Concerns Aired about Syria Envoy Office, Adviser on Genocide Prevention, as Fifth Committee Examines Budgets for Special Political Missions

GA/AB/4256
22 November 2017
Seventy-second Session, 16th Meeting (AM)

Concerns Aired about Syria Envoy Office, Adviser on Genocide Prevention, as Fifth Committee Examines Budgets for Special Political Missions

Delegates Also Approve Draft Resolutions on Activities of Internal Oversight Services Office, United Nations 2018-19 Meetings Calendar

As the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) today examined the recommended 2018 budgets for special political missions and the assistance mission in Iraq, one delegate objected to aspects of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide’s activities, while another was concerned by sharp increases in the number of staff at the Office of the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria.

Bettina Tucci Bartsiotas, Assistant Secretary-General and Controller of the United Nations, introduced the Secretary-General’s report on the proposed 2018 budgets for 10 special and personal envoys, advisers and representative of the Secretary-General, which totalled $50 million.

Presenting a separate report on the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), she said 2018 requirements were estimated at $111 million. Changes in UNAMI’s proposed budget included the establishment of a Women’s Protection Unit and of an office in Mosul following that city’s liberation from Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh), she said.

Carlos Ruiz Massieu, Chair of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), introduced that entity’s related reports, and recommended that the General Assembly approve the Secretary-General’s requested resources for the missions in 2018, subject to the Advisory Committee’s observations and recommendations.

Cuba’s representative disagreed with the Secretary-General’s proposal to include activities and results related to the concept of responsibility to protect, specifically under the proposal relating to the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide.  The General Assembly had not specifically approved a definition on the principle of responsibility to protect, she said, presenting serious concerns, particularly for small and developing countries, and creating an issue that could be easily manipulated for political purposes.

Syria’s representative, referring to the report’s discussion of the Office of the Special Envoy for Syria, welcomed the fact that for the first time, it mentioned the need to suppress and prevent terrorist acts by ISIL/Da’esh and the Al-Nusrah Front.  However, he was concerned about the Secretary-General’s recommendation to sharply increase the number of staff in Damascus, Geneva and New York.  Current staff numbers were sufficient for the Office to carry out its mission and nothing justified increasing them considerably in all categories in Damascus, given recent victories by the Syrian Arab Army and its friends in the fight against terrorism, he stressed.

Iraq’s delegate, expressing gratitude for UNAMI’s support, called for a meticulous review of the 2018 funding proposals lest they undermine the Mission’s work and priorities.  His Government welcomed the ACABQ’s recommendations that the Secretary-General should spare no effort in promoting the conversion of international posts in UNAMI to domestic posts.

The Committee also took up the Secretary-General’s report on revised estimates resulting from resolutions and decisions adopted in 2017 by the Economic and Social Council.  Presenting that report, Ms. Bartsiotas said only one Council decision gave rise to additional budgetary requirements, amounting to $247,200, in relation to preparations for the sixty‑second session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs in 2019.  Mr. Ruiz presented ACABQ’s corresponding report.

In other business, the Committee, acting without a vote, approved two draft resolutions.  One text would have the General Assembly take note of the report of the Office of Internal Oversight Services and welcome its efforts to promote the Organization’s zero tolerance approach to fraud and corruption.  By the same draft, the Assembly would also endorse observations, comments, and recommendations made by the Independent Audit Advisory Committee.

Through the second text, the Assembly would approve the draft biennial calendar of United Nations conferences and meetings in 2018 and 2019, as submitted by the Committee on Conference.  It would emphasize the paramount importance of the quality of the United Nations six official languages in the area of documentation and publications, welcome the modernization of the Official Document System and request the Secretary-General to continue efforts to attract more language professionals to the Organization.

Speaking at the end of the meeting, Michel Tommo Monthé (Cameroon), Fifth Committee Chair, noted that the Committee would be dealing with larger and more complex items upon its return from the Thanksgiving holiday.  He encouraged delegations to show resolve, speed, flexibility, pragmatism and a sense of camaraderie as they strove to complete their work.

Also speaking today was the representative of Ecuador (on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China).

The Fifth Committee will meet again at a date and time to be announced in the Journal.

Special Political Missions

BETTINA TUCCI BARTSIOTAS, Assistant Secretary-General and Controller of the United Nations, introduced the Secretary-General’s report on proposed budgets for 2018 in respect of special political missions, good offices and other political initiatives authorized by the General Assembly and/or the Security Council under thematic cluster I and the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) (documents A/72/371/Add.1 and Add.5).  The proposed resources for 2018 for the 10 missions presented under thematic cluster I totalled $50 million, down $1.1 million from approved resources for 2017 due to reduced operating costs, mainly under the Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General (Burundi) and the Office of the Special Envoy for the Great Lakes region, she said.  For UNAMI, the proposed resource requirements for 2018 amounted to $111 million, a net decrease of $6.5 million from approved resources in 2017, due mainly to a proposed net reduction of 15 civilian positions and decreased operational costs.  Changes in UNAMI’s proposed budget include the establishment of a Women’s Protection Unit and of an office in Mosul following that city’s liberation from Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh).

[The 10 special political missions included under thematic cluster I comprised the Office of the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Cyprus, the Office of the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, the Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General for Western Sahara, the Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for the implementation of Security Council resolution 1559 (2004), the United Nations Representative to the Geneva International Discussions, the Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Syria, the Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for the Sudan and South Sudan, the Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for the Great Lakes Region, the Office of the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Yemen and the Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General (Burundi).]

She then introduced the Secretary-General’s report on revised estimates resulting from resolutions and decisions adopted by the Economic and Social Council during its 2017 session (document A/72/398), noting that, during its 2017 session, the Council adopted one resolution and two decisions with resource implications.  Of those, only decision 2017/241 gave rise to additional budgetary requirements, amounting to $247,200, thus requiring an additional appropriation.   She explained that those resources would enable enhanced technical and substantive support to the sixty-second session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs in 2019.

CARLOS RUIZ MASSIEU, Chairman of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ), introduced the Advisory Committee’s corresponding reports on special missions and UNAMI (documents A/72/7/Add.11 and A/72/7/Add.15).  On the former, he said the ACABQ recommended approval of the resources proposed by the Secretary-General, subject to the recommendations contained in paragraphs 25 and 41 of the report.  He added that the Advisory Committee’s comments and recommendations on cross-cutting issues, including official travel, would be contained in its main report.  On the latter, he said that, pending the outcome of an external independent assessment and any Security Council decision, the Mission’s current planning assumptions might not reflect actual resource requirements for the period from 1 January to 31 December 2018.  The ACABQ recommended that any revised resource requirements should be submitted to the General Assembly at the appropriate time.  For the 1 January to 30 June 2018 period, the Advisory Committee recommended that the Assembly authorize the Secretary-General to enter into commitments of up to $50 million, he said, adding that UNAMI’s overall requirements needed to be refined, including with respect to the establishment of new posts and operational requirements.

He went ono to introduce the Advisory Committee’s report on the revised estimates resulting from ECOSOC resolutions and decisions during 2017 (document A/72/7/Add.22), noting that its budgetary implications would give rise to total requirements of $288,700, of which $2,500 related to the biennium 2016-2017 programme budget and $286,200 to the biennium 2018-2019 budget.  He said the ACABQ did not object to the Secretary-General’s approach to accommodate the proposed additional requirements of $39,000 within the proposed 2018-2019 proposed programme budget and $2,500 within the resources approved for the biennium 2016‑2017.  He added that the Advisory Committee recommended approval of the remaining amount of $247,000 under section 16, International drug control, crime and terrorism prevention and criminal justice, as a charge against the contingency fund for 2018-2019.

AMÉRICA LOURDES PEREIRA SOTOMAYOR (Ecuador), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, noted that the additional budgetary requirements resulting from resolutions and decisions adopted by the Economic and Social Council during its 2017 session were estimated at $288,700, including $247,200 related to preparations for the sixty-second session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs in 2019 as set out in decision 2017/241, which would be charged against the biennium 2018-2019 contingency fund.  The Group emphasized that the Advisory Committee noted that the approved level of the biennium 2018-2019 contingency fund was $40.5 million, and the proposed budget implications or revised estimates amounted to $25.7 million.  She said the Advisory Committee also noted that, if approved in full, the remaining balance of the contingency fund for that period would be $14.8 million.  The Group would seek more information on that topic during informal consultations.

The $39,000 requirement resulting from resolution 2017/26, which extended the mandate of the Ad Hoc Advisory Group on Haiti, was proposed to be accommodated within the proposed 2018-2019 programme budget, she said.  Moreover, the $2,500 requirement resulting from decision 2017/2014 related to the appointment of an additional member of the Advisory Group would be absorbed within the 2016-2017 programme budget.  In that context, she recalled that the Advisory Group’s mandate had been extended so that it could closely follow and advise on Haiti’s long-term development strategy in order to promote its socioeconomic recovery, reconstruction and stability, building upon the Strategic Plan for the Development of Haiti.  Therefore, the Group supported the provision of the required resources to finance the resolutions and decisions adopted by the Economic and Social Council at its 2017 session.

ANA SILVIA RODRÍGUEZ ABASCAL (Cuba), associating herself with the Group of 77 and China, said that financing the special political missions through the regular budget was an unsustainable practice.  Such missions should be financed in the same way as peacekeeping operations.  It was striking that the level of resources allocated to such missions amounted to more than 20 per cent of the regular budget, proof an in imbalance in the resources allocated to different priorities established by the General Assembly.  On the Secretary-General’s report on Special and Personal Envoys and Special Advisers, she said Cuba did not agree with the proposal to include activities and results related to the concept of responsibility to protect, specifically under the proposal relating to the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide.  The appointment of a Special Adviser on the responsibility to protect was a deviation from the letter and spirit of operative paragraphs 138 and 139 of General Assembly resolution 60/1.

Recalling that, in paragraph 2 of General Assembly resolution 63/308, that body had decided to “keep the responsibility to protect under review”, she noted that no formal intergovernmental debates or reviews had been developed in that regard.  As such, the General Assembly had not specifically approved a definition on the principle of responsibility to protect, which continued to present serious concerns, particularly for small and developing countries and was an issue that could be easily manipulated for political purposes.  Under its aegis, international law, State sovereignty and its responsibility for the welfare of its population had been undermined.  All those reasons motivated Cuba to oppose the concept, as well as the creation and maintenance of the post of Special Adviser in that regard.  However, that position should not be interpreted as a rejection of the work of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, whose functions had Cuba’s full support.

MOHANAD ALI OMRAN AL-MUSAWI (Iraq), expressing gratitude for the support provided by UNAMI, said funding was essential to the effective delivery of its mandate, and its financial resources should be scaled up accordingly.  He noted that its proposed resource requirements from 1 January to 31 December 2018 totalled $111 million, an estimate that was $6 million less than last year’s budget.  He called for a meticulous review of the 2018 assessments, because they might undermine UNAMI efforts and priorities.  Furthermore, his Government welcomed recommendations from the ACABQ that the Secretary-General should spare no effort in promoting the conversion of international posts in UNAMI to domestic posts.

Emphasizing that the report should maintain its financial and administrative nature with no political undertones, he said the discussion of such undertones in the Fifth Committee was “untoward”.  He noted that paragraph 18 of the report contained erroneous implications about the situation in Iraq’s liberated areas where the law was now enforced.  Iraqi authorities had taken note of the independent auditing team as per Security Council resolution 2367 (2017) and would study its recommendations.  His Government looked forward to working together with UNAMI to provide relief aid to Iraqis who had been displaced in the aftermath of the atrocities committed by ISIL/Da’esh.  It would also work closely with the United Nations country team for the regional response to the Syrian refugee crisis.

AMMAR AWAD (Syria) referred to the report’s discussion of the Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Syria, saying his delegation welcomed the fact that for the first time, it mentioned the need to suppress and prevent terrorist acts by Da’esh and the Al-Nusrah Front.  However, the authors had continued to use the term “armed group” rather than “armed terrorist group”, he said, asking the Secretary-General to correct that error.  He also asked that the Secretary-General’s report refer to the situation in Syria as a crisis, not a conflict.  He requested that a reference in the report to the League of Arab States be deleted, saying that the Special Envoy’s authority came only from the United Nations.  He also expressed his delegation’s reservations regarding contacts between the Office of the Special Envoy and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and between that Office and another organization, emphasizing in the latter instance that the Special Envoy had no mandate to contact another peacekeeping operation operating under a mandate limited to the Zone of Separation.

His delegation also had reservations about a sharp increase in staff numbers proposed by the Secretary-General in Damascus, Geneva and New York, he said.  Current staff numbers were sufficient for the Office to carry out its mission.  Nothing justified a considerable increase of staff in all categories in Damascus, given recent victories by the Syrian Arab Army and its friends in the fight against terrorism.  He went on to say that the success of any political process in Syria would require cooperation and coordination with the Syrian Government at all levels.  He also underscored the Government’s commitment to the Astana and Geneva negotiations.

Activities of Office of Internal Oversight Services

The Fifth Committee then considered a draft resolution on the activities of the Office of Internal Oversight Services and the Independent Audit Advisory Committee (document A/C.5/72/L.5) following deliberations on their activities at the Fifth Committee’s second formal meeting on 5 October 2017.

By the terms of the draft, the General Assembly, reaffirming the Office’s operational independence, and taking note of its report, would request the Secretary-General to continue to promote effective coordination and collaboration with regard to the audit, evaluation and investigation functions of the Office; to ensure that resolutions pertaining to the Office’s work be brought to the attention of the relevant managers; and to ensure full implementation of its accepted recommendations.

The Assembly would go on to welcome the Office’s efforts to promote the Organization’s zero tolerance approach to fraud and corruption, and encourage it to consider calls to expand the reporting and recording of all forms of misconduct as part of renewed efforts to strengthen and professionalize the investigations function of the United Nations system.

It would also note progress made by the Office in reducing the average time taken to complete investigations and in reducing the number of vacant posts, and ask the Secretary-General to continue making every effort to fill remaining vacant posts, particularly in the Investigations Division and in the field.

Noting the Fifth Committee’s review of the report of the Independent Audit Advisory Committee for the year-long period between 1 August 2016 and 31 July 2017, the Assembly would, by the same text, endorse the observations, comments, and recommendations contained in paragraphs 17, 20, 23, 27, 30, 31, 33, 39, 43, 47, 55, 58, 60, 63, 66, 74, 79, 82, 86, 92, 93, 94, 98 and 102 of the report.  In addition, the Assembly would note with appreciation the reports of the Joint Inspection Unit on the state of the internal audit function in the United Nations system and on donor-led assessments of the United Nations system organizations, as well as the related notes by the Secretary-General transmitting his comments and those of the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination thereon.

The text was approved without a vote.

Pattern of Conferences

Next, the Committee took up a text on the pattern of conferences (document A/C.5/72/L.6), by which the Assembly would approve the draft biennial calendar of United Nations conferences and meetings for 2018 and 2019, as submitted by the Committee on Conferences, taking into account its observations and subject to provisions of the present text.  It would authorize the Committee on Conferences to make any adjustments to that calendar that might become necessary as a result of actions and decisions made by the Assembly at its seventy-second session.  It would note with satisfaction that the Secretariat had taken into account Assembly resolutions concerning Orthodox Good Friday, Eid al‑Fitr and Eid‑al‑Adha, and request all intergovernmental bodies observe those decisions when planning their meetings.  It would moreover request the Secretary-General to ensure that any modifications to the calendar of conferences and meetings be implemented strictly in accordance with the mandate of the Committee on Conferences and other relevant Assembly resolutions.

Also by the text, the Assembly would note that the overall utilization factor at the four main duty stations in 2016 was 80 per cent, unchanged from 2015 and 2014, thus meeting the benchmark of 80 per cent.  It would urge secretariats and bureaux of bodies that underutilized their conference-servicing resources to work more closely with the Department of General Assembly and Conference Management and to consider changes to their programmes of work.  Moreover, it would urge those intergovernmental bodies with average utilization rates below the 80 per cent benchmark to take that factor into account when planning their future sessions.

In the area of documentation and publications, the Assembly would emphasize the paramount importance of the equality of the six official languages and of multilingualism, and ask the Secretary-General to redouble efforts to ensure full parity in line with Assembly resolution 69/324.  Noting with concern that only 70 per cent of author departments had reached the 90 per cent compliance rate for submitting on time their reports to the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management, the Assembly would again ask the Secretary-General to enforce the slotting system more rigorously.

While welcoming the modernization of the Official Document System, including the introduction of a portable version, and its accessibility in all six official languages, the Assembly would ask the Department of Public Information to present a proposal for the digitization of important older United Nations documents for consideration by the Committee on Information no later than the main part of the seventy-third session.  Additionally, the Assembly would express concern that the anticipated lengthy digitization project may jeopardize the retention of historical knowledge and information in view of the delicate state and risk of breakage of many of the related documents.

Turning to matters related to language services, the Assembly, noting that the pool of language professionals at duty stations was uneven in terms of language combinations, would ask the Secretary-General to continue efforts to develop recruitment, subcontracting and outreach policies.  It would also note the development of statistical machine translations systems such as Tapta4UN and eLUNa and ask the Secretary-General to report on updates about those systems to the Assembly at its seventy-third session.

The text was approved without a vote.

For information media. Not an official record.