DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY OFFICE OF SPOKESMAN FOR SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
8 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
Good afternoon. I would like to welcome Judge Gabrielle Kirk McDonald, the outgoing President of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. Because she has another appointment we will start with her. She will have a few opening remarks, take questions from you and then we will go on with our regular briefing. Judge, welcome.
[At this point, Judge McDonald highlighted her remarks to the General Assembly earlier today and then briefed correspondents on the internal and external challenges facing the Tribunal and its decision-making process, among other subjects. Judge McDonald's briefing will be issued separately.]
We'll try to finish the briefing as quickly as we can.
**Security Council To Be Briefed Privately on Bosnia and Herzegovina
At 3:30 this afternoon, the Security Council will hold a private meeting to hear a briefing on the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina by the High Representative, Wolfgang Petritsch.
Following that session in the Security Council Chamber, Council members will go to the Consultations Room where they will be briefed on Sierra Leone by Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Hedi Annabi.
**UN Human Rights Experts Hear Witness Reports of Atrocities in East Timor
We have a report from East Timor: The three human rights experts currently in East Timor gave a press conference in Dili today. They are: the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, Radhika Coomaraswamy; the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions, Asma Jahangir; and the Special Rapporteur on torture, Nigel Rodney.
These experts have been hearing testimony from people who witnessed the killings and other human rights violations that took place in East Timor. They also visited burial sites and spoke to a number of officials from the United Nations and the multinational force (INTERFET).
Mr. Rodney told reporters that while it is too early to draw conclusions, "obviously something catastrophic happened here". He added, "one has to see the destruction in order to grasp something of the horror of what it all must have been like". Ms. Coomaraswamy said she'd heard allegations of sexual violence, including rape. She characterized the situation as "grave".
Ms. Coomaraswamy also reported there had been allegations of sexual slavery in West Timor, but the Special Rapporteurs did not have permission to travel there, although they had requested it. Even though they have not been able to speak to people in the camps, they are in contact with those who have returned from West Timor. The Special Rapporteurs have reiterated their request to travel to West Timor and are still awaiting a response from Jakarta. They will be leaving the region on Wednesday.
You can pick up the transcript of their briefing in my office.
**West Timorese Militia Stops Repatriation Efforts in Kupang, UNHCR Says; Harassment Continues near Atambua
Meanwhile, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) this morning reported that today militia stopped a UNHCR team outside of Kupang, West Timor, from arranging transportation for refugees wishing to return to East Timor. The UNHCR held discussions with the authorities but had to pull out of the camp before dark.
The agency also reported today that harassment of UNHCR staff and returnees continued in the Atambua area. An unruly mob led by militiamen armed with machetes and spears today stopped a convoy of three trucks and bus from picking up refugees at Halewen camp near the Atambua airport. Police fired several shots in the air but the militiamen continued blocking the entrance and stood their ground despite the arrival of army reinforcements. The UNHCR team decided to pull back. As the team was withdrawing, the crowd stoned the vehicles, causing minor damage.
You can read more in the UNHCR Timor Emergency Update, available upstairs.
**Secretary-General Sends Special Envoy to Kinshasa for Peace Talks
The following statement on the Democratic Republic of the Congo is attributable to the Spokesman:
“The Secretary-General has asked his Special Envoy for the peace process for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Moustapha Niasse, to travel to Kinshasa from 7 through 10 November for consultations with the Government. Mr. Niasse will, among other things, discuss the ongoing deployment of United Nations personnel in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to assist in the implementation of the Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement, and several other issues related to the peace process.
“While in Kinshasa, the Special Envoy will also meet with representatives of the unarmed opposition and civil society, as he did in April, both to listen to their views and to brief them on the ongoing and planned actions of the United Nations to contribute to the restoration of peace in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.”
**UN Technical Survey Team Kept Waiting at Kinshasa Airport
We called Kinshasa this morning and were told that the United Nations Technical Survey Team, which has been there since 17 October, spent the day waiting for clearance at Kinshasa Airport to begin their mission to Goma and a number of other sights. The team did not receive the green light from the Democratic Republic of the Congo authorities.
**Peace Process in Tajikistan Making Progress, Secretary-General Says in Report out Today
The Secretary-General's report to the Security Council on Tajikistan is out on the racks today. In it he notes that during the last three months the peace process in that country has made further progress with the constitutional referendum and the lifting of the ban on political parties belonging to the United Tajik Opposition. He describes the two developments as "important milestones".
As the transitional period envisaged in the General Agreement on the Establishment of Peace and National Accord in Tajikistan nears an end, the Secretary-General notes that the United Nations Mission of Observers in that country approaches the completion of its assignment. Although the peace process has been marred by recurrent serious crises and the implementation of the Agreement has been far from perfect, it has served its fundamental purpose, which was to set Tajikistan on the course of national reconciliation and democratization.
The Secretary-General recommends that the Council extend the mandate of the Mission for another six months, until 15 May 2000. He says that he envisages this as the last extension of the mandate, since the process of transition stipulated in the General Agreement will come to an end during that period. Saying, however, that it is widely held that a continued United Nations political presence would greatly assist in ensuring that Tajikistan can consolidate the path of peace and national reconciliation, he reports of his intention to outline in a report following the parliamentary elections to be held before the end of February a possible political role for the United Nations in that country.
**OCHA Reports Lack of Food, Safe Drinking Water in Aftermath of Cyclone in India
We have available for you the latest report issued by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) on the impact of the devastating cyclone which affected about one third of the total population of the Indian state of Orissa.
The needs reported are great.
The OCHA report says that the provision of food continues to be a major problem. Due to the severe and extensive damage caused to infrastructure, problems with food transport and distribution continue, as access to remote areas remains extremely difficult or even impossible.
There are insufficient sources of safe drinking water. Nearly 50 per cent of over 80,000 water sources in the affected districts are not functional, the report says. The immediate measures are to provide drinking water through tankers and through special water bags airdropped to isolated areas.
With many affected communities having no access to safe drinking water, the risk of possible outbreaks of gastro-enteritis, malaria, acute respiratory infections, snakebites and other diseases is high. An assessment of damage to health facilities still needs to be undertaken.
The dwellings in most affected districts were predominantly thatched -- roof huts, which are almost completely destroyed. Tarpaulins and plastic sheeting for temporary shelter are urgently required.
**UNMIK Civil Administrator to Brief Press
From Kosovo, we have available today's press briefing notes from Pristina as reported by the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK).
But, better still, you will be able to hear a briefing by Tom Koenigs, the head of the civil administration pillar of the United Nations Mission in Kosovo. We have asked him to be here in room 226 at 2:30 p.m. this afternoon. He is very interesting. I recommend that to you.
**Kouchner Approves Kosovo Consolidated Budget
Also out of UNMIK, we have a press release saying that Bernard Kouchner approved the Kosovo Consolidated Budget for 1999 and established the Central Fiscal Authority.
The Consolidated Budget is for 125 million deutsche marks. Nearly 70 per cent of that budget is financed from international donor grants.
**UNAIDS Says Increased Effort Needed to Stop Spread of Epidemic in Latin America, Caribbean
On Aids in Latin America: Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) says it must increase efforts to slow the rate of the AIDS epidemic as it spreads throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. At an international meeting held today in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, Dr. Olavi Elo, Director of the UNAIDS Department of Country Planning, said that there are more than 1.4 million HIV-infected persons living in Latin America, and an additional 330,000 in the Caribbean.
By 31 August of this year, more than 17,000 cases of AIDS had been reported in Central America, with a marked increase in exposure among heterosexuals, UNAIDS reported.
You can get more details in a press release upstairs.
**UN Workshop on the Advancement of Women Held in Beirut
The First Lady of Lebanon, Andrée Lahoud, was on hand today in Beirut at a United Nations-sponsored workshop on the advancement of women.
The meeting aims to prepare for the "Beijing + 5" meeting which will be held next year to review the Platform for Action that was adopted at the 1995 World Conference on Women.
You can read more details in a press release in my office.
**New Documents Out Today
Documents on the racks today -- and this is the last thing I have for you -- a number of letters exchanged between the Secretary-General and the Security Council.
One concerns the extension of the mandate of Mohammed Sahnoun as the Secretary-General's Adviser on Africa through the end of the year 2000.
In another, the Security Council notes the Secretary-General's intention to continue the activities of the United Nations Political Office for Somalia.
And, finally, there are documents on the Secretary-General's intention to extend the United Nations political presence in Burundi until the end of this year, as well as his decision to extend the appointment of Ayite Jean-Claude Kpakpo, the Senior United Nations Adviser to the Facilitator of the Burundi peace process, until June of next year.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Everyday you give horror stories from East Timor, even the Indonesian Human Rights Commission has done it. Since this goes on week after week and the UNHCR doesn't seem to be getting any cooperation, is it time for the Secretary-General to talk to the new government directly? Is there any sense of urgency to get those people being held hostage out of West Timor?
Spokesman: They are going to clearly need the firmer support of he Indonesian military and police. It is Indonesian territory. I'll have to check with you what representations we have made. I'm sure we haven't been silent. I'll get back to you.
Question: Regarding a successor for [Under-Secretary-General Karl] Paschke of the Office for Internal Oversight Services, the Secretary-General said he is temporarily appointing Hans Correl. What type of power is he going to have?
Spokesman: My understanding is that he is not an “acting” head of the Office; he just has administrative oversight. The Secretary-General received, I believe this morning, another set of potential candidates. He will be reviewing the CV's and possibly calling people in for interviews. He is looking for a strong candidate, as I've told you, and he has asked them to cast the net wide. In the meantime, Corel has, as a kind of holding action, administrative oversight over the OIOS.
Question: Isn't it unethical to have someone from the Secretariat in charge of making investigations against the Secretariat?
Spokesman: I didn't say that he would be in charge of the investigations. I said that he is not the acting head of OIOS, he has a kind of administrative oversight pending the appointment of a successor to Mr. Paschke.
Question: Why is that a successor has not yet been appointed? It's been known for a long time that Mr. Paschke was leaving.
Spokesman: Frankly, the Secretary-General has not found the candidate he has been looking for among the initial batch of names sent to him and he asked for another set of names. He has just gotten that batch this morning.
Briefing by Spokeswoman for General Assembly President
The General Assembly this morning took note of the report of the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. Judge Gabrielle Kirk McDonald, President of the Tribunal, addressed the Assembly, and, as today’s guest at the noon briefing, she highlighted the challenges, both internal and external, facing the Tribunal.
The Assembly then took note of the report of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. In her statement, the President of the Tribunal, Judge Navanethem Pillay, said the judgements of the ICTR had had a significant impact on the development of international humanitarian law. The Jean Paul Akayesu decision, for example, included the first interpretation and application by an international court of the 1948 Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. The Tribunal’s decisions on rape and sexual violence and crimes against humanity also constituted important judicial precedents for the international protection of human rights. Among difficulties, she cited the backlog of cases awaiting trial and the inundation of pre-trial motions, but reiterated the determination of the Tribunal judges to complete the trials of accused persons in their custody within the mandate period, by May 2003.
The annual report of the International Tribunal for the Prosecution of Persons Responsible for Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law Committed in the Territory of the former Yugoslavia (A/54/187), its sixth, states that the Tribunal has become a fully functioning international criminal court, providing fair trials to the accused, while maintaining a high degree of protection for victims and witnesses. Nevertheless, recent events in Kosovo, which dominated the work of the Prosecutor, and continuing non-compliance by several States in the region, in particular the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia to allow investigators from the Tribunal access to potential crime scenes, still posed barriers to the operations of the Tribunal. The Tribunal’s development and success could be measured on three levels: first, its development as an institution had exceeded expectations; secondly, the Tribunal had laid the foundation for the establishment of a practical and permanent system of international criminal justice; and thirdly, the Tribunal was beginning to have an impact on the former Yugoslavia.
The International Criminal Tribunal for the Prosecution of Persons Responsible for Genocide and Other Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law Committed in the Territory of Rwanda and Rwandan Citizens Responsible for Genocide and Other Such Violations Committed in the Territory of Neighbouring States between 1 January and 31 December 1994 points out, in its fourth annual report (A/54/315), that the first four judgements of the Tribunal were delivered, which included the first conviction for genocide ever delivered by an international court in the case against Jean Paul Akayesu. Also, former Prime Minister Jean Kambanda had pleaded guilty to genocide and crimes against humanity and had been sentenced to life imprisonment. It states that these judgements, and the ongoing work of the Tribunal, represent a collective effort on behalf of the international community to bring justice and truth to the people of Rwanda. It is hoped that these historic trials will contribute to peace and reconciliation and a new era of accountability for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
This afternoon, the Assembly will begin a two-stage process for selecting four members of the 11-member Joint Inspection Unit, who will serve for a five- year term commencing on 1 January 2001. The Assembly will nominate countries that will propose candidates. After a review of their qualifications, the Assembly President will submit the list of candidates to the Assembly for appointment. For one seat for the African States, the candidate is Burkina Faso. For one seat for the Eastern European States, there are four candidates: Belarus, Croatia, Romania and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. And for two seats for Western European and Other States, the three candidates are Austria, Germany and the United States (A/54/108).
Tomorrow, the Assembly will consider the item on the "Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba" (A/54/259). There is a related resolution, A/54/L.11. Since 1992, the Assembly has adopted resolutions on this question. The vote last year, on resolution 53/4, was 157 in favour to 2 against (Israel, United States), with 12 abstentions.
The First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) is continuing to take action on the remaining draft resolutions and decisions before it. Texts under the nuclear weapons cluster include one on the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (A/C.1/54/L.23). Among the 10 drafts slated for action today are texts on conventional weapons, such as small arms (A/C.1/54/L.42/Rev.1), as well as a text on transparency in armaments (A/C.1/54/L.21).
This morning, the Second Committee (Economic and Financial) discussed the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (1990-1999). One report of the Secretary-General (A/54/132-E/1999/80) details the achievements of the Decade. Another report (A/54/136) contains recommendations on institutional arrangements for disaster reduction activities of the United Nations system after the conclusion of the Decade. Draft resolutions on women in development (A/C.2/54/L.21) and on financing for development (A/C.2/54/L.25) were introduced.
At two meetings today, the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) is continuing its consideration of human rights questions and situations. It is holding a dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Religious Intolerance, Abdelfattah Amor. Among the documents on the agenda items is the report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, as well as reports of the human rights experts on the situations in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Yugoslavia, Burundi, Cambodia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, Iran, Iraq, Myanmar, Rwanda and the Sudan, and also reports on the question of torture and of internally displaced persons. A draft resolution on measures to combat contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance (A/C.3/54/L.26) will be introduced.
The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary), at two meetings today, is continuing its section-by-section discussion of the proposed programme budget for 2000-2001, taking up sections 12 through 21.
**Question and Answer
Question: Is it true that the “no-fly zones” in South Iraq were going to be enforced?
[This question was answered by the Spokesman for the Secretary- General]: In the case of the “no-fly zones” you are referring to a unilateral action taken by individual Member States and not endorsed by the Security Council, so I have no comment.
Thank you very much.
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