The Largest Security-Cleared Career Network for Defense and Intelligence Jobs - JOIN NOW


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

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

4 May 2011

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

Good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to the briefing. And welcome to our guests here today.

**Security Council

Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the Prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, told the Security Council this morning that the evidence shows that security forces in Libya have been shooting at peaceful demonstrators. He says credible information provides an estimate of 500 to 600 people dying in February alone. The Prosecutor added that, in the coming weeks, he will request that arrest warrants be issued against the three individuals who bear the greatest criminal responsibility for crimes against humanity committed in Libya. Mr. Moreno-Ocampo will brief reporters in this room at 1:45 p.m. today.

Yesterday afternoon, the Security Council received an update on Libya from the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy, Abdul Ilah al-Khatib, who said that intense fighting has expanded into the south and west of the country.

Mr. Khatib said that both sides have expressed their agreement with the need for a verifiable ceasefire and he is working with experts in the United Nations and with representatives of regional organizations, especially the African Union, on the specific modalities which could be involved.

** Libya

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that the humanitarian situation in parts of Libya continues to be of concern. As I mentioned, fighting continues in several locations in Libya — many of which are densely populated. Concerns remain about civilians who have no access to basic services, including clean water, medical care and basic commodities, especially in and near areas where heavy fighting is taking place.

The situation in Misrata remains of particular concern, the Office says; there has been almost continuous intense fighting for more than six weeks. However, aid groups have been able to deliver assistance. As of 2 May, more than a dozen aid ships had docked at Misrata, evacuating around 12,000 people and delivering more than 3,000 tons of humanitarian aid. In addition, an additional 1,000 migrants will be evacuated by ship today and 180 tons of food, water and infant supplies will be delivered.

**Palestinian Unity

As you will have seen, we issued a statement last night concerning the signing of the Palestinian unity agreement in Cairo today.

The Secretary-General has continually supported efforts for unity and the work of Egypt and President Mahmoud Abbas in this regard, bearing in mind Security Council resolutions 1850 (2008) and 1860 (2009). He wishes to see unity in the framework of the positions of the Quartet and the commitments of the Palestine Liberation Organization [PLO] and the Arab Peace Initiative. The Secretary-General therefore strongly appeals to all Palestinian parties to commit to these principles.

** Haiti

The Secretary-General met yesterday with the Independent Panel of Experts which investigated the cholera epidemic in Haiti, and he has received their final report. The Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Edmond Mulet, will transmit that report to the Government of Haiti today, and once that has been done, the full report will be made public.

** Kyrgyzstan

The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has welcomed the newly-published report by the Kyrgyzstan Inquiry Commission into the deadly inter-ethnic violence in the country last summer. She urges the Kyrgyz Government to act quickly on the report’s recommendations that it carry out further investigations. Ms. Pillay stresses that there can be no lasting reconciliation without justice, and that the new report sets out a viable pathway to achieve both.

**Press Conferences

At 1 p.m. today, there will be a press conference by Jānis Kārkliņš, the Assistant Director-General of the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), to mark World Press Freedom Day. And he will be joined by Thierry Taponier, the brother of one of the French journalists kidnapped in Afghanistan, and Alaa Abd-el Fattah, an Egyptian journalist.

And then at 11 a.m. tomorrow, there will be a press conference to launch the flagship report of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), and that report is entitled Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific 2011. Participants will include Jomo Kwame Sundaram, the Assistant Secretary-General of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, and Amr Nour, who is the Director of the Regional Commission’s New York Office.

That’s what I have. Yes, Mr. Abbadi?

**Questions and Answers

Question: Thank you, Martin. On Libya, [French] President [Nicolas] Sarkozy has called for an international conference to deal with the transition in the country. Has the UN been participating in the discussions leading up to this possible conference?

Spokesperson: Well, as you know, there is a great deal of coordination going on with regard to Libya, thanks to the Special Envoy, Mr. al-Khatib. And as you know, he briefed the Security Council yesterday. As you also know, there will be a Contact Group meeting on Libya later this week, and that is another good framework; that meeting takes place in Rome. It is another good framework to ensure that there is strong coordination on all matters related to Libya. Yes?

Question: Yes, has the Secretary-General been contact with either [United States] President [Barack] Obama or any member of his Administration following the announcement of Osama bin Laden’s death? And if so, could you provide any information on the content of that communication?

Spokesperson: Well, I can tell you that the Secretary-General has spoken to Ambassador Susan Rice. He did that on Monday morning. And he has also written a letter to President Obama. But that’s where we are on that.

Question: A follow-up on that, please? The international Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Geneva and Hague Conventions all forbid summary and extrajudicial executions. Now that we know that bin Laden was not firing a weapon, the woman was not being used as a human shield and that she was shot in the leg to prevent her from coming forward without a weapon towards the soldiers, and in light of Navi Pillay’s comments and Human Rights Watch’s call for an investigation, does the Secretary-General believe now… at this point, will we know now that an investigation might be in order? And my second question is about the reaction in the United States to the killing of bin Laden. I don’t know if the Bible has ever been quoted in this room, but there is… God admonishes his people for celebrating the death of their enemies. I was wondering if the Secretary-General agrees with God, basically that the US reaction was perhaps unseemly?

Spokesperson: I’m not sure if that’s a first, Joe. There are so many questions there; I’m starting to forget what the first one was.

Question: The first one was: does he think this could be investigated now in light of what we know and the calls for investigation?

Spokesperson: Well, I think Ms. Pillay’s remarks were very carefully calibrated. And as I recall, she is not requesting an investigation; she said that the United Nations could usefully receive more details on the operation that took place. And I think that’s where we are at the moment.

Question: That came after…

Spokesperson: I beg your pardon?

Question: We got more details after she made that comment, I believe. The ones I just referred to, that he was unarmed, for example. So, in light of that, does…?

Spokesperson: Well, I think Ms. Pillay was speaking in more general terms about the need for details, for information; and I am sure that the Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), if they have further requests for information or they have more details that they want to release in this regard, I am sure they will do that. And on the last part of the question, or the last question there — I don’t think you seriously expect me to answer that? Yes, Matthew?

Question: No, wait a minute, I do. Does he, how did he react to the way that Americans, many American people celebrated the death of a man who was not put on trial and who was maybe summarily executed?

Spokesperson: As you will have seen, the Secretary-General said that that day, on Monday when he spoke, it was a day to remember the victims and families of victims in the United States and everywhere in the world. And he said that the United Nations condemns in the strongest possible terms terrorism in all of its forms and regardless of its purpose and wherever it is committed. And…

Question: So, there’s actually no comment to my question, to your comment?

Spokesperson: If that’s how you wish to interpret it, I am telling you that he wanted to be very clear that the crimes committed by Al-Qaida touched people around the world and brought tragedy to many people around the world. And in that context it was a day to remember the victims and the families of victims. Matthew?

Question: Sure, that was, I mean that was at the top, but I just… I guess I wanted to just ask you directly before this is put… that… I mean, Ban Ki-moon’s quote that: “I am very much relieved by the news that justice has been done,” is that, in any way, changed by the knowledge that he was unarmed and that it seems to have been pretty much a mission to put an end to his life? Is that Ban Ki-moon’s definition of justice?

Spokesperson: I think the point here is that as I mentioned yesterday, Al-Qaida’s crimes touched people around the world, and the United Nations has consistently condemned, in the strongest possible terms, terrorism, and will continue to work with Member States to seek to eradicate global terrorism.

Question: Can I ask about Sudan?

Spokesperson: You can, in a second. Yes, Masood?

Question: Yeah, I want to talk about this Middle East peace process. The Secretary-General has supported the reconciliation process between the two parties in Palestine in which… in the statement that you just issued. Now, there are conditionalities which have been put on this process by Israel. Does the Secretary-General support the conditionalities that have been put by Israel in this process?

Spokesperson: There are a number of commitments that have been made by the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Arab Peace Initiative. And as you know, there are also a number of statements by the Quartet, setting out the position of the Quartet on the Middle East peace process. That’s the framework within which the Secretary-General believes that the parties should work. And that is why he is strongly appealing to all Palestinian parties to commit to those principles. And I think you know what those principles are.

Question: Can I just ask a follow-up question? You had mentioned that there was a conversation between the Secretary-General and Ambassador Rice and there is also a letter that he sent personally to President Obama. Could you share anything about the contents of either the conversation or that letter? Did it reaffirm his… the Secretary-General’s initial statement that justice had been served by this action?

Spokesperson: No, I am not in a position to. I haven’t seen the letter, so I am not in a position to tell you. And I think that’s correspondence between the Secretary-General and a Head of State. Yes?

Question: Are there any discussions in the General Assembly or with the Security Council with regard to what is happening in Syria and the Syrian Government’s reaction, the violent reaction against the peaceful demonstrations?

Spokesperson: Well, as you know, or as you possibly know, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs briefed the Security Council at some length last week on Syria. I can tell you also that the Secretary-General did call, rather did speak to President [Bashar al-]Assad by telephone this morning. And he made three main points. One is that now is the time for bold and decisive measures, political reforms. Really, now is the time to undertake those bold and decisive reforms. Secondly, he asked that Syria should cooperate with the Human Rights Council-mandated commission. And thirdly, he urged President Assad to allow in a humanitarian assessment team, given the widespread concern in the international community about the humanitarian situation in Syria at the moment. Yes?

Question: Just a follow-up to this question. Is there any pressure, I mean from the Secretary-General’s Office, for Syria to withdraw its candidacy from the Human Rights Council?

Spokesperson: As you know, that’s a matter for Member States, and not for the Secretary-General or the Secretariat. There are Member States within the Human Rights Council and the membership of the General Assembly overall. Yes, Matthew?

Question: Sure, I wanted to ask about Sudan and Sri Lanka. On Sudan, there are… you’d said yesterday about this attack in Abyei, which you said killed 14 people; there are additional reports of fighting in Unity State between South Sudanese army or a rebel group attacking a village there. And I am just wondering, is UNMIS [United Nations Mission in Sudan], can UNMIS confirm that? There seems like the Governor of Unity State has said the attack occurred, eight people were killed, and the South Sudanese Government won’t confirm any casualties. What’s UNMIS’s role in Unity State, given the fighting there?

Spokesperson: Well, certainly they would be assessing what is happening, and I do understand that there will be an update available with some details of what their latest assessment is. But I don’t have it at the moment.

Question: And I wanted to ask also about… I had earlier asked you about the Darfur rebel Khalil Ibrahim, he was… ended up trapped in… he was in Tripoli at the time of all this and a request was made to the UN to take him out; I think it says it was impossible. Now that the UN has taken its own staff out of Tripoli, has the UN decided not to assist Mr. Ibrahim, or what’s the status of the UN’s response to the request that he be removed?

Spokesperson: I’ll find out. What was your question on Sri Lanka?

Question: Sure, there is the trial of Mr. [Sarath] Fonseka, it’s coming to trial. He’s said publicly that would be willing to answer the charges in the Secretary-General’s panel report, and actually the report will be… he said will become part of his trial in the white flag case, as it is called there, and I wanted to know, is the UN, is it aware of that? Could the experts… you said that their work is finished, but if in fact they’re summoned to a court in Sri Lanka to speak about the report, would they do it? And could… was there a meeting with [Permanent Representative Palitha] Kohona yesterday in the North Lawn? Did it relate to the report and is this in some sense the Government’s response to the UN on the report?

Spokesperson: Well, we can work backwards. The Secretary-General did meet yesterday afternoon with the Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka and in that meeting, the Secretary-General reiterated two points. The first is that, as he said in his statements, it would be good for Sri Lanka to seriously consider the recommendations made in the report of the Panel of Experts, particularly with regard to the need for an accountability process. And the second point that he made was to remind the Sri Lankan authorities of their responsibility with regard to the safety of UN staff and also of UN premises. And no, this was not a formal response; a formal response we still await and would be happy to receive it. And as for the first part of your question, I don’t want to answer hypotheticals. Should we get further down the track, then we can tackle it at that point.

Question: And was that meeting… was that on the Secretary-General’s schedule, they put out a schedule of meetings, was the meeting with…?

Spokesperson: No. I think when the schedule was put together, it was not, and it appeared later.

Question: And is there a readout of his meeting with this panel on Haiti, that’s the… the cholera panel seems to have met with him, had a photo op, at least according to the schedule; is the report going to be released? What’s the status of that?

Spokesperson: Well, at the beginning of the briefing, I did say precisely that, Matthew. I said that they met, and I said that the report would be released once it has been handed over to the Haitian Government, and that’s taking place today. And I would anticipate that the report would be released later today. Alright? Yes, Masood? We’ll make this the last question.

Question: On this Libyan ceasefire and this briefing given by the Secretary-General’s representative yesterday, has it been determined as to how a verifiable ceasefire can be established in Libya, given the fact that there are conflicting points of view that the rebels, or the insurgents as they are called now, insurgents, if they do not agree for the ceasefire and they continue to fight, [Muammar al-]Qadhafi forces will say that we are only retaliating. How do you establish a verifiable ceasefire in this environment?

Spokesperson: It obviously is not easy, and it’s why the Special Envoy made precisely this point to the Council yesterday; that yes, both sides agree in principle to a verifiable ceasefire. But, at the moment, they have rather different views on how you get to that point. They — both sides, the rebels and Colonel Qadhafi’s forces — have conditions which are, in essence, mutually exclusive. But, it is the duty and skill of an accomplished diplomat to work around that and through that. And that’s why the Special Envoy will be continuing to liaise very closely with others, as I mentioned, regional organizations — the League of Arab States, the Organization of the Islamic Conference [OIC], the African Union — they’re all working very closely, the European Union, to ensure that views are coordinated. That’s what the Libyan Contact Group’s meeting is going to be about, as well. No, it’s not easy, but should we continue to push? Yes, because it is a mandated responsibility under the Security Council resolution.

Okay, thank you very much. Have a good afternoon.

* *** *
For information media • not an official record

Join the mailing list

One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger - by Matthew Yglesias