BUDGET COMMITTEE CONTINUES DISCUSSION ON IMPROVING UN STAFF SECURITY; SPEAKERS CITE ISSUE’S URGENCY, ENDORSE SECRETARY-GENERAL’S PROPOSALS

28 November 2001
GA/AB/3482

BUDGET COMMITTEE CONTINUES DISCUSSION ON IMPROVING UN STAFF SECURITY; SPEAKERS CITE ISSUE’S URGENCY, ENDORSE SECRETARY-GENERAL’S PROPOSALS

28/11/2001
Press ReleaseGA/AB/3482

Fifty-sixth General Assembly

Fifth Committee

30th Meeting (AM)

BUDGET COMMITTEE CONTINUES DISCUSSION ON IMPROVING UN STAFF SECURITY;

SPEAKERS CITE ISSUE’S URGENCY, ENDORSE SECRETARY-GENERAL’S PROPOSALS

Also Concludes Discussion on Financing Lebanon, Sierra Leone Missions

As the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) continued its consideration of the safety and security of United Nations personnel this morning, several speakers stressed the high priority of the issue and noted that its urgency had been reflected in the decision taken by the General Assembly last December to approve 32 additional posts for the Office of the United Nations Security Coordinator as an interim measure, pending submission of more comprehensive proposals.

Those proposals, prepared by the Secretary-General and now before the Committee, include:  revised budgetary estimates for the Security Coordinator’s Office for 2002-2003 of $53.4 million; a revised staff table of 338 posts to be managed by the Security Coordinator’s Office; the establishment of the Security Coordinator’s post at the Assistant Secretary-General level; and the reclassification of the position of Deputy Security Coordinator to the D-2 level.  The proposals also include a formula for security cost sharing among the participating agencies, funds and programmes of the United Nations system.

The representative of New Zealand, also speaking on behalf of Canada and Australia, said the proposals before the Committee were significant in budgetary, administrative and human resource terms, reflecting the complexity and urgency of the security issue.  She endorsed the principle of collective responsibility in the proposed cost-sharing arrangement.  She also stressed the need for careful monitoring, strongly agreeing with the recommendation of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) calling for an annual deadline for receipt of payments from participating bodies and a restriction on exceeding the apportioned share of the United Nations without prior Assembly approval.

Speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, the representative of Iran said that additional resources should be provided from the regular budget.  However, that should not hamper the implementation of other mandated activities, in particular, in the area of development.  He welcomed the proposed modalities for cost sharing and concurred with the ACABQ’s opinion that further efforts should be made to clarify the relationship and interaction between the Office of the Security Coordinator and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.

The representative of Norway said the killing of United Nations personnel had been carried out with almost total impunity.  The primary responsibility for ensuring safety and security of United Nations and associated personnel, as well as humanitarian personnel, lay with the parties to a conflict and with host governments.  While governments must ensure that those accused of acts of violence against United Nations personnel were vigorously prosecuted, all Member States shared a collective responsibility for protecting the individuals who put their lives on the line to provide assistance in hostile areas.

In his concluding remarks to the Committee, the United Nations Security Coordinator, Benon Sevan, said the decision to be taken by the General Assembly would not only enhance the security of staff working under difficult conditions, but also boost the morale of staff, who, for too long, thought there had been too much talk and no action.  The Secretary-General was determined to establish a professionally managed system and to give the necessary authority and accountability to staff carrying out security functions both at Headquarters and in the field.

Also this morning, as the Committee concluded its consideration of financing of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) and the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL), the representative of Belgium (on behalf of the European Union and associated States) questioned the proposed 31 per cent increase in the appropriations for the Sierra Leone Mission –- the largest current peacekeeping operation.  Those doubts were supported by the observation that, as of 16 October, the amount of expenditures effectively committed for the period

1 July to 31 December 2001 amounted to some $233.6 million -- $41.3 million less than the expenditures authorized by resolution 55/251 B.  He also expressed concern over the high vacancy rates within the Mission, which put in question the post requirements and reclassifications proposed in the reports before the Committee.

Also speaking this morning were the representatives of Argentina, India, Egypt and Syria.  The Director of the Peacekeeping Financing Division also participated in the discussion.

The Committee will continue its work at a date to be announced.

Background

This morning, the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) continued its consideration of several issues, including the question of the safety and security of United Nations personnel, as well as the financing of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) and of the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL).  [For more information, see Press Release GA/AB/3481 dated 26 November.]

Statements on Security

MICHEL TILEMANS (Belgium), speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States, said the worrying statistics about acts of violence against United Nations personnel did not even take into account violence against members of non-governmental organizations.  For some 10 years, the Union had worked to ensure better protection of United Nations personnel on all levels -- legal, diplomatic and financial.  The Union reaffirmed that security measures constituted an essential function of the United Nations, which must be coordinated under the authority of the Secretary-General and must receive adequate funding based on fair cost-sharing arrangements among the agencies, funds and programmes of the United Nations system.

He was delighted that the “culture of security awareness” engendered by the Secretary-General’s personal efforts, was beginning to have tangible effects.  In the concrete proposals before the Committee, the Secretary-General was inviting the Committee to approve total requirements of some $53.4 million, of which the United Nations share would amount to about $10.4 million, representing an increase of $8 million against previous estimates.  The Union would carefully consider the financial impact of the Secretary-General’s proposals.

Endorsing the substance of the recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), he drew the Committee’s attention to paragraphs 14 to 16 of that body’s report.  The principle of shared financial responsibility in the coordinated management of the security personnel and the implementation of a coherent security policy throughout the United Nations system was a cornerstone of that system.  The Union congratulated the Office of the United Nations Security Coordinator, the agencies, funds and programmes for their timely adoption of the necessary cost-sharing arrangements.  For those arrangements to work, it was important the positions of United Nations Security Coordinator and Deputy Security Coordinator be established as full-time positions and at an adequate level.

Noting that the proposals of the Secretary-General covered 64 of the

80 high-risk duty stations, he said that coverage was insufficient and must be extended to all high-risk duty stations.  The Union subscribed to the recommendations of the Advisory Committee in paragraph 11 of its report on the issue of accountability.  A prolonged discussion to define clear lines of responsibility, accountability and a hierarchical security structure was unacceptable.  The issue must be resolved quickly.  He concluded by paying tribute to the peacekeeping staff, the staff of the Security Coordinator’s Office and all those who worked in the field on a daily basis to prevent conflicts, repair the damage caused by disaster and war, provide assistance to civilian populations, protect the rights of victims, and provide for reconstruction and development.

SEYED MORTEZA MIRMOHAMMAD (Iran), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, stressed the importance of the issue under discussion.  The Organization should take all the necessary steps to update its security management system and provide all the means required to meet its operational requirements, he said.  Additional resources, which should be provided from the regular budget, were required for strengthening security.  That should not, however, hamper the resource allocation for the implementation of other mandated activities, in particular, in the area of development.

The Group welcomed the proposed modalities for cost sharing between participating agencies, funds and programmes of the United Nations, he continued, and endorsed the recommendations of the Advisory Committee contained in paragraphs 15 and 16 of its report.  It concurred with the ACABQ’s opinion that further efforts should be made to clarify the relationship and interaction between the Office of the United Nations Security Coordinator and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations. 

He also noted the staffing proposals contained in the report, but added that further information should be provided on the high-risk duty stations identified in the Secretary-General’s report.  More detailed definition of such stations was also needed.  Recalling that a total of 32 additional Professional and Local-level posts had been established by General Assembly resolution 55/238 to strengthen safety and security of United Nations personnel, he expressed concern that not all the approved posts in the field had been filled.  That called for expeditious action.

He said that the Group also emphasized the need to define clear lines of responsibility and accountability in the area of safety and security, for that was an essential element of the proposed changes.  He expected to receive detailed information in that regard as soon as possible.  Finally, the Group emphasized that United Nations personnel should respect local laws of the host countries in accordance with relevant resolutions of the Assembly.

GUILLERMO KENDALL (Argentina) said the Committee was discussing the security and survival of persons devoting their services to the United Nations.  The issue was a priority, and his country had actively promoted the issue since last year.  Consideration of the issue was taking place in a difficult environment, especially since the events of 11 September.  For years, Member States had been asking the United Nations to shoulder the tasks of peacekeeping, very often in difficult circumstances.  The question of security must be dealt with in a way commensurate with new challenges facing the Organization.

The security management system must be reinforced both at Headquarters and in the field, he said, and the Office of the United Nations Security Coordinator must be endowed with the appropriate resources.  He welcomed the modalities for cost-sharing arrangements and the expenditure required for the security system.  The person in charge of the Office must be a high-level official -- at the level of Assistant Secretary-General -- and must be endowed with the proper authority.  The Deputy Coordinator should be at the D-2 level.  He agreed with requirements set forth in the Secretary-General’s report and underscored the need to develop a plan for accountability, particularly in the field.  He also highlighted the importance of providing adequate financing for training.

FELICITY BUCHANAN (New Zealand), speaking also on behalf of Australia and Canada, stressed the high priority of the question, which had been compounded by the events of 11 September.  The urgency of the issue was reflected in the decision taken during last session to approve 32 additional posts for the Office of the United Nations Security Coordinator as an interim measure, pending submission of a more comprehensive proposal.  The delegations that she represented welcomed the proposals before the Committee and generally endorsed the conclusions and recommendations contained in the ACABQ report.

A truly comprehensive approach to security must include consideration of security at Headquarters, she continued.  She looked forward to reviewing elements of an upgrade to Headquarters security as a matter of priority.  She also supported strengthening the Office of the Security Coordinator as a distinct and clearly identifiable structure, headed by a Coordinator with comprehensive responsibility for security strategy and activities in the field.  A large number of field advisers would be provided by various agencies, each with its respective expertise.

She went on to say that, according to the Secretary-General’s report, field operations must include activities that would foster better knowledge of the risks at hand, fuller interaction with other humanitarian actors, and an increased sense of priority and responsibility on the part of host governments.  Given the urgency of the issue, new authorized posts should be filled expeditiously.  Urgent priority should be attached to staffing all high-risk duty stations.

Continuing, she endorsed the principle of collective responsibility in the proposed cost-sharing arrangement between the United Nations and participating organizations.  The amount of money and the number of organizations involved suggested that there would be a need to carefully monitor the new system.  Therefore, she strongly agreed with the recommendation of the Advisory Committee calling for an annual deadline for receipt of payments from participating bodies and a restriction on exceeding the apportioned shared of the United Nations costs without prior Assembly approval.  A progress report on the matter should be prepared for the fifty-seventh session.  She also supported a future review of the matter, to ensure that all 80 high-risk duty stations had complete coverage.

The proposals before the Committee were significant in budgetary, administrative and human resource terms, she said, reflecting the complexity and urgency of the security issue.  Those measures would require an unprecedented level of cooperation among a large number of organizations and their commitment to an integrated system.  Expressing support for those proposals, she underlined the need for careful planning with regard to accountability processes, lines of authority and effective coordination.  The cost-sharing arrangement was a major achievement.  It was critical, however, that the degree of cooperation on the financial mechanism was complemented by a similar level of coordination at the strategic and operational levels.

ANNE MERCHANT (Norway) said that the safety and security of United Nations staff members was a matter of growing concern, since those providing protection and assistance to others had also found themselves increasingly under attack.  The alarming numbers of deliberate harm done to the United Nations personnel through criminal acts was greatly disturbing.  What made the situation even more unacceptable was the fact that the killing of United Nations personnel had been carried out with almost total impunity.  In the half-century history of the Organization, only six people involved in the violent deaths of international staff had ever been brought to justice.

The primary responsibility for ensuring safety and security of United Nations and associated personnel, as well as humanitarian personnel, lay with the parties to a conflict and with host governments, she said.  It was the governments that must see to it that those accused of acts of violence against United Nations personnel were vigorously prosecuted.  Nevertheless, all Member States shared a collective responsibility for protecting the individuals who courageously put their lives on line in order to provide assistance and protection in areas of hostility and open warfare.

Norway supported the Secretary-General’s staffing proposals, she continued, including the establishment of the post of Assistant Secretary-General in the field of security.  However, it shared the views of the ACABQ that there was a need for a future review to ensure complete coverage for all 80 high-risk duty stations.  Also, further efforts should be made to clarify the relationship and interaction between the Office of the United Nations Security Coordinator and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.

Taking note that a joint working group was to meet to develop the accountability standards in greater detail, she stressed the importance of defining clear lines of responsibility and accountability.  A clear chain of command should be established between the field and Headquarters, and that issue should be addressed expeditiously.  It was crucial that responsibilities for a security policy be centralized within the Security Coordinator’s Office.  All organizations of the United Nations system should adhere to that policy.  She would like to see a report on progress achieved in that regard at the fifty-seventh session.

In conclusion, she said that she also supported the establishment of a Security Training Unit and welcomed the new and more equitable cost-sharing arrangements for the United Nations security management system, which was a result of a broad effort made during the past year.

A.V.S RAMESH CHANDRA (India) said the safety and security of United Nations personnel was of paramount importance.  It was one issue where there could not be two opinions.  He congratulated the United Nations Security Coordinator on the establishment of cost-sharing arrangements and review mechanisms.  He also complimented the ACABQ for its report.  He would work with like-minded delegations to ensure that the highest level of security was provided for United Nations staff and was confident shared thought on the issue would be reflected in the resolution approved by the Committee.

AYMAN M. ELGAMMAL (Egypt) said his position on the matter had been reflected in the statement of the Group of 77.  After hearing the statements of the European Union and Norway, however, he was concerned about the use of the term “associated personnel”.  The Committee was considering the proposals of the Secretary-General and their budgetary implications.  He fully supported those proposals and hoped that the Fifth Committee would not be dragged into a discussion of the concept or definition of associated personnel.

The United Nations Security Coordinator, BENON SEVAN, thanked all delegations for their support and endorsement of the Secretary-General’s recommendations.  He also thanked the members of the Advisory Committee.  He noted an “ocean of difference” from last year’s discussions regarding security matters.  The decision to be taken by the General Assembly would not only enhance the security of staff working under difficult conditions, but would also be a morale booster for staff, who for too long thought there was too much talk and no action.

He had taken note of all the concerns expressed by the Committee and wished to ensure Member States that the 64 duty stations of the 80 that had been identified as “high-risk” had been carefully negotiated with the agencies concerned.  High-risk duty stations, however, fluctuated all the time.  It was important to keep all stations under constant review.  What might be considered a quiet place today could become dangerous tonight, as had been the case with the recent incident in New York.  The Secretary-General was determined to establish a professionally managed system and to give the necessary authority and accountability to staff carrying out security functions both at Headquarters and in the field.

On a personal note, he said that after eight years as United Nations Security Coordinator, among his other responsibilities, he was pleased that his successor would find an Office that was better staffed and supported.  Like all generals, he wanted to fade away in peace and tranquillity.  On behalf of all his colleagues in the field, he thanked the Committee.

Statements on Peacekeeping

As the Committee turned to the financing of peacekeeping, Mr. TILEMANS (Belgium), speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States, said that the Union attached great importance to the timely provision of the funds needed by peacekeeping operations.  He noted the proposals of the Secretary-General on the financing of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), which represented a 31 per cent reduction, compared with the previous budget.  The Union approved the recommendations of the ACABQ contained in the report before the Committee.

The United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) was the largest of the current peacekeeping missions, he continued, and the proposals submitted to the Committee envisaged an appropriation of a gross amount of some $722.1 million and implied a growth of 31.3 per cent.  He shared the doubt of the ACABQ as to the capacity of the Mission to use all the resources in 2001-2002.  Those doubts were supported by the observation that, as of 16 October, the amount of expenditures effectively committed for the period 1 July to 31 December 2001 amounted to some $233.6 million -- $41.3 million less than the expenditures authorized by resolution 55/251 B.  In that regard, it would be especially important for the Secretariat to explain the additional amount of $85 million proposed for the same period. 

Continuing, he said that it was necessary to examine the ways of synchronizing the mandates of peacekeeping operations with the budget cycle.  The policy currently followed in that regard complicated the budgetary process and the collection of contributions.

Turning to the structure and management of UNAMSIL, he said that its capacity for recruitment seemed to have further deteriorated. He expressed concern over the high vacancy rates within the Mission, which had reached 14.7 per cent for international civilian personnel and 17.1 per cent for local staff.  Consequently, he had questions about the post requirements and reclassifications proposed.  The Union also had questions about the policy of gender parity, both within the Mission and in the field. 

As for the issue of self-sustainment, he noted that the processing of requests for reimbursement for contingent-owned equipment was slow, due in part to the lack of resources for verification in the field.  The Union also noted a long time that it took to conclude the Memorandum of Understanding, as well as the fact that the United Nations had taken over some functions that the contingents should have carried out, without any prior revision of the Memorandum.  That could lead to duplication.

Regarding the recent acquisition of an eight-seat jet by the Mission, he said that alternatives to the use of the jet should be explored.  The Union would be pleased if the Secretariat informed it of the implementation of the recommendations of the Board of Auditors regarding UNAMSIL, in particular, regarding the planning and conclusion of procurement contracts, inventory management, and delivery of goods and services.  Additional information should also be presented on the follow-up to the conclusions of the resident auditors, in particular, regarding service contracts, financial management, travel, leave and procurement control. 

Continuing, he noted with interest that the Office of Internal Oversight Services had recently carried out a study of the rates for subsistence allowance, concluding that the rates for seven missions, including UNAMSIL, should be reduced.  He hoped those points had been duly reviewed.  An exit strategy should also be developed for the Mission, taking into account the developments on the ground.  In conclusion, he emphasized the progress achieved by the Mission since the time it had begun and said that the lessons learned from the difficulties it had encountered applied to many peacekeeping operations. 

On the financing of UNIFIL, ABDOU AL-MOULA NAKKARI (Syria) asked if the report of the Secretary-General on the matter had been presented by the Secretariat representatives.

YEO BOCK CHENG, Director, Peacekeeping Financing Division, replied that normally the Secretariat did not introduce Secretary-General’s peacekeeping financing reports, except during the spring resumed session.  Normally, the Chairman of the ACABQ introduced both the Secretary-General’s and ACABQ reports.

Mr. NAKKARI (Syria) said that reports on UNIFIL and others had been presented by the United Nations Controller at the previous session of the Assembly.  As the Chairman of the ACABQ did not represent the Secretary-General, Secretary-General’s reports should be introduced by his representatives.

Other Matters

The representatives of Syria and Egypt took the floor to ask about several outstanding items, including the reports of non-Secretariat officials and human resources management, still to be considered by the Committee.

The Committee’s Secretary, JOSEPH ACAKPO-SATCHIVI, said he would find out when the reports on human resources management would be submitted to the Committee and would adjust the programme of work accordingly.

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For information media. Not an official record.