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

25 March 2011

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

25 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 convened a high-level meeting this morning of senior officials of UN agencies, funds and programmes to take stock of the international response to the latest developments resulting from the situation at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

The close collaboration between the international organizations involved in support and relief efforts has played an important role in bolstering the capacity of the Government of Japan and providing vital information to the public.

The Secretary-General encourages States to consider lessons learned and to adopt appropriate measures in an innovative way to strengthen the nuclear safety regime and ensure that the highest possible standards are implemented to safeguard health, food supply and the environment, as well as reviewing the disaster risk reduction framework.

The situation in Japan has nonetheless given rise to calls to reassess the international emergency response framework and the nuclear safety regime.  The Secretary-General supports these calls.

On behalf of all the international organizations involved in addressing this situation, the Secretary-General wishes to reassure the people and Government of Japan that we stand with them as they work to overcome this disaster and recover from the devastating earthquake and tsunami.  And we have a full statement available in the Spokesperson’s Office and online.

** Libya

The Secretary-General briefed the Security Council on Libya yesterday, and said to reporters afterward that, despite repeated claims by the Libyan authorities, we continue to see no evidence of a ceasefire.  Nor have we seen any steps by the Libyan authorities to fulfil their obligations under resolutions 1970 (2011) and 1973 (2011).

He said that we have serious concerns about the protection of civilians and respect for human rights and international humanitarian law.  Worrying signs include arrests, disappearances, threats and incitement, including by Colonel [Muammar al-]Qadhafi on national television.

There is an urgent need for humanitarian access, with more than 330,000 people having fled the country.  The Secretary-General reminded all parties of obligations to allow unimpeded access to populations in need. And we have his remarks available online.

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, is hearing consistent reports from new arrivals and humanitarian partners of increased internal displacement in eastern Libya.  It has sent two convoys with medical supplies to Benghazi, in addition to thousands of blankets, sleeping mats and other items.  The agency is ready to dispatch enough supplies for up to 50,000 people if necessary.

UNHCR reports that the number of people fleeing Libya has remained steady in recent days, with Tunisia and Egypt having seen some 2,000 arrivals each day from Libya.  In transit camps at the Tunisia-Libya border, 8,500 people are awaiting evacuation or alternative solutions.

As of Wednesday, more than 350,000 people have fled the violence in Libya.  The World Food Programme (WFP) continues to preposition food supplies in and around Libya.  It has signed an agreement with the Libyan Red Crescent to help 105,000 people in and around Benghazi.

**Security Council

The Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Atul Khare, briefed the Security Council this morning on the situation in Côte d’Ivoire.  He said the deteriorating security situation and the escalation in the use of heavy weapons has had a serious toll on the lives and well-being of the Ivorian people.  He also said the humanitarian situation is very grave.

Khare mentioned some of the most serious incidents of the use of excessive violence against civilians.  He also underlined the continued obstructions to operations by the United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI).  He added that the mission continues to investigate and document human rights violations and has gained access to some sites of alleged mass graves, which it is now investigating.  He added that UNOCI has increased its patrols in vulnerable communities and neighbourhoods, and has also made arrangements for a permanent patrol to be stationed on a 24/7 basis in Abobo.

** Côte d’Ivoire

Also on Côte d’Ivoire, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, called on those involved in the violence to respect civilians, including aid workers, and to allow rapid, safe and unimpeded access by humanitarian organizations.

She said that the ongoing harassment and obstruction of aid workers from NGOs [non-governmental organizations] and the UN, the violation of UN humanitarian premises, and the theft of assets of aid agencies seriously compromises the ability of aid workers to reach people who require assistance.

The UN refugee agency said today that up to 1 million people could now be displaced in Abidjan and the immediate surroundings.  More than 100,000 have fled the country.

** Syria

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights says that the situation in Syria has worsened considerably over the past week, with the use of live ammunition and teargas by the authorities resulting in at least 37 people, including two children, being killed in Deraa. 

The Human Rights Office welcomes the Syrian Government’s decision to investigate the killings and reiterates its call for this investigation to be independent and impartial; those responsible for the killings must be held accountable. 

It also welcomes the release of those associated with the protests in Deraa, and hopes that all human rights defenders and political activists throughout Syria who had also reportedly been arrested would also be released without delay.  We have more details in today’s briefing notes from Geneva.

**Secretary-General — Appointments

We have two personnel appointments today.

The Secretary-General has appointed Major General Juha Kilpia of Finland as Head of Mission and Chief of Staff of the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO).   He will succeed Major General Robert Mood of Norway, who completed his assignment in February.

The Secretary-General has also appointed Major General Luiz Eduardo Ramos Pereira of Brazil as Force Commander of the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH).  Major General Ramos replaces Major General Luiz Guilherme Paul Cruz, also of Brazil, who will complete his assignment on 31 March.  We have more information on both appointments in our office.

**Day of Solidarity

Today marks the twenty-sixth Day of Solidarity with Detained and Missing Staff Members.  It is commemorated annually in recognition of the serious threats to the freedom and safety of UN staff around the world.

In his message to mark the occasion, the Secretary-General calls on all partners to do their utmost so that UN personnel can do their work in the safest environment possible.  And we have copies of his message in our office.


At a ceremony marking the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, the Secretary-General said that our challenge is to remember slavery in the past and to continue the fight against its contemporary versions now.

By studying slavery, he says, we give names and faces to people and places that had been made invisible.  The Secretary-General stresses that by examining the prevailing assumptions and beliefs that allowed the practice to flourish, we raise awareness about the continued dangers of racism and hatred.

On the occasion of the International Day, there will be a special concert performance this evening in the General Assembly Hall.  The Living Legacy Concert will feature performances by Khaira Arby of Mali and Aurelio Martinez of Honduras, among others.

** Haiti

In response to a question from yesterday on voting ballots in Haiti, we have the following clarification from the Mission there, MINUSTAH, and the UN Development Programme (UNDP):

Some incomplete electoral kits were identified before voting began last Sunday.  These kits were in fact materials from 2009, which were kept for electoral training purposes and mistakenly deployed.

This affected 69 voting centres in the Port-au-Prince region.  That’s 4.6 per cent of the 1,500 voting centres in the country.  The UN Mission in Haiti, working closely with the Provisional Electoral Commission, immediately redistributed the missing materials between 8:30 and 11 a.m.  The Provisional Electoral Commission also decided to extend the voting by one hour, until 5 p.m., in the affected centres.

**Press Conferences Today

We have two press conferences later today.  At 1 p.m. today, I just mentioned the International Day of Remembrance of Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, and there will be a press conference to mark the occasion.  The speakers will include:  Raymond Wolfe, the Permanent Representative of Jamaica; Milan Jaya Nyamrajsingh Meetarban, the Permanent Representative of Mauritius; Dr. Ruth Simmons, the President of Brown University; and Melba Moore, the legendary actress and singer.

At 2:30 p.m., there will be a press conference on the progress in building peace in Sierra Leone.  The speakers will include:  Ambassador John McNee, the Permanent Representative of Canada and Chair of the Peacebuilding Commission's Configuration for Sierra Leone; Michael von der Schulenburg, the Executive Representative of the Secretary-General for Sierra Leone and Head of the United Nations Integrated Political Mission in Sierra Leone; and representatives of Sierra Leone civil society.

**The Week Ahead

And we’ll also have available in our office “The Week Ahead”.  That’s it from me.  Any questions?  Yes, please?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I would like to double-check about the high-level briefing about the nuclear plant in Japan.  So my question is:  what did the Secretary-General emphasize the most to other UN organizations’ leaders?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, for him the crucial thing was that we try to communicate with each other regularly and coordinate our information so that we can most effectively respond to the situation on the ground.  As for the situation on the ground itself, obviously the Secretary-General and the other officials are concerned with ways to deal with the situation at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.  At the same time, they did give credit to the Japanese authorities, given that the various crises they faced, including the earthquake, the tsunami and the situation in the plant, could all have been much, much worse had it not been for the tremendous steps forward that Japan has taken in terms of disaster risk preparedness.  Yes?

Question:  A follow-up on that.  Is this high-level meeting the first of its kind since the disaster in Fukushima happened?  And secondly, the statement says that the joint plan needs to be reviewed and strengthened; is this an agreement as a result of today’s meeting?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  This is not an agreement as a result of the meeting so much as a shared consensus among the various parties who have been present.  Yes, this is the first time that all the high-level officials of the various agencies, including the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the World Health Organization (WHO), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Food Programme (WFP), and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), as well as several others, all patched into each other by video teleconference.  And so this is the first such occasion.  And I suspect that there will be others to announce over time.  But certainly one of the results of this meeting was that the various participants have resolved to keep communicating with each other at various levels as this crisis progresses.

Question:  How does the Secretary-General think that this mechanism, joint plan, needs to be reviewed and strengthened?   

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, it will be up to the agencies on the ground to review with the Japanese authorities, and they will see how they can take concrete measures to get that strengthened.  Among the steps, of course, is the need for better information sharing.  Yes?

Question:  Sure, I want to ask a question about Libya and then about the envoy to Libya.  One is:  can you confirm that Kuwait has written to the Security Council — to the UN, let’s put it that way, under resolution 1973 (2011) — and if so, is it now to be viewed as one of the notifiers?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I’ll check.  As you know, yesterday we had confirmed 11 notifications.  I’ll see whether there have been any more coming in.

Question:  What happened with Ukraine?  Because initially it had been announced in this room that they were one of the ones, and then suddenly it wasn’t in the Secretary-General’s list?  What, can you described what, why it dropped from the list?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I think that they were just trying to accumulate the latest information on the list.  We’ll see what the latest information is on the list right now, and whether we can get the names of all the countries as of today.

Question:  And on the envoy, yesterday Martin [Nesirky] had said, it’s been going around for a couple of days, is… whether Mr. [Abdul Ilah] Khatib, what is his status with the UN?  Is he a USG [Under-Secretary-General]?  Is he a staff member?  And is he still being paid by the Government of Jordan?  It seemed like it shouldn’t be that difficult to get yes or no answers to those three.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, part of the thing is, because of the speed with which we felt the need to appoint an envoy, some of the terms of his contract are still being worked out.  So I don’t have any firm answers about the nature of his contract to give right now, because that is being worked out with him.  He does have some responsibility still in Jordan, as well as his position here with us.  Yes?

Question:  Regarding the Fukushima power plant and the Secretary-General’s statement this morning, is the Secretary-General, just from this point of view, is he essentially calling for the International Atomic Energy Agency to have a strengthened role in at least setting minimum safety standards or regulating standards across Member States?  Is that what is being looked at as well, at this high-level meeting?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, there is a key sentence there — which I hadn’t read out yet but I’ll read it out for you — that’s relevant to your questions.  The statement says:  “While States continue to be primarily responsible for maintaining the safety of their nuclear installations, the International Atomic Energy Agency has a central role to play in the further development and universal application of the highest possible safety standards.  The fifth Review Meeting of the Contracting Parties to the Convention on Nuclear Safety, which will be held in early April, is expected to provide a useful forum in this regard.”

Question:  And as I said, I want to put a clarification on this; does that mean that he wants the IAEA to take on a larger role in setting any sign of safety?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Just as what he said, it’s got a central role to play, and he believes that this is something that will be discussed next month at the review meeting.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  What is your take on what is going on in Syria and how does the Secretary-General view Bashar Al-Assad, the Syrian President’s package of reforms?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Along those lines, the Secretary-General, I can confirm, did speak by phone with President Bashar Al-Assad of Syria this morning.  I just mentioned the concerns expressed by the Human Rights Office, and you will have seen the statement that the Secretary-General put out two days ago on this, which represents his stance on the situation in Deraa and since then.  That’s what I have for now.  But, yes he did discuss a number of these issues directly with the President of Syria this morning.

Question:  Is there going to be a readout of that phone call?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I’ll check.  In general, even if there is no readout, you can take for granted that the sort of concerns we expressed in the statement two days ago were among the topics that were up for discussion today.  Yes, please?  [He later added the following readout:  The Secretary-General called Mr. Bashar Al-Assad, the President of Syria, this morning, 25 March.  They discussed the situation in Syria.  The Secretary-General pointed out that people throughout the region had been expressing their democratic aspirations through peaceful means.  Referring to his statement of concern yesterday following reports of the killing of demonstrators in Syria in recent days, the Secretary-General underlined that Governments had an obligation to respect and protect their citizens’ fundamental rights.  He urged maximum restraint by the authorities and expressed his hope in a meaningful response to the expression of legitimate concerns.]  

Question:  You mentioned that UNHCR got two trucks into Libya today, and I was wondering where exactly they went and what changed, because the only thing we have heard is that Qadhafi’s troops are on the border, and he it was hard to get support into the country itself.  I was wondering if you had any more information on that.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Let me just look at the details I have on trucks.  Yeah, I don’t have any precise details about where the trucks went to.  I will check up on that.  [He later said that a convoy including the Egyptian Red Crescent and the Libyan Red Crescent had gone to Benghazi.]  Yes, IPS?

Question:  Has the African Union made any kind of request to the Secretary-General on the situation in Côte d'Ivoire?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, it’s made certain requests about strengthening our ability to respond to the situation ion the ground, which you may be aware of.  As you know, Atul Khare, as we just also mentioned earlier, did brief the Security Council this morning on Côte d’Ivoire.  And I believe — you can check with the members of the Security Council — but I believe that there is a new draft resolution being circulated in the Security Council today concerning ways to strengthen the work of the UN system on the ground.  Yes?

Question:  I just wanted to know, Farhan, has there been any request from Burma about the reports that 53 people have died because of the earthquake?  Have they asked for any help at all?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  At this stage, no, we don’t have any request to convey from the authorities in Myanmar.

Question:  In Jordan, do you have   any response to what is happening in Jordan?  The riots in Jordan?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  No specific response about Jordan.  As you know, we have been repeatedly saying in recent weeks regarding all demonstrations that authorities should allow for freedom of expression, for freedom of assembly, and should refrain from the excessive use of force in dealing with the situation on the ground. 

Question:  Okay.  Now, in view of all these emergencies that are cropping up all over the world, especially in the Middle East, the Secretary-General and the United Nations response needed, sometimes financial aid is needed, help is needed by WFP and others, like in Tunisia and Egypt and so forth; is the Secretary-General eventually getting ready to ask the international community for any more funds or something like that?  I know there is an appeal that was made.  But besides that appeal?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we have been evaluating the situation and making appeals as necessary.  If we believe that the situation on the ground warrants a fresh appeal, we’ll certainly announce it at that time.  I don’t have anything for you on that just now.  Erol?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Yesterday we did have a chance to listen a little bit to the Secretary-General on Libya and Middle East.  But still, it seems to me that it was unclear after all whether the Secretary-General supports the political process, supports the political solution for Libya with or without Colonel Qadhafi.  And the French, for example, bluntly said, “We support the political solution but without, we think it is our national position that we do not have Qadhafi.”  So, what’s the…?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I think the Secretary-General has repeatedly said both here and on the road in his recent travels that he believes that Muammar Qadhafi has lost the moral legitimacy to lead, given the way that he exercised violence against the Libyan people.  At the same time, he does believe that there can be a political [solution], which is why Mr. Khatib is doing the work that he is doing.  And it will be up to Mr. Khatib to determine what kind of political [solution] can be agreeable.  Yes?

Question:  Just a follow-up.  Does that mean that Mr. Khatib will at some point, if he evaluates that there is no need or there is no kind of situation that would bring the fruits of that kind of negotiation, quit negotiation with Colonel Qadhafi’s regime, and… or this is something else?  I am really having difficulties; I know these are nuances…

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, it is a complex question.  The point is Mr. Khatib is talking widely with the various parties and with the various regional players on the ground, trying to find out what kind of solution can be found.  But certainly the Secretary-General has made his own views very clear about Mr. Qadhafi and his extremely dim view of the actions that Mr. Qadhafi has taken.  Yes?

Question:  Yeah, on Libya also, is the United Nations playing any role to make some arrangements for a meeting between the Qadhafi authorities, delegations and the Provisional Council in Addis?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Can you repeat the question, please?

Question:  Is there any effort by the United Nations for an arrangement for a meeting between Qadhafi delegates and the Provisional Council delegates in Benghazi in Addis Ababa?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, it’s not arrangements being made by us; this is an effort that was being worked on by the African Union.  So you might want to ask the African Union about that.  As far as I am aware, they haven't managed to get the parties together in Addis Ababa so far. Yes, Nate?

Question:  Just to go back to the statement issued this morning on the plane.  The Secretary-General mentions that he is looking forward to the 19 April meeting in Kiev.  It is to the High-level Meeting on Innovative Use of Nuclear Energy.  Is he going to be attending that, as well?  And also, does he have any plans to travel to Japan in the near future to check things out personally?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: I don’t have any official travel plans either to Kiev or Japan to give to you right now.  He is very interested in this meeting, and he would be interested in attending, but I will let you know whether we have any formal announcement down the line on that.  Yes, Erol?

Question:  Farhan, just to clarify, does the Secretary-General believe that a political solution for Libya could go on only if certain conditions, as he put yesterday talking to us, by Mr. Qadhafi would be addressed and fulfilled?  I mean, the conditions to ceasefire, and…?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t want to make any comments prejudging what kind of a solution could be found.  Obviously, the work on that is being done by the Special Envoy and his team.

Question:  Is he emphasizing the political solution so far or something else?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  His emphasis has been on a number of steps, whether political, humanitarian, the firmer action that the Security Council has authorized — I’d just refer you to his comments, including his press encounter from yesterday.

Question:  That’s what I am talking about.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  He mentioned all of those various aspects; it’s all part and parcel of what needs to be done on the ground.  Yes, please?

Question:  Can we return to Syria for a minute?  I was wondering if the Secretary-General has any comment on the demonstrations that are in other parts of the country, rather than just Deraa?  Like in Damascus and Hama?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  We’ve basically supported the right of people throughout the country to demonstrate peacefully.  There has been no specific comments about other precise locations, but you can take what he has been saying as essentially the blanket right of all Syrians to express themselves freely. Yes?

Question:  Sure.  There have been… there seem to be four countries that are behind on their UN dues and have not been granted the waiver to vote in the General Assembly, one of them being Kyrgyzstan, and it’s said that Kyrgyzstan is in fact being allowed to vote in the Human Rights Council without any General Assembly authorization.  I just, I guess I wanted to know, as a matter of sort of UN procedure, if you didn’t pay your dues and you didn’t get an Article 19 waiver, how can you be voting?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  That’s really a General Assembly issue.  As you know, the way you get your vote is through a waiver.  But I would refer you to my colleague Jean Victor [Nkolo].

Question:  Okay.  And I wanted to also ask you, one, sometime ago — or not that long ago, maybe a couple of weeks ago — I had asked some questions about UNOPS [United Nations Office for Project Services] and the son-in-law of the Secretary-General.  And you told me that go and ask UNOPS, which I did.  But I don’t have an answer.  But at that time you were listed as the spokesman, and I wanted to know, when… one of the questions on who gave him permission to go on special leave and under what grounds, got to be answered by UNOPS since you said ask them, and I did.  Where is the answer?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  We’ve conveyed all the questions.  If and when we have any further information to provide to you, we will…

Question:  What changed that you are no longer… you were listed at that time as the spokesman?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  That’s an error; I’ve never been.  Trust me, I am paid only by the Secretariat and no one else.  I’d helped them for questions years ago and somehow my name wound up on their website. It’s off now.

Question:  It seems like it is, is your office trying to get an answer to that?  I mean, I was told by your…

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  No, no, we’ve submitted all the relevant questions; and when we get an answer, we’ll share it along.

And with that, I wish you all a good weekend.

* *** *

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