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United Nations Daily Highlights, 99-02-05
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From: The United Nations Home Page at <http://www.un.org> - email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Friday, 5 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.
The UN General Assembly on Friday resumed its tenth special emergency session to consider illegal Israeli actions in occupied East Jerusalem and the rest of the occupied Palestinian Territory.
The resumption was requested by Jordan on behalf of the Arab Group of States and supported by the Movement of Non-Aligned countries.
The Assembly is expected to take action on a draft resolution introduced today by United Arab Emirates, on behalf of the Arab Group. The draft expresses grave concern at Israel's suspension of the Wye River Memorandum and reiterates its recommendation for a conference of High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention to enforce it in the occupied territories, including Jerusalem.
Addressing the Assembly, Nasser Al-Kidwa, the Permanent Observer of Palestine said Israel's decision to suspend implementation of the Memorandum and freeze negotiations on the final settlement had created a very dangerous situation. "We cannot allow the development of a legal and political void in our land and perhaps even the descent of the situation to what is was before the peace process".
Israel's Permanent Representative, Dore Gold, said the initiative to convene a conference of the High Contracting Parties was a political measure directed against Israel and not an effort to improve the conditions of Palestinians. It could create a mechanism that would be a precedent for selective politicized application of the Geneva Conventions to any conflict.
Israel, he said, had made tangible and, in some cases irreversible, concessions with the implementation of the Wye River Memorandum. "Israel fulfills its commitment and takes risks for peace".
Ibra Deguene Ka of Senegal, Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, said even before the ink was dry on the Wye River Memorandum, Israel had continued its settlement activities on Palestinian lands. The emergency sessions, he stressed, had been intended to bring world attention to the plight of the Palestinian people.
On the eve of negotiations for a peaceful settlement of the conflict in Kosovo, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson met in Geneva on Friday with members of the Contact Group to brief them on the work of her office in Kosovo.
Ms. Robinson conveyed to members of the Group, which comprises France, Germany, Italy, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States, her belief that human rights should be an important part of these negotiations.
Meanwhile, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Sadako Ogata was watching developments on the diplomatic front with great interest in the hope that the talks would lead to a political settlement. The refugee agency said that the fate of the people it was helping in Kosovo, as well as those who had fled the region, hinged very much on the outcome of the talks, which are scheduled to start in Rambouillet, France, this weekend.
A UNHCR spokeswoman recalled that Mrs. Ogata had repeatedly stressed that a political solution was required because the humanitarian crisis caused by the conflict in Kosovo could not be solved through humanitarian means. Should a settlement be reached, UNHCR remained committed to helping the people of the region in the context of promoting the return of displaced people and reconciliation.
Many differences had been narrowed during the latest round of talks on a United Nations proposal for wide-ranging autonomy for East Timor, according to the Secretary-General's Personal Representative, Jamsheed Marker.
Speaking at a press conference at UN Headquarters on Friday, Ambassador Marker said the plan submitted last October to Indonesia and Portugal was a constitutional framework or blueprint for self- administration either for a permanent or transitional autonomy. The negotiated document would now go to the Indonesian and Portuguese Foreign Ministers who were scheduled to meet over the weekend with the Secretary- General.
Remaining differences stemmed from the respective positions of the two sides, Ambassador Marker told reporters. Indonesia had proposed autonomy for East Timor as a definitive end solution, while Portugal would only consider autonomy for a transitional period until the people exercised the right to self-determination. Both sides, however, had agreed to examine and discuss common ground in between their positions that would help move the process forward.
According to Ambassador Marker, the document could form a useful basis for a constitution for East Timor. It included detail on such matters as electoral processes, judicial systems and citizenship. He said the document had been enriched through consultations with East Timorese leaders, including Xanana Gusmao. Timorese leaders from the diaspora and from East Timor had also met informally in Austria and were able to narrow down their differences, he added.
The process was still ongoing and differences remained, although the two sides had arrived at an understanding, Ambassador Marker said. He noted that in the meantime, there had been other developments, including Indonesia's announcement of what it called "the second option".
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Friday welcomed the ratification by Senegal of the Statute to establish a permanent International Criminal Court.
UN Spokesman Fred Eckhard said the Secretary-General hoped that this action of Senegal, which on February 2 had become the first state to ratify this international instrument, would serve to encourage other States to expedite the process of ratification.
The Statute, adopted by the United Nations Diplomatic Conference held in Rome from 15 June to 17 July 1998, will come into force when sixty states have ratified it. It provides for the trial of individuals accused of serious crimes of global concern such as genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. The Conference also adopted a resolution establishing the Preparatory Commission.
The Commission is scheduled to meet in two weeks to take up such issues as the elements of crimes and the rules of procedure and evidence. It is also expected to prepare proposals for a provision on aggression, including the definition and the elements of the crime of aggression and the conditions under which the International Criminal Court shall exercise its jurisdiction with regard to this crime.
The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda on Friday sentenced a former militia leader to 15 years in prison for his part in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.
Omar Serushago had been the first leader of the Interahamwe militia to plead guilty to genocide and crimes against humanity committed during the massacres of mainly Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Rwanda.
Last Friday, Mr. Serushago had pleaded with the tribunal to give him a lenient sentence for his role in the genocide. He also tearfully asked for forgiveness for his crimes from the people of Rwanda, especially the Tutsi community. Holding the Bible and Koran books, Mr. Serushago had said that he also prayed for the restoration of peace in Rwanda.
The prosecution had asked the tribunal to sentence the accused to a prison term of not less than 25 years because of the seriousness of his crimes, his participation in their commission, and his direct responsibility for the death of 37 people when he was a leader of the militia in Gisenyi.
However, the prosecution had noted that there were mitigating factors in the case, including Mr. Serushago's assistance to the tribunal in the Nairobi-Kigali operation in Kenya which resulted in the arrest of 7 people in 1997. The court also heard that he had agreed to testify against other accused persons apart from the fact that he voluntarily surrendered in Cote d'Ivoire on 9 June 1998, promptly pleaded guilty and was remorseful.
The population of Cambodian refugees still in Thailand has fallen below 20, 000 for the first time since the summer of 1997, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
UNHCR said on Friday that it had assisted 15,000 Cambodians to voluntarily repatriate to their country. A further 11,000 in Phu Noi camp had gone back spontaneously just over the past two weeks. The camp was closed on 2 February following the return to Cambodia of its remaining population.
Meanwhile, the UN refugee agency said it was concerned about the risk posed by the extensive presence of landmines in return areas in Cambodia, especially in Samlot, Anglong Veng and Samrong districts. UNHCR said that it was supporting mine awareness training for refugees in the camps in Thailand and after their return to Cambodia. The UN agency is also supporting the clearance of mines from principal repatriation routes and arrival points and is engaged in an emergency mine clearance and demarcation of mine fields within returnee communities.
The UN World Food Programme (WFP) said on Friday that its operation to feed 5.8 million victims of floods in China needed urgent international support because contributions had fallen short by more than 50 per cent of its total requirements.
Rains which started in March 1998 caused flooding in central China affecting 223 million people, a fifth of the population of the People's Republic of China in 29 provinces mostly along the Yangtze River and in the northeast. Chinese officials estimate that more than 4,000 people were killed and over 13 million evacuated as a result of the worst floods in the country since 1954.
Else Larsen, WFP's Country Representative in China, expressed her appreciation to Denmark, which became the latest donor to the relief operation by contributing an equivalent of about $154,000. Ms. Larsen added that despite the money from Denmark, her agency still needed more than 55 per cent of the total cost in order to meet its goals of feeding the most vulnerable people and to help stop them from falling deeper into debt before their main cash crop was planted in March.
WFP said that to avoid delays in the delivery of food, the government of China would, in return for confirmed international donor pledges of wheat to WFP, provide rice for immediate distribution to pay for people who are involved in "food for work" projects. The projects include building shelters, restoring drinking water wells, clearing land, de-silting channels and renovating farm roads.
A two-year global effort that will outline a research agenda on ageing for the twenty-first century has been launched in Vienna at a meeting that brought together experts from 14 countries.
The meeting, held under the auspices of the United Nations programme on ageing from 1-3 February, was sponsored by the Novartis Foundation for Gerontological Research. The aim of the research agenda discussed at the meeting is to generate scientifically sound data to feed government policies worldwide, which will translate the demographic revolution into richer and meaningful lives for all. Delegates agreed that the fundamental purpose driving that agenda must be an improvement in the quality of life. At this early stage of the agenda, experts are still wrestling with a universally understood explanation for quality of life and how this can be measured.
The meeting stressed a need for urgent action in preparing the world for a dramatic increase in older persons during the next century. According to United Nations projections, every third person on earth will be aged 60 years and over by the year 2050.
The forum, held at the beginning of the International Year of Older Persons, also stressed that not only governments, but individuals, families and communities must be aware that decisions made today for the future can be investments yielding huge returns for a better and longer life.
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