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

11 May 2011

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

11 May 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.

**Secretary-General’s Press Conference

The Secretary-General is on his way back from Geneva, where he gave a press conference at the Palais des Nations earlier today.

He told reporters that he had spoken by phone yesterday evening with Libyan Prime Minister Al Baghdadi Ali Al-Mahmoudi, and had told him that the Libyan authorities must stop attacking civilians.  The Secretary-General said there must be an immediate, verifiable ceasefire, negotiations towards a peaceful resolution of the conflict, and unimpeded access for humanitarian workers.  The Prime Minister agreed to receive the Special Envoy for Libya, Abdul Ilah al-Khatib, who is to travel to Tripoli as soon as possible.

The Secretary-General urged President Bashar al-Assad of Syria to heed the calls of the people for reform and freedom, and to desist from excessive force and mass arrest of peaceful demonstrators.  He said that he was disappointed that the UN humanitarian assessment team has not yet been given the access it needs — and was promised by — the Syrian authorities.  And he again urged Syria to cooperate with the Human Rights Council-mandated mission and grant access to human rights monitors.

The Secretary-General added that he was disturbed by the recent violence between Muslims and Copts in Egypt.  After the prolonged display of national unity that led to the peaceful transition of power, it is critical that the Egyptian people maintain that unity of purpose to achieve their democratic aspirations.  And we have the full transcript in our office.

**Security Council

The Security Council received a briefing today on the latest developments in Somalia from the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Augustine Mahiga.

He told Council members that there is an urgent need to develop a consensus on when and how to hold elections while seeking to defuse the stalemate between the legislative and executive branches of Government.  He said that the process of political outreach for inclusive dialogue and reconciliation by the Transitional Federal Institutions has stalled since the signing of the Djibouti Agreement.

Mr. Mahiga said that he has undertaken another round of initiatives to encourage Somalia’s President, Prime Minister and Speaker to overcome the deadlock between the executive and legislative branches.  We have his remarks in our office.

And the Security Council followed its open briefing with closed consultations, also on Somalia.

**Road Safety

Today is the official launch of the Decade of Action for Road Safety.  The Secretary-General, in a message, says that the Decade can help all countries drive along the path to a more secure future.

He says that road crashes kill nearly 1.3 million people every year, and leave millions more injured or permanently disabled.  Impaired driving, unsafe roads and other dangers shatter lives in a matter of seconds.  The Secretary-General calls on Member States, international agencies, civil society organizations, businesses and community leaders, and people everywhere to ensure that the Decade leads to real improvements.

To mark the launch of the Decade of Action for Road Safety, the Secretary-General and the New York City Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, will hold a press conference at Madison Square Park tomorrow at 11:30.  They’ll discuss road safety measures and take some questions there.

**Press Conferences Today

Immediately following this briefing, Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, will give a briefing on the Secretary-General's Annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict, which was released today.  That should happen around 12:30.

And at 2:30 p.m., there will be a press conference organized by the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, on the Convention on Biological Diversity.

**Press Conferences Tomorrow

At 11 a.m. tomorrow, there will be a press conference organized by the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, on sustainable consumption and production.

At tomorrow’s Noon Briefing, we will have as a guest Christiana Figueres, the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

At 1:30 p.m. tomorrow, there will be a press conference to launch a new United Nations Environment Programme report on “Decoupling Natural Resource Use and Environmental Impacts from Economic Growth”.  And speakers will include Achim Steiner, the Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme.

At 2:30 p.m., there will be a press conference to launch a UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) global report on human settlement.

That’s it from me.  Yes, Nizar?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Farhan, today the King of Bahrain described the news about the Human Rights Watch reports and others as fabrications.  What does the Secretary-General say about that, and why hasn’t there been any investigation on the allegations that has been taking place there?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General has made his own concerns about Bahrain well known through his recent statements on that.  And as regards the human rights situation there, you will have seen the statements by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, and we stand by those statements.  Yes?

Question:  But the people are under blockade for over two months now.  This is collective punishment, and I haven’t seen any aid sent there.  Many of them are impoverished; most of them, in fact, have been denied their jobs and they have no other means to get any kind of support.  Shouldn’t there be any movement to help these people?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General has spoken with a number of people, including the King and the Foreign Minister of Bahrain, and he stands by what he said over there.  You will have noticed that, in his press conference in Geneva earlier today, he talked about the situation in the region as a whole, and he said that everybody will agree that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights ensures equal rights for people around the world, and he has upheld the fact that all the leaders throughout the region should uphold basic rights, including freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.  Yes?

Correspondent:  But…

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I am sorry, there are other questions.  Yes?

Correspondent:  Thanks, Farhan. I wanted to raise publicly an issue that came up this morning, when I and about a dozen of my colleagues were covering the Asia Group meeting.  We are under the media access guidelines; it says, “All correspondents may access the first and second floor of the North Lawn Building”.  A security officer came after we were there for a while in the hallway outside the closed meeting, waiting as we always do, routinely and have done since the North Lawn Building became a venue for UN meetings.  And we were told that we had to leave this area, because we were blocking a fire exit, which is absolute nonsense; one could move away from a fire exit.  And the security officer became rude and aggressive, and refused to give any explanation for why this is happening, and then later, someone from MALU [Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit] came down and said that the reason is because we are not allowed in these hallways when there is a closed meeting, which is also something that is completely new.  The reason I am raising this is because there has been a trend here in restricting press access to areas around the UN — we’ve had problems outside the General Assembly, we’ve had problems on the first floor area; the second floor area above the Security Council, or I guess it’s the ground floor area.  And there seems to be an increasing trend of Security making up access rules for the press as it goes, improvising based on whims, or perhaps based on complaints from Member States.  This is seriously impeding the press’s ability to cover issues here.  And since we are talking about issues of freedom of the press, freedom of expression, I would hate to see the UN to become a place where arbitrary rules, access rules, can be made up.  Perhaps you can look into it, see what’s going on.  We at UNCA [United Nations Correspondents Association] will vigorously resist any attempt to artificially implement new rules here.  We work on the assumption that we have access to the UN, unless we are specifically barred from places.  And we do not want individual security officers making up the rules or taking advice from diplomats about where we should be there, so…

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Thanks for bringing that up.  I’ll certainly follow up with Media Accreditation and with Security.  And from our perspective, certainly we will do as much as we can to make sure that the rules are clear and that you have as much access as you can have.  Yes, Masood?

Correspondent:  I would like to endorse what exactly my friend Louis has said, because I see that happening every day.  Security always comes up with new rules, or new improvised as their understanding of the security rules.  Since they moved in that building, they have become rather aggressive whenever they want to enforce the rules.  So I think something has to be done; there has to be a meeting between UNCA and all these people.  What Louis has said is absolutely right, and they keep on creating these rules on their own, without any clarification from inside.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I hear both of your viewpoints, and we’ll certainly try to follow up with Security, and if it helps for them to have a larger meeting with UNCA, we’ll try to follow up that way.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Sure, I’ll just kind of say one thing on that.  Maybe there is… I mean, if the Secretary-General, it’s… does he believe that the press should have as much access as possible, both in the North Lawn Building or none?  If you… I am just asking, is that… do you think it is his position?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Of course, the Secretary-General believes that the press should have as much access as possible.  Of course, I don’t know from the circumstances of the meeting whether there really is an issue involving access or blocking fire routes or anything like that; whether there is a safety reason that’s legitimate or not.  But aside from that, yes, we are trying as much as we can to make sure that you have as much access as you can have.

Question:  I want to ask another question about Ban Ki-moon, if I can.  It’s… I guess maybe you can confirm this, that while at the LDC [least developed countries] meeting in Turkey, he met with Mr. [Andry] Rajoelina, the disputed leader of Madagascar, who is not recognized by the AU [African Union], and I’m just wondering — I didn’t see any readout, but it is in the Madagascar press that he did meet with him.  There is a lot of wonders why the Secretary-General would meet with this… why he was in Istanbul, although that’s not your concern, but did Ban Ki-moon meet with him?  If so, why, and can we get a readout of this controversial meeting?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I am not aware of any meeting.  I’ll check with the travelling delegation whether that happened or not.  Yes?

[The Acting Deputy Spokesperson later said that the Secretary-General did not have a meeting with Mr. Rajoelina in Istanbul.]

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Aside from endorsing my colleagues’ comments on press access, two questions.  Does the UN have any comment on plans to expand the Gulf Cooperation Council, with possible inclusion of Morocco and Jordan?  Second question, we have had the Haiti cholera report and the Sri Lanka report.  I think the only big one we’re waiting for now is the flotilla inquiry.  Do you have a date, update on that?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Second question first:  no, I do not have a date for you.  As soon as we have a date about the flotilla report, we will let you know when we can do it, but I am not aware when the report will be completed.  Secondly, we don’t have any comment about the decisions to expand regional bodies.  Of course, it’s up to the regional bodies how they see fit.  Yes, in the back, please?

Question:  First, I would like to underline something that Louis said is that what happened this morning is not an isolated incident, it’s a trend.  So when you look into it, I would like you to keep that in mind.  And then I would like to ask about the letter that the family of Osama bin Laden said that they have sent to the UN, asking for answers and for an investigation of the way that their father was killed.  I was wondering, do you acknowledge receiving that letter, and if so, what is going to be the response?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  No, we haven’t received any formal request calling for any, asking for any investigation.  Regarding the death of Osama bin Laden, the UN does have special procedures that involve different human rights rapporteurs.  And they have been asking for more information.  There are some press releases by the relevant human rights rapporteurs seeking further information concerning his death.  Yes?

Question:  I want to follow up on what… about this Israeli stoppage of payment of taxes.  Besides that, what they have done, when the European Union has paid €80 million, plus France another €8, €10 million for payment of salaries to the Palestinians, they have even stopped that.  What do they want to do?  They want to just throw everybody out?  What is happening over there?  Can’t the Secretary-General talk to the Israeli authorities about this?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: As you know, the Secretary-General has spoken with the Prime Minister of Israel, and he did raise his concerns about the payment of taxes.  You will have seen the readout that we issued over the weekend, which we stand by.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you.  As you mentioned, the Secretary-General gave a press conference in Geneva earlier this morning.  To my knowledge, it has been some time since he gave a monthly press conference here at Headquarters.  Would he be available to give that press conference as soon as he returns?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Not as soon as he returns, no.  I don’t have a date for when his next formal press conference in this room will be.  His next press encounter in New York, like I said earlier in this briefing, will be tomorrow, at 11:30 a.m. at Madison Square Park with Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Question:  Would you know when his last monthly press conference was here?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I believe it was… I think it was in February, if I recall right.  But as you know, he has had a significant number of travels, so we’re trying to bring him around.  And of course, since then he has done a number of press encounters in this building.  I am just talking about formal press conferences in this room.  Yes?

Question:  Sure, it was… there has been a press conference held in Sri Lanka in which the President, [Mahinda] Rajapaksa, and also his Foreign Minister both spoke about the report.  What they said is that they don’t intend… that they’ll be writing a letter to the Secretary-General describing the humanitarian work engaged in the northern Sri Lanka, but that they won’t respond to the report because they don’t view it as legitimate.  That’s from Mr. [G.L.] Peiris, the Foreign Minister.  And I just wonder, is that… has any of this been conveyed to the Secretary-General?  Is he still… would he consider a letter about humanitarian issues to be a response that he would circulate in the same way he did the report?  And is there any intention, mostly by the Secretary-General, to ask any of the intergovernmental bodies, whether Security Council, GA [General Assembly] or Human Rights Council, to actually take up and hold a vote on whether to begin an investigative mechanism on the findings of the report?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, the Secretary-General is still determining what his own next steps will be in terms of reviewing follow-up to the report.  We’ll let you know once there are any decisions taken in that regard.  Regarding the Government’s response, we’re aware of the latest reports.  As far as we are concerned, the Government has said that it will provide carefully considered views, and we will be looking at those whenever they come in.  And we’ll see precisely what it is that they provide.  Yes, Bill?

Correspondent:  Farhan, I just want to second the concerns raised by some of my colleagues concerning press access.  Two days ago, I went to the top of the steps leading up from the Security Council to an area that had been… when the Security Council moved to that area, down by what was formerly the Vienna Café, at the top.  It’s roped off as an area where we can stand and talk to diplomats as they come into the delegate’s entrance and begin to go down the stairs.  There is no longer a rope there.  However, I stood up there for a while and then was eventually told, no, I couldn’t stand there any more, and this was no longer an area where the press was allowed access.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, thanks, I hadn’t realized until all of you started talking this afternoon how widespread these problems are.  And we’ll follow up; I’ll follow up immediately on this.  But, yes, we will do as much as we can to make sure that you have as much access, including to the North Lawn Building, and we’ll try and have a dialogue with Security and with Media Accreditation on that.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Yes, thank you.  I also agree on this question of access that my colleagues have been raising here.  But not only do we want access, we want wider access.  Can you take that into consideration while looking into the question?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, yes, we certainly will.  So good afternoon, and in about 15 minutes from now, Radhika Coomaraswamy will address you here in this room.  Thanks very much.

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