DAILY PRESS BRIEFING OF OFFICE OF SPOKESMAN FOR SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
12 August 1999
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Fred Eckhard, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon. As a guest we have at our noon briefing here Sergio Vieira de Mello, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs. It was Mr. Vieira de Mello, of course, who left New York on short notice to kick- start our mission in Kosovo, and who by all accounts did a splendid job there. However, today he is here to talk to you about humanitarian assistance in Africa, and we will be getting to him in just a minute.
**Geneva Conventions Anniversary
Today in Geneva, the Secretary-General addressed a ceremony marking the fiftieth anniversary of the Geneva Conventions.
He told those gathered for the event that, "in this final year of the final decade of a century of war, genocide and immense suffering, we do not meet in celebration of the respect for these Conventions. We cannot say that civilian populations have been spared in the conflicts of the last decade. And we should not believe that the next 50 years will require any less determination and commitment on our part to limit the suffering of civilians in war."
He noted that the International Criminal Tribunals for the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda have breathed new life into the Geneva Conventions by actualizing the concepts of accountability and individual criminal responsibility. The creation of the International Criminal Court, he said, is further evidence of the commitment to global justice. He expressed hope that its Statute will be universally accepted.
The text of that speech is available in English and French in our office.
While in Geneva, the Secretary-General signed a solemn appeal to all peoples and governments. It calls on the world to reject the idea that war is inevitable and to eradicate its underlying causes. It also calls for sparing civilians the agony of war. Copies of the appeal are available upstairs.
Among his appointments, the Secretary-General met today with Prince Hassan of Jordan as well as the new Prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunals, Carla Del Ponte. He then brought the Prosecutor to meet the Geneva press corps. In response to a question on Kosovo, the Secretary-General said that, obviously, justice must be done there, but he emphasized that justice is not revenge. Since both sides would have to live together, reconciliation would be necessary, he said. We have a transcript of that exchange in my office.
Later, the Secretary-General is scheduled to meet with Carl Bildt, his Special Envoy for the Balkans, and tomorrow he leaves for some rest through the end of the month.
A number of you have been asking us about the investigation into the health situation in southern Sudan, where United Nations staff and members of the local population have been suffering from headaches, nausea and tearing of the eyes following a bombing raid.
Two teams from Operation Lifeline Sudan visited the areas of Arua and Yei, where they examined people suffering from these symptoms, a number of whom were being treated by Norwegian Peoples Aid in Yei.
Those people all seem to be recovering and the teams found no evidence of an acute medical emergency.
They have taken blood samples, which yesterday were sent for analysis to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia. We should have results in about a week.
**Democratic Republic of Congo
We have not received any direct report on the joint Zambian/South African mission to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
President Chiluba's envoy, Eric Silwamba, Minister for Presidential Affairs, joined the Foreign Minister of South Africa in Kisangani yesterday and we saw wire reports saying that they both are back, or returning to their respective capitals.
As you will recall, the idea was for them to go to Kisangani to verify who should sign the ceasefire agreement for the DRC.
Next week the Heads of Member States of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) will meet in Maputo, Mozambique, and they will no doubt continue their discussion on how to resolve the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
This morning, Members of the Security Council heard a briefing on Kosovo by Hedi Annabi, the Assistant Secretary-General for Peace-keeping Operations.
Under other matters, they are expected to discuss Iraq and the draft resolution on Sierra Leone. The President is also expected to brief the Council Members on his meetings with the Permanent Representatives of India and Pakistan.
In response to a question yesterday concerning the downing by India of a Pakistani naval aircraft on Tuesday, I said that letters had been received by the Secretary-General from both India and Pakistan.
In fact, only Pakistan sent a letter. India made its views known through a visit by the Charge of the Mission here to a senior United Nations official.
The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) today released the first surveys since 1991 on child and maternal mortality in Iraq.
The surveys show that in southern and central Iraq, children under five are dying at more than twice the rate they were 10 years ago. In northern governorates, the picture is not as grim: while child and infant mortality rates rose from 1989 to 1994, under-five mortality actually declined in the following five years from 82 to 69 deaths per 1,000 live births.
UNICEF calls for additional funding from the international community for humanitarian efforts in Iraq, and it calls on the Baghdad Government to urgently expedite nutritional programmes.
UNICEF also faults bottle-feeding, which has dramatically increased in Iraq, contributing to the higher levels of malnutrition and child mortality there. The agency is urging the Government to remove breast-milk substitutes from rations and replace them with food for pregnant and lactating women.
We have a press release from UNICEF upstairs with more details, as well as the preliminary findings and conclusions of the report.
And also on Iraq, some of you have been asking about the status of Prakash Shah, the Special Envoy to Iraq.
The Secretary-General has decided that while the Security Council continues to be seized with the question of the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) on the disposal of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, it is not necessary to have Mr. Shah stationed in Baghdad full time. He continues to be Special Envoy, but will be based in New Delhi and visit Iraq as and when required.
**International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda
The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) has just approved an amendment to an indictment charging a woman with rape as a crime against humanity. The woman, Pauline Nyiramasuhuko, was the Minister of Family and Women Affairs in the interim Government of Rwanda in 1994. The Prosecution alleges that Tutsi women were raped during the genocide in Rwanda by individuals under her authority. This is the first time a woman has been charged with rape as a violation of international humanitarian law. She is also charged with genocide and violations of the Geneva Convention and therefore is the first woman in history to be indicted by an international criminal tribunal.
We have a press release upstairs with more details, and we have with us Kingsley Moghalu, the ICTR Spokesman. He is sitting in the back of the room there. If you have any questions, you can ask him after the briefing.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has joined forces with Cisco Systems to bring together some major performers for a series of concerts to help end poverty, and that is called NetAid.
The three concerts will take place on October 9th at Giants Stadium, New York, in London and in Geneva. They'll feature performances by Bush -- is that a band? -- Counting Crows, Celine Dion, Jimmy Page, Pete Townsend, the Eurythmics and Jewel, among others. The concerts will be broadcast on MTV and VH-1 in the United States and BBC Television in the United Kingdom. Tickets will go on sale on August 24th.
There will also be a web site launched in September in connection with NetAid at www.netaid.org. It will provide information on how people can join the fight against poverty.
UNDP has a press release on that.
There is a press release from the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), saying that the number of HIV infections in Eastern Europe has increased nine-fold just over the past three years.
The Executive Director of UNAIDS, Dr. Peter Piot, will be in Poland tomorrow to address the opening of the ninth International Conference for People Living with HIV/AIDS.
While in Warsaw, Dr. Piot will be meeting with key government, United Nations and community leaders to discuss progress against the epidemic.
We have a press release upstairs, if you are interested.
**International Criminal Court
Kenya became the eighty-fourth country to sign the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which needs 60 ratifications to enter into force. So far it has four.
And while I'm on that subject, the Preparatory Commission for the International Criminal Court is wrapping up a three-week session tomorrow here in New York. So we've invited the Commission's Chairman, Ambassador Philippe Kirsch of Canada, to tomorrow's briefing to update you on developments.
**United States Congressional Delegation to United Nations
A delegation of 11 United States Congressional staffers is coming to the United Nations tomorrow for a series of meetings to learn more about our Organization.
They will meet with a number of top United Nations officials, including the Under-Secretary-General for Management, Joseph Connor, the Inspector- General, Karl Paschke, the Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Alvaro de Soto, and the Secretary-General's Senior Advisor, John Ruggie and also Sergio Vieira de Mello.
For more information you can contact my office.
Rwanda became the ninetieth Member State to pay in full with a check for over $10,000.
This afternoon, at 2:30 p.m. in the UNCA Club, Ambassador Inamul Haque, the Permanent Representative of Pakistan, will talk about "Pakistan in the Penalty Box".
Tomorrow, at 11 a.m., also in the UNCA Club, will feature Mark Thyssen, the spokesman for United States Senator Jesse Helms, who will give his views on the negotiations on the International Criminal Court, as well as United States arrears and other subjects of interest to you.
**Humanitarian Crisis in Africa
Statement attributable to the Spokesman.
The humanitarian needs of victims of war and natural disasters in many parts of Africa are nearing irrevocable crisis proportions, and the Secretary- General is alarmed by the poor response of the international community. United Nations humanitarian agencies and their partners require $796 million to assist over 12 million needy people in Africa during 1999, yet only $352 million has been received. As a result, humanitarian programmes have had to be cut back and even life-saving assistance in many instances is not being provided where it is urgently required.
In Angola, it is estimated that 200 lives are being lost each day as the conflict between Government and National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) forces intensifies. Supplies to assist the 2 million people affected by this war are simply insufficient. In southern and central Somalia, a combination of persistent conflict, grim prospects for the current harvest and the cumulative effect of six consecutive poor yields are threatening at least 1 million people with famine.
In the Republic of the Congo, Burundi, Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as in Ethiopia and Eritrea, there are also serious humanitarian needs that cannot be met due to inadequate donor response. The latter five countries have recently taken important steps towards establishing peace. These advances are tenuous and must be bolstered by the provision of aid.
In the developing world many countries are experiencing unprecedented economic growth and robust budget surpluses. Yet international aid budgets continue to stagnate or decline. The Secretary-General appeals to donors to make a special effort now to help the victims of conflicts and natural disasters in Africa.
Any questions before Mr. Vieira de Mello picks up on that theme that I just read?
Question and Answer Session
Question: Could you let us know what the Secretary-General is doing, if anything, on progressing towards some kind of formula for a tribunal for war crimes in Cambodia?
Spokesman: As you know, at the request of the Royal Government of Cambodia the United Nations has been assisting in seeking ways to try the Khmer Rouge leadership in accordance with international principals of justice. Ralph Zacklin, the Deputy Legal Counsel, will visit Cambodia at the end of this month in continuation of those efforts. But that is all I have to say on that subject now, I'm sorry.
Question: Has a decision been made about civilian policemen in Kosovo who didn't have arms or were just administrative, some of them from Bangladesh, to send them back? How did this happen?
Spokesman: Yes. When we recruit police, we specify the requirements in writing. Over the years, we have often had difficulty getting police that meet those requirements. It is not the first time that we have sent some people home. With some missions we actually sent recruiting teams into the field, to the contributing countries, to interview the candidates to make sure they met the standards. With Kosovo, the standards are so much higher because the responsibilities are greater than ever before. It is assumed that these police will be engaged with the population, may have to use their weapons in a situation that would be similar to some of the toughest urban areas in the world. And for that reason, we have had to insist that they are conversant in English and have full skills with their weapons. We have tried to retrain, or provide additional training for some of these people, but a number of others we have had to let go.
Some countries sent us police officers who had served in previous United Nations missions and they felt that they would therefore be qualified. But as I said, the standards are stricter for Kosovo, and we have had to turn even some of those people back.
Question: What are the reasons that Prakash Shah will be based in New Delhi, rather than in Baghdad?
Spokesman: It was in my statement. I gave you the context. I said that because the Security Council continues to be seized with the subject of UNSCOM and what to do with it, the Secretary-General felt that it is not necessary to have Mr. Shah stationed in Baghdad full time. It is not a full- time job anymore, in short. And with the mutual agreement of the Secretary- General and Prakash Shah, Prakash Shah will be working out of home.
Question: Would you comment on reports that certain countries had objected to his presence in Baghdad?
Spokesman: All I will say is that two to three months ago Prakash Shah asked if he could work from home, not out of Baghdad, because he felt that he did not have a full-time job anymore. That goes back two to three months and it predated any of these complaints that were received more recently.
Question: Do you have any comment on the findings of the UNICEF Child Survey, whether there are implications for the United Nations system as a whole?
Spokesman: No, I want to just let UNICEF comment on their reports. Whether anybody else in the United Nations system wants to comment on it...? But no, I have nothing to say, sorry.
Question: Because of the slow start for the police in Kosovo, and the same in Bosnia, is there any talk about holding a kind of stand-by police, as there are stand-by troops, or even about a United Nations police academy?
Spokesman: I believe that governments can pledge police to the stand-by arrangements. But if there are going to be continuing requirements for international police monitors in peacekeeping missions, and if we want to have a rapid-deployment capability for peacekeeping, which I think we do, then we probably are going to have to come up with some institutional improvements on how we recruit police as well as military. We can't start creating the fire department every time a fire breaks out.
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