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

4 April 2011

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

4 April 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, everybody.  Welcome to the briefing.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo Crash

We can confirm that a UN aircraft crashed at 1300 hours GMT today on landing in Kinshasa, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  There were 29 passengers plus the air crew on board the aircraft, which originated from Kisangani.  A crisis task force set up by MONUSCO, our Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is working at the crash site.  We are not in a position to provide exact figures on casualties at this point.

** Côte d’Ivoire

The Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Ivan Šimonović, has arrived in Abidjan.  He’s there to assess the human rights situation, which has deteriorated seriously.  On his arrival, Mr. Šimonović expressed deep concern over the worsening of the human rights situation, including massacres in the west of the country.

As you know, the Secretary-General spoke by telephone this weekend with President Alassane Ouattara and expressed his concern and alarm about reports that pro-Ouattara forces may have killed many civilians in the town of Duékoué in the west of the country.  The Secretary-General said those responsible should be held accountable.  President Ouattara, while denying his forces were involved, said he had launched an investigation and would welcome an international inquiry into the matter.

In Abidjan, the headquarters of the United Nations Mission, UNOCI continues to come under fire from Laurent Gbagbo’s special forces, who are also threatening civilians in the area, including with heavy weapons.  The head of the mission, Choi Young-jin, has said that these attacks are unacceptable.

** Afghanistan

The Chef de Cabinet, Vijay Nambiar, and the Under-Secretary-General for Security and Safety, Gregory Starr, have arrived in Afghanistan, where they are expressing the solidarity of the entire UN system for the UN Mission there following the attack last Friday on the UN compound in Mazar-i-Sharif.

Staffan de Mistura, the Special Representative for Afghanistan, said that the United Nations will remain by the side of the Afghan people and does not intend to withdraw from the country.  He said that, although demonstrations in other parts of the country have given rise to further questions about the UN presence and posture, the United Nations does not intend to evacuate from the country or diminish its presence for the time being.

** Alliance of Civilizations

The UN High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations, President Jorge Sampaio, responded to the recent burning of a Koran in Florida by saying that any desecration of the Koran — as of any holy text — has to be vehemently repudiated.  But he added that no religion tolerates the slaughter of innocents.  Sampaio said that the outrageous attack on the UN Assistance Mission in Mazar-i-Sharif in Afghanistan should be firmly condemned, as should the violence that is spreading to other provinces.  And we have his statement available in my office.

**Security Council

The Security Council approved its programme of work for April earlier this morning.  And then at 12:30 p.m., just after this briefing, the new Security Council President, Ambassador Néstor Osorio of Colombia, will hold a press conference in this room to discuss the Council’s work over the coming month.

And then, at 3 p.m., the Council will hold a formal meeting, followed by consultations, on Libya.  Council members will hear from the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Libya, Abdul Ilah al-Khatib, who visited Tripoli and Benghazi last week.  And Mr. Khatib intends to speak to reporters at the Security Council stakeout once consultations have ended.

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

**Questions and Answers

Question:  On Judge [Richard] Goldstone, has he made any representation to the Human Rights Council?  Do you know about that?  That he wants to retract his statement on the Goldstone report that he made?

Spokesperson:  I think everybody will have seen an Op-Ed piece in the Washington Post.  That’s as much as I am aware of in this regard. 

Question:  Has he informed the Secretary-General or the Human Rights Council that he did this?

Spokesperson:  Not to my knowledge.  And this would be a matter for the Human Rights Council and the members of the Human Rights Council, who commissioned the report in the first place.  Yes, Joe?

Question:  Back in September when Terry Jones was calling for burning a pile of Korans, I believe the Secretary-General in advance spoke out against that, as the United States Government did, and it put a lot of pressure on him; he didn’t do it.  Was the Secretary-General aware, before 20 March that this guy’s church was going to burn at least one Koran?  And if so, why didn’t he say anything?

Spokesperson:  No, not aware beforehand.  And as you rightly point out, the Secretary-General is on record as specifically condemning such acts when the issue first arose in September.  And obviously, such acts cannot be condoned by any religion.  And they clearly contradict the efforts of the United Nations and many people around the world to promote tolerance, inter-cultural understanding and mutual respect between culture and religions.

Question:  Would you say he wasn’t aware before because it just didn’t get any media attention?  How else could he know?

Spokesperson:  Well, the point here is that any such acts cannot be condoned by any religion.  And you will have seen the statement from the High Representative of the Alliance of Civilization.  The Secretary-General supports the High Representative, who said in that statement that the desecration of the Koran, as of any holy text, should be vehemently repudiated.  But that equally no religion tolerates the slaughter of innocent people.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Sure, Martin.  Can I, on Libya, I’d like… could you confirm or deny that the UN has brought Ian Martin back into DPA [Department of Political Affairs] to form some type of a team regarding Libya?  Or can you what his status is with the UN, Mr. Martin?  And also, Mr. Khatib, has his contract been finalized?  I am asking this I guess in advance of today’s Council session and stakeout.  Is that… is he a staff member or not and is he being paid by Jordan simultaneously?

Spokesperson:  I think we have addressed this, and I know that both Farhan [Haq] and I have addressed this.  And when we have something, then we will let you know.

Question:  How long can someone work for the UN without having a fixed contract?  And also, on the Ian Martin thing, can you just answer that?  I’ve heard that from multiple sources, and I’d like you to confirm that.

Spokesperson:  Well, I haven't yet got to the first question.  I am working backwards.  Simply, I’ll try to find out.  Yes?

Question:  Thanks, Martin.  May I ask you about [the] telephone conversation between the Secretary-General yesterday and President [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad?  Is this the first time that they directly talked with each other since the anti-Government movement happened in Tunisia this year, earlier this year?  And secondly, who proposed, which side proposed this conversation?

Spokesperson:  Well, just to answer the second part first, we wouldn’t ordinarily disclose who initiated the telephone conversation.  And I believe that this is the first conversation that they have had on this topic since the events started to unfold in Tunisia.  There is a fairly detailed readout of their conversation that we have provided.  Yes, Nizar?

Question:  Yeah, Martin, with regard to the Afghanistan incidents, is there any investigation about the circumstances, how this happened?  Because then we heard from some injured people in hospitals, saying that the security opened fire first and killed four before the attack was on the compound.

Spokesperson:  I am choosing my words carefully here, Nizar.  There is a Board of Inquiry that’s being launched, as there is in any such case where lives are lost.  That’s the first point.  The second is that, as I have just mentioned, that both the Chef de Cabinet and the chief of security, Under-Secretary-General Starr, are in Afghanistan to show their support for the seven people who were killed in cold blood, working for the United Nations to help the Afghans, the people of Afghanistan.  They are there to show solidarity and also to help with the investigation that is under way.  Those killings cannot be justified under any circumstances.  And I would leave it there.  Yes?

Question:  You referred to the statement on the Koran burning and the killings in Afghanistan.  Is that the position of the United Nations, that there is some sort of moral equivalence between the burning of the Koran and cutting off people’s heads?

Spokesperson:  Well, I am not quite sure what you are referring to there in the second reference.

Question:  Now, in leading up to addressing the question of the killings in Afghanistan, which included the beheading of…

Spokesperson:  Well, let me correct you there; it did not include beheading.

Question:  Okay.  Well, the people were killed, right?

Spokesperson:  They were killed; that’s absolutely right, they were, as I have just explained.

Question:  Now, I notice that what you are saying is that the head of the Alliance of Civilization said that he condemned the burning of the Koran by this obscure pastor who lives somewhere in Florida, but at the same time said that there is no justification for the killing of these UN workers in Afghanistan.  Why the juxtaposition of the two?  Is there a moral equivalence there in some way?  Why does one have to talk about repudiating the burning of the Koran, but then move immediately into condemning the killings in Afghanistan?  Is there some moral equivalence?

Spokesperson:  It’s repudiating the desecration of the Koran or of any Holy Text.  And equally, no religion would tolerate the slaughter of innocent people.  Here I would simply say that the Secretary-General is on record as specifically condemning such acts when the issue first arose in September, as we were just discussing.  And again, just to reiterate, that the attack on our staff, in which seven of our staff were killed, simply cannot be justified under any circumstances.  And it is totally outrageous.  Yes, Matthew, and then Joe?  Unless, Joe, was it a follow up?

Question:  It is. I would ask what’s worse; burning the Koran or killing seven people?  And that’s what you were asking, basically, right?

Question:  The point I am making is I don’t think those two issues should be addressed in the same sentence.  I think killing seven… I don’t care what book is burned; there is no reason for people to be killed like that.  And I think at some point, you know, one needs to forget about referring to the burning of the Koran, the Bible or Talmud, whatever.  I mean, if I burn the Koran and some guy around the corner burned the Koran, is it okay then for people in Afghanistan and Pakistan to just attack somewhere and kill a whole lot of people?  It makes absolutely no sense.  And I think that at some point, we need to forcefully condemn those murderers and those kinds of killings, and not make any kind of link between the burning of the Koran and the killing of people, which is absolutely outrageous.

Spokesperson:  I think that the Secretary-General has been rather clear in his condemnation of what happened on Friday in Mazar-i-Sharif.  I think he has been perfectly clear on that.  And so has Mr. [Staffan] de Mistura.  As you know, he has spoken at some length on this.  I would refer you to the transcript of what he said in a press conference in Kabul.  Quite clear, and along the lines that you are discussing. 

Question:  I want to ask you about Darfur.  There are reports by both the Justice and Equality Movement and the LJM [Liberation and Justice Movement] that the Government is engaged in now four days of air strikes, in both North and South Darfur, resulting in deaths and the destruction of a school.  And I am just wondering, one, if you have a note on that and if now, why, what UNAMID [United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur] has to say about air strikes by a Government, apparently on a school and killing civilians?

Spokesperson:  I don’t, and I’ll ask.  Yeah?  Yes, Nizar, and them I am coming to you.

Question:  Did the Afghan Government tell exactly their version how things happened; how they developed?  How many civilians were killed?  How many demonstrators were killed during this incident?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think you could ask the authorities of Afghanistan. As I understand it, they have launched their own investigation into this, on instructions from President [Hamid] Karzai.  And so, I would refer you to them.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  Did they present such a version to the United Nations?  Until now, did they not present anything?  Because they were there, of course; the security people.

Spokesperson:  As I say, the figures that we have given you are for UN staff.  I am speaking on behalf of the United Nations, and I am referring to those seven people who were working for the United Nations who were killed in Mazar-i-Sharif.  Yes?

Question:  When Mr. Nambiar comes back, and the security chief, will there be a briefing over here?  I have not… can you please make sure?

Spokesperson:  Well, we will take note of your request.  Yes?  The other question?

Question:  It is not related to Afghanistan; it is a separate question.

Spokesperson:  Well, go ahead.

Question:  Okay.  It’s about a letter sent to the Secretary-General by five South American Presidents who have validated the ownership of Falkland Islands by the Argentineans, for the Argentineans, because you remember in 1982, Britain and Argentina went to war over the Falkland Islands.  So, these Presidents said that Falkland Islands belong to Argentina.  Has the Secretary-General received that the letter?  That was the report on Sunday.

Spokesperson:  Let me find out, Masood.  Yes, please?

Question:  Afghanistan.  One thing doesn’t add up.  The Koran was burned in Florida, which is United States territory; why then would there be an attack on United Nations facilities in Afghanistan?

Spokesperson:  Well, obviously, I can’t read into the minds of the people who carried out the attack on the ground.  I would refer you to what the Special Representative of the Secretary-General has said about the sequence of events.  He has spelled that out I think quite clearly, and I don’t think I would need to say much more on that.  Yes?

Question:  Was Mr. [Roger] Meese on the plane…?

Spokesperson:  As I have said, our colleagues are on the ground at the airport right now, trying to ascertain precisely what has happened.  And I really am not in a position at this point to give any details on casualties.  Yes?

Question:  Can you sum up what changes were made to the security arrangements after the guest house incident in 2009?  And just — is it still the case that no staff has been relocated?

Spokesperson:  We would not comment on security matters.  I would certainly be able to say that changes were made, obviously.  And particularly, our colleagues who work in the Mission and those associated with the UN in Afghanistan, particularly in Kabul, they have obviously looked at this very closely.  But I am not in a position to give you details on that.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Sure, Martin, I wanted to know if you can, I guess again, confirm or deny that the Secretary-General had wanted to send Mr. [Oscar] Fernandez-Taranco to Bahrain and this was discouraged by Saudi Arabia, as well-placed sources in his office seem to indicate.

Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, the Secretary-General has had direct communication with the King of Bahrain to express his views on the need for the leadership in Bahrain to listen to the people and to engage in dialogue.  And he has also reiterated his offer for UN assistance with that dialogue, should it be requested.

Question:  Yes, he’s spoken with the Saudi Arabian authorities about this idea of… about any idea; I don’t want to say that you’ve confirmed that, an idea of sending some type of a UN trip to Bahrain.

Spokesperson:  I know that the Secretary-General has spoken to a number of leaders in the region and continues to do so, including over the weekend.  But I don’t have any further details. 

I think I need to call a halt now, because the President of the Security Council will be here shortly to brief you on the work of the Council in this month. 

So, thank you very much.  Thank you.

* *** *

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