll make this the last question.

Question:  On Côte d’Ivoire, there is the mission there, UNOCI has apparently put out a statement saying that they believe that [Laurent] Gbagbo forces are, quote, repairing an MI-24 attack helicopter, and that they, you know, that any attempt to use this will be, you know, will not be allowed, or not be accepted.  So, I wanted to, I mean, obviously it sounds pretty bad, is there…is there…, I mean, I guess it just made me think like, is it, is it illegal for them to fly a helicopter?  What exactly is the mission’s statement?  Where did this helicopter come from, given the past, you know, statement that they were coming in from Belarus?  And what, is there a no-fly zone in essence over Côte d’Ivoire?  What is, what, how serious do they take this and do they agree finally with Mr. [Alassane] Ouattara’s side who says that 832 people have been killed by the pro-Gbagbo forces since the beginning of this stand-off in the election?

Spokesperson:  A considerable number have certainly been killed, and I am sure that my colleagues who are carefully monitoring this in Côte d’Ivoire would be able to provide an update on figures.  As you know, they have been… human rights colleagues, humanitarian colleagues who monitor this, have been fastidious in providing detailed figures.  So, I would anticipate that we would be able to provide more.  On the helicopter, its exact provenance, I would need to ascertain.  I do not have that information.  The mission in Côte d’Ivoire, as you know, has a Security Council mandate to protect civilians.  And it will do all that it can within its mandate and with the resources it has to protect civilians in the country.

[The Spokesperson later confirmed that the UN Mission in Côte d’Ivoire, UNOCI, had put out a statement stating that “recently, the mission has observed that this camp is repairing an MI-24 attack helicopter in the military wing of Abidjan airport and is also getting BM21 multiple rocket launchers ready in Abidjan”.]

Question:  But what I couldn’t tell from the statement is whether they are saying to the Gbagbo forces “don’t fly the helicopter at all”, or “don’t use it to kill civilians”, which obviously is, I mean, what are they saying?  What is their current status?  What’s the, what message are they seeking to send with this statement?

Spokesperson:  The message is that the mission is there to protect civilians in the country.  And that it is doing under a very clear mandate from the Security Council.

Question:  Do you remember this previous question about there was a particular, you know, killing of civilians that was attributed to the pro-Ouattara side by Human Rights Watch and others?  And you, I mean, I don’t mean to… has UNOCI actually, did they report that in real time or have they said anything on that?  I know that they are very fastidious, but on that one, I still haven’t heard anything back to show that they reported that as equally as they do the other side.

Spokesperson:  We’ve consistently said and the Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights has also been quite clear on this.  Any human rights abuses on either side would need investigating and should be condemned.  And if I have any further information on that I would let you know.

Okay, thank you very much.  Have a good afternoon, everyone.

* *** *

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