3 April 1997

Press Briefing



Fred Eckhard, Spokesman for the Secretary-General, began today's noon briefing by addressing the situation in eastern Zaire. He announced that the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was continuing negotiations with the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (ADFL) and the Government of Rwanda concerning "the mode and the timing" of the repatriation of about 100,000 refugees currently near Kisangani. The ADFL, he added, "has still not responded to a request sent in writing to ADFL leader Laurent Kabila on 29 March requesting that refugees be repatriated by air and/or by land via Kisangani rather than by land alone via Ubundu, as reportedly decided by Mr. Kabila last week".

Mr. Eckhard said that "we realize that there are genocidal killers among these refugees. These people are a minority. The majority of those refugees in eastern Zaire are innocent women and children. And so we call on Mr. Kabila to let the relief organizations do their work, and to stop the killing of these people -- which is what it is -- which has been going on for the last several months." The situation had stabilized somewhat, as a result of the ADFL allowing the relief organizations access to those people in order to establish their temporary camps. But, "until there is a comprehensive evacuation and stabilization plan approved, there will not be an adequate response to the humanitarian need", he said. The plan submitted to Mr. Kabila was available in the Spokesman's Office.

Mr. Eckhard said that in Geneva today the Commission on Human Rights had adopted a resolution on the "question of the death penalty" by a vote of 27 in favour to 11 against, with 14 abstentions. The text, introduced by Italy with the support of several countries, called on those States which still maintained the death penalty to restrict the number of offenses for which the death penalty may be imposed, and to consider suspending executions with a view to completely abolishing them. It also called upon the States parties to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that had not yet done so to ratify the Optional Protocol of the Covenant aimed at abolishing the death penalty. Further information was available on the third floor, along with the text of the resolution.

Also from Geneva, there was an informal note on the press conference given by Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on violence against women, Mr. Eckhard said. Among other points, she made recommendations concerning the issues of rape and sexual harassment. She also called for comprehensive legislative amendments by governments to sensitize the criminal justice system, especially the police, the judiciary

and the prosecutors, and urged governments to engage in a partnership with non-governmental organizations. The informal note was also available in the Spokesman's Office.

Mr. Eckhard said that the Elections Commission was formally inducted in Liberia yesterday. All the previously nominated seven members of the Commission, with Henry Andrews as Chairman, were sworn in by the Chairperson of the Council of State. The international technical advisers to the Commission, composed of three representatives of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Organization of African United (OAU) and the United Nations, were also inducted. The United Nations representative was Amare Tekle. The Elections Commission's role was to ensure that elections were conducted on 30 May of this year as planned. It was expected that the electoral law would be promulgated in 10 days to two weeks. To assist the electoral process, the United Nations had increased electoral officers and was in the process of dispatching a larger number of electoral monitors. There were now 92 United Nations Observers deployed throughout the country, joined by the 10,000 strong Economic Community of West African States' Monitoring Observer Group (ECOMOG).

On a number of other developments, the Spokesman said that the peace process in Guatemala continued to "go well". Some 57 former Unidad Revolucionaria Nacional Guatemalteca (URNG) combatants had begun their training at the National Police Academy to become body guards for former rebel commanders, as called for under the peace plan.

Mr. Eckhard said he had also available in his office some information he had received from Eric Falt, of the United Nations Office of the Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, in Baghdad, which included statistical hand-outs on the "oil-for-food" operation there.

Also available, he continued, was a press release from the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in Montreal announcing the fiftieth anniversary on 4 April of the coming into force of the what was known as the "Chicago Convention". That treaty, he said, was the legal document drafted in wartime during late 1944, when 52 allied and neutral States had met in Chicago to consider the future of civil aviation and plan for its structured development in peacetime. The Convention established the fundamental principles of safety, efficiency and regularity of civil aviation, and had created ICAO to promote and administer those principles.

Mr. Eckhard said that the Security Council was meeting this morning to discuss its programme of work for the month of April. The Council had perhaps just begun its discussion of the Secretary-General's report on the United Nations Support Mission in Haiti (UNSMIH). It was also expected to take up the matter of the unauthorized flight by Libyan Airways to Saudi Arabia. A formal meeting to read a presidential statement on that subject was possible

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later today or tomorrow. (The Spokesman's Office later announced that the Council had deferred consideration of that item until Friday.)

Turning to other matters at Headquarters, Mr. Eckhard announced that two Member States had been added to the list of those that had paid their United Nations dues in full for 1997: Jamaica and Myanmar, each with a payment of just over $106,000. There were now 48 Member States paid in full.

The United Nations Iraq-Kuwait Observation Mission (UNIKOM) would hold a meeting of troop-contributing nations this afternoon at 3:30 p.m. in Conference Room 3, he said.

The Secretary-General's worldwide radio broadcast of yesterday was now in transcript form, electronically available on the following Internet address: http://www.internetbroadcast.com/unsecgen.htm. It could also be retrieved via the United Nations Radio bulletin board by dialing (212) 963-3777 and pressing 161. Later today, a transcript and photographs from the broadcast would appear on the United Nations home page on the Internet, which had a simpler address: http://www.un.org.

Mr. Eckhard announced that the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Yale University would hold an international conference on "Democracy, Development and Governments" on the University's campus at New Haven, Connecticut, tomorrow and Saturday, 4 and 5 April. The United Nations Correspondents' Association (UNCA) had asked him to announce that they would be hosting a press briefing in the UNCA lounge today at 1 p.m. on nuclear issues at the United Nations. Dan Plesch and Nicola Butler of the British American Security Information Council would talk to reporters about the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and other nuclear-related issues. All media were invited to attend, and a free lunch would be served.

Asked about arrangements for reporters to receive documents from the Human Rights Commission, Mr. Eckhard said they were available on the optical disk system (ODS) in the Dag Hammarskjöld Library, adding that though that may not be convenient, there was not yet another system for journalists in place. There had been various discussions, but the issue was still unresolved. Pressed further about obtaining those documents, the Spokesman reiterated that they had been transmitted electronically and were available nearby in the library, but offered to further discuss the matter after the briefing with the correspondent.

To a question about what was supposed to take place in South Africa this weekend, the Spokesman said that the understanding that the parties had put on paper in Lomé, Togo, was that they would simultaneously implement a cease-fire and begin talks. The Joint United Nations/OAU Special Representative for the Great Lakes Region, Mohamed Sahnoun, would lead those talks in South Africa. The delegations from both sides were on their way to South Africa today or

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were already there. It was expected that by the weekend, they would have preliminary discussions about when the official talks and the cease-fire would take place. The initial contacts they would make in the coming days would not constitute the official talks with which the cease-fire must happen simultaneously.

In a follow-up question, the reporter asked if those initial talks were expected to be held in South Africa, to which Mr. Eckhard replied "yes". Asked if there would be a summit meeting with Mr. Kabila and President Mobutu Sese Seko, he said that, as far as he now knew, the initial contacts would not involve the principals, but rather the delegations representing them.

Asked about the Secretary-General's views on the dispute over parking regulations, the Spokesman said that the Secretary-General felt "it ought to be resolved amicably and quickly, which so far it has not been". Asked further if the Secretary-General had had any contact with New York City authorities, he said he was not aware of any. Regarding whether or not the Secretary-General sent a letter to the city's Mayor, Mr. Eckhard said he did not know and would have to check.

To a question on the Secretary-General on UNSMIH, Mr. Eckhard said he had nothing to say concerning Haiti today. Asked if the Secretary-General would be conducting interviews of candidates for the position of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in the presence of television cameras, as the reporter felt he had recently done, the Spokesman said he could not acknowledge that the purpose of the meeting was to discuss that particular job, adding that it was known that the Secretary-General was looking for a new High Commissioner for Human Rights, and that he would prefer to have a woman in that position. He had not made up his mind, and since he had cast a wide net, there would be many candidates for him to consider.

Samsiah Abdul-Majid, spokeswoman for the President of the General Assembly, Razali Ismail (Malaysia), said that the Assembly would meet this afternoon to consider reports of its Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary), which had concluded the first part of its resumed session last Thursday, 27 March.

Among the reports to be considered today, she said, was a draft resolution on the scale of assessments for the period 1998-2000. Reaffirming the principle that the expenses of the Organization should be apportioned according to capacity to pay, the Assembly would request the Committee on Contributions to present eight proposals based on a range of elements and criteria proposed by delegations. Of the eight sets of elements and criteria, only one called for a reduction of the existing ceiling rate from 25 per cent to 20 per cent. The other proposals kept the ceiling rate at 25 per cent.

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The Committee on Contributions, which advised the Assembly on the apportionment of the Organization's expenses, would be requested to present the proposals to the Assembly at its next regular session, she added.

Ms. Abdul-Majid said that the Assembly would also have before it a seven-part draft resolution on human resources management touching on a number of topics, such as the role of the Office of Human Resources Management of the Secretariat, human resources planning, recruitment, status of women and career development.

She said that the Committee had recommended among other measures that the Assembly request the Secretary-General to issue specific administrative instructions to establish clearly the responsibility and accountability of programme managers for proper use of human resources. The Secretary-General would also be requested to restrict the practice of temporary appointments of one year or more to temporary needs, for example, replacement of staff on field mission assignment and authorized leave; and to appoint more women at the D-1 level and above so as to reduce the gender gap and to reach the mandated target of 25 per cent women in senior decision-making level positions as soon as possible. In addition, the Assembly would endorse in principle the introduction of a dual-track system of career and non-career appointments and request the Secretary-General to submit to its fifty-third session detailed proposals for the implementation of that system.

Another item was on the financing of the Military Observer Group for the United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala (MINUGUA), the spokeswoman said. The Fifth Committee was recommending that the Assembly request the Secretary-General to establish a special account for the Group and appropriate and apportion among Member States $4 million for the period 15 February to 31 May. She recalled that the attachment of the Group to the Mission was authorized by the Security Council in resolution 1094 (1997) of 20 January.

On gratis personnel, Ms. Abdul-Majid said, the Assembly would decide to defer consideration of the report of the Secretary-General and the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) on gratis personnel until the second part of the resumed session, which was scheduled to begin on 12 May. Pending a final decision, the Assembly would request the Secretary-General not to expand the number of gratis personnel currently implementing mandated activities mentioned in his report. The report of the ACABQ indicated that there were 443 such personnel as of 30 January 1997. Of those, 125 were in the Department of Peace-keeping Operations, 112 in the United Nations Special Commission for the Disarmament of Iraq (UNSCOM), 66 in the Department of Humanitarian Affairs, 87 for the International Tribunals for the former Yugoslav and Rwanda, and 49 in other departments. The Assembly would request the Secretary-General to review the proposed guidelines included in his report for the acceptance of gratis personnel, and to submit a report before 12 May for consideration during the second resumed session.

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In a final question, Mr. Eckhard was asked if the Secretary-General had any comment on that draft resolution which the Fifth Committee had endorsed and which was a massive vote of no confidence in the management of the United Nations. The Spokesman said that at this time, the Secretary-General had no comments.

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For information media. Not an official record.