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

31 May 2011

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

31 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.

**Trip Announcement

The Secretary-General is travelling to Rome, Italy, from this evening until 3 June.  The Secretary-General will meet with the President of Italy, Giorgio Napolitano; the Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi; and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Franco Frattini.  The Secretary-General will attend events to mark the 150th anniversary of Italian unification.

And while in Rome, the Secretary-General will open a high-level conference on “The Interethnic City”, an initiative supported by the Alliance of Civilizations, the Government of Italy, the Government of Canada and the International Organization for Migration.


The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has condemned the intensified use of force against anti-Government protestors in Yemen.  Her office has received reports, which have yet to be fully verified, that more than 50 people have been killed since Sunday in Taiz by the Yemeni army, Republican Guards and other Government-affiliated elements who destroyed the protest camp in Horriya Square with water cannons, bulldozers and live ammunition.

Ms. Pillay said that such reprehensible acts of violence and indiscriminate attacks on unarmed civilians by armed security officers must stop immediately.  She urged all sides to cease using force and reminded the Government of its responsibility to ensure that the fundamental human rights of its citizens are protected.

**Security Council

The Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, B. Lynn Pascoe, briefed the Security Council on Libya this morning.  He went over the latest development concerning the situation on the ground and the political efforts of the Secretary-General and his Special Envoy, Mr. al-Khatib, including in Addis Ababa and Deauville last week.

Mr. Pascoe said that the Secretary-General had met with the Libyan Foreign Minister, Mr. Abdelati al-Obeidi, on the margins of the African Union Summit and reaffirmed that his Special Envoy was ready to conduct indirect talks with both sides.  He also emphasized the need for serious detailed dialogue and the cessation of hostilities by both sides.

Mr. Pascoe said that in Deauville, the Secretary-General called for increased humanitarian assistance in Libya.  He noted that a UN humanitarian team, led by the Humanitarian Coordinator, returned to Tripoli on Sunday and would stay for ten days.  Mr. Pascoe said that the protection of civilians in areas where the fighting is taking place still remains a fundamental concern.  The Security Council is now holding consultations on Libya.

And this afternoon, at 3 p.m., the Security Council will meet on Sudan and hear briefings by Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Alain Le Roy, as well as by the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Sudan, Haile Menkerios.

And as I think you know, today is the last day of France’s Security Council presidency.  Gabon will assume the rotating presidency of the Council tomorrow.


And on the ground in Libya, the Humanitarian Coordinator, Panos Moumtzis, told media in Tripoli today that the longer the conflict lasts, the more food stocks are going to be depleted, and it’s a matter of weeks before the country reaches a critical situation.

The Libyan Government has indicated that food and medicine stocks are being used up and cannot be replenished because of sanctions.  “For some food commodities it’s a matter of weeks, others perhaps a matter of months.  What is clear is that this cannot continue for a very long time,” Mr. Moumtzis said.


In Sudan, humanitarian operations in the south are under way, focusing on identifying the location of the displaced and responding to critical humanitarian needs.  However, the scale of the displacement has placed considerable strain on the humanitarian response operation and conditions among displaced groups are worrying.  Insecurity, the lack of response partners on the ground and logistical constraints have limited access by humanitarian actors to Agok and surrounding villages, as has a chronic shortage of fuel.

Based on reports from a variety of sources, the number of people displaced from the Abyei area has risen to an estimated 60,000 people.  For its part, the World Food Programme (WFP), which was supporting 62,000 people before the clashes began, has started distributing food to some 6,000 newly uprooted people.  The displacements come at the height of the planting season.  The Programme says that unless people are able to return to their farms, there will be a shortage of food and that the number of those in need of food aid could climb to 100,000.

That’s what I have.  I am happy to take questions.  Yes, Iftikhar?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Martin, there was a very strong statement by Navi Pillay about the killing of civilians.  But nobody from the UN is talking about this, civilians being killed by United States-led NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) forces in Afghanistan.

Spokesperson:  Well, I think firstly, the mission in Afghanistan may have something to say on this.  And secondly, I think the Secretary-General has said in the past that in any operations clearly the utmost care needs to be taken to avoid civilian casualties.  And he obviously regrets it when there are such casualties.  But if I have any more on that, then I would let you know.  Yes, Tim?

Question:  Does the Sudanese Government… have you received a letter from the Sudanese Government asking UN forces to leave, officially?

Spokesperson:  No.  I checked this morning, and so far we have not received a letter.  That doesn’t mean that there isn’t one on its way, but we have not received a letter at this point.  Yes, Matthew?

[The Spokesperson later confirmed that the Secretary-General transmitted a letter from the Foreign Minister of Sudan to the President of the Security Council today.  This letter will subsequently be issued as an official document of the Security Council.]

Question:  Sure, also on Sudan.  There have been comments by the Government in Khartoum that all Southern or SPLA (Sudan People’s Liberation Army) forces should leave Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile State by 1 June.  And I am wondering what is… does UNMIS (United Nations Mission in the Sudan )… what do they think about that order or what preparations are they making for what seems to be a threat of renewed conflict on 1 June?

Spokesperson:  Well, we are aware of the reports.  I’ll check if we have any specific additional information for you on that.  Clearly, the Mission has been monitoring developments in Abyei very closely and has had additional patrols.  Any further tension in the area — the broader area — of course is something that we would wish to see avoided.

Question:  I also wanted to ask you on Libya, there is this report, video report, it seemed to show western, United Kingdom forces, on the ground with Libyan rebels near Misrata.  And I saw at least one thing quoting a spokeswoman for Ban Ki-moon saying, you know, we don’t comment on those reports.  And I just wondered, one are you… I mean, is that… was that the comment of the office and is it based on not being able to verify that these people, that these western forces were on the ground or that’s not [inaudible]?

Spokesperson:  I think the point is that we don’t have any comment at this point.  And certainly it would be for the authorities of the countries concerned to respond to those kinds of reports.  If such matters are brought to the attention of the Secretary-General through the established channels — meaning this coordination mechanism that you are aware of — then obviously we’d be able to say more.  At this point we don’t have anything further to say.

Question:  And have there been any notifications to the Secretary-General either on this question of the attack helicopters that both the United Kingdom and France said they are sending, or this idea of sending either trainers or whoever these people were?  Are you aware of any notifications [inaudible]?

Spokesperson:  Not to my knowledge.  I mean, I remember being asked about this before with regard to the attack helicopters.  Not to my knowledge.

Question:  So, what… does the trip by South African President [Jacob] Zuma — was there any coordination with Mr. al-Khatib’s, because he seems to be asking… I mean, there are both discussing the same issue of a ceasefire, although maybe slightly differently.  What’s the relation between those two visits and initiatives?

Spokesperson:  Of course these efforts are closely coordinated, and indeed Mr. al-Khatib was in Cairo over the weekend attending a meeting that was a follow-up meeting to the one you probably remember the Secretary-General held with the heads of the European Union, Catherine Ashton, and the League of Arab States, the African Union and the Organization of the Islamic Conference.  There was a follow-up meeting this weekend for precisely that reason — to coordinate the different efforts that there are.  And obviously the Special Envoy is very supportive of measures that are taken by others in the same vein that his own efforts are aimed at.  And clearly I think the point that you are making is well taken that there is a premium on coordination, and that is certainly what is taking place.  Other questions?  Yes, Masood?

Question:  This is a question I know I am straining to ask, and you will tell me it falls under the purview of UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization).  There was a Pakistani journalist murdered this morning because he wrote a book on Al-Qaida and Taliban which is supposed to be released today in the United States, but apparently its release has been delayed.  And there are charges that he was picked up by Pakistan’s ISI.  So, it’s at, it is going to a level which is beyond anything else — big agencies and the army is involved.  Did the Secretary-General take a note of this?

Spokesperson:  We are aware of that report that surfaced today.  And obviously it is extremely disturbing that a journalist should suffer such a fate.  If we have anything further on it, obviously we’d let you know.  We’ve said on a number of occasions that journalists, wherever they are, need to be able to go about their work without fear — and certainly without fear for their lives.  So, this is certainly a disturbing report.  We would certainly hope that the Pakistani authorities would investigate it in a very thorough way.  Yes?

Question:  [inaudible] about Sri Lanka and then something more about management.  On Sri Lanka, there are two things have happened in Geneva, I guess, over the weekend, or yesterday.  One is that Navi Pillay has said that she fully supports the recommendation of this Panel of Experts report to the Secretary-General, to establish an international mechanism.  And I just, I guess I just wanted to say, maybe you think it is implicit in what you said.  Is that a call?  She’s recommended to the members of the Human Rights Council that they implement this report.  Is that something that the Secretary-General, you know, joins her in?  And also does he have any, is he aware of this video that was shown of the extrajudicial, by the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, a longer version of one shown in this room and he’s called it now sort of credible, and that it should be acted on.  Is the Secretary-General aware of that and does he believe that it should be acted on?

Spokesperson:  Well, two things.  I think you’d have to ask Ms. Pillay precisely what she meant by her words at the Human Rights Council.  The recommendations of the Panel of Experts report are there for all to see.  The Secretary-General has made it clear that he believes that, in the first instance, it’s the responsibility of sovereign states to conduct independent investigations of a credible nature.  And in this particular case, that’s what he again reiterates.  With regard to the question of an international independent mechanism, the Secretary-General has also said clearly that he believes that there should either be consent from the Sri Lankan authorities, or a mandate from an intergovernmental organization, or rather body, one of which of course could be the Human Rights Council.  With regard to the video that you mention, we’re certainly aware of that footage.  I think it simply underscores again the need for a credible national accountability mechanism that really works.  Yes, Iftikhar?

Question:  Martin, you must have seen reports by almost all wire services about the quest by Pakistani authorities to the United Nations to get ready to look after about 350,000 IDPs (internally displaced persons) who are about to be displaced because of the military operation in north Waziristan.  Are you confirming this report, these reports?

Spokesperson:  I’d have to check, I don’t have anything on that, Iftikhar.  I’d have to check. 

[The Spokesperson later said that, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), no major population movements have yet been seen from North Waziristan.  The United Nations and other humanitarian agencies are maintaining an inter-cluster contingency plan for humanitarian assistance in Pakistan's tribal areas (FATA) and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province (KPK), including measures that enable agencies to assist people whether they are currently displaced, returning to their homes or in transition.]

Question:  I wanted to know if you could confirm that, in this Umoja technology project that Angela Kane, you know, said that the OIOS (Office of Internal Oversight Services) recommendations were being implemented and they were procedural violations.  I have been told that the head of Umoja has now stepped down, Mr. van Essche, to be replaced by Rudy Sanchez, and I just wanted to know if that’s true and if it has anything to do with the OIOS report.  The other one has to, is not related, but also management.  It has to do with — I’ve heard from some staff that the elevators in 380 Madison have fallen a number of times, causing injury to UN staff.  And I wonder what — there may even be a town hall meeting about that today — what’s the UN doing to try to protect the staff that work in Madison Avenue from these fallen elevators?  Are they going to litigate with the landlord?  What’s the strategy?

Spokesperson:  Well, starting with that first, I have not heard about that, and so I will ask my colleagues, if they have any details.  Staff safety here at Headquarters, in the field, is paramount.  So, let me see what I can find out about that.  And on Umoja, I think Ms. Kane spoke at some length about that here.  If there is anything to add, then I’ll let you know.

Question:  It’s just that it seemed inconsistent to say that the violations were procedural and then have this outcome.  And maybe the outcome is [inaudible].

Spokesperson:  Well, as I say, if I have anything to add, I’ll let you know.  All right, very good.  Have 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.