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

30 March 2011

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

30 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.

Hello.  Good afternoon.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

The Secretary-General will open the fifth meeting of the Global Colloquium of University Presidents next Monday, at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

The Global Colloquium is a network of international university presidents who are committed to addressing global public policy problems.  Some 30 university presidents from around the world will be attending.

This year’s meeting is dedicated to the theme of “Empowering Women to Change the World:  What Universities and the UN Can Do”.  Participants will discuss the global challenges to empowering women and girls and what universities and the United Nations can do to advance participation and leadership of women in their societies and the global community.

** Sudan

David Gressly, the UN Regional Coordinator for Southern Sudan, says that ongoing violence across a broad swath of Sudan’s southern region remains a source of major concern for the UN Mission in that country (UNMIS).

He said that fighting in Jonglei, Upper Nile and Unity states involve at least four militia groups, with the Southern Sudan People’s Army conducting offensives against them.  Mr. Gressly urged the Government of Southern Sudan to deal with these security threats in compliance with international humanitarian law.

Meanwhile, the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) and its partners have in recent months cleared over 5.6 million square metres of land in Southern Sudan.  Their next big challenge would be to clear freshly laid landmines in northern Jonglei State, Mr. Gressly says.

** Cyprus

On Cyprus, the leaders of the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities discussed the internal aspects of security in Nicosia today.

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Cyprus, Lisa Buttenheim, told reporters after today’s talks that the leaders will meet again next Wednesday, 6 April.

**Press Conferences

For press conferences today, at 2 p.m. today, there will be a press conference on the launch of a new report co-produced by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) entitled “Creative Economy Report 2010”.

Then tomorrow, — there is a raft of press conferences — at 10 a.m., there will be a press conference with Father Miguel d’Escoto Brockman, the former President of the sixty-third session of the General Assembly and the former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Nicaragua.

At 10:30 a.m., there will be a press conference to launch the Secretary-General’s report on evaluating achievements in the global HIV response and setting out recommendations for the way forward.  The speaker will be Dr. Mari Ortega, the Deputy Director of UNAIDS [Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS] in New York.

At 11 a.m., there will be a press conference with the Chair of the Human Rights Committee, Zonke Majodina of South Africa, and Committee Member Krister Thelin of Sweden, on the conclusion of the Committee's 101st Session.

Then at noon, Michael Adlerstein, the Executive Director of the Capital Master Plan (CMP) will be the guest at tomorrow’s noon briefing.  We would like you to know that there will be a tour of the CMP construction sites starting at 1 p.m., right outside the Dag Hammarskjöld Library Auditorium.  Journalists who would like to participate should register at the Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit.  And that tour will take about an hour.

And that’s it from me.  Yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  First, actually on the CMP thing; does that mean we are allowed to have cameras to take the chronology of the work…?

Spokesperson:  I believe so.  Check with Isabelle [Broyer] and my colleagues at the Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit, but I believe it is for journalists with their equipment and crews.

Question:  Okay.  Then, the second thing on Brockman’s presser at 10; is this about his plan to become the new Libyan envoy?  And have you received the letter from Musa Kousa; and where does that all stand?  And can someone who is not a national of a country be the envoy?

Spokesperson:  Okay, first of all on receiving the letter; no, we have not received a letter from Libya concerning any change involving Miguel d’Escoto Brockman, so we do not have any official notice of any such designation.  If we were to receive that information, it would need to be studied at that time; and at that point we could deal with the question of legal aspects of it.  But obviously, we are not at that stage yet.  And regarding why he is holding that, I don’t know.  You’d have to ask him.  It’s his decision to hold a press conference.  He will presumably announce what he has to say when he holds it.

Question:  Can I just ask a follow up on that?  So, you are saying you would, the UN and the Secretariat, when you see it, you would study it?  But doesn’t it go to the Credentials Committee?  So how does it work exactly?

Spokesperson:  No, no, initially these letters — not every letter automatically goes to the Credentials Committee.  The Credentials Committee gets involved in disputes or in any cases where there is any potential question about credentials.  But most letters normally go to the Secretary-General.  We haven't received this one, though.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  In fact, my question is about the controversy around arming the rebels or the opposition in Libya.  I wonder whether we can get an interpretation for Security Council resolution 1973 (2011); whether it allows the international community, I mean from the legal point of view, whether it allows the international community to arm the opposition or the rebels.  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  As far as that goes, ultimately, resolution 1973(2011) was passed by the Security Council and it is up to the members of the Security Council to determine how it is implemented and what the provisions mean.  It wouldn’t be for us to interpret what the Council members meant when they voted on what they voted on.  So it’s a question for the Council members to decide, and if this question arises, we believe that the Council will then… it will be up to them to take it up.

Question:  May I follow up, please?  Do you mean that the Council members should give the legal interpretation on any point of…?  Is that what you mean?  Or whether it is…

Spokesperson:  The Council, the Security Council itself, is the ones who crafted the language; they are the ones ultimately who are in the position to explain what the language means.  Of course, we can always provide legal advice and support, as requested by the Security Council, about these resolutions, but ultimately the determination of what the resolution entails is for them; for the people who created and crafted this resolution.

Question:  I just… in the same way I wanted to ask this about two press releases being sent by this Libyan Mission, press releases, five press releases, six.  I just want to know, and this by those who are the previous regime or at this point and the rebels’ press releases.  Do we accept that as just from the UN, the Mission, they are sending out all these press releases about the rebel forces and what’s happening in Libya and what [Muammar al-] Qadhafi is doing…  Is that acceptable?  What’s the position?

Spokesperson:  It’s not for us to dictate what a Mission says.  They have the right to put out their own communications.  Obviously, we have our own point of view on the situation in Libya, which has been articulated by the Secretary-General, most recently, yesterday in his remarks in London.  And that’s where we stand on the issue.  Yeah?

Question:  Sure, I wanted to follow up on what Ali said first on Brockman.  I have seen there is a letter that is both in Arabic signed by Mousa Kousa, and translated into Spanish.  I guess you are saying…

Spokesperson: We haven't seen or received it.

Question:  When you do receive it, will you squawk it today?  Because it seems they are pretty clear that it has been…

Spokesperson:  Sure.  Sure.

Question:  And for Mr. d’Escoto Brockman’s press conference, can you either state or find out what kind of a pass he is coming in on?  Is he coming in as a former Nicaraguan diplomat?  Is he coming in, do you understand, I mean how was this set up, for example?  Who does he represent tomorrow?

Spokesperson:  As for the pass, I wouldn’t have a comment on what pass card he uses.  He, this was arranged by the Government of Nicaragua; and, as you know, the press conferences in this room can be arranged by Governments as they choose.

Question:  What the Nicaraguan Government purports to be the Musa Kousa letter says that Ali Treki was denied a visa by the US, which would obviously violate the Host Country Agreement.

Spokesperson:  I am not aware of that.  You’d have to ask that to the United States.  Yes?

Question:  Farhan, yesterday, the Special Coordinator for Lebanon Michael Williams said at the press briefing that seven Estonian cyclists were abducted in the Bekaa Valley last week.  I understand that the Estonian Foreign Minister has gone to Beirut and there have been reports or arrests.  But does the UN have any additional information on this matter?

Spokesperson:  No. You heard Mr. Williams’s plea for their release.  That has been part of our effort.  We are hoping that with whatever interlocutors we can deal with, that we could obtain their prompt release, and this is something that he called for yesterday.  And we continue to press all those involved to release them as soon as possible.  Yes?

Question:  Farhan, is the Secretary-General going to call the two leaders in Cyprus, because you heard, only said that there might be a tripartite meeting in New York in the beginning of April?

Spokesperson:  I have nothing to announce on that yet.  You will have seen we have available in our Office today the remarks made by Lisa Buttenheim following the latest meeting of the Cypriot leaders.  And that’s where stand on that.  Yes?

Question:  I have two questions, one on Syria and another on Bahrain.  Yesterday or today, in fact in Al-Hayat newspaper, the Bahraini Foreign Minister accused Hizbullah of training some opposition members in Bahrain.  Have you got anything officially from the Bahraini Government on that regard?  This is my first question.  My second question is about Syria.  Do you have any response on President [Bashar al-] Assad’s speech today?

Spokesperson:  Well, working backwards; in terms of a response, we don’t have any specific response to the speech that he just made a few hours ago.  I would like to note that the Secretary-General did call on President Bashar al Assad last week.  And he had pointed out in that conversation that people throughout the region had been expressing their democratic aspirations through peaceful means.  And the Secretary-General underlined that Governments had an obligation to respect and protect their citizens’ fundamental rights.

And you will have seen the statements that we have also put out on Syria in the past few days, as well.

Regarding Bahrain, we don’t have anything official concerning this report, which we have seen concerning Hizbullah.  I would like to point out that the Secretary-General has repeatedly called on all sides in Bahrain to exercise maximum restraint.  He has called on the Government of Bahrain and the security forces from the Gulf Cooperation Council to abide by their duty to protect civilians and uphold human rights, including freedom of assembly.  Yes?

Question:  I have questions on Côte d'Ivoire and also Haiti.  On Côte d'Ivoire, obviously there are reports of very fast advancement by pro-Ouattara forces, and I think Mr. Choi [Young-jin] was just on Al-Jazeera predicting that it will all come to a denouement or end very soon.  And I just… I have been asking the last couple of days, what is UNOCI [United Nations Operation in Côte d'Ivoire]… is he saying that, despite his calls for protection of civilians, or is he somehow, I don’t want to say he is rooting them on, what is UNOCI’s position on this drive on the capital by the pro-Ouattara forces?

Spokesperson:  No, no, we are not rooting any side on.  In fact, we have urged all sides to halt fighting.  And this has been a consistent point here.  The mission, meanwhile, is continuing with its protection of civilians mandate to the fullest of its abilities, considering the circumstances on the ground.  In terms of the examples of the robust action that the mission has taken, there are several just in recent days.  For example, on 21 March in Attacoubé, a neighbourhood in Abidjan, a UNOCI patrol forced its way through a roadblock and intervened to stop attacks against civilians by pro-Gbagbo supporters.  Peacekeepers secured the area, treated and evacuated the wounded, and put out a number of fires that had been set by Young Patriots in local shops.

On 24 March, a few days ago, a UNOCI patrol in Abobo chased away a number of attackers who had been firing mortars at civilians.

And currently a platoon-sized unit of blue helmets has now established a permanent presence at the Church in Duékoué to protect the thousands of internally displaced persons now congregating in the area.  And so, we are trying to enforce our mandate concerning protection of civilians as best as we can.

Question:  What about Yamoussoukro, the capital, where it said that the [Alassane] Ouattara forces are moving in?  It seems like the first two that you listed are very much saying that [Laurent] Gbagbo supporters attacked Abobo and the Young Patriots that support Gbagbo; I guess in Duékoué that’s to protect people that are there, but, I guess, I mean, I just, can you see why some people would see… I mean, maybe the UN is, obviously views Ouattara…

Spokesperson:  By “some people” you mean yourself?

Question:  No, I mean, quite a few people in the Ivory Coast think that the UN is being totally, you know, reporting only on one side.

Spokesperson:  No, no. No, no, no.

Question:  Is the UN calling on Ouattara’s forces to stop advancing on Yamoussoukro or not?  Yes or no?

Spokesperson:  We have called for a halt in fighting by all sides.  And as you know, even for example, yesterday, Martin [Nesirky] pointed out certain acts, violations that were being taken out by forces believed to be loyal to Ouattara’s side, as well as forces believed to be loyal to Laurent Gbagbo’s side.  So we are impartial on that.  And regarding Yamoussoukro, we don’t have any first-hand information on the ground to share on that.

Question:  On Haiti, can I ask you a question?  There is an OIOS [Office for Internal Oversight Services] report about the UNs leasing of the two luxury ships after the earthquake.  And it has just come out and it said that the Organization had paid for services related to staff accommodation on a passenger ship, including $600,000 for fuel charges, which were not fully rendered or were discontinued during the contractual period.  Owing to the nature of the contracts, there was no recovery possible.  So there has been some dispute about how much money the UN lost on the ships.  Was it $600,000 in fuel?  Was it more?  Was it not just fuel but other things?  Is there a way to find out, since it seems like this was an issue that was defended from this podium, this renting of the ships?  The OIOS report is public, but it doesn’t say how much was lost.  How much money was lost?

Spokesperson:  Yeah, ultimately that’s a question for the Peacekeeping Department (DPKO), which I believe is trying to retrieve the money as best it can.  As far as that goes, in terms of the justification of the ships, I think we made it very clear at the time that the ships were contracted because of the urgent need to maintain services in Haiti while providing safe housing at a time when, as you are all well aware, a lot of the housing stock in and around Port-au-Prince had simply collapsed.  And as you are well aware, we lost quite a lot of staff when our central building collapsed.

Question:  But even with that, the OIOS is saying that it was a mistake to pay in advance in a way that it couldn’t be recouped.  That money, I guess I just, let’s just get the dollar figure, if we could, I mean, with all that’s…

Spokesperson:  Yeah, yeah, we will check with DPKO about what the finances on that would be.  [He later clarified that the ships had been contracted by the World Food Programme.]

Question:  Does the UN have any response to this UK Paddy Ashdown report saying that the UNs response to humanitarian disasters is in shambles, must be improved?  What’s OCHA’s [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] response to that report?

Spokesperson:  There is a fairly lengthy response from my colleagues in OCHA, which you can get from them.  Basically, they appreciate the work that is being done by the report, and they have already been following up and taking on some of the same ideas that are recommended in that report in the course of their recent work.  But I have some more extensive detail which we can share with you later.

[The response from OCHA says, in part:  The UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs as a whole is reviewing with keen interest the report, released by the UK Government, which examines the way the Government of the United Kingdom responds to emergencies.  The UK is a major humanitarian donor and a valued contributor to UN and NGO operations around the world, influential both in terms of finance and in policy development.  The report, part of a wide-ranging review initiated by the UK Government of its aid policy, is welcome in its thoroughness.]

Thanks very much.

* *** *

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