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Press Conference by Security Council President

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Néstor Osorio, Permanent Representative of Colombia, which holds the rotating Presidency of the Security Council, said today that the 15-nation body would tackle a "loaded" agenda this month, while also keeping a wary eye on the ripple effects of the popular protests sweeping North African and the Middle East.

Briefing the press at Headquarters on the Council's April work programme, Mr. Osorio said some of the situations that would be taken up in either public meetings or closed-door consultations — such as the deadly evolution of what began as anti-Government protests in Libya and the surging violence in post-election Côte d'Ivoire — were "unfolding in very worrying ways".

Noting that the Council would be briefed in open session later this afternoon on the situation in Libya by the Secretary-General's Special Envoy, Abdul Ilah al-Khatib, he added that the Council would hold consultations on Côte d'Ivoire tomorrow morning.

This past Friday, the first day of Colombia's presidency — traditionally devoted to bilaterals and discussing the coming month's agenda — he had instead called an emergency closed-door meeting with top peacekeeping officials to discuss the "sad events" that had occurred in Afghanistan, where a number of people, including three United Nations staff, were killed in violent protests against the burning of a copy of the Koran by Baptist ministers at a church in the United States. The Council subsequently issued a press statement strongly condemning the attack which took place at an operations centre for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), he added.

Highlighting some of the Council's other planned activities, he drew attention to a special meeting on the situation in Haiti that would be held on Wednesday, 6 April. The Latin American and Caribbean Group was deeply committed to addressing that situation and Colombia's President, Juan Manuel Santos Calderón, would preside over the meeting. Mr. Osorio said a representative of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) would address the meeting, as would Haitian President René Garcia Préval. Former United States President Bill Clinton would present a special report on the recovery and rehabilitation efforts in his capacity as the United Nations Special Envoy for Haiti. Seven ministers from the region would also be present.

Mr. Osorio said the overall aim of the open debate would be to examine why institutional reform and infrastructure rehabilitation was lagging more than a year after a massive earthquake had devastated the island nation. The Council hoped to propose a way forward to help create the necessary awareness and bolster commitment to Haiti. Ultimately, the international community should proceed without delay on a coherent, coordinated approach that included input from the Haitian Government, donor partners and the United Nations.

To a question about reports from human rights agencies that rape and sexual abuse of women had become widespread in the wake of the quake, he said that one of the most serious concerns about Haiti was "the absolute lack of security there", as well as the country's ill-trained and undermanned police force, which lacked the capacity to protect the population, including from sexual violence and abuse. He noted that the Organization of American States was very concerned about sexual violence in Haiti and had condemned such acts. Even though several countries from the region, including Colombia, had sent instructors to help train the police, "[the situation] is very fragile".

He went on to note that, as part of the Council's ongoing effort to address matters related to women, peace and security, it was convening on 12 April a meeting to hear a briefing from Michelle Bachelet, the first Executive Director and Under-Secretary-General of the new United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women). Another briefing was planned with Margot Wallström, United Nations Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict.

In other meetings, the Council planned to hold consultations on the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) and UNAMA. As for its regular debate on the Middle East — to be held on 26 April — the Council was hoping to receive some guidelines on ways to help relaunch stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations from the diplomatic Quartet on the Middle East Peace Process, which was scheduled to meet in mid-April.

He said that, on Friday, the Council planned to hold consultations on Kenya's request under Article 16 of the Rome Statue to defer the International Criminal Court investigations and prosecutions relating to post-election violence in that country three years ago.

Taking a series of questions on the situation in Côte d'Ivoire, he noted that, by the end of the month, the Council would have to renew the mandate of the United Nations Mission in the West African nation — known as UNOCI. The difficulties and challenges that operation faced were well known. With a new Ivorian Government in place, "we hope, as soon as possible", the discussions would be an occasion to perhaps reassess the mission and consider what any new Government might need as far as assistance and recovery.

He hoped that the situation would return to normal, though he admitted "that will not be easy". Indeed, it was clear that the wounds inflicted during Côte d'Ivoire's civil war in the 1990s had not healed. Alessane Ouattara's toughest job would be to lead a broad reconciliation process and reunite the country, he added.

Asked if the Council had considered formally recognizing the Benghazi-based Libyan National Council on Libya as that country's new Government, he said that any matters regarding the representation of Libya to the United Nations was to be decided by the Credentials Committee and, ultimately, the General Assembly. To a related question about support for the rebel movement, he said the Council had not considered the matter of arming anti-Government forces; it had two resolutions before it on the situation in Libya, and those texts stood, though their scope could be discussed.

One reporter charged that the Council seemed to be pointedly ignoring the situation in Bahrain. Civilians were also being attacked there and human rights groups were reporting a raft of atrocities that could further destabilize an already tense neighbourhood. Responding, Mr. Osorio said the Council's policy was to follow the lead of regional organizations and competencies. The Arab League and the African Union had asked the Council to act regarding the situation in Libya. That had not been the case for Bahrain. "In internal matters, we need to follow very clearly the lead of the regional organizations," he said.

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