Geneva Press Briefing
Elena Ponomareva-Piquier, Chief of the Public Relations Section, UNIS, briefed journalists about the programme of the Secretary-General in Geneva; and the Security Council's backing for the joint statement on the Middle East by the diplomatic "Quartet". She also announced forthcoming press conferences. The Middle East continued to take prominence. The Head of the UNRWA liaison office at Geneva again gave an update on the difficulties faced in the occupied territories, as did other humanitarian agencies.
Programme of the Secretary-General in Geneva
Ms. Ponomareva-Piquier opened the briefing by outlining the programme of the Secretary-General while in Geneva today [12 April?]. Mr. Annan had addressed the Commission on Human Rights this morning and was now meeting Mary Robinson, High Commissioner for Human Rights. At 2.45 p.m., Mr. Annan and Mr. Deiss would address the press at the residence of the Swiss Ambassador to UNOG and other International Organizations, François Nordmann. The Swiss Mission had made arrangements for a minibus to pick up journalists at Portail Pregny at 2.00 p.m. and return them to the Palais at 3.30 p.m.
Security Council support for joint statement on Middle East by the "Quartet"
Turning to the Security Council's deliberations, Ms. Ponomareva-Piquier said that it had expressed support for the a joint statement issued in Madrid on 10 April by the representatives of a diplomatic "Quartet" pursuing a peaceful resolution of the Middle East conflict. The "Quartet" comprised the UN, the Russian Federation, the European Union and the United States.
In a presidential statement issued after an open meeting of the Council, Ambassador Sergey Lavrov of Russia, the president of that body for the month of April, appealed to Israel to halt immediately its military operations in the Palestinian territories and called on the President of the Palestinian Authority, Yasser Arafat, as the "recognized" leader of the Palestinian people, to do everything possible to stop terror attacks against Israel. The Council called for an immediate ceasefire and Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian cities, including Ramallah, said Ms. Ponomareva-Piquier.
Véronique Taveau, Spokesperson for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said that High Commissioner Mary Robinson, was "very touched" by the warm words expressed by Secretary-General in the speech that he had just made to the Commission on Human Rights and appreciated his support during her term. She strongly upheld the principles voiced in Mr. Annan's address: his unstinting defence of human rights, his statements concerning the World Conference Against Racism in Durban; and the need to establish mechanisms to counter all forms of discrimination. She could only add her support to the Secretary-General's words concerning the situation in occupied Palestinian territories.
Turning to the Commission on Human Rights, Ms. Taveau gave a recap of the other dignitaries scheduled to speak this morning: the Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs of Italy, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Liechtenstein and the Deputy Minister for Political Affairs of Saudi Arabia.
Voting would commence with agenda items 4 (Report of the High Commissioner and follow-up to the World Conference Against Racism); 5(the right of peoples to self-determination and its application to peoples under colonial or alien domination or foreign occupation); 6 (racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and all forms of discrimination); and 8 (question of the violation of human rights in the occupied Arab territories, including Palestine). If the voting finished on time, the general debate would take up item 11(civil and political rights). Draft resolutions submitted today for voting were as follows: E/CN.4/2002/L.8, L.4, L.6 L.7, L.9, L.2, L.16 and L.17. All draft resolutions were available in the press room.
Ms. Taveau concluded with an update on the visiting mission to the occupied territories, as mandated by resolution L.13 voted on 5 April at the Commission's "special sitting" on the Middle East. The team, comprising the High Commissioner as leader, former Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez and former African National Congress Secretary-General Cyril Ramaphosa, was still awaiting the green light from Israel. Once received, it could leave immediately. Mrs. Robinson had underlined the necessity for both parties to demonstrate broad support in order for the mission to succeed. Since the team felt that Israel was waiting for Colin Powell to leave the region before it would give the go-ahead, plane reservations had been made for either Sunday or Monday. Visas were also on standby.
Asked if Israel was engaging in stalling tactics to hold up the mission, Ms. Taveau replied that she did not know about that. Dialogue was open at the moment and since Israel had not said "no" so far, the mission would wait for the green light and leave as soon as they obtained it. Another journalist wondered about the status of visas, as the Israeli Mission had not yet responded. Ms. Taveau stated that an exchange of letters had taken place and dialogue continued. However, pursued the journalist, even if the mission received the go-ahead today, it could not leave on Sunday anyway. Ms. Taveau explained that the visas could be granted upon their arrival in Tel Aviv. In that case, could they take the risk of leaving instead of waiting, asked the correspondent? Ms. Taveau emphasized the High Commissioner's concern to obtain broad support from both parties in order for the mission to fulfil its mandate.
The Chief of the UNRWA Liaison Office in Geneva brought journalists up to date on the events on the ground. He stressed that cooperation between the humanitarian agencies was "fantastic". On 10 April, the Commissioner-General of UNRWA had issued a press statement mentioning the arrest of staff and students from the Ramallah training centre. 104 people had been taken away, including the Principal, and were freed yesterday after 24 hours. These people were UN staff; the students had been working and studying in this boarding institution. UNRWA had protested in the strongest possible terms at the treatment meted out to UN staff.
Over the past three days, UNRWA had been getting through to parts of Jenin and Nablus. No independent or external organizations had yet managed to enter the camp, to his knowledge. "We are bracing ourselves for the moment we will be able to enter and we are very, very concerned about what we will find", he said.
In response to a question about why the detention of the training centre staff had occurred, the Geneva Liaison Chief replied that UNRWA had naturally tried to enquire about that. A journalist wondered if this situation was typical, since UNRWA's operations depended on the actions and permission of the occupying power. Would it be easier to gain entry from Jordan? He replied that humanitarian access was particularly difficult in this case. It had not been possible to evacuate the dead or wounded for one week and that was a highly unusual situation, even for the ICRC. There were more than 180 cases of ambulances being shot at- not struck by stray bullets- despite receiving clearance for the Israeli authorities. Less than 24 hours ago, an ambulance had come up to a checkpoint and was ordered out by megaphone. A tank then destroyed the vehicle. The staff worked in constant danger but remained loyal to the UN. The WFP and UNICEF spokespersons added that the problem was not supply but access; towns were encircled by the military and the agencies needed permission to enter and stay long enough to effect deliveries.
The WFP Spokesperson said that the Programme was expediting 40 tons of high-energy biscuits to Tel Aviv for the Palestinians in the West Bank. These emergency supplies were meant for displaced people cut off from food deliveries and those who had taken refuge in churches or mosques. WFP had managed to get through to Ramallah and Bethlehem but was waiting to enter Nablus, Tulkarem and Jenin. The programme had acquired 46 tons of food to assist 1750 hospital patients and 1250 Palestinians in institutions, such as orphanages and retirement homes. As regards financial contributions, the US had contributed 2.3 million USD. 13.3 million USD had been met out of an appeal made for 16.7 million USD. However, the deteriorating situation meant that WFP could only help 371,000 for another month.
The WHO spokesperson explained that the military operations in the occupied territories had destroyed the sanitary infrastructure. Also, WHO Director-General Gro Harlem Brundtland had written to the Israeli authorities to express her concern about the situation but had obtained no response so far.