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United Nations Daily Highlights, 99-02-01

United Nations Daily Highlights Directory - Previous Article - Next Article

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


Monday, 1 February, 1999

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 warns violence in Kosovo could lead to all-out civil war.
  • Security Council sets up advisory panels to help implement its decisions on Iraq.
  • Secretary-General proposes global compact of shared values between United Nations and business leaders.
  • UN Human Rights Commissioner strongly condemns attacks on human rights defenders in Colombia.
  • Strong backing for UN environment agency urged as its governing body meets in Nairobi.
  • UN health agency's governing body gives green light to framework convention on tobacco control.
  • UN warns of "serious" humanitarian conditions in Sierra Leone.
  • UN Development Programme initiates high-level review of Africa's development needs.
  • UN refugee agency welcomes accession of Kazakhstan to 1951 refugee convention.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan is concerned the spread of violence in Kosovo could lead to an all-out civil war, which might have unpredictable repercussions for the entire region.

In a just released report to the Security Council on the humanitarian and human rights situation in Kosovo, the Secretary-General says violence can only lead to further suffering for the civilian population. Noting that full and unconditional acceptance of peaceful negotiations for a peaceful settlement is the only way to resolve the crisis in Kosovo, Mr. Annan urges the parties to engage in negotiations without delay or preconditions.

Referring to the massacre of 45 civilians in the village of Racak on 15 January, the Secretary-General says the perpetrators must be brought to justice to deter further violence and to give peace in Kosovo a chance. He urges Yugoslavia authorities to launch an urgent investigation with participation by international authorities.

The Racak massacre and the events surrounding it, the report says, appear indicative of the pattern of disproportionate use of force by Federal Republic of Yugoslavia authorities in retaliation for provocations by the Kosovo Albanian paramilitaries. The violence has been a major setback for the humanitarian operation, just when the Kosovo Verification Mission was helping create and consolidate conditions for the return of internally displaced people, even to difficult areas such as Malisevo, according to the report.

The Secretary-General calls on the Yugoslav authorities to cooperate with William Walker, the head of the Kosovo Verification Mission, and to honour their obligation to cooperate fully with the Prosecutor of the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

In an effort to assure full implementation of its resolutions on Iraq, the Security Council has decided to set up three panels to make recommendations on disarmament issues, humanitarian conditions, and the status of prisoners- of-war and Kuwaiti property.

The Council decided on Saturday to establish the three advisory panels, which will draw on a variety of views and experts, including UN agencies in the field. The panels will be chaired by Ambassador Celso Amorim of Brazil and make their recommendations by 15 April.

The panel on disarmament will focus on how to re-establish an effective disarmament and ongoing monitoring and verification regime in Iraq. The UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will participate.

The other two panels will assess current humanitarian conditions in the country and Iraq's compliance with Council resolutions on prisoners of war and Kuwaiti property.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has proposed that business leaders and the United Nations initiate a global compact of shared values and principles to give a human face to the global market.

Addressing the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Sunday, the Secretary-General said that globalization was a fact of life, but its fragility had been underestimated. The problem, he said, was that the spread of markets outpaced the abilities of societies and their political system to adjust to them, let alone to guide the course they took. "History teaches us that such an imbalance between the economic, social and political realms can never be sustained for very long," he stressed.

The Secretary-General, who concluded on Monday his ten-day trip to Europe, urged the business leaders to embrace, support and enact a set of core values in the areas of human rights, labour standards, and environmental practices. Noting that many of the business leaders were investors, employers and producers in dozens of countries around the world, Mr. Annan said they could uphold human rights directly by their own conduct of their businesses.

"Don't wait for every country to introduce laws protecting freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining," he said. He added that businesses could themselves make sure that they were not employing under- age children and not discriminating on grounds of race, creed, gender or ethnic origin in their hiring and firing policies . In the area of the environment, the Secretary-General said that business leaders could undertake initiatives to promote greater responsibility by encouraging the development and diffusion of environmentally friendly technologies.

The Secretary-General pledged the readiness of the relevant United Nations agencies, such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to assist the business leaders in incorporating these values and principles into their mission statements and corporate practices.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, on Monday strongly condemned the attacks on human rights defenders in Colombia and urged the country's authorities to thoroughly investigate these attacks and bring the culprits to justice.

In a statement issued following reports of the murder and kidnapping of human rights workers in Colombia, Ms. Robinson expressed concern at these attacks which, she said, came less than two months after the adoption by the UN General Assembly of the Declaration on the protection of human rights defenders.

According to reports, Julo Gonzales and Everardo de Jesus Puerta, who were members of the Comite de Solidaridad con los Prisioneros Politicos, were murdered by unidentified individuals as they travelled from the city of Medellin to Bogota to participate in a seminar on human rights. In another incident last Thursday, four other human rights defenders were kidnapped by men who identified themselves as "paramilitaries." The four were taken after the assailants had forced their way into offices of the Instituto Popular de Capacitacion, a human rights non-governmental organization in Medellin.

The High Commissioner for Human Rights recalled that during her visit to Colombia last October, she had witnessed for herself the level of insecurity human rights defenders faced in Colombia where in 1997 and 1998 alone 25 activists were assassinated. She said that in meetings with senior Government officials, including President Andres Pastrana, she had asked the authorities to publicly recognize the importance of the work of human rights defenders and to take effective steps to protect their lives and guarantee their work.

Environmental threats facing the world were of such magnitude and so universal that no one country or group of countries, nor one institution could tackle them alone, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said on Monday.

In a message to the 20th Session of the Governing Council of the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP), which is meeting in Nairobi, the Secretary- General said that, as an issue, the environment was clearly linked with many others on the UN agenda, from sustainable development to poverty eradication and peace-building.

Since environmental degradation and natural resource issues can be precursors to conflict, the Secretary-General said, UNEP's assessment and early-warning capabilities could make an indispensable contribution to the UN's peace-building efforts.

In his policy statement to the Governing Council, UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer said there had been significant progress to revitalize and restructure the agency so it could meet Governments' expectations and the complex challenges and risks facing the global environment.

The agency required adequate financial funding for its programme of work, he said. Most importantly, it required strong backing and cooperation from environment ministries, non-governmental organizations, business and industry. The proposed biennial budget of $119.4 million was the minimum to enable UNEP to regain the effectiveness, critical mass and operating capital essential to the execution of its work, Mr. Toepfer said.

Speaking to the press afterwards, Mr. Toepfer said the budget requested represented only a modest increase in the current biennium and was merely linked to inflation. "I don't believe $60 million a year for the global environmental voice is too much to ask for," he added.

The Executive Board of World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday gave momentum to a framework convention on tobacco control by adopting a resolution calling on the agency's 191 member States to participate in the drafting and negotiating the text of the convention

The resolution adopted at the closing of the 103rd session of the Board also recognizes the leadership of WHO in the field of tobacco control and its special project known as the Tobacco Free Initiative.

During the session, the Board heard expert testimony that at least 3.5 million people had died in 1998 as a result of smoking and other forms of tobacco use worldwide and that by 2030, the death toll would top 10 million a year, with 70 per cent of these deaths occurring in developing countries if the pandemic was not controlled.

In other actions, the Board expressed concern about the global burden caused by malaria which, it said posed a serious threat to human development and a significant cause of poverty and suffering, especially in the poorest countries. It welcomed the decision of the WHO Director- General to establish a Roll Back Malaria project and adopted a resolution which requested her to promote strategies and provide technical guidance to member States in their efforts to roll back malaria.

In another resolution adopted at its session, the WHO Executive Board reaffirmed the UN health agency's commitment to the global eradication of polio by the end of the year 2000. It noted that since the beginning of the global polio eradication campaign in 1988, the number of annually reported cases had fallen by 85 per cent and now stood at just over 3,000 cases.

Humanitarian conditions in Sierra Leone were very serious and could deteriorate if the current military and political situation continues, a UN official said in New York on Monday.

Kevin Kennedy, Chief of the Emergency Liaison Branch of the from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said at a press conference that aid agencies only had access to about a third of Sierra Leone and that there was little information about the situation in the northern two-thirds of the country.

Mr. Kennedy said humanitarian efforts were focusing on Freetown, where 3, 000 civilians had lost their lives, largely because of a deliberate campaign by rebels to terrorize the population, through forced amputations, shootings, house burnings and rape. The battle for the city of one million began on 6 January and had forced about 150,000 people to flee the eastern suburbs, where fighting continued, to the western part of town, he added.

The Sierra Leone Government, the UN and other aid agencies were providing assistance at six major sites in central and western Freetown, Mr. Kennedy said. The food crisis was still serious, but no longer acute since the UN World Food Programme and other agencies had begun a large distribution effort in the city. However, conditions in hospitals and clinics were desperate and medical, health and sanitation needs were the most acute, he added.

Mr. Kennedy was reporting on a UN mission which travelled to Sierra Leone from 19 to 28 January.

The UN Development Programme (UNDP) initiated a high-level review of development needs as its Resident Representatives in 45 African countries gathered in Cotonou, Benin, on Monday for a six-day examination of ways to reorient development approaches on the continent in the new millennium.

Participants in the meeting include the President of Benin, the Prime Minister of Cote d'Ivoire, government ministers from several other African countries, representatives of United Nations agencies and other development partners, including the European Union and the World Bank. The Organization of African Unity, the Economic Commission for Africa, and the African Development Bank are also participating in the meeting.

The Director of the New York-based UNDP Bureau for Africa, Thelma Awori, said that the bold economic policies which Africa had pursued in the past ten years, had helped to more clearly identify the problems that plagued the continent's economies and continued to undermine its development efforts. She identified low incomes, high levels of current expenditure, the debt burden, budget deficits and inflation as among the principal obstacles to development in Africa. Added to that, she said, today's conflicts in Africa were part of other situations which drained the continent's resources and threatened the region's prospects for the future.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on Monday welcomed the ratification by Kazakhstan of the main international instrument to protect refugees.

Kazakhstan, which on 15 January 1999 ratified the 1951 United Nations Convention and its 1967 Protocol relating to the status of refugees, became the fourth country in Central Asia to ratify the Convention following Tajikistan, Kyrgystan and Turkmenistan.

UNHCR estimates that there are up to 14,000 refugees and asylum- seekers in Kazakhstan, of whom 1,000 are registered with the authorities. The refugees are mainly from Afghanistan, Chechnya, in the Russian Federation, and Tajikistan. According to the UN refugee agency, about 450 persons have been recognized as refugees since April 1998 when the Kazakh authorities assumed responsibility for the refugee status determination procedure.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has launched a global campaign to encourage states to ratify the international agreements on refugees and stateless persons by the year 2000. To date, 137 countries have acceded to the 1951 Convention or its 1967 Protocol while forty-five have ratified the 1954 Convention relating to the status of stateless persons and only 19 have ratified the 1961 Convention on the reduction of statelessness.

Correction: In the Daily Highlights of Friday, 29 January 1999, references to "the High Commissioner for Human Rights" in the first and third paragraphs on page 7 in the story on the activities of the Special Rapporteur on mercenaries, should be replaced by "the United Nations Commission on Human Rights".

For information purposes only - - not an official record

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

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