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United Nations Daily Highlights, 98-08-05

United Nations Daily Highlights Directory - Previous Article - Next Article

From: The United Nations Home Page at <> - email:


Wednesday, 5 August, 1998

This daily news round-up is prepared by the Central News Section of the Department of Public Information. The latest update is posted at approximately 6:00 PM New York time.


  • Secretary-General reports "good progress" on East Timor talks; Communiqu‚ speaks of wide-ranging autonomy.
  • Secretary-General postpones planned trip to Portugal for one day in order to attend Security Council consultations on Iraq.
  • Security Council members call on parties to resume dialogue in wake of escalating conflict in Afghanistan.
  • Secretary-General urges everyone in Democratic Republic of the Congo to refrain from acts against any group.
  • UN High Commissioner for Human Rights says UN monitors are looking into allegations of mass graves in Kosovo.
  • Economic and Social Council requests International Court of Justice for opinion on case of UN human rights expert.
  • President of International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda says judgements will soon be rendered in genocide cases.
  • UN Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs reports worsening situation.
  • President of General Assembly visits headquarters of United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon.
  • Secretary-General says indigenous people must enjoy equal rights, with opportunity to maintain distinct cultures.

"We have made very good progress at this round of talks on East Timor," Secretary-General Kofi Annan told correspondents on Wednesday, reporting on the results of meetings he convened with the participation of the Foreign Minister of Portugal, Jaime Gama, and the Foreign Minister of Indonesia, Ali Alatas.

The Ministers adopted a six-point Communiqu‚ at the end of their two-day talks. In it, they agreed to hold in-depth discussions on Indonesia's proposals for special status, "based on a wide-ranging autonomy for East Timor without prejudice to their basic positions of principle." Toward that end, they requested their senior officials to intensify discussions under the chairmanship of the Secretary-General's Personal Representative, Jamsheed Marker. "We will start our discussions and hope that we can come to some understanding before the end of the year," said the Secretary- General.

The Ministers also agreed to involve the East Timorse more closely in the search for a solution, according to the Communiqu‚. They welcomed the Secretary-General's intention to intensify his consultations with East Timorese representatives in East Timor and outside in order to hear their views and keep them abreast of the developments in the tripartite talks.

The Secretary-General will leave for Portugal shortly, where he will meet with a number of East Timorese, including Monsignor Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo and Jose Ramos-Horta, winners of the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize. Both Bishop Belo and Mr. Ramos-Horta have participated actively in the All- Inclusive Intra-East Timorese Dialogue facilitated by the Secretary- General. The Ministers also agreed that the All-Inclusive Intra-East Timorese Dialogue should resume by this October.

Discussing other aspects of the East Timorese issue, the Ministers took note of the recent positive developments in Indonesia, particularly the Government's intention to further gradually reduce the level of its military presence in East Timor and to expedite the release of East Timorese political prisoners.

At a press conference, Mr. Alatas was asked if Xanana Gusmao would be one of the prisoners whose release would be expedited. He replied that Mr. Gusmao would not qualify for that amnesty because he did not only engage in political activities, but also in criminal acts. "However, we have also said at the same time that his is a special case," Mr. Alatas said, adding "we do visualize the release of Xanana Gusmao as part and parcel of an overall solution to the East Timor question, which we hope will now come as soon as we agree on that solution."

The Ministers also agreed to establish interest sections in friendly embassies in each other's capitals by the end of 1998 and to relax their visa policies towards each other's nationals. Mr. Gama said that his country would use the Mission of the Netherlands for that purpose, while Mr. Alatas said that although Indonesia had not decided where its diplomats would work, the Government was making contacts with Thailand on the possibility of using that country's premises.

The next meeting of the two sides under the chairmanship of the Secretary- General's Personal Representative will take place in New York by the end of September.

Meanwhile in Geneva, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, said her Office was working to conclude a memorandum of understanding with Indonesia.

Ms. Robinson told reporters that it would be important to have "a human rights office in Jakarta with access to all parts of the country and to East Timor." She added that "there are many very serious issues of human rights in that region." In particular, Ms. Robinson expressed concern about past allegations of rape of ethnic Chinese women in Indonesia.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Wednesday decided to postpone a planned trip to Portugal by 24 hours in order to be present when the Security Council discusses Iraq on Thursday.

The announcement was made by the Secretary-General's Spokesman, Juan Carlos Brandt, who said that Mr. Annan had "received requests from members of the Security Council that it would be perhaps useful for him to be present during the consultations tomorrow."

The Council will be briefed by Richard Butler, the Executive Chairman of the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) charged with dismantling Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. The Secretary-General met with Mr. Butler on Wednesday.

Mr. Butler is returning from Baghdad following the breakdown of talks with Iraqi officials. During the talks, UNSCOM had presented its assessment of the results of the schedule of work that it had agreed on with Iraq in June. According to UNSCOM, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz did not accept that assessment and asked that Mr. Butler immediately present a report to the Security Council stating that all the disarmament work had been done and that no more proscribed weapons and capabilities remained in Iraq.

Mr. Butler had replied that currently, due to the insufficient level of verification of Iraq's claim, UNSCOM could not present such a report to the Security Council. Instead Mr. Butler had offered Mr. Aziz another accelerated work schedule for the next 5 - 6 weeks before UNSCOM's October report to the Security Council. The new schedule was not accepted by Mr. Aziz who, according to UNSCOM, said he saw no point in having further discussions during the visit. Mr. Butler had therefore decided to fly back to New York.

Members of the Security Council on Wednesday called on the parties in Afghanistan to resume a peaceful dialogue.

The Council was briefed by United Nations officials on the current situation emerging in the northern part of Afghanistan as a result of the latest offensive by the Taliban. "The Security Council is deeply concerned about the dangerous escalation of the conflict and expressed the need to end the bloodshed," Council President Danilo Turk of Slovenia told reporters following consultations.

Gravely concerned about the serious deterioration of the humanitarian situation in the country, Council members deplored the expulsion of international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from Kabul, according to Ambassador Turk. He said Council members supported efforts under way to create conditions for the provision and distribution of humanitarian assistance by the United Nations and NGOs.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Wednesday urged all concerned in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to refrain from acts against any segment of the population and to respect the human rights of all.

In a statement issued through his Spokesman, the Secretary-General indicated his availability "to contribute to the restoration of peace and stability in the region in any way it is deemed useful."

"The Secretary-General has been following closely and with great concern the serious developments in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which threaten the stability of the region and further compromise its reconstruction and development," said his Spokesman, Juan Carlos Brandt.

The Secretary-General reaffirmed the need to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and called on the regional leaders to do their utmost to prevent the crisis from widening and to promote a peaceful settlement. "He appeals to all concerned in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to refrain from acts of persecution, harassment or discrimination against any segment of the population, and to respect the human rights of all," Mr. Brandt said.

Meanwhile, the Security Council was briefed on the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo on Wednesday. Council President Danilo Turk of Slovenia told reporters that Council members supported the territorial integrity and national sovereignty of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as of all other countries in the region. "The Security Council is concerned at the violence reported in the past few days and appeals especially for respect for the safety of civilians and of humanitarian personnel in the area," Ambassador Turk said.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has indicated that UN monitors are looking into reports of mass graves in Kosovo.

Monitors from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights are currently working out of Belgrade as talks continue with the authorities of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia on the possibility of opening an office in Pristina.

Speaking to reporters in Geneva on Wednesday, Ms. Robinson described the "very difficult circumstances" under which the monitors were working. "They report fairly and objectively and impartially as on the situation as professional human rights officers," she said. Monitors had been tracking the "huge problem" of missing persons, and had been reporting on abductions of Serb civilians as well as problems facing the Albanian majority populations. They had also been seeking further information on deaths in detention and on the harassment of the Albanian population, as well as harassment of relief workers.

"These may seem -- and inevitably are -- modest because we have a small office," said the High Commissioner. She noted that staff were operating in extremely difficult conditions, adding "I have to say that the courage and conditions under which they operate are quite remarkable."

The Economic and Social Council on Wednesday decided to request the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to provide, on a priority basis, an advisory opinion on the case of a United Nations human rights expert being sued for defamation in a Malaysian court.

In particular, the Council sought information on the applicability of the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations in the case of the Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on the independence of judges and lawyers, Param Cumaraswamy.

Adopting its decision without a vote, the Council requested the International Court of Justice to determine the legal obligations of Malaysia in the case. It called upon the Government of Malaysia to ensure that all judgements and proceedings in the matter in the Malaysian courts were stayed, pending receipt of the Court's advisory opinion, which shall be accepted as decisive by the parties.

Mr. Cumaraswamy, a Malaysian jurist, is being sued by two commercial companies and a lawyer in Malaysia as a result of a published article based on an interview he gave in November 1995 to International Commercial Litigation, a magazine published in the United Kingdom but circulated also in Malaysia. In the interview, Mr. Cumaraswamy commented on certain litigations that had been carried out in Malaysian courts. The two companies asserted the article contained defamatory words that had "brought them into public scandal, odium and contempt."

The Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations is designed to protect various categories of persons, including experts on mission for the United Nations from all types of interference by national authorities.

Judge Laity Kama, the President of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, said the Tribunal would render its first judgements "in the very near future."

Speaking to reporters at United Nations Headquarters in New York on Wednesday, Judge Kama said this would mark the first time that an international criminal tribunal would be applying the 1948 Genocide Convention.

Among the cases coming to a close are those of Jean-Paul Akeyesu, the former Bourgmestre of Taba, and Jean Kambanda, the former Prime Minister of the Interim Government of Rwanda. Mr. Akayesu, who was arrested in Lusaka on 10 October 1996, is facing charges of genocide, crimes against humanity, and violations of the Geneva Conventions. Mr. Kambanda has pleaded guilty to six counts, including genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide and public incitement to genocide, as well as crimes against humanity.

Mr. Kama told reporters that the Tribunal now has 35 detainees at its detention facility in Arusha, United Republic of Tanzania. "We have a prime minister, several ministers, colonels that had high-level posts, and businessmen who were involved in political matters and who were presumed to have conceived of, organized and participated in the tragedy that took place in Rwanda."

The Tribunal was set up in 1994 by the Security Council to prosecute persons responsible for genocide and other serious violations of humanitarian law committed in the territory of Rwanda, and Rwandan citizens responsible for such violations in the territory of neighbouring States, during 1994.

The three-member Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories has reported a worsening situation in several critical areas.

The Special Committee just completed a nine-day field mission to three countries in the region which included interviews with witnesses to human- rights situations in occupied Gaza, West Bank, Jerusalem, and the Syrian Arab Golan. In reaching its conclusions, the Special Committee also cited communications it had received.

During a trip that began on 21 July to Egypt, Jordan, and Syria, the Committee received testimony on Israeli settlement policy, confiscation of land, closures, treatment of prisoners and detainees, revocation of residency permits in Jerusalem. It also examined the situation of children, water supply for domestic and agricultural use, health conditions in the occupied territories, movement of goods, and the general economic situation in the area.

The panel interviewed witnesses from the occupied regions. It noted that the particular policies and the implementation of intricate measures and regulations by the Israeli authorities appeared to the Committee to have immeasurably affected the lives and well-being of Palestinians and Syrian Arabs. The effects were such, the Committee pointed out, that they called into question the Israeli actions.

While in Egypt from 24 to 25 July, the Special Committee met in Cairo with two Foreign Ministry officials, Naila Gabr, Head of the Human Rights Department, and Fayez Noseir, Head of the Department for Palestinian Affairs. Members also met with a representative of the League of Arab States, Dr. Hitti. The panel heard testimony from witnesses from the West Bank and Gaza.

In Jordan from 26 to 28 July, the Special Committee met in Amman with Ibrahim Badran, Director-General of the Department of Palestinian Affairs, and with Rajab Sugairy, Director of International Organizations of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Committee heard testimony of witnesses from the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem. The Committee made a visit to the King Hussein Bridge where it heard testimony from several Palestinians who had just crossed into Jordan.

In Syria from 29 to 31 July, the Special Committee was received in Damascus by the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Dr. Nasser Kaddour, and by Klovis Khoury, Director of International Organizations. The Committee visited Quneitra Province bordering the occupied Syrian Arab Golan and met with the Governor of Quneitra. The members heard witnesses who provided information on the current situation in the Syrian Arab Golan. The Special Committee also witnessed an exchange through megaphones of greetings between long-separated relatives near the village of Majdal Shams.

Members of the Special Committee are: John de Saram, Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations in New York, as Chairman; Absa Claude Diallo, Permanent Representative and Ambassador of Senegal to the United Nations Office at Geneva; and Ambassador-at-large Abdul Majid Mohamed of Malaysia.

The President of the General Assembly, Hennadiy Udovenko of Ukraine, visited the headquarters of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) on Wednesday.

In a speech to UNIFIL staff, Mr. Udovenko recalled that the Security Council had just recently extended the Force's mandate. He said the Council's decision was "another strong reaffirmation of the fact that the Force continues to contribute in a very real and meaningful way to stability and to the protection of the civilian population."

Noting that UNIFIL's involvement in the area spanned 20 years, Mr. Udovenko called this "two decades of noble work in trying to limit the conflict and shield the inhabitants of the area from the worst effects of the violence." He said the UNIFIL staff provided a vivid example of United Nations peacekeeping at its best.

"We should not forget, however, that those two decades have been also marked by peril and tragedy," Mr. Udovenko noted. He recalled that since the establishment of UNIFIL in 1978, 76 of its members had been killed and over 300 had been wounded. "I am deeply troubled by the high level of casualties suffered by UNIFIL and I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to all those who sacrificed their lives while serving in the Force," said the General Assembly President. He called his visit "a sobering look at the real-life conditions where UNIFIL is performing its difficult and dangerous task."

Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Wednesday called for the international community to ensure that indigenous people enjoy their human rights.

"As the international community endeavours to give all peoples the possibility to live in conditions of dignity and justice, it must ensure that indigenous peoples also enjoy equal rights and treatment, while being given the opportunity of maintaining their cultural distinctiveness," the Secretary-General said in a message marking the International Day of the World's Indigenous People.

In the statement, read on his behalf by Marta Mauras, the Director, Executive Office of the Secretary-General, Mr. Annan said the Day offered an opportunity to reflect upon the diversity of indigenous cultures and reaffirm the international community's commitment to the world's indigenous people, wherever they live. "It is an opportunity to raise public awareness about indigenous people's distinctive ways of life, languages, customs, and traditions, as well as their contribution to culture worldwide," he said. "Many of these are enjoying renewed recognition and rebirth; but others are facing marginalization and threats to their development," he noted.

The United Nations system is increasingly active in promoting the rights of indigenous peoples and developing programmes to bring lasting benefits to these communities. Member States and indigenous peoples are now examining a draft declaration which would set out the rights which all indigenous people should enjoy.

As part of commemorations for the Day, which is traditionally observed on 8 August, a traditional pipe ceremony was carried out by Arvol Looking Horse, of the Lakota tribe and the nineteenth generation of "Keeper of the Sacred Buffalo Calf Pipe". Following a musical presentation, Ghanaian Chief Nana Osei Boakye Yiadom II said a blessing for children. A ceremonial presentation was also conducted by Jose Luis Piaroa, an elder and community leader from the Venezuelan Amazon. In addition, there was a day-long panel discussion of language and education, which is this year's theme of the International Decade for the World's Indigenous People (1995-2004).

For information purposes only - - not an official record

From the United Nations home page at <> - email:

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