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

26 April 2011

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

26 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, and welcome to the briefing.

** Sri Lanka

As you know, we put out the advisory report of the Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts concerning accountability in Sri Lanka yesterday afternoon.  The decision to release the report was made as a matter of transparency and in the broader public interest.

The Secretary-General expressed his appreciation to the advisory Panel of Experts.  The Secretary-General is carefully reviewing the report’s conclusions and recommendations.

The Panel’s first recommendation is that the Government of Sri Lanka should respond to the serious allegations by initiating an effective accountability process, beginning with genuine investigations.  The Secretary-General has consistently held the view that Sri Lanka should, first and foremost, assume responsibility for ensuring accountability for the alleged violations.  This and a number of other short- and medium-term recommendations that the Panel proposed in regard to steps that could be undertaken by the Government of Sri Lanka have now been shared with the Government.  He encourages the Sri Lankan authorities to respond constructively.

The Secretary-General has decided that he will respond positively to the Panel’s recommendation for a review of the United Nations actions regarding the implementation of its humanitarian and protection mandates during the war in Sri Lanka, particularly in the last stages.  The exact modality of such a review will be determined after consultations with relevant agencies, funds and programmes.

**Security Council

At 3 this afternoon, the Secretary-General will brief the Security Council on his just-concluded visit to Doha, Cairo, Prague, Budapest, Kyiv and Moscow.

During that trip, his discussions focused on three themes that are critical to today’s global agenda:  first, developments in the Middle East and North Africa, with a special emphasis on Libya; second, nuclear safety; and third, sustainable development.

During the Council’s consultations this afternoon, the Secretary-General also intends to discuss the situation in Côte d’Ivoire and the question of Sri Lanka.

Following those consultations, the Secretary-General intends to speak to reporters at the Security Council stakeout, as I mentioned yesterday.  And that will be at around 4:30 p.m.

** Sudan

Valerie Amos, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, has expressed her deep concern about recent attacks on humanitarian workers in Southern Sudan.

Most recently, last Saturday, a humanitarian staff member from the World Food Programme (WFP) was killed during an attack by armed assailants in Jonglei State.  Ms. Amos said that her thoughts and deepest condolences go to his family.  Ms. Amos also expressed grave concern for the safety of two staff from the International Organization for Migration (IOM), who remain missing after being forced to drive into an area of active conflict on 19 April.  She called for their safe return.

** Chernobyl

As you know, today marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster.  We issued a statement in which the Secretary-General says that we must continue to build an enduring legacy of safety for the future.  Earlier this morning, here at United Nations Headquarters, the Secretary-General joined others in ringing the peace bell in commemoration of the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl.  And then he also spoke to the General Assembly.  We have those remarks in our office.

**Secretary-General on Extension of 1540 Committee Mandate

And also in my office we have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the extension of the mandate on non-proliferation of weapons or mass destruction.

Questions, please?  Yes, Giampaolo?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Can you please elaborate a little bit more about the position of the Secretary-General regarding the situation in Syria?

Spokesperson:  Well, it’s one of the topics that he will be referring to at the Security Council.  It will be one of the topics that will be raised, and it is something I am sure that he will address at the stakeout a little later.  What I can tell you is that, as I am sure you already know, the Secretary-General has spoken twice to President [Bashar al-]Assad by telephone to express his concern.  He did that on 9 April, and if I am not mistaken, on 25 March, as well.

I think I was asked about that yesterday, and as recently as 22 April, so, just at the end of last week, the Secretary-General issued a further statement through me, condemning the violence against peaceful demonstrators and calling for that killing to stop immediately.  And he also reminded the Syrian authorities again of their obligation to respect international human rights, including freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and freedom of the press.

And as he also mentioned — and I know that this is something that has been referred to in connection with the Security Council — the Secretary-General has said repeatedly that there should be an independent, transparent and effective investigation into the killings.  I think I mentioned that yesterday.  I also mentioned that in one of the telephone calls, in the second telephone call, the Secretary-General had taken note of President Assad’s intention to carry out an investigation and said that he hoped that this would take place as soon as possible.

Question:  Yes, my question was exactly that; what does it mean having an investigation?  Does he have in mind a clear model for investigation or he is satisfied with the Assad investigation…?

Spokesperson:  As you know, national Governments, sovereign States, have always the first responsibility to investigate what is happening inside their own country, and to do so in a transparent manner.  It’s clearly and obviously a matter of broader public interest.  International attention is focused on what is happening, not just in Syria, but in other countries, too.  And where there is concern about possible abuses of human rights, then quite properly the international community focuses its attention on that.  In the first instance it is, however, the responsibility of the national authorities to conduct an investigation.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  Assuming, from what you said, the Secretary-General intends to do on this inquiry commission, Sri Lanka inquiry commission, do you think that, at what point in time the Secretary-General will establish an inquiry commission?  Because, as you said, he intends to look into it and perhaps…

Spokesperson:  I didn’t quite hear the beginning of your question.

Question:  Yeah, on the Sri Lankan report, I am saying…

Spokesperson:  Yes, I realize that, I just didn’t hear the first couple of sentences.

Question:  What I am saying, does the Secretary-General intend to follow the recommendations of the Panel in setting up an inquiry commission?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think that that’s been stated quite clearly in the statement that we issued yesterday.  And that, let me just tell you, “in regard to the recommendation that he establish an international investigation mechanism, the Secretary-General is advised that this will require host country consent or a decision from Member States through an appropriate intergovernmental forum.”  That’s what it says and that’s clearly the Secretary-General’s position.

Question:  Yeah, I just wanted to be clear, because there are some, like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty [International], they said that the Secretary-General has the power to go ahead an establish an inquiry commission on his own?

Spokesperson:  Well, that’s simply not the case.  It is the case that the Secretary-General established a panel of experts to advise him on accountability issues.  And that is what this report is about.  That is neither an investigation nor a fact-finding mission.  It is advising the Secretary-General on questions of accountability, and this is what it did.  To go further, to have an international investigation as recommended, this requires one of two things, or both:  the host country’s consent and/or a decision from Member States, from the appropriate intergovernmental forum.  And I think we know which ones we’re talking about here.

Question:  A follow-up on that, please?  I wanted to ask, when it says the Secretary-General is advised that these two things are required, you’ve called this an advisory report, but the report doesn’t give that advice; the report says the Secretary-General should do this.  So, I am wondering, where is this advice coming from?

Spokesperson:  No, it recommends.  It doesn’t say he “should”.  I think it is recommending.  It is recommending.  They are recommendations and the Secretary-General is reviewing all of these recommendations.  But the advice that such an international investigation would require host country consent or a decision from Member States.

Question:  What I wanted to ask you is, from whom is that advice, if the advisory report doesn’t make that recomm… doesn’t say that that’s the case, in fact asked him to do it?  Is it from OLA [Office for Legal Affairs]?  Who made that advice?  And even if this advice is accepted, is he going to propose to the Security Council today in his presentation that they take the matter up and hold a vote on it?  Which body is he referring to?

Spokesperson:  Well, there are a number of bodies that could look into this, as you well know, ranging from the Human Rights Council to the Security Council to the General Assembly.  They are intergovernmental forums that would be the appropriate setting.  This is something where there has been a report from the Panel of Experts to the Secretary-General on questions of accountability.  And there are a number of recommendations.  The Secretary-General is reviewing those recommendations.  He’s said, as you know, that he will respond positively to the Panel’s recommendation to review the United Nations’ own actions.  With regard to an international investigation, he has been advised that this would require either host country consent or a decision from Member States.  I think that it is clear that this is a matter of international concern and that the countries will doubtlessly look at this in a very serious way.

Question:  And I want to ask one more question on this; I tried to ask you this yesterday by e-mail.  Is this paragraph 171 of the report, this is just one of them, but it seems to have an error in it.  It says “Defence Secretary Basil Rajapaksa” when the Defence Secretary is Gotabaya Rajapaksa.  Then it refers to Basil Rajapaksa’s role in this white flag incident.  Is that an error, and who do we ask about sort of the report?  Do we… is the Panel going to come and do a press conference, as took place on [Benazir] Bhutto or is the status…?

Spokesperson:  Well, no, they are not — to answer the last part of your question — they are not.  The Panel’s work ceased when the report was submitted.  And with regard to any typographical or other errors that you’re alluding to, I would need to check on that.  So, yes, Tim?

[The Spokesperson later added that there was a typographical error in that paragraph, which referred correctly to Basil Rajapaksa, but gave him an incorrect title.  His correct title is Presidential Senior Adviser and Member of Parliament.]

Question:  On that same subject?  Has the Sri Lankan Government responded in any way yet to the report since its release?  And was the Panel allowed to go to Sri Lanka?  In the end we really didn’t have an answer for sure.  Do you have a comment on that?

Spokesperson:  Well, the Panel did not go to Sri Lanka, and we have obviously seen the public reaction that there has been.  We regard this as an initial reaction.  We obviously have been listening to what is being said, and the Government has also been saying that it will provide carefully considered views in response to the report.  And we will be looking at those, I think.  It’s obvious that the Government has said it will continue to work with the United Nations in addressing post-conflict challenges, which include reconciliation, as well as accountability.  Yes, Nizar?

Question:  Martin, with regard to the situation in Bahrain, today the authorities are putting 16 medical staff on trial for treating poor… all kinds of accusations, and of course they have continued their policy of demolishing mosques of the Shi’a population there.  Over 35 of them have so far been demolished, and they are burning copies of the Koran; more than 80 copies of the Koran have been burnt.  Does the Secretary-General have anything to say about that?

Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, the Secretary-General has been consistent in calling for the respect of fundamental rights and freedoms, and has done so speaking generally about developments across the Middle East and North Africa, and very specifically regarding Bahrain.  And he has repeatedly called on the Bahraini authorities to exercise maximum restraint and to avoid excessive use of force.  And he has also emphasized that — and really an important point — that he expects the Bahraini authorities to act in accordance with relevant international norms and standards regarding human rights and fundamental freedoms.  And I think that that addresses the point that you’re making.  If I have anything further, then I would certainly…

Correspondent:  They have ignored these calls and now we have such things happening; people are killed and under torture, these medical staff are, 30 of them could be facing trials and maybe they face the same fate as others…

Spokesperson:  So what is your question?

Question:  What is the next step?

Spokesperson:  Well, in addition, as you know, as I have said, the Secretary-General has consistently and repeatedly and publicly called for restraint and for the Bahraini authorities to act in accordance with international standards as regards human rights.  And as you also know, the High Commissioner for Human Rights has been rather vocal, expressing her strong concerns about this.  This is something that obviously the Secretary-General is keeping a very close eye on, and I am sure that this is a topic that will also be a part of his remarks to the Security Council this afternoon.

Question:  On Syria, another question, in the statement, they talk about only peaceful demonstrators.  How about the security people who have been killed during these demonstrations?  Are there any other third parties, for example, because tens of security people have been killed during these incidents?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think it’s obvious that the violence needs to stop.  The main focus of attention is that peaceful demonstrators have been killed, and not just in the last couple of days.  Of course there should be peaceful demonstrations.  And if anybody is killed in clashes, that is regrettable.  But it is very important to emphasize that peaceful demonstrators need to be able to demonstrate peacefully without fear for their lives or fear of being apprehended, detained, simply for exercising their right to freedom of expression.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  On Libya, as to what happened yesterday, attacks inside [Muammar al-]Qadhafi’s own compound, and also about the introduction of the mercenary forces and so forth, do you have any update on that at all?

Spokesperson:  No.  No.

Question:  An attack on Qadhafi’s compound — you’d see that as only part of the war, or the effort, that is going on to displace him?

Spokesperson:  No, I don’t have any specific comment on those specific operations that have been carried out.  I’d simply say that the important aspect here is that there needs to be an immediate ceasefire and, equally important, there needs to be swift and far greater access for humanitarian workers and their supplies.  I understand that the World Food Programme in the last couple of days has managed to get in another ship with supplies to Misrata.  But clearly, this is extremely welcome, but it is far from enough, and the reason it is far from enough is because the access is limited and it is still rather risky to be taking supplies in.  We need to be able to have unfettered and very rapid access, and you need a ceasefire for that to happen on any scale.

Question:  So this agreement worked out between the United Nations official who visited Benghazi just recently is still holding, it was working out, is what you are saying?  Or is it just not…

Spokesperson:  Well, as a result of the agreement that was reached, there is already a team, an international team, in Benghazi.  And there is now equally a small international team in Tripoli.  Both of those teams are there to try to ensure that there is as much access as possible, and to liaise with the relevant authorities to try to make that happen in a way that helps the people on the ground, and is safe as possible for the humanitarian workers who are there to help the Libyan population.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Sure.  I’m going to do this kind of fast and furious.  In Sudan, there have been reports of the interim constitution being released by South Sudan, which would allow Salva Kiir to serve another four years, and also would sort of unilaterally lay claim to Abyei.  I wanted to know, given the UN’s role in trying to resolve the Abyei situation, if they have a comment on that?  And also whether Mr. [Djibril] Bassolé… I have now heard that he wants to stay for six months, even while serving as Foreign Minister of Burkina Faso.  Is that the UN’s understanding of the Doha process, and would that somehow, would that be acceptable from the UN’s point of view?

Spokesperson:  On the second question, or the second group of questions on Mr. Bassolé, I think I’d need to look into that.  We’ve said already, last week as I understand it, as I recall, that Mr. Bassolé had advised the Secretary-General that he would be taking up the post of Foreign Minister in Burkina Faso.  So I don’t have any further update on that aspect.  On the question of the constitution, I’d have to check with my colleagues.  Alright?

[The Spokesperson later added that Mr. Bassolé would end his current work as Joint Mediator on 30 April 2011.]

Question:  Can I ask one more?  I wanted to ask, on this whole Thai-Cambodia, there is renewed fighting there.  What exactly, I saw the statement by the Secretary-General, but what role does the UN have in trying to deal with the two parties, and is there any response to this?  There is a claim by the Thai Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, essentially blaming the conflict on UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization], saying they should never have granted heritage status in a unilateral way.  Is there some… I know this has been bouncing around for a while, but is there…?

Spokesperson:  Well, yeah, it’s been bouncing around quite a lot, but I think that we could hold that ball right now, because clearly this is something that is extremely troubling that there is renewed fighting and that the reports that we are seeing suggest that that fighting has spread from the original initial area.  The Secretary-General is very closely watching this and he is aware of what has been happening, and he is, again, calling on both sides to exercise maximum restraint, and to try to put in place a verifiable ceasefire.  You will recall that ASEAN [Association of South-East Asian Nations] has been quite closely involved in trying to find ways to deal with this dispute between the two neighbours, and I am sure that that will be an avenue that is further explored in the days to come.  The most important thing is that both countries — Thailand and Cambodia — need to exercise maximum restraint here to avoid there being any escalation in this.

Question:  Has he made calls, has the Secretary-General made calls in this regard, either to the Indonesian Foreign Minister as ASEAN Chair, or to the two…?

Spokesperson:  Not in the last few days, but stay tuned on that.

Correspondent:  Hi, Martin, I’ve been raising my hand.

Spokesperson:  Sure, these lights are not great.

Question:  All right, thank you.  I wanted to ask, what’s the reaction of the Secretary-General to the presidential election in Nigeria?  Since he issued a statement before the series of elections, he hasn’t spoken; the presidential election has taken place, the state elections are taking place today and there have been quite a lot of responses, especially because of the violence.  So, I’d like to know, does the Secretary-General have any reaction on Nigeria’s presidential and ongoing elections?  Then secondly, DPA [Department of Political Affairs] has confirmed to us that the UN actually made some contributions to the ongoing elections, but we have not been given the information specifically in what areas.  So I am hoping that maybe you could help us answer that question?

Spokesperson:  I am sure that my colleagues in the Department of Political Affairs will be able to provide some more details for you on that.  And if we have any further remarks on the outcome of the election, and as you mentioned, the governor elections and selections that are taking place right now, then we’d let you know.  But I don’t have anything at the moment.  All right, okay.  Thank you.  Have a good afternoon.  Thank you.

* *** *

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