Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, 27 May 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, and welcome to the briefing.
**Guests at Noon Briefing
Today, as you know, it is the International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers, and I have here as my guests from the Department of Peacekeeping Operations: on my immediate right, Ann-Marie Orler, who is the Police Adviser and Director of the Police Division; and Dmitry Titov, who is Assistant Secretary-General for the Office of Rule of Law and Security Institutions; and then, next to Mr. Titov, Mary Okumu, who is the Corrections Coordinator, Criminal Law and Judicial Advisory Service; and on my far right, Robert Pulver, who is Chief of the Criminal Law and Judicial Advisory Service.
**Secretary-General’s Statement on Lebanon
Just before I hand the floor to my guests, let me just say that I have spoken to the Secretary-General and briefed him on the attack on the UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) convoy in Lebanon. The Secretary-General has just made some remarks on camera which will be fed back to New York as soon as possible. But I can tell you he says:
I condemn the attack on the UN peacekeepers which happened today in Lebanon. It is all the more deplorable because today is the International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers.
We are still receiving details, but it is already clear that a number of UN peacekeepers have been wounded. I extend my sincere sympathies to the peacekeepers and their families, as well as the people and Government of Italy.
The United Nations will work closely together with the Lebanese authorities to have a full and swift investigation on the attack to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Peacekeeping is dangerous and difficult. I pay tribute to the 120,000 United Nations military, police and civilians who are working under the blue flag around the world for the cause of peace.
So, I now would like to pass the floor. Who is going first?
[Briefing on the International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers by Ms. Orler, Mr. Titov, Ms. Okumu and Mr. Pulver issued separately].
Just a couple of other items, and then I am happy to take a few questions:
**Secretary-General in France
As you know, the Secretary-General has been at the G-8 (Group of Eight) Summit meeting in Deauville in France. He spoke, as I mentioned to you yesterday, at the outreach sessions on the margin of the G-8 Summit itself. The Secretary-General spoke in three different sessions. He was the only non-G-8 leader to do that and we have provided an extensive readout on the remarks that he made in all three of those sessions.
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said today that it is very alarmed at the dangerous escalation of violence in Yemen over the past few days. The Office said it has received reports of dozens of casualties among civilians, including women and children, in recent fighting.
It called on the Government to stop the excessive and disproportionate use of force, to stop targeting activists, human rights defenders and journalists, and to seriously investigate all allegations of crimes committed by security forces. As you’ll recall, earlier this week, the Secretary-General strongly urged all sides to continue efforts aimed at finding a peaceful resolution of Yemen’s political crisis.
On Syria, the Office of the High Commissioner said it remains deeply concerned about the situation on the ground, with reports continuing to come in of excessive use of force against demonstrators. It urged the Government to grant the Office early access into the country.
And finally, on Bahrain, the Office welcomed the Government’s agreement, in principle, to the deployment of an assessment mission to the country. It said that it continues to receive reports of dismissals of people from their jobs and trials of individuals for their political views and for participating in demonstrations earlier this year.
The UN country team in Sudan has deplored the ransacking of the premises of humanitarian organizations and the looting of emergency relief supplies in Abyei. Medical supplies, surgical equipment, and enough food to feed 50,000 people for three months are among the items that have been taken.
These items had been sent to Abyei in recent weeks to respond to the urgent needs of town residents and the rural population of surrounding villages. Georg Charpentier, the Humanitarian Coordinator, has said that humanitarian agencies are working around the clock to provide assistance. The UN country team calls on all parties to respect the property of UN aid agencies and non-governmental organizations, while allowing free and unhindered movement of humanitarian workers and relief items to vulnerable communities uprooted by the clashes in Abyei and surrounding areas.
And the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) has provided an update as well. The situation in Abyei town continues to be unstable. The looting is still continuing, and occasional firing could be heard in town. The UN Mission conducted four ground patrols and one air patrol today. They observed the presence of a mix of people in military uniforms and civilian clothes, the vast majority of whom were carrying light weapons. A Mission air patrol observed that the majority of the population and the newly arrived IDPs (internally displaced persons) have left Agok and moved further south. And the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) commander in the area has informed the Mission that the Sudan Armed Forces destroyed the Banton Bridge [to the south of Abyei] last night and this has been confirmed by a Mission air patrol.
The UN refugee agency reports that there was a serious disruption this week at the Choucha camp near the Tunisia-Libya border. Some 4,000 migrant workers and refugees from the conflict in Libya are sheltering there, pending humanitarian evacuation to their countries of origin or other solutions. On Monday, a large group of migrants surrounded the agency’s office at the camp, seeking immediate resettlement. Agency staff and other humanitarian workers received death threats and were forced to withdraw.
Early on Tuesday morning, violence erupted among various groups in the camp, with at least two deaths reported. Efforts to ease tension are under way, with agency staff meeting with representatives of all communities in the camp, as well as with the Tunisian central and local authorities.
The agency repeats its call for donor and resettlement countries to contribute additional help for the humanitarian evacuation programme being carried out by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and to offer additional resettlement slots for refugees. And for its part, the World Health Organization (WHO) says that the health situation in Misrata remains critical despite the decrease in fighting over the past week.
** Côte d’Ivoire
This week, the UN refugee agency resumed the repatriation of Liberian refugees stranded at the agency’s Abidjan compound during the post-election crisis in Côte d'Ivoire. More than 260 refugees were flown by chartered flight to an airport some 60 kilometres from the Liberian capital, Monrovia. Most were heading home for the first time in nearly two decades. They had first sought refuge at the agency’s Abidjan office in December, when they were targeted amid allegations that Liberian mercenaries were fighting on the side of former President Laurent Gbagbo.
Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro will travel this evening to Haifa, Israel, where she will be guest of honour at the International Women Leaders’ Conference on “Women, Science and Technology” that’s co-hosted by the Government of Israel and UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization). The visit, which will focus mainly on development-related matters, will also take her to Jerusalem, where the Deputy Secretary-General will hold bilateral meetings with the Israeli Government, including the President of Israel and the Speaker of the Knesset. She will also meet with United Nations officials based in Jerusalem. And the Deputy Secretary-General will return to New York on 30 May.
At 2:30 p.m. today, there will be a press conference here by Mirna Cunningham, Chairperson of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, and this is at the close of the tenth session of the Permanent Forum.
That’s what I have for you. Questions, please. Yes, Masood?
**Questions and Answers
Question: On Yemen, there are, of course, these tribesmen complaining that the President of Yemen is targeting certain tribes, and there is intense fighting going on. Do you have any update on that? And also, what happened to this GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] agreement which was signed between the President of Yemen, that he will leave at a certain stage, and that agreement has now gone south?
Spokesperson: Two things: one, I have just provided you with an update from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, saying how alarmed they are, how alarmed we are, at the dangerous escalation of violence in Yemen over the past few days. And the Office has received reports of dozens of casualties. And I also mentioned, and as you know, the Secretary-General himself issued a statement earlier in the week, calling for all sides to continue efforts to find a peaceful resolution to the political crisis precisely because the deal which has been long in the making has yet to be sealed. And that, as far as I am aware, remains the case. Obviously the Secretary-General is strongly urging all sides to continue their efforts to make sure that that deal is actually realized. Yes, and then I am coming to you, Nizar.
Question: Thank you, Martin. What is the Secretary-General’s stance on Security Council reform? What would he like, what changes would the Secretary-General like to see happen at the Security Council?
Spokesperson: The Secretary-General has repeatedly said that there are three important elements here. The first is that the Security Council, by general consensus internationally, does need to be reformed to reflect the changes that have taken place over the decades. The second point is that there is now momentum amongst the Member States to actively negotiate and review a draft text on how those reforms might look. And the third point is that it’s really for the Member States to determine the scope and nature of any reform. There is general agreement that there should be reform; but what form it takes has yet to be decided, and it’s for Member States to do so. The Secretary-General will continue to help to provide the political framework for those negotiations to continue within the context of the General Assembly. Yes, Nizar?
Question: I know Mr. Michael Williams recently called for the quick formation of a new Lebanese Government. However, what we have seen yesterday is that 400 officers under orders from the acting Prime Minister ambushing the Minister [sic] of Communications, occupying the Interior Ministry [sic] resigned as a result. The Communications Minister was not allowed into the building. How do you view the unfolding events in Lebanon, especially that today we see that UNIFIL have been ambushed by a bomb and one, I understand, one of them killed?
Spokesperson: That’s not yet confirmed, Nizar. You heard what we said earlier. That is not yet confirmed. And obviously our thoughts primarily today, when we are marking International Peacekeepers Day, are with the peacekeepers who have been attacked going about their work in Lebanon for UNIFIL. So our thoughts are with them. They’re also with the Lebanese people, who are, indeed, waiting for the formation of their Government. I don’t have anything to add to what Mr. Williams said. He is the expert.
Question: Yeah, but in the name of law and order...
Spokesperson: Well, yes, but Nizar, what I have said is that I don’t have anything to add to what Michael Williams has had to say. He is on the spot, and he is a real expert in this area. I don’t have anything further to add to that. Yes, Matthew?
Question: I wanted to ask about Haiti. I have got two things that, two things on Haiti. One is, there have been sort of mass evictions of camps where people have been living since the earthquake, in the Delmas area; and some members of Congress of the United States have actually, you know, spoken and said that questioned, including OCHA’s role in cancelling meetings about these camps. And I just wanted to know, what is MINUSTAH or OCHA have to say about that? And also, there have been some discussions about the new Government eliminating or changing this. President [William] Clinton, the UN Envoy, chairs a commission on reconstruction aid, and it’s said it’s been inefficient and they would like to cancel it. So what does MINUSTAH say about both of these developments?
Spokesperson: On the first, our understanding is — and my colleagues in the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs have provided some information on this — the evictions have been suspended. And the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has been in contact with the authorities so that these evictions don’t start up again. And the Humanitarian Coordinator for Haiti, Nigel Fisher, has expressed his appreciation that the Government has acted quickly in this regard.
On the second question, in fact, the designated Prime Minister has been quoted in a number of places in different ways. Certainly, our understanding is that the new Government may wish to look at the nature of the Commission and how it works. I think that that would be entirely natural, and it is something for the authorities to do with our colleagues on the ground, who have been working on this for some time.
Question: No, no, I have seen those reports, and thanks. I am just wondering, what is the UN’s...?
Spokesperson: So why did you use the other quotes, then? That’s what I am interested in.
Question: [inaudible] remains in play and it’s unclear to me what the UN’s role in that is. I know that President Clinton is Ban Ki-moon’s Envoy, but he also chairs that Commission. Is it a UN Commission and does, that’s why, I mean, it’s exactly this, what’s the UN’s role…?
Spokesperson: I think you know what the role of the Commission is. As I say, it is for the incoming Government to speak to UN officials, other officials including President Clinton in his role as a Special Envoy, and in his role with that Commission, simply to talk through how things can work better. I think everybody accepts that there is more that needs to be done. It’s a natural process, given the scale of the disaster that occurred in Haiti. Yes?
Question: Thank you, Martin. May I ask you about the Secretary-General’s preparation for his report that is going to be submitted to the 22 September conference on the implications of the Fukushima nuclear accident? My understanding is that there are eight or seven UN organizations involved in preparation to make this report. And you had a video conference recently. Is there any organization or office that is coordinating these various organizations that are involved?
Spokesperson: Well, a couple of points here, you’re quite right, the Secretary-General did chair a video conference call on this, and it was with a number of different agencies and different parts of the UN system. I can’t list them all here now; I am happy to help you with that afterwards. How is it being coordinated? The Office for Disarmament Affairs, ODA, within the Secretariat here in New York, has a coordinating role. It is obvious that the International Atomic Energy Agency has the key responsibility in the area of nuclear safety. What this report is doing is going beyond that key mandate of the agency to look at other areas that impinge on nuclear safety and, indeed, the link between safety and security, and trying to, through those links, to build an overall assessment and report, which will then be submitted in time for that high-level meeting that you referred to in September on the margins of the general debate. It’s a work in progress; work has started. I am happy to provide you with a list of the different agencies and parts of the UN system that are involved in that.
Question: [inaudible] for the Secretary-General to appoint some individual as a Rapporteur or Coordinator, or…?
Spokesperson: I think the coordinating work is already in place, and the report will be compiled with input from the different parts of the system, as I have mentioned. It is important to stress the key role of the International Atomic Energy Agency, but to make clear that this particular accident has raised a number of concerns beyond that obviously important mandate. And the Secretary-General feels that this is a good opportunity to learn from this disaster to ensure that in the future that there will be an even broader view of how safety can be better ensured at not just existing nuclear power plants, but also power plants that may be built in future. This is a broad assessment stressing the extremely important role of the International Atomic Energy Agency, but the extra input that can be provided by other parts of the UN system.
**Letters by the Secretary-General
Okay, I have just been handed a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on letters by the Secretary-General about possible flotillas to Gaza:
The Secretary-General has sent a letter to Governments of countries around the Mediterranean Sea. In these letters, the Secretary-General indicated that he was following with concern media reports of potential flotillas to Gaza. He expressed his belief that assistance and goods destined to Gaza should be channelled through legitimate crossings and established channels. He recalled the statements of the Quartet on 21 June 2010 and the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee on 13 April 2011 in this regard.
The Secretary-General called on all Governments concerned to use their influence to discourage such flotillas, which carry the potential to escalate into violent conflict. He further called on all, including the Government of Israel, to act responsibly and with caution to avoid any violent incident.
The Secretary-General reiterated that, while he believed that flotillas were not helpful in resolving the basic economic problems in Gaza, the situation there remains unsustainable. He urged the Government of Israel to take further meaningful and far-reaching steps to end the closure of Gaza, within the framework of Security Council resolution 1860 (2009). In particular, he underlined that it was essential for the operation of legitimate crossings to be adequate to meet the needs of Gaza’s civilian population.
Question: There is this thing about Ethiopia, if I could?
Spokesperson: I beg your pardon?
Question: I want to ask you something about Ethiopia. I asked you this before. These two workers that had gone missing in, the UN humanitarian workers; now the Ogaden Liberation Front says that they freed them from the Government jail, and stands ready to hand them back to the UN system. I just wonder if the UN — I know that the Secretary-General was just in Ethiopia — did this case come up, and can the UN confirm that the Government, as the rebels are saying, and they now have these two individuals, that in fact it was the Government that captured and detained the UN humanitarian workers?
Spokesperson: Let me find out, Matthew. All right, thank you. Have a good weekend. Thank you very much.
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