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United Nations Daily Highlights, 99-02-12

United Nations Daily Highlights Directory - Previous Article - Next Article

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


Friday, 12 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.


  • Alarmed at civilian toll in armed conflict, Security Council calls for measures to uphold humanitarian law.
  • UN's Hague Forum concludes work, adds momentum to international efforts in population and development.
  • UN Secretary-General concerned by precarious security situation in Tajikistan.
  • UN agency warns of imminent food crisis in capital of Sierra Leone.
  • Amid fears, Kosovo civilians are drawn back to areas with international presence, UN refugee agency reports.
  • Decade after Soviet withdrawal, Afghans remain world's single largest refugee group: UNHCR.
  • Mali becomes first country to sign formal agreement with UN to enforce Rwanda Tribunal's sentences.

Concerned by the growing civilian toll in armed conflicts, the Security Council on Friday strongly condemned the deliberate targeting of civilians and demanded an end to such violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.

In a Presidential statement, read out by Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy of Canada, which holds the Presidency for February, the Council condemned all attempts to incite violence against civilians and called on States to fulfill their obligations to take action at the national level.

The Council expressed its willingness to respond to situations in which civilians, as such, have been targeted or humanitarian assistance to them has been deliberately obstructed.

In an effort to enhance international cooperation, the Council asked the Secretary-General to report by September to improve the physical and legal protection of civilians. The report should identify how the Council could help the implementation of existing humanitarian law and also identify any significant gaps in existing legal norms.

The Council stressed the importance of all Member States -- particularly those involved in the manufacture and marketing of weapons - - restricting arms transfers that could provoke or prolong armed conflicts or aggravate existing tensions or conflicts in Africa. It urged international cooperation in combatting illegal arms sales in Africa.

Earlier on Friday, all Council Members took part in an extensive debate on concrete proposals for protecting civilian's rights during armed conflict. They were joined by the Executive Director of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), Carol Bellamy, and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Olara Otunnu. The President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Cornelio Sommaruga, also took part in the discussion.

Ms. Bellamy said children UNICEF had helped nurture, immunize and educate were being targeted and brutalized, recruited as killers, pressed into service as porters and sexual slaves, or maimed and traumatized. The impunity of war crimes, especially against children, must be challenged. Early warning and preventive action for children, and deployment of human rights monitors in preparatory missions and field operations, should be fundamental to Security Council efforts to promote peace, she said.

Mr. Otunnu stressed that children's rights must be considered during peace negotiations. Schools, hospitals and playgrounds should be war- free zones. Even when conflicts could not be ended, ceasefires should be promoted so children could be evacuated. The world community must ensure that parties in conflicts do not recruit children or target civilians, he said.

The forum on population and development issues concluded in the Hague on Friday with delegates from 177 states approving a report covering such vital areas as creation of an enabling environment for population programmes, gender equality and the empowerment of women, reproductive rights and health, strengthening partnerships and financing.

The forum had been held to appraise the implementation of the Programme of Action adopted at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD). Addressing the closing session of the forum Dr. Nafis Sadik, the head of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), said that the most important achievement of the meeting was showing that the ICPD "was far more than a piece of paper" and that it worked.

The Executive Director of UNFPA said that in all of the countries represented at the forum some steps had been taken to make the ICPD a reality and its implementation was moving ahead rapidly. She said that participants had demonstrated that population was a very broad concept which encompassed action by communities to ensure that women did not need to fear violence and included policies to ensure that social programmes were given due priority in allocating national development resources.

Dr. Sadik pointed out, however, that a number of challenges and obstacles still remained. Notable among these, she added, were a weak political commitment to the right of adolescents to reproductive health and different approaches which led societies to different conclusions. Other reproductive health issues which needed attention, Dr. Sadik added, were the needs of women and adolescent girls in emergency situations.

The dialogue in the Hague, the head of UNFPA said, had confirmed that governments were increasingly involving non-governmental organizations, including women's and youth groups, in policy formulation and programme implementation. She said that the participants had also addressed the need to deal with the constraints which still hindered the enabling environment for the Programme of Action.

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan is concerned at the precarious security situation in Tajikistan, according to a new report.

The Secretary-General also expresses concern that the United Tajik Opposition (UTO) has not contributed more effectively to the investigation into the killings last July of four personal from the United Nations Observer Mission in Tajikistan (UNMOT). In the prevailing climate, UNMOT continues to observe strict security precautions, including a nighttime curfew, and is working only in Dushanbe.

The report cites an increase in crime, particularly drug trafficking, and numerous violent incidents with a possible political background. Given the slow progress in the peace process, the holding of the constitutional referendum and the parliamentary elections in 1999 remain uncertain. There is an inherent risk of a growing restlessness among groups that are not direct parties to the peace agreement, and its power-sharing arrangements, as well as among UTO fighters waiting for reintegration into the Tajik army or demobilization, says the report.

The Secretary-General's Special Representative, Jan Kubis, and members of the Contact Group were working with the parties to speed up the peace process. The Contact Group was considering a meeting at the ministerial level, which would be useful, if properly prepared, says the report.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) warned on Friday that continued fighting in the Sierra Leonean capital of Freetown threatened to place the entire population at risk of a large-scale food crisis in as little as three weeks.

"The sporadic fighting continues to chip away at people's resistance and the longer it goes on, the more malnourished the population will become," said Paul Ares, WFP Regional Manager for West Africa. Mr. Ares said that the residents of Freetown would risk a major city-wide food crisis in just three to five weeks if food merchants were unable to replenish their food stocks or if aid agencies could no longer gain better access to the city.

The UN food agency had previously estimated that Freetown residents could face an extensive food crisis within two months, but continued insecurity caused by sporadic fighting between rebels and the forces of the Economic Community of West African states Monitoring Group (ECOMOG), had exacerbated food shortages in the city. The fighting had also displaced more people from their homes, leaving them with no food, water or shelter, WFP said.

Mr. Ares said that to solve the food crisis in Freetown, the fighting must end so that WFP and its humanitarian partners could safely carry on their work and increase aid to the city's residents. The UN agency added that at the same time, reconstruction of roads, trucking services and the port would also have to get under way.

While noting a pattern of returns to areas in Kosovo with an international monitoring presence, the UN refugee agency said on Friday that the predominant atmosphere among the civilian population was that of fear and anxiety, with many people viewing the current talks in France as their "last hope".

UNHCR said that internally displaced people had been returning to Malisevo in central Kosovo and Dragobilje where there is a permanent presence of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Kosovo Verification Mission (KVM). The recent opening of a KVM office at Slepuzane had drawn back a quarter of its 1,000 residents, according to the agency.

The UN refugee agency also said that at its request, KVM was establishing a 24-hour presence at Racak village to build up confidence among people who wished to return. So far only eight old men out of a previous population of 1,700 had remained at Racak following the massacre during a government offensive on 15 January.

A decade after the last Soviet soldier left Afghan soil, the Afghans remain the single largest refugee group in the world, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Kris Janowski, a spokesman for the Geneva-based UN agency, said on Friday that more than 2.6 million Afghans still remained in exile and many of them were understandably reluctant to return home to almost uninterrupted fighting, continued human rights abuses and a shattered economy and infrastructure.

The UNHCR spokesman noted, however, that by the late 1990s, the numbers returning to relatively safe parts of the country -- of which there are plenty -- were still adding up to around 100,000 a year. Mr. Janowski added that in all, more than 4 million Afghans have returned home voluntarily since 1989, in his words, "another refugee record -- and a remarkable testimony to their courage."

The number of Afghan refugees peaked at a "staggering" 6.2 million by 15 February 1989, split almost equally between the two neighbouring countries, Iran and Pakistan. According to the UNHCR spokesman, those two neighbouring countries "showed extraordinary generosity" in hosting such a vast number of refugees on their territory, despite the burden they represented to their own societies.

Mali on Friday became the first country to sign a formal agreement with the United Nations for the enforcement of the sentences of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). By this agreement, Mali undertook to provide prison facilities for persons convicted of crimes of genocide committed in Rwanda in 1994.

The ICRC said that the agreement was signed by its registrar, Agwu Ukiwe Okali, and the government of Mali before a meeting with the President of Mali, Alpha Oumar Konar‚, in Bamako, the Malian capital. President Konar‚ and Dr. Okali had discussed the work of the tribunal and the cooperation of the Government of Mali in the international court's efforts to bring to justice the architects of the genocide. President Konar‚ promised the UN official that his government would give "full support to the ICTR at all levels," according to a press release issued by the tribunal, which is based in Arusha, Tanzania.

The tribunal registrar said that Mali had consistently cooperated with the ICTR and that the signing of the agreement was further evidence of the country's commitment to international rule of law.

For information purposes only - - not an official record

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

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