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

17 May 2011

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

17 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 Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon everybody.  Welcome to the briefing.

**Occupied Palestinian Territory

Valerie Amos, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, completed a four-day visit to the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel today.  Ms. Amos said that what had struck her about her visit was that everyone she spoke to, Palestinians and Israelis, wanted the same thing — to live normal lives in peace and security.

While visiting Sderot, she was told about the fear and uncertainty facing the local community as a result of rocket attacks from Gaza.  And she condemned the indiscriminate use of violence, which she said had to stop.

And on Gaza, Ms. Amos said that the blockade has resulted in a stifling of economic activity and a serious decline in education, health care, and water and sanitation services.  She called for an end to the man-made and protracted humanitarian situation through a lifting of the blockade on Gaza.  And we have a full press release with more details.

** Libya

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) reports that hundreds of people — including Somali, Ethiopian and Eritrean refugees — who had fled from Libya to Tunisia and Egypt are returning to Libya to board boats headed for Europe.  To date, some 14,000 people have arrived by boat in Tunisia and Malta from Libya.  Based on accounts from survivors and family members, more than 1,200 people are unaccounted for since late March.

The agency has met with refugees in Tripoli planning to make this treacherous journey.  They say they are all fully aware of the risks, but feel they have nothing to lose.  Many have been living in Libya for several years, and come from countries such as Eritrea and Somalia, where safe return is not a possibility.

Based on discussions with people who have arrived in Italy, the agency believes that thousands more will try to make the journey by sea.  The majority have made the voyage in boats overladen with passengers and there is often no qualified crew to operate them.  The refugee agency again calls on all vessels in the Mediterranean to consider all boats departing Libya to be in need of assistance.  And there is more information on the agency’s website.

**Human Rights

The recent turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa has been a huge challenge for national human rights institutions, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said today.  And speaking at a conference in Geneva, she stressed the crucial role these bodies play in ensuring the rule of law, preventing violations and providing assistance to victims of human rights breaches.

**Security Council

The Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution to extend the mandate of the Panel of Experts on Sudan until 19 February 2012.

After that, Council members heard from Karin Landgren about the work of the UN Office in Burundi (BNUB), which she heads.  She noted concerns by some opposition politicians on laws regulating Burundi’s political parties.  And she said that discussions within the UN family have begun concerning the transition from the UN’s current work in Burundi to work by a regular UN country team.

The Security Council followed its open briefing on Burundi with consultations on the same subject.  And then later, the Security Council President expects to read a press statement on Haiti.

And in the afternoon, the Security Council will discuss its forthcoming visit to Africa, and receive updates on political developments, from the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Lynn Pascoe.

** Darfur

The Sudanese Government has ordered that the movement of the UN-African Union mission in Darfur, UN agencies and non-governmental organizations working in South Darfur be restricted around the town of Nyala, the mission said today.

The restrictions also affect the movement at the Kalma camp for internally displaced persons.  Flights to the mission’s team sites and travel to the Otash camp for the internally displaced are not affected by the order.  Military operations and security threats were cited as the reason for these latest restrictions, according to information that the Sudanese authorities gave to the mission.

And meanwhile, the mission’s verification teams attempted today to reach populations in the Labado and Esheraya regions of South Darfur, the site of recent air strikes, but they were not allowed access.

**International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia

Marking the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia, the Executive Director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) noted today that the world is faced with stigma and discrimination that can lead to violence and block the response to AIDS.

Michel Sidibé said we must replace violence and discrimination with acceptance and tolerance.  He called on Governments to create social and legal environments that ensure respect for human rights and universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support.

For her part, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said in a message that homophobia and transphobia are too often overlooked.  She said no one is entitled to treat a group of people as less valuable, less deserving or less worthy of respect.

**Press Conferences Tomorrow

At 11 a.m. tomorrow, there will be a press conference on human rights by Dalee Sambo Dorough, a member of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

And at 1 p.m. tomorrow, there will be a press conference to launch a 2011 report on the theme “Governing development — the role of the State in economic transformation”.  And this is a report by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.  And speakers will include Robert Vos, Director of the Development Policy and Analysis Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

**Press Conferences Today

And today at 3 p.m., there will be a press conference by Ambassador Gyan Chandra Acharya, the Permanent Representative of Nepal to the United Nations, on the outcome of the Fourth United Nations Conference on Least Developed Countries.

Questions?  Matthew?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Sure, I want to ask a couple of questions about Sudan.  At least two journalists have been detained for their coverage of the South Kordofan elections.  These are journalists from Al-Maydan and Al-Tayyar newspapers.  And I am just wondering if the UN, UNMIS [United Nations Mission in Sudan], rather than UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization], given that UNMIS itself said, encouraged all parties to play by the rules in looking at these results.  Does the UN have any comment?  Can they confirm, and what do they say about the arrest of journalists for covering those elections?

Spokesperson:  Was there another question on Sudan?

Question:  Yes, there was.  It had to do with, there is a report in State media in Sudan that UNMIS is moving, quote, its equipment, all of its equipment to Juba; that they are having, responding to the Government’s request that they shut down in North Sudan, they’re moving equipment from Kadugli, El-Obayid, Khartoum and elsewhere to Juba, and I wanted to know if that’s — it’s in the State media there — but if it’s in fact true?

Spokesperson:  Well, on the first, we are aware of the report and we have asked our colleagues in the Mission for any further information they may have, whether they can confirm this report in the Sudan Tribune or not.  And on the other article and report that you refer to, any extension of the mandate of the UN Mission in Sudan really depends on the request of the parties concerned and is ultimately the prerogative of the United Nations Security Council.  So that’s what I have for you on that.

Question:  I just wanted to know, logistically, is it true that equipment, as the Sudan Vision reports, that equipment from, for example, Kadugli, where the [Security] Council is supposed to go, fly pretty recently, is it being moved to Juba just in the interim before 9 July, are things being moved?

Spokesperson:  Well, the answer I have is the answer I gave you.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  [inaudible] that the Palestinians are now ready for statehood.  Will the Secretary-General and the Quartet also recommend to the United Nations membership to now accept Palestinian, Palestine as a State?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think you know what the position is here.  The United Nations has long held the position that ultimately there needs to be a two-State solution, so that all the people of the region can live in peace and security.  So that’s on the one hand.  On the other, any matters relating to the General Assembly and any resolution that may or may not be put before the General Assembly — that’s really for Member States to decide on, and not for the Secretary-General to advocate or to express a view on.  The long-standing view of the United Nations, expressed through resolutions, is the quest for a two-State solution.

Question:  I understand what you are saying.  My question is simply this:  he maintains that now Palestine has met all the conditionalities under the 1933 Convention of statehood, and that…

Spokesperson:  This is something that is for Member States to decide, as you know.  Yes, Nizar?

Question:  Yes, on the same subject, the statement by the Secretary-General following the incidents of Sunday on the borders of Syria and Lebanon does not condemn the shooting of the protesters, of the peaceful protesters who were trying to implement resolutions which the United Nations failed to implement.  Why is that?  Another thing, when Ms. Amos condemns the rocket firing, she doesn’t equally condemn the attacks against civilians in Gaza and in West Bank and all this kind of things.

Spokesperson:  Nizar, Nizar, let me just answer the second part first.  If you look back at what Ms. Amos has said during the course of her four-day visit, she has been quite clear in her language on the incidents in both directions.  What I have read to you is a summary of the last day of her visit that included a visit to Sderot.  And as you also heard, she spoke quite clearly about what needs to happen with Gaza, as well.  So I think that it is extremely balanced and very clear.  On the answer to the first question, I went into this in some detail yesterday, answering a question almost identical, and I don’t propose to repeat it today.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  As you know, yesterday the President of the General Assembly, Mr. [Joseph] Deiss, speaking on the question of reform of the Security Council, made a very important observation.  He said if Member States do not reform the Security Council or are unable to do so, the United Nations will lose its credibility, and important issues will be discussed elsewhere in other fora and in other groups.  Is the Secretary-General as concerned as the President of the General Assembly about the necessity of reforming the Security Council as soon as possible?

Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General has repeatedly said, including from here, that there is a general consensus on the need to reform the Security Council, and he agrees that there is a need to reform the Security Council, to take into account all the changes that have taken place in the world in the last six decades, not to mention just in the last few years.  There are various countries with aspirations, of course.  That is for Member States to decide.  What the Secretary-General can do is to help to provide the political atmosphere so that those discussions that take place within the General Assembly can take place smoothly.  As you know, Member States have moved forward some way in actually discussing now a text.  They are obviously still some way from reaching agreement.  The Secretary-General’s view is that reform is necessary; it’s for the Member States to decide on the scope and the time frame for those changes.

Question:  You said that he would provide the political atmosphere?

Spokesperson:  He does, he does; and he will continue to do so.

Question:  What kind of political atmosphere would he be able to provide to advance these efforts at this point in time?

Spokesperson:  Well, this is simply in his role in meeting people, in bringing groups of people together.  This is not to say that it is his exclusive domain.  Of course, there are many other conduits and venues for that to take place.  The key point is that, yes, the Secretary-General recognizes and believes very strongly that there is a need to reform the Security Council to reflect better the world we now live in.  But it’s for the Member States to decide on the shape and the timing of those changes.  Yes, Nizar?

Question:  Martin, did the Secretary-General receive any letters from Lebanon, the Lebanese Government, following the incidents of Sunday?

Spokesperson:  Let me check.  I am not aware of any, but let me check.

Question:  Can you update us about the pull-out from Ghajar?  Where are the negotiations so far with the Israelis?  Are they still serious about respecting United Nations demands?

Spokesperson:  Same answer: let me check.  Our position on the need for that to take place is well known.

Question:  Another question is about the trials in Bahrain of the human rights activists and MPs and many doctors and others.  Is there any contact with the Bahraini Government to refrain from carrying out these trials under martial law?

Spokesperson:  Well, again, both the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Secretary-General have been vocal publicly, and have spoken behind the scenes, to try to ensure that a number of things happen:  one, that there is no more violence against peaceful demonstrators; two, that those who are being detained are held in appropriate conditions and have the right access to the assistance that they require; and three, that the efforts that there have been — so far stalled — to start a dialogue between the parties, that those efforts really should take place.  And that’s something that the Secretary-General has advocated for quite some time, and he will continue to do so.  Yes?

Question:  How about the investigation regarding those who died in custody?  At least four people have been reported to have died, and hundreds of people are still missing, unaccounted for.  Even the Government failed to give…

Spokesperson:  Well, we are aware of these reports and, as I have mentioned to you before, the High Commissioner in particular has expressed her concern about that.  And I know that efforts continue to stay in touch with the authorities in Bahrain about these matters.  Yes, Benny?

Question:  On the Lebanon incident, I don’t know if you have mentioned it yesterday, but does UNIFIL [United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon] have any indication as to any firing, any shots fired from the Lebanese side, and have they resulted in any deaths?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have any details on that.  I can ask my colleagues in UNIFIL to provide any details they might have.  But of course, again, that would be something that the Lebanese authorities could comment on if there are such reports.

Correspondent:  I think there is quite a large UN presence on that border, particularly to prevent such incidents…

Spokesperson:  Yeah, Benny you’re not listening to what I said, Benny; you’re not listening to what I said.  And I am not sure that what you replied then was a question.  But what I said was that I would ask my colleagues in UNIFIL if they have any details. And secondly, that you could also ask the Lebanese authorities.  I think that’s a pretty fair answer.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Okay, I have a couple of questions and I’ll try to… one, does the UN have any, there, it’s the UAE [United Arab Emirates] has said publicly that they have hired the founder of Blackwater, now Xe Services, to build a mercenary army.  And I am wondering whether the UN has any, has seen these reports and has any comment on them, including the legality of it?

Spokesperson:  Yes and no.  Seen the reports, no comment.  What’s your next question?

Question:  Uganda has put under house arrest the leading opponent figure, Mr. [Kizza] Besigye, and his wife, who is a senior director of UNDP [United Nations Development Programme], was briefly detained.  I am wondering what the UN has to say about this seeming crackdown in Uganda.

Spokesperson:  Well, let me find out about that.  We’re obviously aware of recent events in Uganda.  Let me find out if we have anything further on that.  Okay?

Question:  Myanmar, since the visit by the Special Adviser and Chief of Staff, Mr. [Vijay] Nambiar, announced a one-year reduction in the prison terms of some prisoners and the release of prisoners that some are calling just the common criminals and that prisoners are staying in.  Human Rights Watch has called it, quote, a sick joke.  And I am wondering what the UN calls these moves?  If they are encouraging, if they are… what’s the UN’s statement on this?

Spokesperson:  Well, we’ve obviously seen the reports on this announcement by the Myanmar authorities.  The exact scope of what has been announced remains unclear to us so far.  What Mr. Nambiar, the Special Adviser, said during his recent visit was that all political prisoners needed to be released, and he stated that publicly and repeatedly in his meetings with officials in Myanmar.  Clearly, we would hope that the measures taken by the Myanmar authorities would be consistent both with the new Government’s recent commitments and, importantly, the expectations of the international community.

Question:  Just one follow-up on that.  The director of Human Rights Watch has said that, has criticized Mr. Nambiar publicly for not raising the issue of accountability, i.e., a commission of inquiry or the thing that’s been, that event the Special Rapporteur called for, and I wonder, one, if there is a response by Mr. Nambiar?  If he will give a briefing and if you could give a readout on the meeting of the Secretary-General with the Director of Human Rights Watch on Friday?  Whether this issue was raised and whether Sri Lanka was raised, as well?

Spokesperson:  On the latter, no, we will not give a readout on that meeting.  They did meet, as the Secretary-General does with representatives of leading non-governmental organizations at various stages.  On the first part of the question, as I think you know, Mr. Nambiar is expected to brief Security Council members at some point, and probably the Group of Friends as well, at some point; not yet sure exactly when.  And I am sure, however, that as a result of those meetings there will be a little bit more detail about the visit.  I don’t have that detail at the moment, including the answer to the question about accountability, although you did ask me about that already — I can’t remember exactly when it was — and as I mentioned, the fact that it’s not explicitly stated in the statement, the press statement that Mr. Nambiar issued and read out, doesn’t necessarily mean that topics were not raised just because they were not mentioned in the statement.

Okay, I wish you a good afternoon.  Thank you very much.

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