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United Nations Daily Highlights, 97-12-16

United Nations Daily Highlights Directory - Previous Article - Next Article

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


Tuesday, 16 December 1997

This document is prepared by the Central News Section of the Department of Public Information and is updated every week-day at approximately 6:00 PM.


  • Security Council calls on States to immediately end military support for Afghan parties; UN expert reports mass killings.
  • Following talks on Myanmar, Secretary-General says his envoy will go there to meet Government and opposition.
  • Secretary-General calls for strengthened multilateralism to answer those predicting 'Clash of Civilizations'.
  • Secretary-General says ECOWAS Summit demonstrates determination of West African States to deal with sub-regional challenges.
  • UNICEF calls malnutrition a "vast and persistent peril" causing nearly 7 million deaths each year.
  • Registrar of International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda says recent attacks and freeing of genocide suspects in Rwanda may affect Tribunal's work.
  • United Nations Spokesman says work of team probing allegations of human rights in Mbandaka remains a high priority.
  • General Assembly strongly condemns attacks on humanitarian workers and urges States to protect them.
  • UN High Commissioner for Human Rights says States must respect independence of UN human rights work.
  • Felix C. Downes-Thomas of the Gambia named to head UN Peace building Support Office in Liberia.

"The Security Council deplores the fact that foreign military support of the Afghan parties continued unabated through 1997 and reiterates its call to all States to end immediately the supply of arms, ammunition, military equipment, training or any other military support to all parties to the conflict in Afghanistan, including the involvement of foreign military personnel." This statement was made on behalf of Council members by its President, Fernando Berrocal Soto of Costa Rica.

The Security Council encouraged the Secretary-General and Member States to undertake preliminary studies on how an effective arms embargo could be imposed and implemented in a fair and verifiable manner. The Council also expressed support for the Secretary-General's efforts to address the external aspects of the Afghan question and welcomed the convening of meetings of concerned countries, immediate neighbours and others.

Stressing that the Afghan conflict has no military solution and that the parties had primary responsibility for finding a peaceful settlement, the Council urged them to take genuine confidence-building measures, to agree immediately on a cease-fire, and to engage without preconditions in a political dialogue aimed at achieving national reconciliation, a lasting political settlement of the conflict and the formation of a broad-based, fully representative government that will protect the rights of all Afghans and abide by Afghanistan's international obligations.

According to the Presidential statement, the continued military confrontation in Afghanistan "threatens to lead to the disintegration of the country" and "represents a growing threat to regional and international peace and security". The Council deplored the unwillingness of the Afghan warring factions to lay down their arms. Ambassador Berrocal said that "peace and stability in Afghanistan can best be attained through intra- Afghan political negotiations under United Nations auspices with the active and coordinated assistance of all countries concerned".

The Security Council remained deeply concerned at the continuing discrimination against girls and women and other violations of human rights, as well as at violations of international humanitarian law in Afghanistan, according to its President.

By the statement, the Council also expressed serious concern over the looting of United Nations premises and food supplies, as well as deliberate restrictions placed on humanitarian organizations.

"The Security Council reiterates that the continuation of the conflict in Afghanistan provides a fertile ground for terrorism and illegal drug production and trafficking which destabilize the region and beyond, and calls upon the leaders of the Afghan parties to halt such activities", the Council President said.

Meanwhile, the United Nations expert charged with monitoring Afghanistan's human rights situation reports that there are mass graves in the country.

Special Rapporteur Choon-Hyun Paik visited Kabul, Kandahar, Jallalabad and Faisabad during his recent two-week trip to the country. Spokesman John Mills told reporters in Geneva that in one village near Mazar-I-Sharif, 53 people had been killed when the Taliban shot civilians. In the second village, 30 elderly people who had stayed behind while others fled the Taliban advance had also been killed. "The Special Rapporteur was told that similar killings had occurred in two other villages", Mr. Mills said.

To the east of Mazar-I-Sharif, near Shebergan, the Special Rapporteur visited two types of mass graves where a local leader said more than thousand people had been killed. According to Mr. Mills, to date there is no United Nations figure on the number of deaths.

Those killed appeared to have been Taliban soldiers captured during an advance in May, as well as members of local militias or political groups. "The manner of death was horrendous. Prisoners were taken from detention, told they were going to be exchanged and then trucked to wells of a type used by shepherds. They were thrown into the wells either alive, those who resisted were shot and then tossed in", Mr. Mills said. An estimated nine wells were used. "Shots were fired into the well and hand grenades thrown in before the top of the well was bulldozed over." The Special Rapporteur reportedly found bullet casings and pins from hand grenades.

In other areas, Mr. Mills said, "the graves were shallow with body parts evident on the surface". The Special Rapporteur visited a number of shallow grave sites, including one where "there was evidence that the prisoners were lined up and mowed down with heavy calibre machine guns". Virtually all the bodies recovered from the shallow graves had their arms tied behind their backs.

After holding talks with an official of Myanmar, Secretary-General Kofi Annan has announced his intention to send an envoy there to meet with the Government and opposition.

During the final day of his official visit to Malaysia, the Secretary- General met with Senior General Than Shwe, Chairman of the State Peace and Development Council, Prime Minister and Minister of Defence of Myanmar. According to United Nations Spokesman Juan Carlos Brandt, the 45-minute meeting covered a range of political issues, democratization, economic development, and the efforts to eradicate narcotic drugs. "The General agreed to receive an envoy of the Secretary-General, Alvaro de Soto from the Department of Political Affairs, who will travel to Myanmar in January for discussions with the Government as well as with opposition leaders, including Aung San Suu Kyi", Mr. Brandt said.

Also on Tuesday, the final day of the Secretary-General's visit to Malaysia, he met with President Fidel V. Ramos of the Philippines. The two discussed the situation in Cambodia and Myanmar. He had then met with the Foreign Minister of Indonesia, Ali Alatas. Their agenda included the United Nations peace effort in East Timor, and again, Cambodia and Myanmar. Meeting with President Jiang Zemin of China, the two discussed that country's relations with the United Nations as well as Cambodia and Iraq, and United Nations reform.

The Secretary-General later met with the Prime Minister of Singapore, Goh Chok Tong, the Sultan of Brunei, and the Foreign Minister of Malaysia, Ahmad Badawi.

Addressing a gathering of about 100 local and international United Nations staff, the Secretary-General said they must humanize the United Nations by building strong ties to the people.

The Secretary-General and his wife also met with the King and Queen of Malaysia.

"We can buttress the principles of tolerance and cooperation in a world in which intolerance and unilateralism have all too many adherents", Secretary- General Kofi Annan told the Institute for Diplomacy and Foreign Relations in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday. "We can, by our example, provide a resounding answer to those who say a 'clash of civilizations' is inevitable."

The Secretary-General stressed the need for the United Nations to work with regional organizations, such as the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN). He said that cooperation between the United Nations and ASEAN in Cambodia was one of the earliest examples of such cooperation. "During the period of the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) and since, we have devoted great energy and resources to the cause of Cambodian peace, development and democracy. I regret that peace and democracy have proven so fragile in Cambodia, and that those developments have led to the postponement of Cambodia's entry into ASEAN. It is my hope that our ongoing efforts will help improve the current situation, for the sake of all Cambodians and so that the country can be admitted in due course."

The importance of the private sector in economic growth was a major theme in the Secretary-General's prepared statement. "Given the increasing constraints on official development assistance to members of ASEAN, more effective use of private capital becomes even more important", he said. "Here, too, the United Nations can help. Since taking office, I have made constant overtures to the private sector, seeking to show them that there is a clear and demonstrable link between profitability and raising living standards for the world's poorest people. Profitability and equity are not mutually exclusive goals. Quite the reverse."

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has said the Summit of the 16 West African States to discuss sub-regional peace and security demonstrates a genuine determination to address subregional challenges.

In a message delivered by his Special Envoy to Sierra Leone, Franciso Okelo at the extraordinary Summit of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in Lome, Togo from 16 to 17 December, Mr. Annan congratulated the sub-regional grouping on its initiative to hold the summit. "Your gathering demonstrates a genuine determination to shoulder the responsibility of addressing the challenges facing this subregion", the Secretary-General said.

The Secretary-General stressed the importance of cooperation at the political level and of the coordination of diplomatic efforts among the countries of the subregion when conflict arise. Such cooperation and coordination, he said, "is an essential ingredient for the success of any international, regional or subregional peacekeeping initiative."

He particularly applauded the persistent and ultimately successful efforts to bring peace to Liberia which he characterized as "a shining example" in this regard. He said that the harmonization of policies among ECOWAS countries formed one of the turning points of the initiative which made possible the implementation of the peace process under the Abudja Agreement.

The Secretary-General said that the very close working relationship between ECOWAS and the United Nations in the resolution of the Liberian conflict served as "an important model of cooperation for the resolution of other conflicts -- whether in Africa or elsewhere."

The Secretary-General said the shared experiences of ECOWAS and the United Nations in Liberia will serve the two organizations well as they to resolve the conflict in Sierra Leone and to restore a democratically elected government.

He thanked President Gnasingbe Eyadema of Togo for his generosity and hospitality in hosting the ECOWAS Summit and welcomed the appointment of Lansana Kouyate as Executive Secretary of ECOWAS.

Malnutrition contributes to nearly seven million child deaths every year -- more than any infectious disease, war or natural disaster, according to the 1998 State of the World's Children Report released by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) on Tuesday.

Where it does not kill, malnutrition can leave victims physically maimed, intellectually impaired and suffering from the consequences of a weakened immune system, according to the report. "The persistence of malnutrition has profound and frightening implications for children, society and the future of humankind", said UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy. "Yet this worldwide crisis has stirred little public alarm, despite substantial and growing scientific evidence of the danger."

The 1998 State of the World's Children Report states that while there have been dramatic reductions in malnutrition in some parts of the world, the overall number of malnourished children is on the rise. Malnutrition afflicts no less than half of all children under age five in South Asia and one third of those in sub-Saharan Africa, as well as millions of other children in industrialized countries.

Malnutrition is not only a "silent emergency" but a largely invisible one, the UNICEF report noted. Three-quarters of the children who die worldwide of causes related to malnutrition are considered "mildly to moderately malnourished" and show no outward signs of problems.

The report does contain some cause for hope; it states that the lives of at least 300,000 children were saved by vitamin A supplementation programmes in developing countries this year. Vitamin A has been found to reduce deaths from diarrhoea among children by up to 40 per cent. Other research shows that vitamin A could cut by half the number of deaths among children suffering from measles. Supplements of vitamin A and zinc may also boost children's resistance to malaria, which currently kills some 600,000 children per year, according to the report.

The Registrar of the Tribunal for Rwanda, Agwu Ukiwe Okali has said that recent guerrilla activity in Rwanda may have a negative impact on the work of the Tribunal.

In an interview with United Nations Radio on Tuesday, the Registrar of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda said that as the Tribunal was continuing its investigations, military conflict in a particular area means that it cannot operate there.

Commenting on the recent military activities of the Hutu militias in certain parts of Rwanda where guerrillas stormed prisons and freed some of the genocide suspects held there, Mr. Okali said that such activities could "lead people to imagine that the work of the Tribunal is irrelevant." Recalling that the Tribunal was established to serve as a deterrent to these kinds of attacks and genocidal acts, he said that if they continued, "it shows that people are not deterred by the work of the Tribunal".

The Registrar pointed out however, that the actual message from such attacks and massacres is different. "It means that the work of the Tribunal should be strengthened so that the signal really does go down to people who are involved in these kind of activities."

On the general work of the Tribunal, Mr. Okali told United Nations Radio that although it faced some problems at the beginning, the Tribunal was beginning to make headway. He pointed to improved cooperation with governments which has led to the arrest of some of the leading principal figures of genocide suspects.

Mr. Okali said that the first case started in January this year and the Tribunal expects to have a judgement within the first quarter of next year.

A United Nations Spokesman has said that the investigations of allegations of human rights violations in Mbandaka, Congo-Kinshasa remains a priority.

Spokesman Juan Carlos Brandt told the press on Tuesday that the team sent by United Nations Secretary-General to the Democratic Republic of the Congo is still assessing the situation following its evacuation from Mbandaka to Kinshasa on Sunday.

Although Congolese Government authorities had given the go-ahead for the team to go to Mbandaka to probe allegations of massacres during the campaign against former President Mobutu Seseko, local people held a big demonstration outside the camp housing the investigators.

Members of the team, which include forensic experts had to be evacuated to Kinshasa where they remain until the security situation permits them to return to Mbandaka.

According to Mr. Brandt, there was evacuation of most of the international personnel in Mbandaka on Monday.

The General Assembly on Tuesday strongly condemned any actions which obstruct or prevent humanitarian personnel from carrying out their work, as well as threats, use of force or physical attacks against them. It also called on Governments and parties to ensure that the lives and well- being of humanitarian personnel were respected and protected.

The Assembly took that action by one of a series of resolutions adopted on United Nations humanitarian and disaster relief assistance. All but one were adopted without a vote; the exception was the resolution on emergency assistance to the Sudan. By a recorded vote of 95 in favour to 38 against with 13 abstentions, the Assembly called on the international community to continue contributing generously to Sudan's emergency needs, and to its recovery and development.

The Assembly also adopted a series of resolutions on special economic assistance to a number of countries and areas, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African countries receiving refugees, El Salvador, Lebanon, Liberia, Central America, States affected by sanctions on the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia; Tajikistan, Montserrat, Djibouti, Somalia and the Semipalatinsk region of Kazakhstan.

In another action, the Assembly adopted a resolution calling on the United Nations to intensify assistance to the Palestinian people in accordance with the priorities set forth by the Palestinian Authority.

The Assembly called on States to promote cooperation between the United Nations and civil society through national volunteer corps to respond effectively to humanitarian emergencies. It took that action by adopting a resolution on the participation of volunteers, the "White Helmets", in United Nations activities.

The Assembly also urged the United Nations Coordinator of International Cooperation on Chernobyl to continue his efforts to strengthen international cooperation to overcome the health, social, economic and ecological consequences of the Chernobyl disaster in the most affected areas of Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine.

United Nations human rights experts must be able to carry out their work independently in a secure environment, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights stressed on Tuesday.

High Commissioner Mary Robinson issued a statement on the importance of the independence of special rapporteurs and similar mechanisms of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, such as working groups analyzing allegations of human rights violations. "Over the years, the crucial value of these procedures to saving human lives and helping resolve serious situations of violations has been fully acknowledged", Mrs. Robinson said.

"In order to provide the international community with the independent and impartially analyzed information which is essential in human rights policy making, the experts of the special procedures system must be secure in enjoying the privileges and immunities due to them as experts on mission for the United Nations", Mrs. Robinson continued. She called on States to scrupulously respect their obligations under the 1946 Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan has appointed Felix C. Downes-Thomas, a national of the Gambia, as his Representative in Liberia and Head of the United Nations Peace building Support Office in that country.

Mr. Downes-Thomas joined the United Nations in 1969, and since April 1997 has been the Director of the Complex Emergency Division of the Department of Humanitarian Affairs (DHA), where he had also served, from 1995 to 1997, as Deputy Director. In that capacity, he participated in negotiations between the United Nations and Iraq that led to the "oil- for-food" programme. Mr. Downes-Thomas served as Director of the United Nations Office of Humanitarian Assistance and Coordination in Mozambique in 1994. He worked previously as Deputy Director of the Regional Monitoring Division of DHA with specific responsibility for dealing with humanitarian emergencies in Africa.

Mr. Downes-Thomas has undertaken a number of special missions as part of his work with the Office of the Secretary-General to such countries as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Zambia, Namibia and South Africa.

For information purposes only - - not an official record

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

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