SG speaks out on unfolding situation in the Middle East, addresses AU panel on Cote d’Ivoire, peacekeeping heads brief Council and more from UN Direct

Egypt: this morning the SG held a press stakeout in which he made a statement on the “extraordinary developments” in Northern Africa and the Middle East, which he said he is closely following.  He said the region is facing common challenges and the UN has been clear and consistent in supporting basic human rights.  He said the reports that have come in overnight [presumably on Bahrain] are “deeply troubling”, adding that violence should not be used against peaceful demonstrators and journalists and that those responsible must be brought to justice.  He urged all parties to exercise restraint and for leaders to “listen attentively” to the people and “respond to their legitimate aspirations”.  He said progress can only take root when governments are responsive and growth is inclusive.  He said that he will be reaching out to leaders in the region in the days ahead and it is crucial that leaders deliver on their promises and reform is built on transparent political dialogue which includes political parties and civil society.  Speaking on Egypt, he said he welcomes the commitments to hold free and fair elections, adding that there must be “no turning back”.  The UN is ready to help and is actively preparing to provide any assistance that is needed. He further explained that the UN is looking for opportune timing for visits or technical assistance, particularly electoral assistance.

Côte d’Ivoire: today the SG issued a statement that he attaches “great importance” to the AU’s high-level panel to facilitate a peaceful solution to the ongoing political crisis in the country, which is due to travel to the country over the weekend.  He is particularly concerned about the continuing violence, planned demonstrations, obstruction to UNOCI operations, and siege of the Golf Hotel and has called for an immediate end to these acts.  In regards to UNOCI, the Mission reported that three countries (two in West Africa) gave offered to send troops to support UNOCI’s aims and they are currently in negotiations.  Four additional deaths have been reported, which brings the number to at least 300 since mid-December.

Israel: the press is reporting that the Palestinian resolution condemning Israeli settlements will be brought to a vote in the Security Council tomorrow.  Apparently, the Arab Group rejected a compromise proposal by the U.S. to issue a press statement instead.

Peacekeeping: today, the Security Council heard briefings by USG of Peacekeeping Operations Alain Le Roy and USG for Field Support Susana Malcorra. They focused on the issue of national consent in host countries that have peacekeeping missions.

Human Rights Council: as the second session of the Geneva portion of the HRC Review continues, the President of the HRC has submitted the “negotiating text”, which will form the basis of the negotiations.  One of the central issues in the Review has been a divide between the NAM and U.S./EU and some LAC States on the Council’s ability to respond to emergency and chronic rights situations.  In the current text, the solution is a mechanism by which a State could make a request to the HRC President to consult States – and the concerned State – on the issue, which would then inform the Council’s response.  However, since this implies the consent of the concerned State, it is unlikely to go as far as U.S./EU would like to see.  The U.S./EU have made it clear that a failure to address this issue could threaten the ability to reach a consensus.  The text is also weak on UPR follow-up, suggesting that implementation plans and midterm reporting would be on a voluntary basis.  The working group is meeting today and tomorrow on the thematic issues (UPR, Special Procedures, etc.) and will re-convene on Wednesday and Thursday of next week.  A group of NGOs have submitted a set of “minimum outcomes” to the HRC President that they would like to see included in the Review.  The 15 benchmarks outlined include: ensuring the Council has the capacity to respond to emergency rights situations in a timely manner, utilizing the OHCHR and Special Procedures and other independent experts more regularly, developing tools for following-up on reprisals against rights defenders, preserving the independence of Special Procedures, addressing non-compliance of States with Special Procedures, ensuring responses are given to all UPR recommendations and implementation plans are developed to ensure follow-up, and providing opportunities for all stakeholders to participate in the HRC (e.g. NGOs and National HR Institutions), among other recommendations.

Senior UN Travel: Navi Pillay, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, briefed the press during her first visit to Russia. She explained that her discussions with President Medvedev and other top officials have included some very frank analyses of reforms to key institutions relating to the rule of law and the fight against corruption and discrimination. She went on further to explain that rule of law, including accountability and protection of rights for all citizens and non-citizens on Russian territory, is an essential prerequisite for true democracy, peace and development. Pillay is now heading to St. Petersburg.