DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY OFFICE OF SPOKESMAN FOR SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
2 November 1999
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Fred Eckhard, Spokesman for the Secretary-General, and Shirley Brownell, Spokeswoman for the President of the General Assembly.
Briefing by Spokesman for Secretary-General
**Rabin's Journey for Peace Remembered at Special Ceremony in Oslo
Today in Oslo, the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Terje Roed Larsen, delivered a speech on behalf of the Secretary- General at the Commemoration Ceremony for the late Prime Minister of Israel, Yitzhak Rabin.
Larsen said Rabin's legacy "compels us to work tirelessly and courageously to continue the journey that he was prevented from completing". The last leg of this long journey for peace will be even more arduous than the road the parties have already traveled. "We stand alongside the Israeli and Palestinian people", he said, "alongside Prime Minister Barak and Chairman Arafat, as they take the next, and most decisive steps, towards a just and lasting peace".
If you want the full text, it's in my office.
**Secretary-General Says Support for Peace Efforts 'Must Continue' in Democratic Republic of Congo Report out Today
The Secretary-General's Report to the Security Council on the United Nations deployment in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is coming out today as a document.
In it, the Secretary-General says that the enormous obstacles facing any United Nations operation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have always been very apparent. The experience gained so far in deploying a small number of military liaison officers in and around the Democratic Republic of the Congo has only served to deepen our appreciation of the difficulties, he notes.
Nevertheless, the Secretary-General says efforts to support the peace process must continue, saying that the suffering in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has persisted for far too long for us to miss the chance offered by the Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement.
The Secretary-General recommended to the Council the extension of the mandate of the United Nations mission and personnel currently in the Democratic Republic of the Congo until 15 January 2000. By then, he says, on the basis of the conclusions of the technical survey team, it should be possible to provide the Council with further details of the possible establishment of a United Nations peacekeeping operation in that country.
In the meantime, he requests from the Security Council prior authorization for the setting up of a United Nations Observer Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the deployment of up to 500 military observers. The observer operation would absorb the existing initial deployment. It should be led by a Special Representative whom, he says, he shall appoint shortly.
The Security Council is expected to discuss the Democratic Republic of the Congo on Thursday of this week. The current mandate expires on Saturday.
**Secretary-General to Address International Business Leaders
Right about now, the Secretary-General is scheduled to address a gathering of diplomats, corporate CEOs and other participants being hosted by the Reverend Leon Sullivan, who is launching his "Global Sullivan Principles" here at Headquarters.
The Secretary-General is expected to note that the Global Sullivan Principles stress the social responsibilities of corporations. He will point out that the crucial question now is how to create an environment in which business does what it does best -- namely, create jobs and wealth -- while ensuring that people's basic needs are met.
This is what the Secretary-General had in mind earlier this year when he proposed a Global Compact between the United Nations and business. The Compact calls for business to do more to protect human rights, the environment and labour standards. In his speech, the Secretary-General will note that, "The Global Sullivan Principles can help us implement the Compact and give global markets more of a human face".
You can get the full text in my office.
**Special Representative Expresses 'Extreme Concern' Over Ceasefire Violations in Sierra Leone
Today in Freetown, Sierra Leone, Francis Okelo, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, issued a statement expressing extreme concern over the severity of recent ceasefire violations. He listed, among others: active combat, human rights abuses against civilians, systematic assault on humanitarian personnel and continued detention of women and children.
Mr. Okelo said: "It has become clear that the RUF and AFRC leadership is not complying with the provisions of the Lomé Peace Agreement, or cannot adequately control its field commanders and combatants". He added, "The international community will not tolerate any subversion of the peace process".
His statement is available in my office.
In the meantime, in a sharp discrepancy with the situation in the north of the country, the situation in Freetown is calm, with notable progress in the implementation of the peace accord. Today the Government of Unity was officially formed with the swearing in of ministers from the two former rebel factions.
**Hostile Militia Impedes UNHCR Efforts in West Timor Refugee Camps; Repatriation Continues through Kupang and Atambua
The news on East Timor today is that the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) staff attempting to determine who among the refugees in West Timor refugee camps want to return to East Timor are encountering difficulties as they enter camps dominated by the militia. Yesterday, for example, UNHCR personnel who went to a camp in the Atambua area, along the border with East Timor, had a hostile reception from militias that required the police to intervene.
Meanwhile, refugees who make their way to reception areas in Kupang and Atambua are being repatriated to East Timor. Today, 849 Timorese went to Dili in two barges, and 443 others returned to the East Timorese capital by plane.
As of 1 November, 36,800 East Timorese have returned to the territory from West Timor and other parts of Indonesia.
**WFP, Partners Deliver Food to West Timor Returnees
Still on the humanitarian front, the World Food Programme has informed us that they, along with their NGO partners, have so far distributed more than 2,500 metric tons of food to internally displaced persons and returnees from West Timor.
**Timor Rainy Season Brings Risk of Cholera, Malaria, WHO says
The World Health organization (WHO) issued a press release alerting us to he risk of cholera, malaria and tuberculosis in East Timor. With the rainy season due to begin this month, epidemic diseases such as these three are becoming a major public health concern.
Please see press releases on these two items.
**UNHCR 'Concerned' by Boarder Clampdown, Civilian Casualties, in Chechnya
UNHCR says it continues to be concerned about the dramatic situation at the main border crossing between Chechnya and Ingushetia where those fleeing Chechnya are allowed to cross at an alarmingly slow pace. UNHCR says it is alarmed by continued civilian casualties of Russia's military actions, including the reported rocket attack on a convoy of people fleeing Chechnya last Friday.
The border between Chechnya and Ingushetia opened at 9 a.m. local time this morning, but only a small trickle of people was allowed through during the first hour. On Monday, a mere 164 people were allowed out of Chechnya and 400 back into Chechnya. Before the Russian clampdown on the border, the rate of processing was 5,000 to 7,000 a day. The latest reports speak of some 5,000 people massed on the Ingush side of the border, either waiting for their relatives to arrive or trying to get back into Chechnya to collect the relatives they had left behind. At least 10,000 are stuck on the Chechen side of the border.
This morning, the fifth UNHCR convoy with 136 metric tons of supplies reached Ingushetia's capital, Nazran, after an overnight journey from Stavropol.
Meanwhile, UNICEF has issued an urgent appeal to all parties to the conflict in the northern Caucasus to protect the rights of children and women, allow free passage of those trying to escape the fighting and ensure the safety of humanitarian relief workers.
This morning the Security Council first discussed its programme of work for the month of November.
Then Hédi Annabi, the Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping, introduced the Secretary-General's report on the situation concerning Western Sahara.
Following a question-and-answer session on Western Sahara, the Council is expected to take up the procedures concerning the election of five members of the International Court of Justice. And they will also discuss follow up to its recent resolution on protection of civilians in armed conflict.
**Fleeing Civil War, Angolans Cross Border into Zambia, UNHCR Says
UNHCR reports the number of Angolans fleeing the civil war to neighbouring Zambia has increased significantly over the past three weeks. More than 1,500 refugees from Angola's Moxico province have crossed into western and north-western Zambia since 8 October. This is up from around 100 arrivals a month during the past year.
The refugees say battles in Moxico between the Angolan army and UNITA rebels have intensified. Many refugees are weak, having walked for days. Smaller groups of dozens of Angolans have also arrived in Kisenge, southern Democratic Republic of the Congo that is, in the past two weeks. They have told UNHCR of being taken from their homes and used as human shields by retreating UNITA rebels fearful of government air strikes. They say they escaped and made their way to the border under cover of darkness.
If you are interested in more details on that, see the UNHCR briefing notes in my office.
**ICT Judge Delivers Comprehensive Report on Non-Compliance by Federal Republic of Yugoslavia
Judge Gabrielle Kirk McDonald, President of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, wrote a letter to the President of the Security Council today in which she provided a comprehensive report on all violations by the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina of their obligations to cooperate with the Tribunal. So I guess that is her parting shot.
**As Winter Rages, WFP Races to Feed Displaced Population in Panjshir Valley
The World Food Programme (WFP) is stepping up efforts to feed displaced people in Afghanistan's Panjshir Valley before the area is completely cut off by snow.
WFP intends to ship at least 3,000 metric tons of food to the Valley before the end of this month. The agency is warning that there could be widespread malnutrition in the area if substantial amounts of aid do not reach the displaced there before the snow arrives.
You can read more in the weekly update on Afghanistan in my office.
**UNHCR Africa Fact Sheets Available
We have new fact sheets on Africa from UNHCR. They provide information on the movement of people within and among the countries of the continent.
According to UNHCR, Sierra Leone has produced the most refugees in Africa, with 470,000. Guinea is the host to most of the refugees from Sierra Leone, as well as the majority of Liberia's 210,000 refugees.
You can read more in the fact sheets.
**UN Peacekeeping Operations Fact Sheet Available
We also have available upstairs in my office an updated fact sheet on United Nations peacekeeping operations, which reflects the recently added missions in East Timor and Sierra Leone. It also provides a thumbnail sketch of all 17 current missions, including facts about financing and personnel.
And finally, payments. We received a check for over $4 million from Turkey today. And that makes Turkey the 112th Member State to be paid in full for this year.
Any questions before we go to Shirley?
**Questions and Answers
Question: I'm sure you've seen the story on the front page of The Financial Times today saying that the United States is pressing for the dismissal of [United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq] Hans Von Sponeck. The report says that the Secretary-General asked Mr. Von Sponeck to remain in his job for another year. Can you confirm that he has the Secretary-General's support?
Spokesman: Yes, I can. You'll recall that there were similar complaints about his predecessor, and I think that the Secretary-General feels that there will be complaints about his successors, as well. That kind of comes with the territory of his job. The Secretary-General did have a discussion with Mr. Von Sponeck about the specific concerns raised by the United States and the United Kingdom. I think he encouraged Mr. Von Sponeck to speak to United States and United Kingdom representatives to clear up any misunderstandings that might have arisen. He wants Mr. Von Sponeck to continue in this job.
Question: Are you saying that Von Sponeck will stay one more year?
Spokesman: I assume he would. I never thought to look into that, but yes, I assume he will.
Question: On Angola, the letter on the racks yesterday from the Angolan Government did not mention anything about any political or military representation in the new United Nations mission in Angola, and specifically seemed to rule them out. This seems to sort of go against what the Security Council resolution said. Is there some discrepancy? Is there any dialogue going on to try to resolve this or is the Secretary-General happy with this response.
Spokesman: I think the Secretary-General's response to that letter, which is in the final drafting stages now, will welcome the Government’s acceptance of the mission. And with the 30 personnel that we recommended -- which included military personnel -- the mandate of the Office will be to work on humanitarian assistance, human rights institution-building and general liaison with the Government. I think that will be the Secretary-General's response to that letter.
Question: You said that the Secretary-General had had similar complaints about Mr. Von Sponeck's predecessor, Dennis Halliday. Is there something about the nature of the job of Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq that lends itself to people suddenly becoming negative about sanctions?
Spokesman: I think the Humanitarian Coordinator has to be concerned about the people he is there to serve. The fact that the humanitarian issue in Iraq becomes a bit of a political football, I think is obvious to everyone. So it becomes a very fine line for any humanitarian coordinator to walk, and it’s not surprising that one government or another might have thought that he was too far on one side or the other of that line. I think that kind of criticism is an inherent risk of this job.
Question: Could you be more specific about who expressed these concerns (about Von Sponeck) to the Secretary-General. Was it [United States Permanent Representative Richard] Holbrooke specifically?
Spokesman: I don't have those details and I don't want to get into them.
Briefing by Spokeswoman for General Assembly President
The 1999 United Nations Pledging Conference for Development Activities is under way, and will continue tomorrow morning. Among statements regarding pledges is a note by the Secretary-General (A/CONF.185/2). It shows the contributions pledged or paid at last year’s event, as at 30 June 1999, to 22 funds and programmes, as well as to 11 trust, voluntary or revolving funds.
The General Assembly meets tomorrow to elect, simultaneously with the Security Council, five members of the International Court of Justice. The related documents are A/54/305, 306/Rev.1 and 307.
At yesterday’s plenary meeting, Assembly President Theo-Ben Gurirab announced two additions to the programme of work: on Thursday, 4 November, at a morning meeting, the Assembly will take up agenda item 52, “Question of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas)” (A/54/23, Part II), and item 157 (Report of the Committee on Relations with the Host Country) to consider the remaining appointment from among the Asian States to that Committee. A letter from Uzbekistan informs the Secretariat that Malaysia has been nominated to fill that seat.
This morning, the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) continued the third stage of its work, that of approving draft resolutions and draft decisions in clusters. Today, it is considering drafts texts in clusters 8, 9 and 10, dealing with other disarmament measures, related matters of disarmament and international security, and international security, respectively. Yesterday, the Committee approved 18 drafts. There were recorded votes on four texts: conclusion of effective international arrangements to assure non-nuclear-weapon States against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons (A/C.1/54/L.36); prevention of an arms race in outer space (A/C.1/54/L.22); conventional arms control at the regional and subregional levels (A/C.1/54/L.37); and transparency in armaments (A/C.1/54/L.39). Ahead of this morning’s voting, there was a ceremony to present the 1999 United Nations Disarmament Fellowship certificates.
This afternoon, the Second Committee (Economic and Financial) will take up the report of the Secretary-General on international institutional arrangements related to environment and development (A/54/468). That report highlights the growing recognition within the United Nations system of the linkages among the various environmental areas and the significant collaborative work undertaken in response to the need for continuing policy coherence in this field.
At its meeting this afternoon, the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) will take up agenda item 116, on the implementation of human rights instruments. It was under this item that Finland circulated a draft resolution on the death penalty (A/C.3/54/L.8), calling for a moratorium on executions, with a view to completely eliminating the practice. The draft has not yet been introduced, but there are 14 proposed amendments to the text (A/C.3/54/L.30 to L.42 and L.44). Other documents under this item include the report of the Committee on Human Rights (A/54/40); the report of the Committee against Torture (A/54/44); the interim report of the Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on the question of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (A/54/426); and reports of the Secretary-General on the status of international human rights Covenants and Conventions. Also before the Committee is a letter from Singapore (A/C.3/54/5), concerning the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
The Committee will take action on a draft resolution on improvement of the situation of women in rural areas (A/C.3/54/L.15), after it is orally revised, concerning the right of women to inherit land. Three draft resolutions will be introduced: on strengthening the United Nations Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Programme, in particular its technical cooperation capacity (A/C.3/54/L.24); violence against women migrant workers (A/C.3/54/L.18/Rev.1); and the right of Palestinian people to self-determination (A/C.3/54/L.29).
The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) will consider, this afternoon, the item on the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). Among documents on the item is the report of the Commissioner-General of UNRWA, Peter Hansen, for the period from 1 July 1998 to 30 June 1999 (A/54/13 and Add.1). He writes that the period was a time of challenges and some setbacks but also many achievements for the refugee community and UNRWA staff. The Agency remained a source of stability and a symbol of continuity in a difficult regional environment. The delivery of effective and efficient services remained UNRWA’s top priority; by that measure, the Agency was successful during the reporting period, even though its financial difficulties seemed to overshadow its achievements.
Other reports include: the fifty-third report of the United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine (A/54/338) and reports of the Secretary- General on Palestine refugees’ properties and their revenues (A/54/345); offers by Member States of grants and scholarships for higher education, including vocational training for Palestine refugees (A/54/376); persons displaced as a result of the June 1967 and subsequent hostilities (A/54/377); University of Jerusalem “Al Quds” for Palestine refugees (A/54/385); and report of the Working Group on the Financing of UNRWA (A/54/477) .
At its morning meeting, the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) is taking action on a draft decision (A/C.5/54/L.13), by which the Assembly would take note of the programme of work of the Joint Inspection Unit and the listing of potential reports for 2000 and beyond. The Committee will then conclude consideration of the report on the activities of the Office of Internal Oversight Services for the period from 1 July 1998 to 30 June 1999 (A/54/393). This afternoon, the Committee will conclude its general discussion of the proposed programme budget for 2000-2001. Tomorrow, its section-by-section examination of the budget commences.
The Sixth Committee (Legal) is in its second week of discussion of the report of the International Law Commission. There are two meetings today.
Copies of the appointments of the Assembly President are available in room 378 and also on the Internet. He will attend a luncheon in his honour and that of the Regional Groups Chairmen, hosted by the Permanent Representative of Slovenia, in his capacity as President of the Security Council for November. This afternoon, he will visit the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Namibia to the United Nations.
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