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GA/AB/3610
23 March 2004

IN FIFTH COMMITTEE, REGULAR BUDGET FINANCING REQUESTED FOR SIERRA LEONE COURT TO BRIDGE VOLUNTARY CONTRIBUTION SHORTFALL

23/03/2004
Press Release
GA/AB/3610


Fifty-eighth General Assembly                              

Fifth Committee                                            

37th Meeting (AM)


IN FIFTH COMMITTEE, REGULAR BUDGET FINANCING REQUESTED FOR SIERRA LEONE


COURT TO BRIDGE VOLUNTARY CONTRIBUTION SHORTFALL


Taking up a request for a subvention that would allow the Special Court for Sierra Leone to continue its operations through the end of December 2005 this morning, several speakers in the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary), including South Africa on behalf of the African Group and the United States, supported providing the Court with some $40 million from the United Nations’ regular budget to bridge the shortfall it faced in voluntary contributions and allow it to carry out its third year of operations.


While the Committee was considering that request by the Secretary-General, the Chairman of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), Vladimir Kuznetsov said that, given the lack of detailed information on the estimates for the Court’s operations, the Advisory Committee recommended granting commitment authority in an amount not to exceed $16.7 million.  The ACABQ would revert to the matter when it had received a detailed and fully justified submission, he noted.


Hailing the unique nature of the Special Court, based in Freetown, South Africa’s representative, on behalf of the African Group, noted that the hybrid jurisdiction of international humanitarian law and relevant national laws of Sierra Leone in the Court represented a model of justice and a unique effort to prosecute persons who bore the greatest responsibility for the crimes in Sierra Leone.  The Court’s creation was a practical demonstration of the international community’s support in strengthening the administration of justice in Sierra Leone, as a critical part of the country’s national reconciliation and broader peace process. 


Stressing that the international community could not allow the Court to fail, the representative of the United States noted that the significance of the Court was made even greater for being situated in the country where the conflict had taken place.  The United States had strongly supported the voluntary-funded nature of the Court since its inception and had hoped that enough contributions from the international community would have been forthcoming to sustain its operations.  The subvention, however, should in no way affect the independence and structure of the Court as established by the Agreement between the United Nations and the Government of Sierra Leone.


Acknowledging its positive achievements, other speakers, including the representative of Ireland on behalf of the European Union, endorsed the ACABQ’s recommendation to grant a commitment authority of some $16.7 million, urging all organs of the Court to respect the time-limited mandate established by the Security Council.  Every effort to complete the Court’s work within its three-year mandate, as well as within the allocated budget, must be made, she added.


Japan’s representative urged Member States that supported the subvention proposal to consider setting several conditions, including that the subvention should be a one-time only, exceptional measure.  All efforts should be made to ensure that the necessary funds for 2005 and beyond would be covered by voluntary contributions.  The subvention should not be considered a precedent for other cases, and a clear completion strategy for the Special Court should be set.


While concerned about the financial difficulties facing the Court, the representative of the Russian Federation noted that the request for a subvention had provided no explanation how, in the second year of the Court’s operations, such a large shortfall had come about.  He expressed concern that no justification had been provided for the tribunal’s initial expenditures.  Adopting a decision to cover the shortfall from the Organization’s regular budget might create a negative precedent of a transfer of funds to independent international institutions. 


The representative of the Republic of Korea agreed that the Committee did not have enough information to consider a subvention, saying the Secretary-General’s report failed to provide financial information for the Court’s first year as well as information on the Court’s management.  Changing the Court’s funding mechanism in the middle of its operations might negatively impact on Member States decisions to establish such courts, he added.


Noting that the international community could not afford to engage in lengthy debate on the Court’s financing, Sierra Leone’s representative said that a delay in resolving the matter would, among other things, cast a long shadow on the international community’s commitment to deal decisively in ending impunity.  The administration of justice was not cheap, just as the struggle against terrorism was not cheap.  Such a unique institution in international humanitarian law should not be allowed to fail, especially in mid-stream. 


Also speaking this morning were the representatives of Mexico, New Zealand (also on behalf of Canada and Australia), Gabon, Brazil, Costa Rica and Guatemala.


Warren Sach, the Director of the Programme Planning and Budget Division, introduced the Secretary-General’s report.


The Committee will meet again on Thursday, 25 March, at 10 a.m. to continue its discussion of human resources management.


Background


As the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) met this morning it was expected to consider the financing for the Special Court for Sierra Leone.


The Committee had before it a report (document A/58/733), which has been submitted in response to an exchange of letters between the Secretary-General and the President of the Security Council (documents S/2004/182 and S/2004/183) in respect of financial difficulties faced by the Special Court for Sierra Leone.  The Secretary-General proposed that the matter be brought to the attention of the General Assembly with a view to seeking the appropriation of funds for the Court.  The President of the Security Council noted the proposed course of action and expressed no objection.


The report sets out the overall level of resources required for the period from 1 July 2004 to 31 December 2005.  The approval of a subvention of up to $40 million is sought from the General Assembly, of which $16.7 million relates to the period from 1 July to 31 December 2004 and the remaining $23.3 million relates to 2005.


Given that the amount requested is to supplement voluntary contributions, including those pledged but not yet paid, the Secretary-General intends to report to the Assembly at the main part of its fifty-ninth session on the status of such contributions and seek its approval for the release of the relevant balance of the overall requirements.  To the extent that voluntary contributions received exceed the level currently anticipated, the amount assessed would be reduced.


In its related report (document A/58/7/Add.30), the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) notes that, bearing in mind that the Court was established on the basis of voluntary financing, it will be for the General Assembly to decide whether or not a subvention to meet the Court’s expenses should be made from the Organization’s assessed budget.  Another factor is the impact of a contribution by the membership as a whole on efforts to seek further voluntary contributions, which, in the Committee’s view, should continue.  At some point account should be taken of the impact of a contribution from the assessed budget on the provisions of the Agreement between the United Nations and the Government of Sierra Leone on the Establishment of a Special Court for Sierra Leone, concerning, in particular, the Court’s composition and expenses, as well as the functions of its Management Committee.


Should the Assembly decide to contribute towards the Court’s expenses, the Advisory Committee would recommend that, at the current stage, commitment authority be granted in an amount not exceeding $16.7 million, the report notes.  The authority would be administered along the lines spelled out in the Secretary-General’s report.  The Committee would revert to the matter on the basis of a detailed and fully justified submission, which would include the participation of representatives of the Court.  Taking into account the latest developments, including the possible receipt of additional voluntary contributions, the Committee would then provide a detailed recommendation to the Assembly as to the level of financial assistance that would be required and the source of financing, including through use of the existing appropriation for special political missions.  As of 16 March 2004, the balance remaining in the provision for special political missions was some $21.1 million.


Introduction of Reports


WARREN SACH, Director of the Programme Planning and Budget Division, introduced the Secretary-General’s report, saying the report contained a request for subvention of up to some $40 million to supplement existing voluntary contributions, which were insufficient for the completion of the Court’s work.  The Secretary-General had said on previous occasions that the only realistic solution for financing the Court was through assessed contributions.  Nevertheless, the Court’s funding was established on a voluntary basis.  The Court’s second year of operations, which would be completed on 30 June, would be entirely funded through voluntary contributions.  After that date, however, there would be insufficient resources for the Court’s operations.  Of the $40 million sought, some $30 million would relate to the period 1 July 2004 through 30 June 2005.  For the second half of 2005, some $10 million was expected to be required. 


Chairman of the ACABQ VLADIMIR KUZNETSOV introduced that body’s related report, saying it now appeared that available long-term contributions would carry the Court only through 30 June 2004.  The Advisory Committee had pointed out that it would be for the General Assembly to take a policy decision on whether or not a subvention should be made from the assessed budget of the Organization.  The ACABQ recommended that should the General Assembly decide to contribute towards the Court’s expenses, commitment authority be granted in an amount not exceeding $16.7 million.    


MARGARET STANLEY (Ireland), speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States, endorsed the proposal to give $16.7 million commitment authority to the Sierra Leone Special Court, acknowledging its important role in bringing to justice those most responsible for the atrocities committed in the conflict and its significance to the efforts to fight impunity in the region.


The fact that the Court was located in Freetown made it unique amongst the currently constituted international judicial bodies in being based in the country where the crimes had been committed, she said.  It was, therefore, essential for peace and stability within Sierra Leone and the region that it not be allowed to fail through insufficient funds from the international community.  She supported the Secretary-General’s proposal for a one-time ad hoc subvention to cover funding shortfalls in the remainder of 2004 and, if necessary, also in 2005.  That was an exceptional case and the international community should reappraise the whole financing of the international institution.


As demonstrated by the experience of the International Tribunals, accurate forecasting of such bodies was a difficult matter, she continued.  In the future, the international community should secure a sound basis for the financing of international courts before their establishment.  The judicial process could not be fully directed or controlled by administrative oversight bodies.  However, she urged all organs of the court, within the constraints imposed by the judicial process, to respect the time-limited mandate established by the Council and to make every effort to complete their work within the three years envisaged, as well as within the allocated budget. 


Given that the proposed subvention had made some contingency provision for possible time overruns of the court, she trusted that the request for a subvention would be a one-off case.  The Union also concurred with the Secretary-General’s view that the fundamental nature of the Court should not be altered.  Every effort should be made to secure further voluntary funds, and the Union appealed to the international community to redouble its efforts in that respect.


KAREN LOCK (South Africa), speaking on behalf of the African Group, said that the creation of the Special Court was a practical demonstration of the international community’s support in strengthening the administration of justice in Sierra Leone, as a critical part of the country’s national reconciliation and broader peace process.  Indeed, the hybrid jurisdiction of international humanitarian law and relevant national laws of Sierra Leone in the court represented a model of justice and a unique effort to prosecute persons who bore the greatest responsibility for the crimes in Sierra Leone.


Continuing, she recalled that the Secretary-General’s own preference, prior to the establishment of the Court, had been financing through assessed contributions from Member States, which could afford it a secure and continuous funding.  That sentiment was shared by several Member States.  Security Council resolution 1315 (2000), however, approved a financing mechanism based on voluntary contributions from Member States.


Taking note of the current status of voluntary contributions, she expressed concern that cash balance of $1.8 million available to the Special Court would only be adequate to finance its operations to the end of May 2004, a time the trial proceedings were set to begin in earnest.  That could jeopardize the continuing operations of the Special Court and have a negative impact on the peace process in Sierra Leone.  It was thus imperative to ensure that the proceedings suffered no disruptions.  Therefore, it would be appropriate for the Committee to take early action on the item.


The African Group gave sympathetic consideration to the Secretary-General’s request for approval of funding of up to $40 million to supplement the financial resources of the Special Court, she said.  The subvention would enable the Court to complete its mandate by December 2005, without prejudice to its independent character.  In that connection, she noted the recommendation of the ACABQ to grant the Secretary-General a commitment authority in the amount not exceeding $16.7 million, to be disbursed on an incremental basis and the monitoring of expenditures through monthly reporting. 


TOSHIRO OZAWA (Japan) said Japan had already extended a substantial amount of assistance to Sierra Leone, including a contribution of some $960,000 in 1998 for the United Nations Trust Fund for Sierra Leone.  Given the importance of prosecuting crimes against humanity committed during the internal conflict, Japan had also contributed some $500,000 to the establishment of the Special Court for Sierra Leone.  It was with strong regret that Japan had learned that there was a shortfall in voluntary contributions for the Special Court.  His Government was very concerned about the idea of a subvention.  He believed that other delegations were also concerned about the impact of the possible subvention on efficiency and further efforts for cost-reductions.  His delegation was also still unclear on a completion strategy for the Special Court. 


Given such considerations, as well as the increase in the size of the United Nations regular budget, the failure to set strict priorities among United Nations activities and the possible negative effect that such a subvention might have on many activities funded through voluntary contributions, his Government could not support the idea of subvention from the regular budget, he said.  To prevent the Court from failing, the Security Council, which had been instrumental in the Court’s creation, should play a role in mobilizing the necessary voluntary contributions.  In other words, those countries, which were in a position to make certain decisions, should assume corresponding responsibility.


He urged Member States in support of the subvention proposal to consider setting several conditions.  First, the subvention should be a one-time only, exceptional measure and all efforts should be made so that necessary funds for 2005 and beyond would be covered by voluntary contributions.  Also, the subvention would not be considered as a precedent for other cases, and a clear completion strategy for the Special Court should be set in place and the Council should urge its implementation as necessary.


ERNESTO HERRERA (Mexico) said the role of the Special Court was extremely important to the process of reconciliation.  He thanked the Court for its work over the last two years, and congratulated the Court on the new facilities.  Mexico had made voluntary contributions to the Court’s maintenance.  Mexico had also expressed concern at the Secretary-General’s report requesting a subvention to bear the costs for the Court. 


He said he had taken note of the fact that the funds available to the Court would only be sufficient for its operations through June 2004.  He regretted that the Secretary-General’s efforts had not served to get the pledged funds.  He supported paragraph nine of the ACABQ’s report, including that the matter should be reconsidered on the basis of a detailed and fully justified submission.  All of the Court’s resources should come from voluntary sources.  He encouraged the Secretary-General to continue working towards that end and keep the Assembly apprised of progress.


VLADIMIR A. IOSIFOV (Russian Federation) took note of the activities of the Court and information on the progress achieved in bringing to justice those responsible for the most horrific crimes committed on the territory of Sierra Leone.  He was concerned about the difficult financial situation of the Special Court.  In connection with a request for a subvention, however, he recalled that the financing of the independent legal body was to be carried out on the basis of voluntary contributions.  The request for a subvention had provided no explanation how, in the second year of the work of the Court, such a large shortfall had come about.  Further, no justification had been provided for the tribunal’s initial expenditures.  Moreover, there was no mention of whether alternative ways of financing had been considered or sought after it became clear that voluntary contributions would not cover the functioning of the Court. 


It was necessary to bear in mind that adoption of a decision to cover the shortfall from the Organization’s regular budget might create a negative precedent of a transfer of funds to independent international institutions, he continued.  He noted with concern the lack of sufficient information, on the basis of which the General Assembly could make a decision on a subvention to the court, including a final strategy for the conclusion of the Court’s work. One could come to a conclusion that, in the future, further requests for financing could not be excluded.  He also had questions on the functioning of the Secretariat of the Court. 


FELICITY BUCHANAN (New Zealand), speaking also on behalf of Australia and Canada, said that the delegations she represented had a deep commitment to the purpose of the Court -- “to establish a credible system of justice and accountability that would end impunity for serious violations of international humanitarian law and contribute to the process of national reconciliation, and to the restoration and maintenance of peace”.  The Court was now poised to begin its trial phase.  At that critical time in the life of the Court, the international community had been asked to provide a subvention to enable it to complete its work, while preserving its independent nature and structure.  The funds required were for the third year of operation, plus a several-month completion phase, ending in December 2005.


Continuing, she noted that the Court had been designed to function on the basis of voluntary funding.  The Secretary-General, however, made it clear that, despite his own efforts and those of the Court and MemberStates to mobilize further resources, the level of voluntary contributions remained too low for the Court to complete its mandate.  The indication by the Security Council that, under the circumstances, it had no objection to the proposal to supplement voluntary contributions with assessed ones, reflected the importance attached to the realization of the purposes for which the Court had been established.  In the light of the vital work of the Court, the delegations she represented stood ready to support the Secretary-General’s proposal that a subvention be made.


Prudently, both the Secretary-General and the ACABQ outlined a two-stage process for allocating the sums required, which the Secretary-General had estimated at up to $40 million, she said.  That would meet the immediate financial needs of the Court, but also examine in more detail the financial position of the Court to determine the actual needs for 2005, before releasing the balance of the appropriation.  In that regard, she noted that a definitive exit and completion strategy had yet to be formulated for the Court.  Such a strategy, together with supplementary financial information, would be an important tool in reverting to that issue next session.  In the meantime, the international community had an immediate obligation to ensure the viability and smooth operation of the Court, and she saw the Secretary-General’s proposal for a subvention as the best way to meet that need.


ELIZABETH NAKIAN (United States) said that her country had been a leading proponent and financial contributor to the Court, which had made commendable progress towards achieving its goal of bringing to justice those bearing the greatest responsibility for the terrible crimes committed in Sierra Leone.  The Court was a pillar in consolidating lasting peace and national reconciliation in Sierra Leone.  Its significance was made even greater for being situated in the country where the conflict had taken place.


The important work of the Court, however, was at serious risk if sufficient funding was not secured for its third year, she continued.  The United States had strongly supported the voluntary-funded nature of the Court since its inception and had hoped that enough contributions from the international community would have been forthcoming to sustain its operations.  However, despite numerous appeals by both the Secretary-General and members of the Court’s Management Committee, there remained a significant shortfall in funds.  Thus, without a subvention, the Court faced insolvency at the crucial time when trials were set to commence. 


The international community could not afford to let the Court fail, she said.  That would send a negative message to those in the world struggling to combat the culture of impunity and undermine respect for human rights and international humanitarian law.  It was also important to remember that the President of Sierra Leone in 2002 had appealed to the Secretary-General and asked the United Nations to help establish the Special Court.  The Court had demonstrated that it could work quickly and cost-effectively.  Despite the difficulties in securing sufficient voluntary funds, her delegation believed that the Court continued to be a good model for an independent, efficient and effective tribunal that had benefited from the lessons of the Yugoslav and Rwanda Tribunals.


The bottom line was that the United States accepted the Secretary-General’s request that a subvention of up to $40 million be granted to the Special Court for Sierra Leone to bridge the shortfall in voluntary contributions and to allow the Court to carry out its third year of operations.  She also supported the Secretary-General’s position that the subvention should in no way affect the independence and structure of the Court as established by the Agreement between the United Nations and the Government of Sierra Leone.


PARK YOON-JUNE (Republic of Korea) acknowledged the valuable role played by the Court, including the indictment of 11 persons.  He hoped trial activities would proceed smoothly.  Regarding the subvention, he noted the ACABQ’s observation that the Committee would not be able to conduct a detailed review of the matter.  The Fifth Committee did not have enough information for it to consider a subvention.  The Secretary-General’s report did not provide financial information for the Court’s first year.  Without fully understanding the Court’s financing and management, he found it difficult to respond to the subvention request.


Another matter of interest was the number of posts in the Special Court.  With only nine people having been tried, his delegation felt that the Court had too many posts.  He requested the Secretariat to provide the job descriptions for the Court’s staff.  He was also concerned by the lack of a completion plan.  While delegations had been told that trials should be completed by December 2005, he did not know the basis on which that estimate had been made.  Without information on the Court’s programme of work and detailed expenditure estimates, he wondered about the possibility of the Court’s entering into a fourth or fifth year of operations and the Secretariat’s plans in that case. 


Changing the Court’s funding mechanism in the middle of its operations might negatively impact Member States’ decision to establish such courts, he said.  The Fifth Committee should exert its best effort to find a mutually agreeable solution to work within existing appropriations for Special Political missions for 2004-2005 and not create an extra burden for members.  The principle of voluntary contributions should be upheld and every effort to seek voluntary funding should be made.


JEAN CHRISTIAN OBAME (Gabon) said the establishment of a Special Court had been welcomed by the international community as a major step towards the end of impunity for those who violated international law.  The Court’s current duty must be completed in order to achieve lasting peace and reconciliation in Sierra Leone.  To carry out its tasks, the Court had so far depended on voluntary contributions.  He welcomed those already made and invited other partners to come forward and support the Court.


He was concerned, however, that since its establishment the Court had experienced a tough financial situation, which could impede the completion of its mandate.  The current financial situation would carry the Special Court only to the end of its second year of operations.  Taking into account the level of the amount suggested for the subvention, he shared the view of the Secretary-General that substantial subvention through assessed contributions be provided to ensure the Court’s viable and secure funding.


SYLVESTER EKUNDAYO ROWE (Sierra Leone) underscored the importance of a speedy and positive consideration of the matter, saying a delay would negatively impact the Court’s operations, lengthen its mandate and result in additional expenses.  It would also cast a long shadow on the international community’s commitment to deal decisively in ending impunity.  The administration of justice was not cheap, just as the struggle against terrorism was not cheap.  The Court’s credibility would be called into question.  Such a unique institution in international humanitarian law should not be allowed to fail, especially in mid-stream. 


While it was a Special Court for Sierra Leone, it was also a special court for the international community, he continued.  With the Court already in operation, the international community could not afford to engage in a lengthy debate on the issue of voluntary versus assessed contributions.  He thanked the Secretary-General and the ACABQ for their recommendations, as well as delegations that had spoken in support of the Advisory Committee’s recommendations.


GILDA MOTTA SANTOS-NEVES (Brazil) said that her delegation fully supported the Special Court and welcomed the tremendous progress in its activities, noting the scheduled beginning of trial proceedings in May.  It was a crucial stage, and she agreed with the African Group that the work of the Court could not be jeopardized.  The ACABQ had proposed a reasonable course of action, and she was prepared to continue discussion of the matter in informal consultations.


ANTONIO ALARCON (Costa Rica) supported the position of the African Group regarding the need to provide financing to the Special Court for Sierra Leone, which played an important role in bringing to justice those responsible for the gravest crimes in the country.  International humanitarian law should be upheld throughout the world, and the work of the Court was extremely important to his delegation.  He would also like to see continued attempts to get the funds through voluntary contributions, and he thanked all the countries that had made it possible to ensure operation of the Court.  He would like to see a detailed strategy for the conclusion of the work of the Court, as well.


KARLA GABRIELA SAMAYOA-RECARI (Guatemala) associated herself with the statement by Brazil’s representative.


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For information media. Not an official record.