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

24 May 2011

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

24 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, and welcome to the briefing.

**Guest at Noon

I am very pleased to welcome back Valerie Amos, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator.  Ms. Amos is here to brief you on her recent activities.  And without further ado, the floor is yours.

[Press conference by Ms. Amos issued separately]

So, just to carry one with a couple of other points, and then I am happy to take further questions.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

The Secretary-General has arrived in Ethiopia, where he will visit a health centre, a clinic and a hospital to see examples of Ethiopia’s efforts to provide health services at different levels of delivery, as well as how these levels of care are connected.  Those visits are part of his continuing effort to underscore the need to improve health care for women and children.

Earlier today, before departing for Ethiopia, the Secretary-General spoke to Nigerian Governors, saying that the recent elections in Nigeria marked a step forward, in a year when some 20 African countries will hold elections.

The Secretary-General added that he hopes that all remaining electoral disputes following the Nigerian elections will be addressed in a peaceful and transparent manner.  He said he was also deeply disturbed by the level of violence, particularly in the northern states, and he is concerned by the periodic ethnic and religious violence that affects parts of the country.  His remarks are available in my Office and online.

**Sudan — Abyei

Just coming back to Abyei, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has called on both sides of the conflict in Abyei to immediately cease hostilities.  She also urged both sides to respect international human rights and humanitarian law.

Ms. Pillay condemned the recent clashes, stressing that this is no way to advance the peaceful coexistence of North and South Sudan.  She expressed alarm at the shelling of civilian areas by the Sudanese Armed Forces, and called on all parties to avoid a descent into further conflict and chaos.

**C ôte d’Ivoire

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that while the general security situation continues to improve in most of Côte d'Ivoire, clashes continue to be reported in some neighbourhoods of Abidjan and in the western part of the country.

Tensions also persist in the south-west, where weeks of clashes have uprooted people and prevented aid agencies from delivering life-saving assistance, according to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

The volatile security situation has already halted an immunization campaign to halt the spread of a form of polio which has not been reported in the country in more than a decade.

**Press Conferences

A couple of press conferences.  At 11 a.m. tomorrow, there will be a press conference to launch a report on the world economic situation and prospects for mid-2011.  Speakers will include Jomo Kwame Sundaram, the Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development.

And then at 2:30 p.m. [today], there will be a press conference by Mohamed Al Korshan, who is a representative of the Bedouin Palestine refugee population in the West Bank, and this is to brief on the tenth session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

So, questions, please.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?  And I’ll come back to you on Abyei.  I know you’d asked a couple of points yesterday.  I have some information for you.  Yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  As you know, the United Nations Foundation and the Better World Campaign have released today a survey showing that the American people overwhelmingly — by 85 per cent — think that the United Nations plays an important role in the world.  And, what does the… and that the US Government should remain active in the Organization.  What does… how does the DPI [Department of Public Information] plan to bring this positive development to the attention of world public opinion?

Spokesperson:  Well, obviously this is a very intriguing survey and opinion poll.  This is something that’s been done regularly, and, clearly, also we’ll want to look quite closely at the results.  Two points, really.  One, the Secretary-General has made repeatedly clear, including when he was in Washington not so long ago, that the United States is obviously an indispensable partner for the United Nations in many respects.  And the second point is that in being able to spread the word about the work the United Nations is doing, it involves all countries and not just the United States, important though the United States is.  And so, you’re quite right that there is a real demand to be able to tell the story.  And that’s one of the reasons why, for example, the Secretary-General is in Africa right now, because one of his key priorities for the year is to highlight the need for improvements in women’s and children’s health, and the way that that can have a really positive impact if you make those improvements on development in general.  And I think that it is when people are able to see those results that these kind of figures then become obvious.

So, I think I am going to go Matthew and then I am coming to you, Masood, okay?  Yes?

Question:  I mean, I guess you now have an answer on an UNMIS statement on the cause of the violence on 19 May?

Spokesperson:  Well, yeah…

Question:  I mean, I am wondering if that’s what you meant when you said [inaudible].

Spokesperson:  Well, I guess you read my mind, or the body language, I don’t know which.  This is what I can tell you at the moment, that the available information and eyewitness accounts describing the assailants, including their uniforms, strongly suggest that the attackers were members of the Southern Sudan police or military forces.  And we’ve asked the Government of South Sudan to launch an investigation immediately and hold the perpetrators accountable, as attacks on UN peacekeepers constitute war crimes under international law.  And just a couple of other points, just to tell you that the first airlift of 125 peacekeepers from the force reserve company from Kadugli arrived in Abyei at 11:50 a.m. local time this morning, and that that move of this reserve company will be completed tonight.  And in addition to the personnel, armoured personnel carriers are being redirected from various locations to Abyei in order to support future patrol activities.  And I can also tell you that a ground patrol was conducted in Abyei town this morning, and that then more robust and aggressive patrolling was conducted this afternoon.  And also, there is a daily aerial patrol that has started as of today.  The Force Commander and the Deputy Force Commander, in other words from the UN Mission in Sudan, are both in Abyei and they continue to oversee operations.  And the peacekeepers, as I say, are patrolling in the Abyei area.  This is to deter incidents of looting and to identify, if possible, the groups responsible.

Question:  I just want to, just to factually… the Sudanese Government is saying that there are 197 of their soldiers who were either killed or disappeared in that attack.  Does the UN have any number, I mean, there’s other… there are… others give a much smaller number, but does the UN have any sense of — in that 19 May attack — what the casualties were?

Spokesperson:  I think that the numbers are much smaller than that, according to the reporting that I have seen.  But I’d have to come back to you.  I don’t know that we have a concrete actual toll.  As I understand it, once that attack took place, many of the people in the convoy dispersed, and I don’t know that they have been accounted for.  But if we can get more details, certainly we would want to do that.  Clearly, the Sudanese Armed Forces themselves would want to account for their own people, not least.  And as I say, we’ve asked the Government of Southern Sudan to launch an investigation immediately and to hold the perpetrators accountable.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  On the situation in Pakistan, which you said that you would probably have something for me or not, do you have anything?

Spokesperson:  I don’t, Masood.  No, I don’t.  We’re obviously aware of the reports, and we’ve repeatedly condemned terrorism in all its forms, including this most recent incident.  But I don’t have anything more specific than that, Masood.  Yes, Nizar?

Question:  Yeah, Martin, about the arrest of two reporters in Bahrain in the last 24 hours from Canal 4, I think, of France, and they said they were tortured, they were arrested, handcuffed, kept in jail for a long time.  Did the United Nations do anything, I mean, for them?  Did they contact the Government?  Was there an initiative…?

Spokesperson:  Let me find out, Nizar.  Obviously, journalists need to be able to carry out their work without intimidation, or without being detained.  So let me find out if we have any details from my colleagues, either in UNESCO or the Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Question:  Can you find out about the Jordanian thing, because the Jordanian media has reported about security people going to Bahrain and [inaudible].

Spokesperson:  As I said yesterday, I don’t have anything on that.  If I do, then I’d be happy to provide that information.  I don’t have anything.  But with regard to the reporters, as I say, any journalists carrying out their work need to be able to do so without fear of being rounded up.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Sure, I have two separate human rights questions.  One is, and maybe I have missed this, but there is this pretty high-profile case where Saudi Arabia has arrested a woman for the posting of a video of herself driving, which is apparently illegal for a woman in Saudi Arabia.  And I am just wondering if the Secretary-General has, is aware of that, and has any comment on that?

Spokesperson:  Let me find out whether the Office for the High Commissioner of Human Rights has had anything to say about that.  Yeah?

Question:  In… okay, and the other one is just a factual question that somebody has raised.  That report of the Panel of Experts on Sri Lanka… I mean, rather, has the Secretary-General transmitted this report in some sort of a type of a formal fashion to either the High Commissioner on Human Rights or to the Human Rights Council in the run-up to its June session?

Spokesperson:  As you know, we have said that the Secretary-General is studying the recommendations in the report that was submitted to him.  That’s the first thing.  The second is that he is also awaiting a response from the Sri Lankan authorities, an official response.  In the meantime, he has already said that he will take up the recommendation that was made with regard to looking at what there is to learn internally about the UN’s response to what happened in Sri Lanka.  And that mechanism of whatever form it takes will be going ahead in due course.  With regard to the specific points you’ve made, the report is publicly available, in its entirety.  It was published as you know, and is available for Member States and for the different parts of the UN system to see.

Question:  I just, I just, I’ve heard from over there that… I don’t know why the UN works that way, but there seems to be some expectation of a formal transmittal from New York to Geneva, and I just wanted to know… I mean, maybe I am wrong, but has that… has that taken place or will it be taking place?

Spokesperson:  Well, as I say, it’s in the public domain.  It’s publicly available and many Member States and others have seen it and I am sure that they are taking it rather seriously.  Okay, yes, please?

Question:  [inaudible] I want to know if you have any news about the refugee situation in Libya.

Spokesperson:  Refugee situation in Libya.  Well, I guess it may be that Ms. Amos would have had some more details for you on that.  I think there are two things.  One is that people are displaced within Libya.  There are maybe people who are refugees from other countries, some of whom, as you know, have then tried to leave the country, sometimes in perilous conditions, on boats.  And then, in addition, there are those who have left the country across land borders.  I don’t have up-to-date figures with me, but I am happy to find out a little bit more.  I would also encourage you to speak to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, either their office here in New York or their headquarters in Geneva.  They may well have some up-to-date figures.  And just finally, obviously, our movement on the ground is extremely restricted and limited, and, therefore, it is difficult to have a fix on what’s happening outside of the major population centres.  Okay?

Question:  Can I ask one more…?

Spokesperson:  Yes, sure.

Question:  Earlier today in this room, there was a press conference about the Chittagong Hill Tracts in Bangladesh, and it was said that the Bangladesh military, it has seized land from indigenous people to do training for peacekeepers that are deployed with DPKO.  This was said by a former UN official, now a professor, and backed up by this Chittagong Hill Tracts guy.  So I am just wondering, they both also said that these issues had been raised to DPKO in the past, but I am aware that Bangladesh is one of the major troop-contributing countries, so I just wonder, and you may not have it now, but is there a way to get some response from DPKO to what was said in this room about the use of the Bangladeshi military, the use of the lands there and what’s sort of being done about it?

Spokesperson:  I am sure my colleagues in DPKO are watching right now.  All right, thank you very much.  Thanks, have a good afternoon.

* *** *

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