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

22 August 2011

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

22 August 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.

Hello; good afternoon, everyone.

** Libya

The Secretary-General, in remarks to the press just a few minutes ago, said that the dramatic scenes we are witnessing in Tripoli are a testament to the courage and determination of the Libyan people to seek a free and democratic future.  He said that it is crucial now for the conflict to end with no further loss of life, and no retribution.

The Secretary-General welcomed the assurances given by the Chairman of the National Transitional Council, Mustafa Abdul Jallil, that extreme care would be taken to protect people and public institutions, and to maintain law and order.  And he called on Colonel [Muammar al-] Qadhafi’s forces to cease violence immediately and make way for a smooth transition.

This is a hopeful moment, the Secretary-General said, but there are also risks ahead.  Now is the time for all Libyans to focus on national unity, reconciliation and inclusiveness.  The Secretary-General expressed his determination to ensure that the United Nations does everything it can to promote an orderly transition that responds to the aspirations of the Libyan people for peace, democracy and opportunity.  We’ll have a transcript of his remarks and press encounter available shortly.

** Syria

Addressing a special session of the Human Rights Council today, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay repeated her call on the Syrian Government to immediately and fully halt its crackdown on peaceful protests.

She also urged authorities to ensure the immediate and unconditional release of all people who have been detained for taking part in peaceful demonstrations.

Ms. Pillay said that, as of today, more than 2,200 people have been killed since mass protests began in mid-March.

As you’ll recall, in a report issued last week, her office’s fact-finding mission said that crimes against humanity may have been committed in Syria.

The High Commissioner today stressed the importance of holding perpetrators of crimes against humanity accountable.

**Quartet Statement

Over the weekend, the Middle East Quartet issued a statement condemning in the strongest terms the attacks in Southern Israel last week and all acts of terrorism.

The Quartet said it remains concerned about the unsustainable situation in Gaza, as well as the risk of escalation, and called for restraint from all sides.

And the full statement is available online.

**South Sudan

In South Sudan, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Hilde Johnson, expressed deep concern about the violent attacks in recent days and urged for restraint among communities in Jonglei State.

The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) says that the clashes have reportedly resulted in some 600 casualties, and unconfirmed reports of between 750-985 people wounded.

Ms. Johnson said that this cycle of violence had to stop and she called for reconciliation efforts.  She added that the UN Mission was willing and ready to support a process to this effect.

An assessment and verification team from the UN Mission has visited the conflict-affected area and will return today to offer its support to State authorities to facilitate reconciliation efforts and prevent a further escalation of the violence.

**Hurricane Irene

And the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that tropical storm Irene is now classified as a hurricane.  The Haitian authorities have issued a red alert for the entire country.

The storm is expected to hit the Dominican Republic and the north coast of Haiti tonight.

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the UN Mission in Haiti, MINUSTAH, have activated joint operation and response centres.  They add that a public awareness campaign and an evacuation assessment started today.

That’s it from me.  Yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  On Lebanon, the Minister of Foreign Affairs sent a letter to Mr. Ban Ki-moon, stating that Israel violated the border maps, which is… and violate the Lebanese sovereignty.  Do you have any reaction on that?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  We’re looking at the situation.  I believe we have received letters from both Lebanon and Israel concerning this topic, and they are being studied.

Question:  No reaction at all?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  No immediate reaction, no.  Yes, Erol?

Question:  Farhan, the Secretary-General just, in answering to Giampaolo’s question, said that he appreciates NATO’s effort to avoid civilian casualties in Libya.  According to some press reports, there are 1,300 civilian casualties over the last 24 or 12 hours, even.  Did he miss that or does he have any comment on the toll?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  No, the Secretary-General has made his concerns about civilian casualties known repeatedly.  As you know, even just a little over a week ago, he discussed the need by all to avoid civilian casualties.  At the same time, he does recognize and appreciate the efforts that NATO has made to try to avoid those where possible.

Question:  Did the Secretary — a follow up, please?  Did the Secretary-General talk to the Secretary-General of NATO, I mean, NATO officials, regarding that and did he raise his concern about the possibility that the civilian casualties are indeed happening, besides all the efforts?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: The Secretary-General has been in touch with NATO in the past.  He hasn’t been in contact with them today or in the last few days, no.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  I guess I want to know about this situation in Occupied Gaza and in Egypt, once Israel… it seemed that there is sort of a lull in the news and nobody seems to say anything about Israel’s attacking inside Gaza and so forth, except for one statement that came out after that.  Where is this, how many people… do, does the United Nations know how many people or have they informed the UN how many people died in Gaza in the clashes, and how many people died in Israel?  Of course, we know that there were dozens over there.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  We are collecting all the various information about casualties from the recent days’ events.  Of course, you are aware of the statements by the Secretary-General, as well as by the Quartet.  Beyond that, the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Process, Robert Serry, arrived in Cairo over the weekend for consultations with the Egyptian authorities.  The UN deeply regrets the loss of Egyptian security personnel’s lives.  And we also note the statement of Israel’s Defence Minister Ehud Barak over the weekend on that matter.  Yes, in the back?

Question:  The Prime Minister’s spokesperson in Great Britain has just said that David Cameron and the Secretary-General spoke earlier on the phone; I wonder if you could characterize that conversation and say whether or not the Secretary-General expects Britain to play a particular role in the international community’s response to what happens in Libya?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, I can confirm that the Secretary-General did speak by telephone with Prime Minister Cameron today.  That’s part of, that’s one of a number of calls with different world leaders, as well as leaders of regional and international organizations, that he is going to be making over the course of the day.  And of course it concerns the situation in Libya; and beyond that, I’d just refer you to what he was saying about his diplomatic efforts on this in his remarks to the press just about an hour ago.  Yes?

Question:  So, as far as Libya is concerned, I just want to know one thing; since nobody knows where Colonel Qadhafi is, and neither does Mr.… nobody from any UN officials have no idea; the fighting is going on near the Libyan-Tunisian border between the Qadhafi, loyalist Qadhafi forces and the so-called rebels.  So now, the reason or the question that I am asking is:  how do you determine where is Colonel Qadhafi going to be or is he, do you know that he is going to be taking a refuge in another country or so?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  We don’t have any information at present about the location of Colonel Qadhafi, but as you are aware, the Secretary-General did call on Colonel Qadhafi and his forces to cease violence immediately and pave the way for transition.  Yes?

Question:  Sure, I want to ask about Sudan and peacekeeping, but first, I am sure you have seen the story in the Congo of a UN vehicle, UN driver apparently by… according to officials of the Kivus there, found with a car full of cassiterite.  What’s the UN’s explanation of this?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yeah, the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) is fully cooperating with and supporting the national authorities in the investigation of this incident.

The Mission has also launched its own investigation into what appears to be a serious breach of its ethics, rules and regulations.

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Roger Meece, has stressed that any allegation of a member of its staff being implicated in such illegal activities will be fully investigated and appropriate action taken in full cooperation with the Congolese authorities.

Question:  Can I just ask, I mean, will the… is the maximum action that could be taken repatriation to the peacekeeper’s country or is there some provision for discipline for engaging in… as, if true, engaging in mining…?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  No, I don’t want to speculate at this stage about what could happen next.  We’re investigating the matter and we’re also cooperating with the national investigation into this.

Question:  I also wanted to ask, I mean, the, I’m aware of that, I understand that currently, I guess Mr. [Edmond] Mulet is in charge of DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations], but, whatever.  I’ve become aware of a, of a congratulations sent to Jerome Bonnafont by, by a French Senator Jean-Marie Bockel, saying:  “I am happy to become aware that you are now the Under-Secretary-General of Peacekeeping and I give you my congratulations.”  Is that, has this been given?  What’s the status of interviews and why would a French politician believe that Mr. Bonnafont has the job already?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I have no idea why any politician would make any comment about this.  For our part, there is no announcement to be made on this at this point.  Yes?

Question:  Excuse me, when do you think we will hear something from Mr. Ian Martin, the person who is supposed to give us a plan of a post-Qadhafi Libya?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  We are actually in touch with our colleagues in the Department for Political Affairs to see whether we can have either a briefing by Mr. Ian Martin or a background briefing from his team.  Given the events on the ground, he may himself have to travel.  As the Secretary-General just said, he may be going with Mr. [Abdel-Elah] al-Khatib to Doha very shortly.  But we will see what we can do to bring him before you.

Question:  Don’t you have any plan post-Qadhafi, I mean, true?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, there was, there are all kinds of plans that were being developed; but of course they take into account what is a fluid situation.  And as you know the situation has changed very dramatically just in recent days and in recent hours.  So the plans have to be looked at and revised accordingly.  [being handed a note]  I’ll bet anything that this is a statement on Myanmar, is it?  See, that was a good guess!  Okay.

And I have the following statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General concerning Myanmar:

The Secretary-General is encouraged by the meeting on 19 August in Naypyitaw between President U Thein Sein of Myanmar and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi as both have expressed satisfaction about their talks aimed at finding common ground on matters beneficial to the people and the country.  The Secretary-General expects the meeting to be followed by further steps towards a sustained high-level dialogue focused on national reconciliation.

Whether these and other recent developments will move Myanmar forward depends on how all parties choose to work with each other.  It is in the national interest that they seize the opportunity to extend and accept conciliatory gestures to achieve durable peace and unity.

The Secretary-General reiterates his call for the release of political prisoners as a matter of priority, so that all citizens of Myanmar are able to contribute to advancing the prospects of national reconciliation and democratic transition in their country.


Question:  Is there any news of the [Geoffrey] Palmer report?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  At this stage, the report is still not complete.  The Secretary-General does hope that the members of the panel will be able to work on coming to a consensus.

Question:  But can you say what is the reason that the report is not completed?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  They have not come to a consensus, and the Secretary-General hopes that they will work to come into a consensus.  The report is not complete yet.

Question:  Is there any date around?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Given that it is not complete yet, I don’t have a date to give you.  We’ve been saying late August, and that is still roughly what we are looking at.

Question:  But anyone to be, not blamed but to be rather recognized that he is delaying this report?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Do you honestly think it would help to get the members of the panel to come to a consensus if we were to try to ascribe blame?  No, no.  The idea is that they are working on trying to get to a consensus and we’re hopeful that those efforts will bear fruit.

Question:  Farhan, there is this murder case of a socialite in Washington, Viola Drath, which is, I don’t know whether you heard about it, and that there is a gentleman called, I guess his name is Mr. Albrecht Gero Muth, who is a German guy and he has some connection with the United Nations; he was arrested.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  There is no current connection with the United Nations.  I believe that, a while ago, when Kofi Annan was the Secretary-General of the United Nations, he was part of an advisory panel on disarmament.  But he was not UN staff or UN personnel.

Question:  I see.  So, basically the angle is just being speculated just because he was there, one of the eminent persons on small arms?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, exactly, on small arms affairs.  That was a while back.  He holds no position at the United Nations.  Yes?

Question:  Yes, Farhan, regarding that you have just said, do you think that the… with this kind of attitude that you don’t like to comment on that, you help that this report really comes as fast as possible, or you are somehow just putting more fog on that that anybody can comment on that also?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  What we are trying to do is make sure that the panel members can conclude their work, and the Secretary-General is very hopeful that they will do so.  Yes?

Question:  On Syria, when do you expect the fact-finding, UN fact-finding mission will be returning to New York?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, they are going about their work right now.  Hopefully, in the coming days, they will wrap up their work.  But I don’t have any fixed date to give you for when they will be back.  Yes?

Question:  Yeah, sure, I want to ask a couple of things about Sudan, but first about missions.  It was said that on Saturday, the six UN agencies would have access to Southern Kordofan and begin to assess needs there.  Did they get in and what have they found?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yeah, actually I do have an update on that for you.  One second.

The joint mission of the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and UN agencies visited Kadugli on 21 August, which is yesterday, and met with Governor Ahmed Haroun.

They agreed that the needs assessment plan would be implemented under the guidance of the State Authorities.

The aim is to assess humanitarian needs in order to replenish stocks and deliver vital relief supplies.

This humanitarian assessment is very urgent, as relief stocks are running low.  Joint assessments in priority areas throughout South Kordofan State need to be started this week.

The UN and its partners stand ready to provide support and call on all parties to enable safe access and to facilitate humanitarian operations.

Question:  Can I ask also about, I just want to ask about Ahmed Haroun.  The SPLM [Sudan People’s Liberation Movement] has said that he has just dismissed 177 Nubans from civil service in South Kordofan.  And they have said this is entirely on an ethnic basis and I just wonder, since the UN was just there, are they aware of this, do they have any comment on it, do they think it is a good thing to do?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, they were there on a humanitarian assessment issue, not on this particular thing.  We’d have to look to the UN Mission in South Sudan to see whether they have any… actually, sorry, it would, we’d have to look to our political colleagues to see whether there is any comment about this latest development.  Yes?

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  Just another question about this Syria mission.  It wasn’t clear; there some reports of shootings, people being killed while the team was there.  I just wondered if, and it may be too early for you to respond to this, maybe you could find out in the course of the day whether the UN team witnessed anything, if they saw or heard shots being fired, getting ways to know if there is anything that they found out on the ground.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  What I can say on that is that the mission did proceed to Homs as planned.  A protest situation developed there, and the mission was advised to leave for security reasons.  The mission did not come under fire, as was reported by some venues.  Yes?

Question:  Can I ask one more question?  Yeah, there is, it’s reported that, that a sheikh of the Zalengei camp in West Darfur, Abas Juma Barak, was shot by a Government militia.  And again, this is one of these stories that says the camp coordinator says that they informed UNAMID [United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur] of this.  So I am wondering, does, is UNAMID aware of it?  Are they, are they, do they, can they confirm it and what are they going to do about it?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have any confirmation on that, but perhaps you should check with UNAMID on it.

Good afternoon, everyone.

* *** *

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