Press Release
Department of Public Information · News Coverage Service · New York

26 November 2001

Fifty-sixth General Assembly
Fifth Committee
29th Meeting (AM)


The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) this morning began its consideration of the financial aspects of implementing General Assembly decisions on the safety and security of United Nations personnel, as well as the financing of two peacekeeping missions -- United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) and United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL).

Introducing the report on the revised budget estimates for the safety and security of United Nations personnel for 2002-2003, United Nations Security Coordinator Benon Sevan said that the attention and resources given to the Office of the United Nations Security Coordinator by the Assembly last year were already paying dividends. [Last December, the General Assembly adopted resolution 55/238, by which it established several additional posts and requested the Secretary-General to develop an effective cost-sharing system for security management.]

Mr. Sevan said that, while it had not been possible to develop a comprehensive accountability plan, there was agreement on how to proceed. The appointment of a full-time Security Coordinator at the Assistant Secretary-General level was critical to the process and would provide the essential leadership to the United Nations security efforts. Security was about protecting the protectors; it was not a one-time expenditure, but a long-term investment.

Introducing the related report of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), its Chairman, Conrad S.M. Mselle, said the number of posts proposed for safety and security was 338, of which 38 would be at Headquarters. Agency-sponsored field security posts would be recruited and managed by the respective specialized agencies, funds and programmes. With United Nations agencies and other participants sharing the security costs, the share of the United Nations was approximately $10.4 million.

The representative of the United States said that the omission of accountability standards in the Secretary-General’s report was a flaw in the plan of action in that regard. A mechanism for tracking and enforcing accountability must be in place as soon as possible. Recent extraordinary circumstances had necessitated rapid responses to crisis situations in the international arena, and accountability was the key to holding the whole system together.

As the Committee took up the financing of UNIFIL, several speakers supported the demand by the representative of Lebanon that Israel should pay for the damages resulting from the incident at Qana, Lebanon, on 18 April 1996, which he called “a premeditated attack on the United Nations base” there. He insisted that Israel should be held financially accountable for its actions, paying compensation for its aggression, in accordance with relevant resolutions of the General Assembly. The representative of Syria said that the incident should be highlighted by a separate heading in the draft resolution on the matter.

The representative of Israel said that he was disturbed by the politically motivated attempts to manipulate the Committee. Israel would gladly join the consensus on the financing of UNIFIL, without newly introduced political elements. There was no precedent of a Member State bearing sole financial responsibility for the damages incurred by a peacekeeping mission. Those damages should be absorbed by the general budget in accordance with the principle of collective responsibility.


Budget for UNIFIL

The Committee had before it a report of the Secretary-General containing the budget for the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) for 1 July 2001 to 30 June 2002 (document A/56/431). The proposed budget for the 12-month period amounts to some $136.98 million net, inclusive of budgeted voluntary contributions in kind amounting to about $201,200. Of the total budget, some 63 per cent relates to military personnel costs, 18 per cent to civilian costs, and 16 per cent to operational requirements.

The Secretary-General recommends that the Assembly appropriate some $136.61 million gross ($132.78 million net) for the maintenance of the Force for 1 July 2001 to 30 June 2002, including the commitment authority of some $99.55 million gross ($97.56 million net) previously authorized and assessed under the terms of Assembly resolution 55/180 B of June 2001 for 1 July to 31 December 2001. The Assembly should also assess an additional amount of $37.1 million gross ($35.2 million net) for 1 July 2001 to 30 June 2002, should the Security Council decide to continue the Force's mandate.

In a related report (document A/56/510), the ACABQ recommends approval of the Secretary-General's proposal taking into account several observations. It notes that the estimated requirement of $136.61 million (net of voluntary contributions of $201,200) represents a decrease of some $62.3 million or 31.3 per cent in total resources (gross), compared with resources amounting to some $198.9 million approved for 1 July 2000 to 30 June 2001. The proposed budget reflects a decrease of some 26.7 per cent in military personnel costs; 9.7 per cent in civilian costs, and 56.7 per cent in operational requirements. Those reductions will be partially offset by increases in other programmes. The budget proposal is based on an average troop strength of 4,057, to be achieved through the non-replacement or reduction of units through their normal rotations. The Force's troop strength -- planned at the level of 4,543 troops as of 31 August 2001 -- will be reduced to 3,613 by May 2002. The target level of 2,000 troops will be achieved at the beginning of the next financial period.

The report says that UNIFIL's proposed civilian component of 491 staff reflects a decrease of 17 international posts and 41 local level posts. The budget document, however, provides no clear information on the rationale for the proposed composition of the civilian personnel. The reduction of 17 international staff does not seem to be proportionate with the reduction in military personnel. The Advisory Committee expects a further reduction in international staff for the financial period starting 1 July 2002.

On operational requirements, in view of the downsizing of the Force, the ACABQ cautions against what appears to be excessive replacement of various types of equipment. A provision of $140,260, for example, is budgeted for replacement of 1,150 pieces of office furniture, and a provision of $117,481 is budgeted for replacement of 40 per cent of the items of the current inventory of accommodation equipment. Regarding the storage of spare parts in technologically advanced warehouses, while the ACABQ supports the idea in principle, it cautions that such warehouses should be established in the mission area only when fully justified from the operational point of view and when economically feasible. On the purchase of new prefabricated structures, the Advisory Committee requests that, before a decision is made, a study should be conducted to ensure that it is justified and efficient.


UNIFIL Financing

Mr. MSELLE introduced the report of the ACABQ on the financing of UNIFIL (document A/56/510).

IBRAHIM ASSAF (Lebanon) thanked the United Nations for its efforts to restore peace in the Middle East and commended the personnel of UNIFIL for their work. He assured the Committee of his country’s support for the mission. Despite its difficult economic situation, Lebanon provided all the financial exemptions to the items imported into the country to be used by the UNIFIL and spared no effort to make annual contributions to the United Nations and the Force.

Continuing, he said that the Secretary-General had pointed out in his report that, contrary to the General Assembly resolutions, Israel had failed to pay for the damages caused by its premeditated attack on the United Nations base in Qana in 1996. He insisted that Israel should be held financially accountable for its actions, paying the compensation for its aggression. His country would undertake consultations with the Arab Group and the “Group of 77” developing countries and China on the resolution needed in that regard.

ABDOU AL-MOULA NAKKARI (Syria) said that he had hoped that the report of the Secretary-General would have been introduced by his representatives, for his delegation had many questions on the matter. Turning to paragraph 10 (c) of the report, he said that it mentioned a possible reduction of the Force to 2,000 troops, making it clear that a decision on the matter would be taken later, in consultation with the countries involved, as well as troop-contributing countries, based on the developments on the ground. He believed that the Secretary-General’s report was balanced on the issue, but noted that in other places of the same report the reduction was taken for granted, as if it were already decided. There was a contradiction.

Regarding the Qana incident and reparations for the damage, he agreed with the delegate of Lebanon and said that he wanted a clear statement on the issue to be included in the text under discussion under the “Qana incident” heading. As for the proposed abolition of four Professional posts in the Mine Action Coordination Cell mentioned in paragraph 12 of the ACABQ report, he said that the Advisory Committee made it clear that following the abolition of those posts, contractual personnel would be used. The demining programmes of the Cell were supported by voluntary contributions, and he was concerned that the abolition of the four posts could hurt the landmine clearance efforts. Also, he did not agree with the recommendations contained in paragraph 16 of the ACABQ report, because they ran counter to the recommendations in paragraph 11 of the same document.

RON ADAM (Israel) said that he was disturbed by the politically motivated attempts to manipulate the Committee and hoped that they would stop. He hoped the Member States would not bend to the pressure to include a separate heading on Qana in the text under discussion. As the Fifth Committee worked on the basis of consensus, Israel would gladly join the consensus on the financing of UNIFIL, without newly introduced political elements. There was no precedent of a Member State bearing sole financial responsibility for the damages incurred by a peacekeeping mission. Those damages should be absorbed by the general budget in accordance with the principle of collective responsibility.

Mr. ASSAF (Lebanon) said Israel should bear international responsibility and abide by United Nations resolutions. He was not requesting compensation for Lebanon. The issue of compensation for the 102 victims would be taken up by other legal bodies. General Assembly resolutions, however, requested payment of financial compensation. The legal and international responsibility would be decided somewhere else. The General Assembly had included paragraphs on that issue regarding the financial aspect only. The amount to be paid by Israel had been included in the debit accounts of the United Nations peacekeeping operations. It was not a political issue. Moreover, he could not see why a precedent should not be set when Israel had set precedents in bombing the buildings of the United Nations forces, deliberately killing innocent victims and scores of soldiers.

AHMED A. EL-ATRASH (Libya) did not understand how anyone could support the continuation of aggression by making the international community bear the cost of such aggression. He did not accept any such financing that resulted from deliberate terrorist acts against civilians and United Nations forces. He supported the position of Lebanon.

Responding to the questions from the floor, Mr. MSELLE said paragraph 11 of the ACABQ’s report had to be read in conjunction with the contents of paragraphs 8 and 9. In paragraph 8, the ACABQ had reported that the Secretary-General proposed a reduction of UNIFIL’s budget of some 31.3 per cent gross in total resources. In paragraph 9, the ACABQ had indicated the Secretary-General’s proposal to reduce troop strength of some 4,543 as of 31 August 2001 to 3,613 by 31 May 2002. It was expected to reach the target level of 2,000 by the beginning of the next financial period, or 1 July 2002.

In paragraph 11, he added, the ACABQ had observed that the proposed reduction in international staff by 17 was not commensurate with the level of troop reductions. While the ACABQ had not made an adjustment to the Secretary-General’s proposals, it had indicated that the ACABQ expected further reductions in the number of international staff in the financial period starting 1 July 2002. Subject to that recommendation, the ACABQ had recommended accepting the proposal of the Secretary-General.

YEO BOCK CHENG, Director, Peacekeeping Financing Division, Office of Programme Planning, Budget and Accounts, responded to several questions posed by the representative of Syria. Regarding the abolition of four Professional posts in the Mine Action Coordinating Cell, to be replaced by contractual services, he assured the Committee that such a proposal did not represent any reduction in the assessed funds for demining. It would be more efficient to outsource such services. The principle of the use of assessed contributions versus voluntary ones would be adhered to, as in the past. The assessment of the mine situation was to be financed from the assessed contributions, for it was important to take account of all the mines in the area of UNIFIL operations. Other services were historically financed from voluntary contributions.

As for the heading for the Qana incident, he said that it was appropriately highlighted in the English version of the text. He would check if the matter was treated similarly in other languages. He added that the reports before the Committee made no presumptions as to what would be decided by the Council regarding the composition of the mission. No corresponding assumptions were made in the annex of the report dealing with supplementary information. The language might have been more assertive in the technical paragraphs, but no presumptions were made regarding the Council decisions.

Mr. NAKKARI (Syria) said that a troop reduction mentioned in the Secretary-General’s report would be dependent on the developments in the field. However, paragraph 10 (c) was not coordinated with other paragraphs of the report on the same issue. The general principle was that the matter would depend on the decision by the Council. He hoped the text would be amended, as appropriate. As for the Qana incident, he agreed with the content of the paragraph in the Arabic version of the report, but in recent years the incident at Qana had been mentioned, among other things.

Turning to what Mr. Mselle had said, he added that paragraph 11 of the ACABQ report did not request any reduction in international staff at this stage. The
matter should be further discussed to determine the exact need for possible reduction in the future.

Mr. MSELLE said that, in paragraph 11 of the report, the Advisory Committee was talking not about a reduction in troops, but a reduction in staff. [In that paragraph, the Advisory Committee pointed out that the reduction of
17 international staff posts did not seem to be proportionate with the reduction in military personnel. It also stated that it expected a further reduction in international staff to be proposed for the financial period starting 1 July 2002.]

He said that any reductions depended on the action by the Council. If the phased reduction in troops proposed by the Secretary-General did not take place, paragraph 11 of the ACABQ report would not be implemented. In the past, similar observations had been made in other reports, and it was up to the Committee to decide whether the Secretary-General should propose further reductions or not.

Mr. ASSAF (Lebanon) said that he understood that the issue was for the Council to decide. His position regarding the reduction of the troops or administrative personnel was well known. He called for the continuation of United Nations operations with all their elements. He did not want to increase the expenses of the United Nations in Lebanon, but it was important to achieve peace and stability in the region.


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