14 December 2005

General Committee Recommends Additional Agenda Item on Oil-for-Food Inquiry Recommendations

Rejects Request for Item on Black Sea-South Caucasus Conflicts

NEW YORK, 13 December (UN Headquarters) -- The General Committee this afternoon decided to recommend the inclusion of an additional item in the agenda of the sixtieth General Assembly, which would allow the 191-member body to follow up the recommendations on administrative management and internal oversight of the Independent Inquiry into the United Nations oil-for-food programme, headed by former United States Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker.

The Committee's decision followed a request by Costa Rica that the recommendations included among the five reports generated by the Independent Inquiry Committee in the wake of its investigation into the United Nations Iraq oil-for-food programme be considered by the Organization's wider membership, beyond the limited discussions that had thus far taken place only in the 15-nation Security Council.

Before action was taken, Costa Rica's representative recalled the explanatory memorandum that accompanied the request (document A/60/235), which highlighted various Independent Inquiry Committee recommendations that fell within the General Assembly's purview, including strengthening independence of oversight and auditing, reforming and improving management, expanding conflict-of-interest and financial disclosure requirements, and cost recovery.  Considering the recommendations included in volume I of the report, among others, Costa Rica believed that all Member States should study the documents and ensure effective follow-up, particularly since the Assembly was the organ responsible for administrative management.

In other action today, the General Committee rejected -- by a show of hands vote of 3 in favour to 5 against, with 17 abstentions -- a request to include on the Assembly's agenda an item on "protracted conflict in the Black Sea-South Caucasus region and their implications for international peace, security and development".

The request had been made by the representatives of Azerbaijan, Georgia, Republic of Moldova and Ukraine (document A/60/234*).  Introducing the matter, Moldova's representative stressed that the years-long conflicts in the eastern districts of the Republic of Moldova, Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia in Georgia and the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan were serious threats to international peace and security.

The various diplomatic and political efforts to bring about respective resolutions were stagnating, and the affected territories were breeding grounds for security challenges old and new, including terrorism, and trafficking in arms and humans, he said.  The first-ever consideration of the conflicts by the Assembly would not only draw international attention to the issue, but also be an impetus to the stalled mediation efforts.

But France's representative was among those speakers who stressed that, while they were aware of how gravely the conflicts in question affected the region, now was not the time for the Assembly to take up questions that belonged elsewhere.  Rather, the groups and organizations already seized of the matter, specifically the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group, should step up their efforts.

Statements on Protracted Conflicts in the Black Sea

The representative of the Republic of Moldova said the protracted conflicts in the region - the eastern districts of the Republic of Moldova, Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia in Georgia and the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan -- undoubtedly threatened peace and security and were a major hindrance to development in the region.

All international efforts to contain and end those conflicts had failed to yield positive results.  The territories of the conflicts were breeding grounds for new and old security threats, including aggressive separatism, terrorism, trafficking and proliferation of small arms.  The issue should be considered as a matter of priority by the Assembly, he said stressing that the Assembly's decision and the weight of its authority could give impetus to stalled international negotiations.

The representative of the Russian Federation said the initiative was politically inappropriate, particularly since there were ongoing negotiations under way to resolve the conflicts.  The various processes and mechanisms were pressing ahead with the political work required to bring about a settlement in each case.  It would be counter-productive, therefore, to add an item on the matters to the Assembly's agenda.  The decision to include the item also ran counter to efforts to streamline the Assembly's work, he added.

Armenia's representative said that, under the guise of urgency, but with no factual evidence to prove it, certain parties last year had attempted to introduce an item on the Assembly's agenda.  A similar attempt was being made to introduce another item onto the Assembly's agenda.  At a time when the Assembly had embarked on a broad programme to streamline its work and improve its working methods, he stressed that there was no indication that the request before the Committee was of "urgent" character required by the Assembly's rules of procedure.

The agenda item under consideration attempted to deal in blanket fashion with four very different conflicts whose negotiation and mediation processes were at very different stages.  The memorandum accompanying the request for inclusion did not mention long-standing rights to sovereignty and territorial integrity.  The move also attempted to create parallel processes to those already under way in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), among others, he added.

The representative of Uganda, a non-Committee member said his delegation had been following the matter and would oppose the inclusion of the matter on the Assembly's agenda.  Uganda believed that the OSCE's efforts were now headed in the right direction, and that this was not the time to duplicate those efforts.

Azerbaijan's representative said that the request was related to the dangerous phenomenon of the protracted conflicts in the region, which were, in some cases, 15 or 16 years old, affecting some 16 million people.  By introducing the matter to the Assembly, the countries requesting the inclusion did not intend to change the format of the ongoing negotiations.  The requesting countries believed that bringing an end to the conflicts would promote international peace and security and would boost development and transboundary trade and transport in the region.

He went on to say that it was regretful that the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia, which had resulted in the occupation of vast portions of Azerbaijan's land, still remained unresolved following 13 years mediation by the OSCE.  The liberation of Azerbaijani territories and return of Azerbaijani people to those territories in safety and security should be one of the main focuses of the peaceful settlement of the issue.  The inclusion of the item on the Assembly's agenda would help to promote that aim.

Aligning himself with Moldova's statement, Ukraine's representative said he had brought the item to the Assembly for obvious reasons.  The United Nations played a central role in helping maintain the territorial integrity of Member States and in maintaining peace and stability at the regional level.  By bringing the item to the Assembly, the four countries making the request were neither replacing other actors, proposing new formulas or changing the game already on the ground.  They simply wanted to bring the matter into the international arena in the forum to which they belonged and where none of the four countries had ever denied others the right to have a hearing of their concerns.

Georgia's representative said the more attention brought to the conflicts, the better.  The Security Council had been dealing with Georgia's situation for years without any results because the situation was complex and involved separatists, a broad issue that was with the Assembly's scope, since it applied not only to the region being discussed, but also affected by questions of territorial integrity.

Speaking in explanation of position, France's representative said she was aware of how gravely the conflicts in question affected the region but now was not the time for the Assembly to take up questions that belonged elsewhere.  Rather, the groups and organizations already seized of the matter should step up their efforts.

The representative of United Kingdom said he voted in favour of including the item on the Assembly's agenda as a matter of principle.

Spain's delegate said he understood the reasoning of the four countries who had requested the inclusion of the item on the Assembly's agenda.  It was also true that the ongoing conflicts in the region needed international attention to avoid the risks spelled out in the letter of request.  However, he had abstained because the effect of the action could be counterproductive to resolving the conflicts.

Mali's representative said there were valid mechanisms already in effect to address the crises and, therefore, he had abstained.

The representative of the United States said the vote was purely procedural and carried no implications regarding a resolution.  All Assembly members had a right to bring national concerns before the Assembly and the joint request had been duly presented by Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova.  While some were of the view that the initiative could negatively affect ongoing negotiations in the "frozen conflicts" of the Black Sea region, the risk was not so grave as to justify depriving the four nationals of their right to bring up the issue.  His actions in plenary would be guided exclusively by what would help and not harm the peaceful resolution of the long-running conflicts in question.

The Question on the Independent Inquiry

Costa Rica's representative introduced the question of including on the Assembly's agenda an item regarding the Independent Inquiry Committee on the oil-for-food programme in Iraq.  He said his position on the importance of the issues raised by the Volcker report had already been made clear numerous times.  The Committee's conclusions had been quoted repeatedly at the September Summit in context of calls to address the Organization's systemic problems.  The actions to be taken by the Assembly with regard to implementation were attached as an explanatory memorandum to the letter requesting the item to be included in the Assembly's agenda.  No draft resolution would necessarily be implied by the inclusion, but the item should be taken up as soon as possible, maybe February.

The Russian Federation's representative said the strengthening of oversight and audit functions in the Organization were crucial.  A number of bodies were dealing with those issues.  Why should an additional item on the matter be included when attempts were being made to streamline the Organization's work?  Perhaps some adjustments to the title and text would make the purpose of the item more specific as it related to the Assembly as the body responsible for administrative management and oversight of the Organization.

India's representative said he could go along with a decision to recommend inclusion of the item on the Assembly's agenda if the text were strengthened to reinforce the ideas of "administrative management and internal oversight".

In explanation of position after action, Spain's representative said the implications of the Volcker report could not have been left out of the Assembly's agenda.  However, to date, the Committee's five reports were only out in English.  They must be made available in all official languages for study, including by capitals.

Brazil's representative said he agreed with the decision to include the item without prejudice to his position when the item was taken up.

Following a report on the costs of translating and copying various portions of the report, Spain's representative said that, regardless of cost, it was unacceptable to work with the English text alone.

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