Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, 2 January 2011
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Acting Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.
**Secretary-General in London
The Secretary-General spoke to reporters in London just after meeting with United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron, and he once more urged restraint by all sides in Egypt, and said that the violence there was unacceptable. He strongly condemned any attacks on peaceful protests.
The Secretary-General noted that, for the last decade, the United Nations has been warning of the need for change in the region, including through the Arab Human Development Reports. He said that it is important at this juncture to ensure that an orderly and peaceful transition takes place, and he urged all parties to engage in dialogue without delay.
This afternoon, the Secretary-General will deliver the Cyril Foster lecture at Oxford University, and he will talk more about the situation in the Arab world. He will also discuss the concept of human protection — a subset of the broader idea of human security that addresses more immediate threats to the survival of individuals and groups. He will say that human protection will remain a hallmark of his administration, as the United Nations continuously strives to make our deeds match our words. We have embargoed copies of that speech in our Office.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, expressed alarm today at the dramatic increase in executions in Iran since the beginning of this year. According to Iranian press reports, at least 66 people were executed in the month of January, with some sources indicating an even higher figure. The majority of executions were reportedly carried out in relation to drug offences, but at least three political prisoners were among those hanged.
Ms. Pillay said that she has repeatedly urged Iran to halt executions. She said she was dismayed that, instead of heeding those calls, the Iranian authorities appear to have stepped up the use of the death penalty. Ms. Pillay expressed particular concern over the three known cases in which political activists were executed. “Dissent is not a crime,” she stressed. And we have a press release with more details.
The Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Valerie Amos, visited Somalia today, in her first trip to the Horn of Africa country. She went to Puntland, where she held talks with Government officials to discuss humanitarian concerns and priorities.
Ms. Amos met with a local drought committee, which was set up to respond to the growing needs of drought-affected populations in Somalia. She also visited the Halabokad settlement for internally displaced persons, one of the few where the uprooted own their land. Tomorrow, she will meet with humanitarian partners and UN staff in Nairobi, where she will hold a press conference.
**Democratic Republic of Congo
For the second time in a week, peacekeepers from the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) intervened in the South Kivu town of Ntoto. They rescued six Congolese National Police Officers that had been abducted by Mai Mai fighters. No ransom was paid, and no gunshots were exchanged.
In his latest report to the Security Council on the UN Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT), the Secretary-General says that it is encouraging that the country’s national police continue to resume primary policing responsibilities. Even after UNMIT has handed over responsibility for the conduct and command-and-control of all police operations in the country, there will be a continuing need for a UN police presence to support further institutional development and capacity-building of the national police. The Secretary-General recommends that the Mission’s mandate be extended for an additional 12 months. The report is available as a document.
The Security Council adopted its programme of work for February in consultations this morning. And at 12:30 p.m. in this room, just a little while from now, Ambassador Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti of Brazil, the Security Council President for this month, will brief you about the Council’s work during February.
**Press Conferences Today
Also, we have a number of other press briefings today. At 1:15 p.m., Tatsushi Terada, the Japanese Vice-Minister for Global Environmental Affairs, and Ahmed Djoghlaf, the Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, will jointly brief on the Nagoya Protocol.
At 2 p.m., Stanislas Kimanzi, the Rwandan Minister for Environment and Lands, together with participants from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), including Director-General Julia Marton-Lefèvre; Stewart Maginnis, the Director of Environment and Conservation; Carole Saint-Laurent, the Senior Forest Policy Adviser; and Jan McAlpine, the Director of the UN Forum on Forests Secretariat, will brief.
And then at 3 p.m., we will have a briefing by Jan McAlpine, the Director of the UN Forum on Forests Secretariat; Yann Arthus-Bertrand, from the Good Planet Foundation of France; and Felix Finkbeiner, of the Plant-for-the Planet Foundation, who will brief on the Forest Film Festival.
Then tomorrow, we will have as our guest at the noon briefing Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict.
That’s it from me. Any questions? Yes, please?
**Questions and Answers
Question: What will it take for the UN to intervene into the Egyptian situation? I understand that so far it is a domestic matter for you, but what is the threshold; when does it come to be an international situation?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Well, certainly the United Nations is willing, and we stand ready to provide advice, including support for any upcoming elections, if we are requested to do so. At this point, I would like to point out what the Secretary-General himself says about next steps. This is from what he said after he had met with Prime Minister Cameron of the United Kingdom, where he said that “it is important at this juncture that an orderly and peaceful transition should take place. I urge all the parties to engage in such a dialogue and such a process without any further delay. We should not underestimate the danger of instability across the Middle East,” he said. “The United Nations stands ready to provide any assistance to such reform efforts by Egypt and any Arab countries to respect and reflect the will of the people. They should listen more attentively to the genuine and sincere wish of the people.” And the Secretary-General added: “It is important and there needs to be a peaceful and orderly transition if any transition is to be taken, it should be done now.” Yes?
Question: Just a follow-up. There has been no contact between the Secretary-General and Hosni Mubarak, for instance?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: He hasn’t had any direct phone contact with Hosni Mubarak in recent days, no. I’ll let you know if that changes. Yes?
Question: Farhan, have there been any United Nations officials on the ground in Egypt? Have they briefed the Secretary-General about the situation that is happening over there? Is there anything that you can tell us about what the officials on the ground have said that is worth mentioning now?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: In terms of the situation on the ground, the Secretary-General is getting updates from our colleagues who are based in Egypt. So we have been getting updates from them and our Department of Political Affairs is evaluating the situation on the ground, not just in Egypt but across the region. If we have anything further to convey, certainly we will put that out.
Question: So, basically, so far, you have nothing that you can share with us, is that what you are saying?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Well, what I have been sharing with you is what the Secretary-General has been saying on this; and he also refers to the matter, like I said, in his Cyril Foster lecture, which will be delivered shortly. Yes?
Question: Sure, Farhan, a couple of questions about Darfur. There have been a lot of, there have been reports…
Question: This is still on Egypt.
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Right, we’ll come back to you, Matthew. Yes?
Question: Now we’ve seen today clashes between pro- and anti-Mubarak people in Egypt, and there are no police and the Army is turning aside. How do you see, from the UN perspective, the role of the Army now in Egypt? And is there any comment also on the attacks against journalists there?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Well, I don’t know if you were here at the very start, but I did point out that the Secretary-General did strongly condemn the attacks that have taken place today and said that violence against peaceful demonstrators is unacceptable.
Question: I am talking about journalists.
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: And similarly, of course, he feels the same way about attacks on journalists. One of the things he has continually been calling for in Egypt and throughout the region is that freedom of association, freedom of expression and freedom of the media should be respected. And he continues to hold to that. And regarding your general question about Armed Forces, I’d also refer you to what the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navanethem Pillay, said yesterday, where she also warned against any excessive use of force, and talked about the need to investigate the killings that have happened. Yes?
Question: There have been media reports that the UN is reporting that there have been over 500 deaths. Can you tell us where you’ve gotten those figures?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: We haven’t put out a figure like that, as far as I am aware. There were some numbers in yesterday’s press release from Navi Pillay, so I would refer you to what she said. Those are the latest numbers that we have been able to verify.
Question: So, you haven’t put out anything today that says 500 deaths?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: No, no new numbers today, no; no new verified numbers, so far.
Question: Insofar as the demonstration is concerned, what about Yemen that is now erupting at this time? And the Yemeni President has said that he will not stand in the election. Is there anybody from the United Nations side over there in Yemen to see?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Well, certainly, we are monitoring the situation there. But this is in keeping with what the Secretary-General has been saying all along, which is that it is imperative that the leaders of the region listen to their people and are willing to take measures to improve their lives. And so he calls on them to continue to do that. And he calls on all of the peoples of the region also then to engage peacefully through dialogue with their leadership. Okay, now we go back to you.
Question: I wanted to ask about what the UN peacekeeping and AU [African Union] peacekeeping mission in Darfur (UNAMID) is doing about both the reports of fighting, the renewed fighting in Jebel Marra, bombing, there was the attack on the Zam Zam IDP [internally displaced persons] camp and 34 people taken away. What follow-up has been done on that and there is prospectively… The Government has said that on Thursday we’ll go into the Zalengei IDP camp. And I just wonder, what is UNAMID doing in terms of what the Security Council has informed it to do? Can it report on these things? Why is it not reporting on these things and what can you say about each of these developments?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: In terms of reporting on these things, as you know, even just last week, there was a video briefing by Mr. [Ibrahim] Gambari about the situation in Darfur, where he did report about a number of the very things that you have been talking about. And so, he has mentioned a number of these attacks and we are continuing, UNAMID is continuing, to follow up and gather more information. But he did give a very clear warning about the renewed fighting in the area.
Question: About the Zalengei thing, this is something that took place since then and I just wonder, is it the UN’s position that it will provide protection to the residents of the IDP camps or stand by, as the residents of Zam Zam said took place?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Certainly, within its protection mandate, UNAMID is going to try to do what it can. In terms of details, I don’t have those for you. I do believe that the Council’s programme for this month is just now being decided and I think there will be another briefing on Sudan. Not this week, but I think in the coming week. So they will have an update at that point. But we will try and see what UNAMID is saying about the latest fighting. Yes?
Question: Farhan, has the new Tunisian Government responded to the Secretary-General’s offer of holding elections if needed? Have they responded or do we know anything about…?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: I don’t have anything further to say about that offer. Of course, the offer stands, but I don’t have any particular details to provide at this point. Yes?
Question: I believe that a letter was sent to the Secretary-General requesting his assistance in the case of Lithuanian Algirdas Paulauskas, whose democratic and human rights are being violated by a totalitarian action by the Lithuanian Government. He is being threatened with two years in jail for having quoted, on a radio programme, comments by the former Lithuanian Defence Minister. Do you know anything about it, where it stands and what…?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: No, I don’t know where that stands, but I will check. Yes?
Question: I want to know, there was a Security Council resolution passed some time ago about bringing three military helicopters and troops from UNMIL [United Nations Mission in Liberia] to Côte d’Ivoire, and I just wanted to know, has that… have they arrived yet? And if not, on what time frame are they arriving?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: I don’t know whether they have arrived or not. We’ll check with our colleagues in UNOCI [United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire].
[The Acting Deputy Spokesperson later said that discussions are continuing on the issue of helicopters, and the helicopters have yet to arrive in Côte d’Ivoire.]
Question: And also, you’d said that Ms. Amos is in Puntland, but the new Prime Minister of the TFG [Transitional Federal Government] of Somalia says, he is publicly saying that the UN is doing, he says, very little to feed starving people in south and central Somalia. I wonder if the UN has a response to those comments; is it something Ms. Amos is working on while she is there, what’s the response to that?
Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Well, certainly what Valerie Amos is doing, among the things she is doing, is looking at the response to the drought. So, that’s what she is doing. She will have a press conference tomorrow and we will see whether she has anything fresh to say about her observations on the ground. But she is there evaluating what the situation is.
And with that, I will leave you. And in about 10 minutes you will have the incoming President of the Security Council. Have a good afternoon.
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