DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY OFFICE OF SPOKESMAN FOR SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
9 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, everybody. The guest at today's briefing is Judge Navanethem Pillay, the President of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. She addressed the General Assembly yesterday on the progress of the Tribunal's work, and she will be briefing you after we go through our bit. (Judge Pillay's briefing will be issued separately.)
The Secretary-General, I expect, is in the air now -- or about to take off. He is on his way to Japan. He will arrive there tomorrow and begin his official programme on Thursday. We have the programme pretty much laid out for you: Japan, China and Turkey. Then there's a bit at the end we don't have the information on yet. He will be going to Geneva on his way back and we'll give you the details. But for Japan, China and Turkey, we have the programme for you in my office.
**Special Representative for Humanitarian Assistance Appointed for UNTAET
We have an announcement here on East Timor: The Secretary-General appointed Akira Takahashi as his Deputy Special Representative for Humanitarian Assistance and Emergency Rehabilitation of, and that is with, the United Nation Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET). So, in other words, this will be Sergio Vieira de Mello's deputy for humanitarian assistance and emergency rehabilitation.
Mr. Takahashi is a Japanese national and an expert in the field of development assistance. He has extensive experience in coordinating technical and financial cooperation projects, as well as assisting institutional building of developing countries. He has served for 35 years with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), which is responsible for the technical cooperation aspect of Japan's overseas development assistance programmes.
He is currently Special Advisor to the President of the JICA. In 1998, Mr. Takahashi was appointed as a member of the United Nations task force on human resource management reform. He is expected to arrive in East Timor at the beginning of December.
**UNHCR 'Gravely' Concerned as West Timorese Militiamen Continue to Disrupt Repatriation Efforts, Harass Staff
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today expressed grave concern at a series of incidents involving militiamen in the Kupang and Atambua regions of West Timor who are harassing UNHCR staff, relief workers and refugees. At least 18 of these incidents have been reported in Atambua alone. There has been no effort to intervene and arrest the perpetrators, according to a letter sent by UNHCR's representative, Rene van Rooyen, to Indonesian Foreign Minister Alwi Shihab. Van Rooyen urged the Indonesian Government to separate the militia elements from the civilians in the camps. He noted that this would increase the security of displaced persons and humanitarian workers in West Timor, while enhancing Indonesia's credibility in the international community.
Meanwhile, returns are continuing -- today, two ferries transported 1,123 refugees from Atambua to Dili. Four hundred more Timorese were repatriated by air from Kupang to Dili.
You can read more in the UNHCR briefing notes, which are available in my office.
**UNDP Launches Programme to Repair Power Stations in East Timor
Also, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) today launched a new programme to repair 60 power stations that deliver electricity to the entire population of East Timor. Right now, only about 30 per cent of the East Timorese have electricity. UNDP will implement the project in cooperation with the Governments of Canada, Norway and the United Kingdom.
**WFP Delivers Food Supplies, Seeds to Farmers in East Timor
Anticipating the coming rainy season in East Timor, the World Food Programme (WFP) is moving thousands of metric tons of aid to the Territory by land, sea and air.
In addition to providing rice and other supplies, the agency is working to get seeds into the hands of farmers so that crops can be planted for next year.
See the WFP press release on that.
The Security Council had consultations today on Georgia and Somalia. Hedi Annabi, the Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, introduced the Secretary-General's report on Georgia and then Ibrahima Fall, the Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, briefed Council members on Somalia. Burundi was expected to be raised under other matters.
**Refugees Flee Violence in Burundi; UNHCR Reports More than 400 Per Day Arriving in United Republic of Tanzania
More Burundi refugees are fleeing violence and forced displacement in the southern provinces of Burundi and are now arriving in western Tanzania at the rate of more than 400 people a day, according to a UNHCR report.
The refugees have told UNHCR that the government has stepped up efforts to regroup civilians in makeshift sites without adequate shelter or supplies.
Tanzania hosts around 275,000 Burundi refugees.
**Sierra Leone: Disarmament Turnout low; Sankoh Expected To Instruct Followers to Disarm
The Security Council was briefed yesterday afternoon on the situation in Sierra Leone. On the ground, since the opening last week of four new disarmament centres in each of the rebels' strongholds, the turnout of former rebel fighters remains very slow. As of yesterday, out of the estimated 45,000 former rebels, about 600 had registered to the disarmament centres, of which only 53 were from the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), which has the largest number of fighters to disarm -- about 15,000.
After an emergency meeting of the National Committee for Disarmament chaired by President Kabbah, in which Francis Okelo, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, was present, RUF leader Foday Sankoh travelled today with the ECOMOG Force Commander to his eastern stronghold in the town of Daru, where he is expected to give necessary instructions for his followers to disarm.
**As Russians Relax Border, More than 20,000 Flee from Chechnya into Ingushetia
According to UNHCR, nearly 20,000 people have fled from Chechnya to Ingushetia since the Russians relaxed border controls last Wednesday.
Government figures put the number of people who had gone into Ingushetia from Chechnya at 190,000 as of Friday. Of this number, 161,000 Chechens had been registered, comprising 140,000 people staying with Ingush families, and 21,000 living in railway wagons and tented camps. Another 20,000 had reportedly returned to Chechnya or proceeded to other parts of Russia.
Houses of Ingush families hosting refugees are overcrowded and the families are in urgent need of food and clothing.
UNHCR reports that the Russian Foreign Minister and Emergency Minister who met on Monday with ambassadors of the G-8 countries in Russia stressed that there is no humanitarian catastrophe in the troubled region, but nevertheless said that Russia welcomes assistance from the international community. The Emergency Minister said that there are some 4,500 vacant places in collective centres in Ingushetia, referring to space in railway wagons.
UNHCR continues to be gravely concerned about the scope of the humanitarian crisis and the mounting toll of Russia's military actions on Chechnya's civilian population.
On Monday, a United Nations inter-agency mission returned to Moscow after a five-day visit to Ingushetia and Dagestan. The mission will hold a news conference there on Thursday.
**Rwanda Genocide Suspect Arrested in Daressalaam
A Genocide suspect, Mikaeli Muhimana, known as Mika, was arrested yesterday morning in Daressalaam, by Tanzanian authorities acting on an arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda last month.
Muhimana, who was formerly a councillor in a sector of the Kibuye Prefecture, in Rwanda, is, among other counts, charged with having personally killed people in Bisesero where thousands of Tutsi men, women and children had sought refuge from April to June 1994. We have a press release from the Tribunal on that subject.
**Rwandan Government Suspends Cooperation as Criminal Tribunal Releases Barayagwiza
Jean Bosco Barayagwiza, who was ordered to be released by a decision of the Rwanda Tribunal Appeals Chamber, has now requested the Tribunal not to execute a part of that decision and not to be sent back to Cameroon, where he was arrested. Barayagwiza argues that he has no legal status, resources or family in Cameroon. He wants, instead, to have the liberty to choose his final destination.
Following the decision of the Rwanda Tribunal Appeals Chamber last week to release Barayagwiza on the grounds that his rights had been violated, the Government of Rwanda has decided to suspend all cooperation and assistance to the Tribunal. The Tribunal’s Registrar has expressed serious concern at this announcement in view of the critical operations of the Tribunal in Rwanda, such as movement and protection of witnesses. He has contacted the Rwandese authorities to seek ways to re-establish the cooperative relationship that existed between Rwanda and the Tribunal.
We have a press release from the Tribunal on that, and I don't know if the Judge [International Criminal Tribunal President Navanethem Pillay] will want to talk about that. We'll have to see.
**Weekly Iraq Programme Update
The regular weekly update from the Office of the Iraq Programme is now out. It shows that oil exports in the week ending last Friday were 17.4 million barrels, adding another $360 million in revenue to Phase VI of the programme.
Phase VI ends on 20 November, and it looks as if the revenue is on track to exceed $7 billion, which is a massive increase on the $3.9 billion of Phase V.
The update also shows that there are currently $738 million worth of contracts for humanitarian supplies on hold by the 661 Sanctions Committee.
**Oil-for-Food Programme Report Due out Monday
Next week will be fairly Iraq intensive. On Monday the Secretary-General's 180-day report on the oil-for-food programme comes out, and on 17 November, the Security Council is scheduled to discuss that report.
**UN Agencies Report Nutritional Situation 'Fragile' in Korea
The nutritional situation in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea remains fragile, according to the WFP and the Food and Agricultural Organization.
The agencies report that food shortages have caused living standards in the country to decline in recent years. Serious health problems are on the rise because resources, drugs and supplies are lacking.
You can read more in a joint press release upstairs.
**New Round of UN Foundation Grants Announced Today
The United Nations Foundation, set up by Ted Turner in support of United Nations causes, today announced a new round of grants worth a total of $51 million. The new projects cover a wide range of areas. For example, there is a $2.7 million grant to the World Health Organization (WHO) to protect youth from tobacco, and a $1.5 million grant to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) to eradicate guinea worm disease in Africa. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) also received a number of grants, including one to provide reproductive health services to Russian adolescents.
We have a 10-page press release from the Foundation with all the details.
Reacting to the news of the fresh funding, United Nations Deputy Secretary- General Louise Fréchette said, "We remain grateful for Mr. Turner’s generosity in supplementing much-needed development assistance in such key sectors as child health, population and women, and the environment". She noted that so far, approximately $188 million has been awarded to 112 projects, spanning the five continents and involving 24 different organizations of the United Nations system working together.
You can get her full statement upstairs.
**Ben Gurirab to Honor Dag Hammarskjöld Memorial Scholars
I have from United Nations Correspondents Association (UNCA) and invitation to you to join Theo-Ben Gurirab, President of the General Assembly, to bid farewell to the 1999 scholars of the Dag Hammarskjöld Memorial Scholarship Fund. That's at 3 p.m. tomorrow in the UNCA Club, and you are all invited.
**Guest at Tomorrow's Noon Briefing
And just a head's up -- tomorrow the guest at the noon briefing will be Bill Paton, the Humanitarian Coordinator for the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Sorry that was so long. Are there any questions before we go to Shirley and then to Judge Pillay?
No questions. Shirley?
Briefing by Spokeswoman for General Assembly President
The General Assembly will vote shortly -– it may have done so already –- on a draft resolution, sponsored by Cuba, on the necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States against Cuba.
At the start of the meeting, the President of the National Assembly for the People’s Power of Cuba, Ricardo Alarcon de Quesada, introduced a draft resolution (A/54/L.11), which would have the Assembly reiterate its call on all States to refrain from promulgating and applying laws and measures, the extraterritorial effects of which affect the sovereignty of other States, the legitimate interests of entities or persons under their jurisdiction and the freedom of trade and navigation. The Assembly would again urge States that have and continue to apply such laws and measures to take the necessary steps to repeal or invalidate them as soon as possible in accordance with their legal regime. Draft L.11 is identical to resolution 53/4, adopted last year, except that it adds references to the latter text and requests the Secretary-General to prepare and submit a report on its implementation to the fifty-fifth session
In this morning’s debate, speaker after speaker criticized the United States policy against Cuba and called on Washington to lift its 40-year unilateral embargo against Cuba. All indicated their intention to vote in favour of the draft resolution. Twenty-one delegations were inscribed on the list.
[It was subsequently announced that, in the voting, the Assembly adopted the resolution by a vote of 155 in favour to 2 against (Israel, United States), with 8 abstentions (Estonia, Georgia, Latvia, Micronesia, Morocco, Nicaragua, Senegal and Uzbekistan).]
Also before the Assembly is the report of the Secretary-General (A/54/259) containing the replies received from 58 governments, including Cuba, plus the European Union and eight United Nations system organs and agencies, on their implementation of resolution 53/4.
Tomorrow, the Assembly takes up the item on Bethlehem 2000. A draft resolution on the subject (A/54/L.20) would welcome the impending arrival of the global, historic celebration in Bethlehem of the birth of Jesus Christ and the onset of the third millennium as a symbol of the shared hope for peace among all peoples of the world. It would call for the acceleration of assistance and engagement of the international community as a whole to ensure the success of the Bethlehem 2000 project and the fruition of this monumental commemoration.
Also tomorrow, the Assembly will consider a letter by the Secretary-General (A/54/531), in which he informs that body that, pending the completion of consultations for a successor to the current Under-Secretary-General for Internal Oversight Services, he has requested Hans Corell, Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, the Legal Counsel, to oversee the Office of Internal Oversight Services. This is a temporary arrangement, the Secretary-General points out, adding that he intends to submit a name to the Assembly shortly for its consideration and approval.
In Monday’s selection process for four members of the Joint Inspection Unit, the countries chosen to nominate candidates were Austria, Burkina Faso, Germany and Romania.
The First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) is concluding action today on the remaining five draft texts before it, dealing with nuclear weapons and confidence-building measures, including transparency in armaments. Altogether, there are 48 draft resolutions and four draft decisions. The Committee will next consider the question of Antarctica (A/54/339) before completing its work on Friday.
This afternoon, the Second Committee (Economic and Financial) takes up the report of the Economic and Social Council (A/54/3). In a foreword, Council President Francesco Paolo Fulci (Italy) writes that 1999 can rightly be considered a signal year both substantively and symbolically: substantively, because the Council is increasingly able not only to conduct oversight, give guidance to its subsidiary bodies and substantively increase interrelationship with the Bretton Woods institutions, but also to achieve effective decision-making on a wide range of policy issues; and symbolically, because it has been able to restore its rightful place among the principal organs under the Charter by having reclaimed its own Chamber from which it was for so long practically banned.
The eradication of poverty was the leitmotif of this year’s Council’s work, he continues. The year had also seen much progress in reviving the Council’s role as envisaged in the Charter and in restoring its identity. But much remained to be done. In particular, its coordination functions vis-à-vis the United Nations funds and programmes and the specialized agencies needed to be revitalized and strengthened. This was a task to which the Council should turn its priority attention in the year ahead. Chapter I of the report summarizes the resolutions and decisions adopted by the Council in 1999 and which call for action by the Assembly.
This morning, the Committee discussed training and research, focusing on the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) (A/54/480) and the United Nations Staff College in Turin, Italy (A/54/481). It also considered a report prepared by the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) on the economic and social repercussions of the Israeli occupation on the living conditions of the Palestinian people in the occupied Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem, and of the Arab population in the occupied Syrian Golan (A/54/152-E/1999/92). Draft resolutions were introduced on implementation of the outcome of the Global Conference on the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States (A/C.2/54/L.23) and on the United Nations Staff College in Turin (A/C.2/54/L.26).
At two meetings today, the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) is concluding its discussion of human rights questions and situations, having considered 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 torture, internally displaced persons and religious intolerance.
The Committee will hear the introduction of two draft resolutions: on the Third Decade to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination and the convening of the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance (A/C.3/54/L.28/Rev.1); and on the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (A/C.3/54/L.53). And it will take action on two other texts -- on the International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People (A/C.3/54/L.45) and on International Covenants on Human Rights (A/C.3/54/L.52).
The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) this morning heard final comments by the Under-Secretary-General for Internal Oversight Services, Karl Paschke, on the report on the activities of his Office. This afternoon, the Committee will continue its section-by-section discussion of the proposed programme budget for 2000-2001, taking up sections 19 through 25.
Regarding the appointments of the Assembly President, he is presiding over today’s plenary meeting on Cuba. This afternoon, he will meet with the Permanent Representatives of Sri Lanka and Sweden, Ambassadors John de Saram and Hans Dahlgren, to discuss Security Council reform. This evening, he will attend a reception and concert at Carnegie Hall, hosted by Ambassador Ole Peter Kolby of Norway.
Question: Article 109 of the Charter of the United Nations states that a General Conference for the purpose of reviewing the present Charter may be held at a date and place to be fixed by a two-thirds vote of the Assembly and the Council. Is the President of the General Assembly interested in the question of Charter review?
Answer: The President is interested in the question of Security Council reform, and that entails a review of the Charter. He has been holding meetings with ambassadors, as he will again this afternoon, to discuss this very subject. He is, indeed, very much interested in the matter.
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