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

10 March 1998

DPI - Press Releases



The Director of the United Nations Information Service at Geneva, Ms. Thérèse Gastaut, opened the briefing with information on the schedule of the Secretary-General, Mr. Kofi Annan. Tomorrow, he would be going to Washington where he would meet with President Bill Clinton. The Secretary-General would arrive in Geneva this weekend, and on Monday at 11 a.m., he would address the opening of the Commission on Human Rights. She would have more details about his schedule in Geneva for correspondents on Friday. After Geneva, Mr. Annan would fly to the Middle East. In addition to the countries on his Middle Eastern tour that she had mentioned last week, the Secretary-General would also be visiting Jordan.

Ms. Gastaut said that available in the press room was a text, which was made public last night in New York, on the procedures under the Memorandum of Understanding between the United Nations and Iraq concerning visits of presidential sites in Iraq. Mr. Jayantha Dhanapala, the newly appointed Commissioner who would head the special group established to inspect the sites, had departed last night for Baghdad. Meanwhile, the Secretary-General met yesterday with the Foreign Minister of Iraq and discussed the improvement of the humanitarian oil-for-food programme.

Ms. Gastaut pointed out that the General Assembly's Fifth Committee had began the first part of its resumed session yesterday. Its session would continue until 27 March. Among issues it would discuss was the transfer of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to the Palais Wilson. This issue had not been raised in the meeting yesterday, but Ms. Gastaut said that she would keep the correspondents up to date on this question.

Yesterday, the report of the Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva, Mr. Vladimir Petrovsky, on his fact-finding mission to Libya was made public in New York. Ms. Gastaut recalled that Mr. Petrovsky visited Libya from 13 to 18 December 1997. The report of the Director-General had been initially kept confidential, but it was now being made public at the request of the Security Council. The report had not yet been received in Geneva on the optical disk but it should be available for correspondents this afternoon. (Eventually, the report was found and distributed to the Geneva press at noon). Ms. Gastaut pointed out that in yesterday's Daily Highlights, there was an item about the Secretary-General of the Organization of African Unity calling on the Security Council to consider three options for the resolution of the Lockerbie dispute.

Ms. Gastaut said that the Director-General had returned to Geneva after attending a meeting of the Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs and the Council of Heads of Governments of the Commonwealth of Independent States in Moscow. The Director-General met with the Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation, Mr. Evjeny Primakov, during his visit. Today, Mr. Petrovsky would attend the round table marking International Women's Day. The round table was at 3.30 in room XII and she hoped that journalists would also attend. Ms. Gastaut said that the keynote speaker, the Rwandan Minister of Gender, Family and Social Affairs, Mrs. Aloysia Inyumba, had arrived. Anyone who was interested in interviewing Mrs. Inyumba could contact Mrs. Elena Ponomareva, Chief of Public Relations and Documentation Unit of the Information Service at Geneva.

Next Thursday, the Director-General would sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the Geneva Center for Security Policy. This was be at 4 p.m. in his office and journalists were invited to attend the signing ceremony.

Ms. Gastaut said that the Conference on Disarmament would hold its next plenary on Thursday, 12 March. Its list of speakers so far included Mr. Camilo Reyes Rodriguez, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Colombia, and the Ambassador of China.

Concerning biological arms, Ms. Gastaut said there had been a briefing yesterday on issues before the Ad Hoc Group of States Parties to the Biological Weapons Convention. An informal note on the briefing was put in the press room for those who did not attend. There would be a press release on Friday at the end of the one-week meeting of the Ad Hoc Group. Also on the issue of disarmament, Ms. Gastaut pointed out a press release on a new publication of the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) on the peace process in Mali. The study showed how preventive diplomacy had worked in Mali, and talked about the destruction of small arms there. The press release was embargoed until Monday, 16 March because the Secretary-General himself would take part in the launching of the UNIDIR publication at 10 a.m. on Monday. The President of Mali, Dr. Alpha Oumar Konaré, had also been invited to the launch. The press release and copies of the 400-page study were available for correspondents to study until ne
xt Monday.

Ms. Gastaut said that the Governing Council of the United Nations Compensation Commission was holding a session in Geneva. The session would end tomorrow and there would be a press release on this issue. Ms. Gastaut said there was also a round table on Niger today and tomorrow organized by the United Nations Development Programme. The Prime Minister of Niger, Mr. Ibrahim Hassane Mayaki was attending the round table. The delegation of Niger would hold a press conference on the round table tomorrow at 11.30 a.m. in press room one.

Concerning human rights, Ms. Gastaut said that the Information Service had made available today the background press release on the Commission on Human Rights which would start next Monday, 16 March.

Ms. Gastaut said the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, had asked her to inform correspondents that on Thursday at 11.30 a.m., there would be a press conference on the launching a project entitled 'Risk Assessment Tools for Diagnosis of Urban Areas against Seismic Disasters'. This project was being financed by Japan. A press release would also be available on this issue.

In conclusion, Ms. Gastaut said that concerning last Friday's debate on the press release on the Committee of the Elimination of Racial Discrimination when it examined the report of Israel, she and Mr. Jamel Ben Yahmed, the Chief of the Press and Communication Unit of the United Nations Information Service at Geneva, had closely examined the press release. Regarding substance, Ms. Gastaut said that the observations and criticizms of experts were mentioned in the release. Regarding the form or presentation, the observations of each individual expert could not be fully reflected since the press releases on the treaty bodies were summaries and were not covered speaker-by-speaker. So there were not plans to make any changes in this release.

A correspondent said that when an expert raised the question of the return of Palestinian refugees and that was not mentioned as an important criticism of a State, one might wonder if there was any use to reflect generalities by experts and States parties and not matters of interest in press releases. This was an essential issue that was kept out. If one considered the denial to allow Palestinians to return to their homes as futile, that was another matter. He asked if it would be possible to obtain a copy of the report of the Director-General on Libya this morning.

Ms. Gastaut said that the report had not yet been put on the optical disk and therefore it was not yet available in Geneva. Correspondents would have to wait until New York started their day to obtain it. Concerning the first question, Ms. Gastaut said it was clear that the substance of the remarks of the experts were certainly not considered futile as the correspondent said because it was not the role of the Secretariat of the United Nations to make value judgements on the substance of the remarks of the experts. She said he had brought up another issue and she would look into it and would get back to the correspondent. Another reporter said that all her colleagues were also interested in Ms. Gastaut's response. Ms. Gastaut said she would look into it and respond on this issue at Friday's briefing.

John Mills, the media officer for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that Mrs. Mary Robinson was arriving today in Geneva after her trip to London. She would be participating this afternoon in the round table to commemorate International Women's Day in Geneva.

Regarding the Commission on Human Rights, Mr. Mills said that he would try and have by the end of the week, probably Thursday, an update of the list of dignitaries. There had been some changes and additions to the list provided last week. He would also have for correspondents, on unofficial and provisional basis, the programme of the Commission. This was very much subject to adoption and possible change early next week when the new Bureau of the Commission met. Along with this programme would be a list of special rapporteurs and the agenda items under which their reports would be considered. This would answer the question asked at the last briefing as to when the rapporteurs could be expected in Geneva.

Mr. Mills said that he was speaking with the Ambassador who was expected to be the new Chairman of the Commission on Human Rights with a view to trying to schedule a press conference with him on Monday. A correspondent said that Monday was the opening of the Commission and there would also be four-party talks on North Korea. Mr. Mills asked when would be a good time and after some discussion agreed to liaise with the ACANU President to find a mutually suitable time.

Mr. Mills said that the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination was continuing its meetings and it had an interesting schedule. It would finish consideration of the report of Ukraine today, and would this afternoon take up the situation in Lebanon. Tomorrow afternoon, CERD would look at the report of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia through Thursday morning. He suggested that would be of more than passing interest.

A correspondent asked how the press conferences for the visiting dignitaries were arranged. Mr. Mills said that the Secretariat of the Commission did not organize press conferences for the visiting dignitaries. If the visiting dignitaries were interested, their Missions approached the Information Service and requested the usual facilities which were always at their disposal.

Another correspondent asked if Mr. Mills could inform visiting dignitaries of the interest of the press and of the facilities because some of them were not aware of this. Mr. Mills said he would ensure they were aware.

A reporter asked for a schedule with the approximate time that the ministers would be speaking and Mr. Mills said one had been put in the press room last Thursday and there would be an updated version next Thursday. Ms. Gastaut said that by Friday, the Information Service would provide a comprehensive calender of what was happening on Monday and Tuesday when the Secretary-General would be in Geneva and when there would be additional activities.

A correspondent asked which region did the new Chairman of the Commission come from and Mr. Mills said he came from Africa.

In response to when the conclusions of CERD would be available, Mr. Mills said that conclusions of CERD were normally adopted at the end of the session and were usually available on the morning of the last day of the session. He was asked if the High Commissioner for Human Rights was concerned about the situation in Latvia where elderly people were attacked by police and where yesterday a monument for those who died in the last war was attacked by Nazi supporters. Mr. Mills said that he was not aware of the incidents the journalist had raised. He knew that the Office of the High Commissioner had been working with Latvia to establish a National Human Rights Commission which would be the kind of body which should take up such incidents. He would find out if those incidents had been reported to the Office and he would get back to the correspondent.


For information media - not an official record