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Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, 15 February 2011

Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon everybody.

**Secretary-General in Peru

The Secretary-General met with President Alan García of Peru in Lima today. Speaking at a joint press conference with the President afterward, the Secretary-General said that Peru has seen considerable progress during the past decade in consolidating democracy and attaining the Millennium Development Goals.

The challenge now, he said, is to spread these gains equally to all of the country’s most vulnerable people, particularly in rural areas, where the majority of indigenous peoples live.

This afternoon, the Secretary-General will speak at the National University of San Marcos. He will be talking about building a world that is more sustainable and equitable. The Secretary-General will be back in New York tomorrow morning.


The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, and its partners are in Lampedusa and several locations in southern Italy working with local authorities to manage the recent influx of Tunisians.

UNHCR says that according to the Italian Government, more than 5,200 people have arrived since mid-January, with the vast majority — more than 4,000 — having arrived during the past few days.

The agency adds that the large number of people arriving over such a short period has put significant pressure on the small island of Lampedusa. A reception centre designed for 800 people is currently holding more than 2,000. And following a number of flights to relieve congestion in Lampedusa, other reception centres in Italy are also reaching capacity.

UNHCR says that from its discussions with new arrivals, it is clear that while most are coming in search of employment, others are citing fear of violence and a breakdown of law and order in their home regions. The agency welcomes the Italian Government’s commitment to providing access to asylum procedures for those who are seeking international protection and urges solidarity with Italy as it faces this new chapter of mixed migration.

** Côte d’Ivoire — Liberia

In western Côte d’Ivoire, UNHCR started today on clearing ground for a new camp for displaced people. So far, the agency has registered 38,600 uprooted individuals. UNHCR is also looking for additional sites to accommodate more internally displaced persons — as many of the displaced had been surviving so far on the generosity of local families and charities.

The agency also says that the continued tensions are driving some families to move closer to the border with Liberia, while others were crossing the border to seek asylum. UNHCR has already registered more than 36,000 arrivals there. The agency says it is preparing for up to 100,000 refugees in Liberia.

UNICEF adds that the vast majority — 85 per cent — of the refugees in Liberia are children and women. The Children’s Fund is concerned about severe food shortages, inadequate shelter and the threat of disease outbreaks.

In response to a measles outbreak that killed five Liberian children in Nimba County, where 97 per cent of the refugees were hosted, UNICEF is supporting a health campaign for children between the ages of 6 months and 16 years old. UNICEF has also distributed nutrition, health and HIV/AIDS medication to public health centres and partners.

**Security Council

The Chairperson-in-Office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Audronius Ažubalis, who is also, as you know, the Foreign Minister of Lithuania, briefed the Security Council this morning.

That’s what I have for you. Questions? Yes, Bill.

**Questions and Answers

Question: Thank you, Martin. The Committee to Protect Journalists just had a news conference in this room in which they expressed some criticism of the Secretary-General. While praising his recent comments relating to the unrest in Egypt, they criticized his failure to congratulate the Nobel Peace Prize winner from China, Liu Xiaobo, and summarize it by saying that the failure to take a consistent position suggests a willingness to speak out publicly in support of press freedom is based more on critical considerations than a deep commitment. What would be your response to that?

Spokesperson: It’s just not true. The Secretary-General has consistently spoken out about the importance of press freedoms, both in public settings and behind the scenes. And very often, as CPJ knows very well, it is the behind-the-scenes work that has helped to secure the release of journalists. He has spoken out very strongly on the need for press freedoms. I would, of course, make it absolutely clear that the CPJ does extremely important work, and we liaise very closely with them on the work that they do. And they have worked very closely with us. I think the most important point here is that the Secretary-General and the United Nations take a very firm view on the need for press freedoms. As you will have noted, the Secretary-General was extremely vocal on the incidents in Egypt when journalists were set upon. And I don’t think you could get much clearer than the language that he used at that point. Yes, Mr. Abbadi.

Question: Thank you, Martin. [inaudible], does the Secretary-General believe in the right of all people in all countries to the use of the new information technologies, such as Google and Facebook? Does he believe that this is a human rights issue?

Spokesperson: Freedom of information, freedom of access to information is a fundamental right along with freedom of speech and freedom of association, freedom of assembly. This is a basic fundamental right for people. And increasingly it is the way that people communicate. They have a right to have access to it. Yes, Ali.

Question: Thank you, Martin. What is the Secretary-General’s take on what is going on in Iran and specifically regarding a majority in the parliament called today for the prosecution of the two main opposition leaders in Iran? Thank you.

Spokesperson: Well, I think I’d just make a couple of general points here. First of all, the Secretary-General has repeatedly said that leaders in the region and indeed elsewhere must listen attentively to the voices of the people. And secondly, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, freedom of association and speech — these are fundamental rights that must be guaranteed. And of course, it goes without saying that protests, when they take place, should be peaceful. Yes, Nizar.

Question: Do you find it ironic that Iran leadership has praised the demonstrations in Egypt, in Tunisia and they are cracking down the protesters in Tehran streets?

Spokesperson: As I say, there are two points that I have made here: One is that leaders around the region must listen to the voices of the people. And secondly, that the right to — amongst other things — freedom of assembly must be guaranteed. Yes, Nizar.

Question: Two people have been killed by the security forces in Bahrain and many injured. Is there anything on follow-up on what is happening there and what is the position of the Secretary-General?

Spokesperson: Certainly, we are aware of the reports as we are of the reports coming out of Iran. I would simply stick to the language, the comments that I have already made with regard to the need for freedom of expression and this amongst other fundamental rights must be guaranteed and leaders need to listen to what the people are saying. Yes?

Question: Can I follow up on that? When was the last time the United Nations spoke against detention without trial in Bahrain or torture there against the opposition?

Spokesperson: As I say, it’s important that fundamental rights be guaranteed. Yes, Erol.

Question: Just a follow up on Bill’s questions before. As you mentioned that the Secretary-General is more for a consistent approach, actually denying what the CPJ mentioned in regard of the deep commitment. I am asking, my question is, do you have any of this written exchange with the, if any, with the CPJ on any kind of criticism or issue on the press freedom? And also, if I ask you, how high is on the agenda for the Secretary-General press freedom? I would like to have an answer in a way how often he actually does inquire for himself on what is going on on that field.

Spokesperson: Well, there are all kinds of communications that will take place between the United Nations or more fundamentally, primarily between UNESCO and CPJ — because UNESCO is the part of the United Nations family that has a particular mandate to look at freedom of the media. More generally, as I have said, the Secretary-General takes a close interest in freedom of the media, not least because that is an essential part of any democracy, and any country’s ability to be able to inform its people or for its people to be informed. And that applies to all manner of topics; whether it is peace and security, whether it is economic development or whether it is human rights. So, he takes a very close interest and I know that whenever there is a development relating to journalists or freedom of the media or any restrictions, he is well briefed on that — and not least by me. Yes, Matthew.

Question: Sure. One follow-up on this press freedom. In the press conference just concluded by CPJ their Asia expert, Bob Dietz said that the UN and, I guess, Ban Ki-moon had done nothing in this case of Prageeth, the journalist of e-Lanka News, about the petition that was initially, I guess, not recognized as being accepted; I wanted to know if you disagree. Has anything been done by the UN about the wife of this missing journalist having petitioned the UN in that country and the burning down of the local e-News? What exactly has the Secretary-General or the UN there done?

Spokesperson: The UN is not just the Secretary-General; there is also as I mentioned just now, a particular part of the UN system that deals with media freedom, in particular UNESCO. And I will check what particular steps that they have been taking. As I mentioned to you, we here did not receive a petition yet. If there is such a petition, then obviously we would need to see it. We haven’t seen it. Yeah, carry on.

[The Spokesperson later clarified that his Acting Deputy had already mentioned at the noon briefing on 1 February that it could be confirmed that the letter to the Secretary-General which was transmitted to New York by the UN Resident Coordinator in Colombo, had been received. It was also channelled to colleagues in the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The letter is now being reviewed.]

Question: Just on that one, because I remember you said it wasn’t received and there, Neil Buhne, and the UN office in Colombo said it was received. The widow, not the widow, the wife of the missing journalist says it was directed to Ban Ki-moon. So, I just wonder how those things work.

Spokesperson: The way it works is that when some kind of correspondence is received here at Headquarters then it is officially logged and directed to the appropriate department or section so it can be handled. As I said, it hasn’t been received at Headquarters yet. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist; it’s just it hasn’t been received here. And simply, even if it is not received here, it doesn’t mean that action is not being taken, and that’s why I would like to check with my colleagues from UNESCO so that they can tell us what has been going on.

Question: When you pinpoint places like that and [inaudible] in Thailand with ESCAP; when people deliver a letter to Ban Ki-moon in one of the Regional Offices of the UN, is the idea that it will be forwarded to Headquarters or…?

Spokesperson: Of course.

Question: Okay.

Spokesperson: If it is addressed to the Secretary-General; of course, absolutely. And in that particular case you are referring to in Thailand that did happen. It doesn’t mean that it happens within five minutes — sometimes it does. But if it is addressed to him, then his Executive Office will get it. Yes, between the cameras.

Question: Yes, I just wanted to know whether the Secretariat had observed any recent [inaudible] within the United Nations?

Spokesperson: I didn’t quite hear this, because it’s not great with the microphones there.

Question: Okay. I said I wanted to know whether the United Nations Secretariat has observed a recent drop in the funding from donor agencies and donor countries to some of the United Nations agencies. Have you observed any drop, any decrease in the financing from donor agencies and donor countries?

Spokesperson: Well, it is difficult to keep track of donor money precisely where it goes sitting where I am sitting. Of course, there are different agencies; there are different funds and programmes within the UN system who are receiving funding, and I would need to go round the houses to find out precisely what the picture is. I think just as a general point, everybody recognized, and the Secretary-General has said so publicly, that in this era of austerity when national Governments are tightening their belts, it’s entirely understandable that the United Nations at large will also need to tighten its belt and make the best possible use of the funding that it does receive. And I think that that’s a fairly clear indication that we are grounded in the real world and we’ll seek to the best of our ability to do our utmost to ensure that the funding that we do receive is put to the best possible use in efficient ways.

Question: Do you think that on the [inaudible]; I just, there are speculations that that kind of belt tightening is happening in its own agencies like the WHO that is considering actually letting go some of their staff. Do you know about that?

Spokesperson: As I say, each different part of the system as a whole will have different approaches, different challenges in dealing with the consequences of an economic downturn. It will affect different agencies, funds and programmes and indeed the UN as a whole — meaning the Secretariat — in different ways. The overall point is that everybody within the United Nations whichever part it is will obviously be carefully examining the work that is done and how it is done to ensure that the funding that is received is put to the best possible use and that any potential shortfall is also handled in the best possible way. I am going right to the back here first and then to Kate. So, yes, please. Yes.

Question: Yeah, the question is about the situation in Tunisia; between Tunisia and Italy and the island of Lampedusa. I would like to know because Italy in the past has been accused by the United Nations of not going through what is expected in this situation, especially with refugees and who has political; I would like to know if what you know now at the moment if the situation changed so you don’t see any more, any situation like that? And then another thing, because Italy I think since yesterday is saying that the international community, especially referring to the European Union, is not doing its job. I mean, it’s like; oh, we are left alone with this problem. I would like to know the position of the United Nations in this case; if it is just a case where the country has to take care of the people fleeing, or should be an international community in this case also the European Union?

Spokesperson: Well, I addressed this quite squarely at the beginning of the briefing. And I am happy to repeat it: First of all, that the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, has said that it welcomes the Italian Government’s commitment to providing access to asylum procedures for those who are seeking international protection — so that answers your first question — and urges solidarity with Italy as it faces this new chapter of mixed migration. That answers your second question. Yes, Kate.

Question: Hurriyet newspaper is saying that the…

Spokesperson: Which, Hurriyet?

Question: The Hurriyet, yeah, the Turkish paper. They are saying that the UN Panel of Inquiry into the Gaza flotilla incident is going to meet in March with members of the Israeli and the Turkish foreign ministries to question them on their reports. So, I guess, do you have a date set? And also, what does that mean about the deadline for their final report?

Spokesperson: Well, first of all, I’d need to check with the Panel on whether there is such a meeting taking place and so, I would come back to you on that. And on the second part about the report, as we have mentioned before, it was vital to have in-house the reports from both Turkey and Israel. As you know, there was a subsequent report from Turkey just last week. And that means that the Panel members will need to take that into account. They are fully aware of the need to complete their work as quickly as possible but they also are aware of the international attention and the need to do this in the best possible way. Yes. First off, Carla and then I am coming to you, Rhonda, okay? Yes.

Question: Two questions: First, how close is the link between the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? Is it sort of like the Constitution of the United States; the US is based on it, on the Constitution?

Spokesperson: Well, it is one of the main pillars, it is a bedrock of the United Nations. So what is your second question?

Question: The second question is, I was not here on 9 February, but it appears that somebody, some journalist here is attempting to impose censorship on other journalists here. The question was “Do you think it is customary for remarks to be made against a Member State such as Lithuania?” I am the journalist who criticized the totalitarian action of Lithuania against Mr. Algirdas Paleckis. A letter was sent to the Secretary-General requesting his assistance. Mr. Paleckis had merely quoted a former Defence Minister of Lithuania who acknowledged that it was…

Spokesperson: What’s your question?

Question: The question is…

Spokesperson: What’s your second question?

Question: In the first place, has the Secretary-General taken any action? And what protection do we have against somebody silencing us if we question a Member State?

Spokesperson: Well, I don’t really think I need to answer the last part of your question. I’ll find out whether the Secretary-General has received any correspondence. Okay, yes, Rhonda.

Question: Yes, two questions. One about Lynn Pascoe’s presentation to the Security Council yesterday on the issue of the Cambodia-Thai dispute. Is that available, because…?

Spokesperson: Well, as you know, that was behind closed doors.

Question: And then, he didn’t make, you announced here, I thought that he would make some presentation to the press?

Spokesperson: Well, we understood that he would go to the stakeout, but as you saw, you had three foreign ministers and the Security Council President speaking at the stakeout, and I think that was felt to be enough on that topic. But if you want to ask more about it I would ask you to contact DPA. I know that my colleague who deals with press matters in DPA would be happy to talk to you. Yes, Nizar.

Question: I have got another second question…

Spokesperson: Yeah, sorry, yes.

Question: …has to do with, there is supposed to be a list made available of S/NC of the communications sent to the Security Council; it’s, uh, it, there is since 1946 on there have been communications, private individuals and non-governmental agencies sent to the Security Council…

Spokesperson: Well, I think, Rhonda, I think…

Question: …it’s supposed to be, come out and I am just wondering if you could find out when that should be available for the press, do you know?

Spokesperson: Tell you what Rhonda, tell you what, Rhonda, we’ll deal with that outside the briefing room and see if I can help you.

Question: Okay. With regard to that, there is still prosecutions open against people and organizations in South Korea that have sent letters to the Security Council for that activity and then also for defamation about challenging the…

Spokesperson: Okay, but this is not a question, Rhonda; this is a statement and I,

Question: Yeah, well, I just wondered if…

Spokesperson: …and I am happy to speak to you about it afterwards, okay? Yes, Erol, and then Nizar. Yes, Erol.

Question: Okay. Just to check whether the Secretary-General received or was invited for the anniversary, fiftieth anniversary of Non-Aligned Movement which is going to be in the third week of September in Belgrade?

Spokesperson: Let me find out. And, Nizar and then I’ll take one more question after that, Matthew, okay?

Question: There has been a significant increase in hacking of the media…

Spokesperson: Say again?

Question: Significant increase in hacking media worldwide, cross border hacking of media, of information and media outlets. What’s the position of the United Nations with regard to such actions; in trying to silence media; to hijacking their websites?

Spokesperson: Well, a couple of things: cybercrime is something that is obviously on the increase and the United Nations has obviously, it keeps a very close eye on that, and indeed has people who focus precisely on that. And I could give you some more details later. And on the second point, more generally, the online media are as we all know, crucial now to the flow of information and any attempt by groups or individuals to hamper that flow of information of course is something that is not acceptable.

Question: Is it considered as acts of aggression?

Spokesperson: It’s not acceptable. Yes, Matthew, last question.

Question: I actually have more than one question, sorry.

Spokesperson: Well, let’s keep it to one question now. I am happy to take further questions outside the briefing room, okay?

Question: I mean, okay.

Spokesperson: Right, one question, thank you.

Question: Okay, I have a, well, whatever, I mean, because I have other questions that are actually already pending. But I will ask you this. There was a study released today by the genocide intervention network about way forward in Darfur. So, I am going to ask you, I guess, to respond to something and I would like you do it, I guess, at this time. They say, quote, UNAMID is widely, UNAMID, the UN-African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur is quote, widely perceived sympathetic to the Government and on the whole is not trusted by Darfuris. The perception was undoubtedly made worse when the Government recently stated that UNAMID’s core job was to help the Government implement its strategy for Darfur. Can you respond? Isn’t, is it correct that UNAMID’s core strategy is to work with the Government to implement its strategy in Darfur which has been criticized as genocidal? And what is the response to this, to this, you know, to this study and to many of the questions still pending with your Office about Darfur, camp raids, et cetera?

Spokesperson: Just two points: One is that I think I’d like to take a closer look at the report that you mention. And secondly, that UNAMID works under a very clear Security Council mandate, and I would refer you to that. It explains there precisely what its role is. But as I say, I’ll need to take a closer look at the report that you mention.

Thank you very much.

Question: Can I ask about the kidnapping in the DRC, in eastern DRC? There was a kidnapping by [inaudible]; what’s what I wanted to ask you just factually if MONUSCO has any information about…

Spokesperson: I can provide that to you separately, for sure. Thanks very much.

[The Spokesperson later said that the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo said that two of the three civilians kidnapped by suspected FDLR troops yesterday are now with MONUSCO troops in the North Kivu town of Rutshuru. The Congolese Army launched a search party yesterday for the third man but they have still not had any success in locating him.]

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