Ms. Heuzé began the briefing by reviewing the recent meetings of the Security Council in the face of mounting violence in the Middle East. On Good Friday, the Council adopted by 14 votes in favour to none against resolution 1402 calling on Israel to withdraw troops from Palestinian cities, including Ramallah, and urging both parties to move immediately to a meaningful ceasefire. Yesterday, the Security Council met in closed session at the request of Secretary-General Kofi Annan to address the intensifying violence in the Middle East. The Secretary-General called for simultaneous attention to Israel's security concerns and the Palestinians' political aspirations, and urged the 15-member body to implement its own resolutions on the matter. Resolution 1402, the statements of the Secretary-General to the Council on 29 March and 1 April, as well as related press releases were made available in the press room during the Easter weekend.
Journalists asked about the position of the Geneva-based agencies and programmes in the face of the violence in the Middle East. Ms. Heuzé replied the Security Council and the Secretary-General had twice met over the weekend to try to find an acceptable solution and defuse the tension. The Secretary-General had been on the phone with world leaders throughout that time. The first meeting was at the initiative of the Council and the second, exceptionally, at the request of the Secretary-General.
José Luis Díaz, Spokesperson for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), responded to a journalist's question on the situation in the Middle East. He said that High Commissioner Mary Robinson was extremely worried by the situation. OHCHR had field offices in Gaza and the West Bank, which were currently under siege as were all the Palestinian territories. Following the alarming escalation of violence on the ground, the High Commissioner would address the Commission on Human Rights. Her address would be based on information received from the OHCHR field offices, as well as other information on the unfolding situation. The Commission was hearing statements now and throughout the day on item 8 of its agenda, the human rights situation in the occupied Arab territories, including Palestine.
Mr. Diaz recalled that the High Commissioner had visited the territories in November 2000, at the beginning of what was being called the "second Intifada". She had subsequently reported to a special session of the Commission and expressed her concern about the situation already at that point, especially the excessive use of force deployed there. Mrs. Robinson had continued to follow the situation with increasing concern.
Turning to the dignitaries scheduled to address the fifty-eighth session of Commission, Mr. Diaz drew attention to this morning's speakers, the Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China at 11.00 a.m. followed by the Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Vietnam at 11.30 a.m.
Finally, Mr. Diaz announced that the Commission would have before it today a revised timetable of its work, which would take into account a 30 per cent reduction in meeting time. He had made available copies of the new schedule.