DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY OFFICE OF SPOKESMAN FOR SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
7 December 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'm sorry for the delay.
**Spokesman's Office Welcomes John Mills
As many of you know, my Deputy, Manoel de Almeida e Silva, has gone to East Timor until 1 April to help with the United Nations Mission's press and information office there. And you might have noticed a familiar face -- now sitting in the back of the room there -- in Manoel's office since last Friday and it's John Mills, who is the press officer for the Iraq Programme. John will fill in for Manoel until 1 April, on a half-time basis, thanks to a sharing agreement we worked out with [Iraq Programme Executive Director] Benon Sevan, his boss. So thank you Benon and thank you John.
**Cyprus Proximity Talks Update
The third round of talks on Cyprus began this morning at 11 a.m. when the Secretary-General's Special Advisor, Alvaro de Soto, met here at Headquarters with His Excellency Mr. Glafcos Clerides.
Mr. de Soto is scheduled to meet with His Excellency Mr. Rauf Denktash this afternoon at 5:30 p.m.
I was asked if the Secretary-General ever received the expected letter from United States President Bill Clinton that we had talked about last week, and the answer is yes, that letter arrived here last Friday, but of course, I can't reveal its contents. The Americans would have to do that if they wish.
**Secretary-General to Address World Civil Society in Montréal
The Secretary-General leaves this afternoon for Montréal, Canada, to participate in the World Civil Society Conference, which has been organized by a coalition of non-governmental organizations.
Tonight he will attend a reception sponsored by the Conference organizers and then a dinner hosted by the United Nations Association of Canada under the Chairmanship of Yves Fortier, the former Canadian Ambassador to the United Nations. He will make a speech at the dinner in English and in French. In his speech, the Secretary-General is expected to discuss Canada's strong contribution to the United Nations and to pay tribute to Daniel Rowan, a Canadian official who died en route to Pristina, Kosovo, where he was supposed to take up a post to help rebuild Kosovo's prison system. (For text of the Secretary-General’s remarks, see Press Release SG/SM/7248.)
Tomorrow morning, the Secretary-General will address the World Civil Society Conference where he is expected to focus on globalization and the role of non-governmental organizations in giving globalization a human face.
In an advance copy of that speech, which is embargoed until 9 a.m. Wednesday, the Secretary-General says that during the protests he witnessed in Seattle last week, people were voicing their fears about globalization. "The challenge before civil society," he says “is to manage globalization to benefit the greatest number of people and nations." (For advance text see Press Release SG/SM/7249.)
Embargoed copies of both speeches are available in my office.
The Secretary-General is expected back in New York at midday tomorrow.
**Ogata calls Fate of Chechnya's Civilians UNHCR's "Top Concern"
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Sadako Ogata, has reiterated UNHCR's concern about the fate of Chechnya's civilian population trapped in the capital Grozny. She expressed her concern during a telephone conversation yesterday with Russia's Federal Emergencies Minister, Sergei Shoigu.
Mr. Shoigu telephoned Mrs. Ogata to tell her that Russia has taken steps to improve the security of aid workers in the Northern Caucasus and decided to exempt United Nations agencies from value-added tax on local purchases. Mrs. Ogata spoke to Mr. Shoigu hours after Russian media reported that Russian military commanders issued an ultimatum to Grozny's non-combatants, telling them to leave the city or be destroyed. She used the telephone conversation to express UNHCR's concern about protection of civilians in Chechnya. She said the fate of Chechnya's civilians was at the moment UNHCR's top concern.
The UNHCR said very little information is available on the humanitarian situation inside Chechnya. Tens of thousands of people are believed to be trapped in Grozny and other areas under heavy Russian bombardment. Many are hiding in cellars without electricity and adequate supply of food and water.
The UNHCR's emergency team, meanwhile, today went to North Ossetia's capital, Vladikavkaz, to be on standby for deployment in Ingushetia as soon as security improves.
Another UNHCR convoy arrived in Nazran this morning bringing the total of food and other aid delivered by UNHCR to 2,500 metric tons.
We have a Northern Caucasus update by the UNHCR available in my office.
**Honduran Foreign Minister Bermudez at Headquarters Today; Briefs Press, Meets Secretary-General
The Foreign Minister of Honduras, Gilberto Florez Bermudez -- whom you just heard at a press briefing -- is at Headquarters today. He met with officials from the Department of Political Affairs this morning and then with the Secretary-General at 11:30 a.m.
I mentioned yesterday that the Secretary-General had also received a letter from the Foreign Minister of Nicaragua. In that letter, Nicaragua repeated its commitment to use legal and diplomatic means to resolve tensions arising from Honduras' treaty with Colombia on their maritime border.
We are now expecting that a senior Nicaraguan official might visit Headquarters this week and we will let you know once this is confirmed.
The Security Council is meeting this afternoon for consultations of the peacekeeping operation in Cyprus (UNFICYP). The Secretary-General's report was released on 30 November, recommending a further 6-month extension of the mandate.
Under 'other matters' on its agenda this afternoon, the Council is expected to discuss the timing of consultations on a draft resolution regarding Iraq. We'll let you know the outcome of that discussion.
This afternoon we're expecting the release of two reports by the Secretary-General to the Security Council. The first is on the peacekeeping mission in the Western Sahara (MINURSO), and the second is on the United Nations mission in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL).
**UNHCR Reaches Agreement with Militia on Refugees in West Timor Camps
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says that agreement has been reached with local Indonesian military authorities to separate militia members and their families from refugees in West Timor. Local military and provincial officials have offered a separate facility to shelter these people.
Meanwhile, four more children died in the Tua Pukan camp in West Timor yesterday, and UNHCR fears that similar appalling conditions exist in other camps in the province where the United Nations agency has not had full access.
The number of returnees from West Timor remains low, and the total stands at only about 113,000.
**Notes from East Timor: Indonesian Civil Rights Team Arrives in Dili
The Indonesian National Commission of Inquiry into human rights violations in East Timor arrived in Dili today for a week-long visit to East Timor during which they will, for the first time, collect direct testimony from witnesses.
The United Nations Mission in East Timor (UNTAET) today began deploying newly appointed District Administrators. Eventually, 13 Districts will be headed by transitional administrators appointed by the Special Representative, Sergio Vieira de Mello.
**Demonstrators Cause Delays at UN Visitors' Entrance; Protest United States Military Training Policy in Puerto Rico
You may have heard, there was a little bit of noise down at the 46th Street entrance today -- there was a brief, unscheduled demonstration. At about 9:30 this morning, 10 Puerto Rican demonstrators staged a protest outside that gate, criticizing United States military training exercises conducted in Puerto Rico.
According to United Nations Security, the protestors caused a few minor delays at the gate, and Security also briefly stopped the United Nations tours to ensure that none of the demonstrators had joined the tours. They resumed the tours after determining that there were no demonstrators among the tourists.
At 10:15, the New York Police Department arrested the 10 demonstrators and charged them with disorderly conduct. So everything is now back to normal at the 46th Street gate.
** Gates Foundation Grant Ensures UN Polio Eradication Plan 'On Track', WHO Director Says
A campaign to eradicate polio by the end of next year, which has joined together the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the NGO Rotary International received a major financial boost today.
The three organizations announced that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation would provide $50 million to their campaign to certify the world as polio-free. That money, along with the $28 million provided by the United Nations Foundation, the charity established by Ted Turner, will help vaccinate millions of children during a mass immunization programme planned for the coming year.
The WHO director-General Gro Harlem Bruntland has commented: "We're on track to eradicate polio. With this kind of contribution a polio-free world is within reach, and one of the world's largest health initiatives can be brought to a successful conclusion."
**New Force Commander Set to Arrive in Sierra Leone Today
The new Force Commander of the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL), Major-General Vijay Kumar Jetley, arrived in Freetown today. General Jetley, a national of India, was appointed by the Secretary-General at the end of last month. The Indian contingent, which will include the Force Headquarters and a security element of the Indian battalion, are also scheduled to arrive today.
**UN Compensation Council Meets in Geneva
In Geneva, the Governing Council of the United Nations Compensation Commission is meeting today through Thursday.
The Governing Council comprises the 15 members of the Security Council. It will consider a number of reports and recommendations made regarding claims filed for compensation following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990.
There will be a press release on Thursday on the outcome of that meeting.
**UNHCR Opens Field Office in Colombia
Again, UNHCR. It announced today the establishment of its first field presence in Colombia with the opening of a field office in Barrancabermeja, north of Bogota, in the department of Magdalena Medio.
The new office, which opened 3 December, is the first of three UNHCR field offices scheduled to be opened in Colombia between now and the end of next year.
The deterioration of the Colombian conflict in the past few years has led to the internal displacement of at least 800,000 people since 1996. In the first six months of this year, an estimated 123,000 people were displaced.
**Department of Disarmament Affairs Organizes Workshop Today
The Department of Disarmament Affairs is organizing a technical workshop today from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. in Conference Room 7, to discuss a draft Light Weapons Field Guide for relief workers. The Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs, Jayanth Dhanapala, will chair the workshop.
**UNEP Press Release Available
We also have a press release -- it's available on the racks -- from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) concerning a meeting beginning tomorrow in Cairo on the impact of large dams in the African and Middle East regions.
**Assistant High Commissioner for Refugees at Headquarters Today
The Assistant High Commissioner for Refugees -- I ought to take a job as Spokesman for UNHCR [laughter] -- Soren Jessen-Petersen is in New York today. For those of you who may be interested in speaking to him on topical refugee- related issues, he has some time this afternoon after 3:30 p.m. Please call the UNHCR liaison office.
**The 'Quiz of the Week' Corrected
Now, we've got egg all over our faces here on last Friday's quiz. You'll remember the question where we said the word 'discrimination' never appears in the United Nations Charter or the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We got that information from a United Nations document: a background paper on 'the definitions of racial discrimination' which was issued by the 55th session of the Commission on Human Right and is posted on the Web site of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. So, High Commissioner, pull up your socks. You got it wrong. Someone contacted us by e-mail to say that the word 'discrimination' appears not once but three times in Article 7 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and once in Article 23. It does not appear in the United Nations Charter, so we should've stopped there.
It just goes to prove the journalists' dictum: You always need at least two sources to confirm any fact -- even if one of those sources is a United Nations document.
**UNRWA Press Conference Tomorrow
And finally, tomorrow marks the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the resolution establishing the United Nations relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). So at 3 p.m. tomorrow in this room, the Secretary-General will briefly join Peter Hansen, the UNRWA Commissioner-General, to talk to you about the work and accomplishments of UNRWA during the past 50 years. Delegations are invited to watch this briefing in Viewing Room 4, which, as you know, is just off the Viennese Café.
Any questions before we go to Shirley?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Has there been any progress in finding a replacement for [Under-Secretary-General for Internal Oversight Services] Karl Paschke?
Spokesman: Nothing yet. I have nothing to add to what I've said before, which is that the Secretary-General has had to ask for a second batch of names. He did not find the candidate he was looking for in the first batch. He wants someone very strong, and the search continues.
Question: The Security Council is going to discuss the Secretary General's Cyprus report today. Do we expect anything to come out of this meeting?
Spokesman: I don't think you should see any link between the discussion of the Cyprus report and the proximity talks that are taking place. The Security Council's consideration of that item is focused on the extension of the mandate of the peacekeeping mission in Cyprus.
Question: Will there be a vote on the mission in Cyprus today?
Spokesman: I don't think it's expected today. When it's clear what the Council's schedule is, we'll let you know, but it's not expected to happen today.
Question: Yesterday, you said there were about 10 days devoted to the Cyprus talks but that the schedule was flexible. Just how patient are you with being flexible with the talks?
Spokesman: We have as much time as the parties might want to give to this process. So as long as they feel they're making progress and it's worth continuing the discussions, we're happy to facilitate them.
Question: I think you said last week that the Secretary-General expected the Government of Burundi to produce a report on the killings that happened there a couple of months ago. Has he received that report?
Spokesman: I think I said we expected the Minister to be coming to deliver that report. I haven't heard that that has happened, so let me check for you and get back to you.
Question: Is [the Secretary-General] scheduled to see the Minister today?
Spokesman: I think it's on his programme for today, but until it happens, I don't think we'll be able to give you anything more definitive.
Question: The White House has confirmed that a letter from President Clinton has been sent to the Secretary-General concerning the proximity talks. Do we know anything about the content of that letter?
Spokesman: Well, you came in late. I have already confirmed the receipt of that letter -- it came in on Friday -- and I said 'you'll have to ask the Americans if you want to know what the letter says.'
Briefing by Spokeswoman for General Assembly President
The General Assembly, this morning, is considering items pertaining to the return or restitution of cultural property to the countries of origin; the World Summit for Children; cooperation between the United Nations and the Organization of African Unity; strengthening of the coordination of humanitarian and disaster relief assistance of the United Nations; and the situation in Central America.
Addressing the Assembly on the return or restitution of cultural property to the countries of origin, President Theo-Ben Gurirab said it was time to return to their homes the priceless African art and icons and the cultural treasures illegally exported from other countries throughout the centuries. The cultural objects of a people formed an integral part of defining their identity, personality and expression. He intended to help keep this campaign alive and contribute to its success, not only for the return of African cultural objects but also for all other precious treasures illegally removed from their countries of origin. Copies of the statement are available in room 378. (See Press Release GA/SM/136.)
The Assembly then heard eight speakers, including Greece which introduced draft resolution A/54/L.47 on the item. Greece will chair informal consultations on the draft tomorrow afternoon.
Under this item, the Assembly has before it the report of the Director- General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on action taken by its Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to its Countries of Origin or its Restitution in Case of Illicit Appropriation (A/54/436). At its tenth session, held in Paris in January 1999, the Committee adopted nine recommendations relating to the issue of the Parthenon marbles between Greece and the United Kingdom; Turkey’s request to Germany for the return of the sphinx of Boguskoy; an International Code of Ethics for Dealers in Cultural Property; databases of stolen cultural property; endorsement of “Object-ID” as the international standard for recording minimal data on movable cultural property; establishment of an international fund to facilitate the restitution of stolen or illicitly exported cultural property; convening of a working group of experts to settle disputes concerning cultural heritage displaced during the Second World War; efforts to help trace and return the cultural and archaeological objects stolen and smuggled from Iraq; and sensitizing the youth to protect their environment and cultural heritage and mobilizing them against the destruction of heritage and against illicit traffic. The Committee’s draft resolution to UNESCO’s General Conference incorporates the various recommendations.
At the time of the briefing, the Assembly was hearing statements on follow-up to the World Summit for Children, before taking action on a draft resolution, introduced by Pakistan, with 116 co-sponsors (A/54/L.51). By the text, the Assembly would decide to convene, in September 2001, a special session to review the achievement of the goals of the World Summit for Children, and invite the participation of Heads of State/Government. It would decide to establish an open-ended preparatory committee to address organizational issues and the agenda, and to prepare for the outcome of the special session. That body would meet from 7 to 8 February 2000 in organizational session, and from 30 May to 2 June 2000 in a substantive session.
The Assembly is then scheduled to hear 13 speakers on cooperation between the United Nations and the Organization of African Unity, before taking action on a draft resolution, A/54/L.38, to be introduced by Algeria in its capacity as Chairman of the OAU. Among its provisions, the Assembly would call upon the United Nations to enhance its cooperation, coordination and exchange of information with the OAU in the areas of prevention of conflict through the promotion of a culture of peace, tolerance and harmonious relations in Africa, and in the peaceful settlement of disputes and maintenance of international peace and security in Africa, as provided for under Chapter VIII of the Charter of the United Nations. It would invite the United Nations to intensify its assistance to the OAU in strengthening the institutional and operational capacity of its Mechanism for Conflict Prevention, Management and Resolution in Africa in specific areas. It would invite the Secretary-General to develop new effective strategies for implementing the recommendations of the annual meeting of the secretariats of the two organizations.
The report of the Secretary-General on UN/OAU cooperation (A/54/484) points out that the Secretaries-General of the two organizations have, especially since 1997, expanded and strengthened the framework for cooperation. They have established a regular pattern of exchange of information and mutual briefings on key African questions with a view to coordinating initiatives and action. They have held discussions on the mechanisms that should be put in place to enhance their joint capacity for preventing and resolving conflicts in Africa and for coordinating their efforts. They took an important step in this connection when they agreed, in January 1997, to hold regular meetings twice a year, to discuss priority areas of cooperation and to coordinate their efforts. Subsequently, they reached an understanding that the meetings would take place immediately following the OAU Assembly of Heads of State and Government and early in the General Assembly session. The report also describes cooperation between the two organizations in the areas of peace and security, economic and social development and more.
The Assembly is also scheduled to take action on seven draft resolutions under agenda item 20, entitled “Strengthening of the coordination of humanitarian and disaster relief assistance of the United Nations, including special economic assistance”, to be introduced by Sweden, Tajikistan, Cameroon, Belarus and Argentina. They deal specifically with: strengthening of the coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance of the United Nations (A/54/L.54); special assistance to Tajikistan (A/54/L.49), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (A/54/L.53), Djibouti (A/54/L.56) and Somalia (A/54/L.57); strengthening of international cooperation and coordination of efforts to study, mitigate and minimize the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster (A/54/L.22/Rev.1); and participation of volunteers, ‘White Helmets’, in activities of the United Nations in the field of humanitarian relief, rehabilitation and technical cooperation for development (A/54/L.34/Rev.1).
As the final item, the Assembly is scheduled to consider a draft resolution on the United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala (MINUGUA)(A/54/L.27), action on which was deferred on 18 November pending a Fifth Committee report on the programme budget implications of renewing MINUGUA’s mandate from 1 January to 31 December 2000. That report (A/54/651) informs the Assembly that renewal of the mandate would cost $27,694,300.
Items not completed at this meeting will be taken up tomorrow morning. The Assembly will then take up item 46, on causes of conflict and the promotion of durable peace and sustainable development in Africa.
The President announced that, as the first item on Thursday morning, 9 December, the Assembly will consider the second report of the Credentials Committee (A/54/475/Add.1). That afternoon, it will take action on Sixth Committee reports.
This afternoon, the Second Committee (Economic and Financial) will take action on three draft resolutions, on prevention of corrupt practices and illegal transfer of funds (A/C.2/54/L.68), implementation of the outcome of the United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II) and implementation of the first United Nations Decade for the Eradication of Poverty, 1997-2006 (A/C.2/54/L.69).
The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) is, this morning, concluding its discussion on the financing of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo.
Tomorrow, the Ad Hoc Committee of the General Assembly for the Announcement of Voluntary Contributions to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) will meet at 11 a.m., in the Trusteeship Council Chamber. Assembly President Gurirab will open the meeting. On hand for the announcements of pledges and contributions will be UNRWA Commissioner-General Peter Hansen.
Concerning the appointments of the President, this morning he met with the Chairman of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions, Conrad Mselle. This was followed by a meeting with the Chief of the Lessons Learned Unit of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, Leonard Kapungu. This evening, the President will attend a reception hosted by the Permanent Representative of Italy, Ambassador Francesco Paolo Fulci, to bid farewell.
Spokesman: Any questions for Shirley? Have a good afternoon.
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