Permanent Representative Refutes Claims, Pointing to Specifics in Agreement between United Nations, United States
While New York City is uniquely suited for the work of diplomacy, banking and travel restrictions placed on some delegations not only is hindering official United Nations business, but is also in contradiction to the Headquarters Agreement between the United States and the Organization, the Sixth Committee (Legal) heard today, as it took up the Report of the Committee on Relations with the Host Country.
Introducing that report (document A/73/26), Kornelios Korneliou (Cyprus), Chair, noted that the Committee is the only body in the United Nations system which is mandated to consider matters in relation to the host country and then report to the General Assembly. The Committee will continue its efforts in addressing all issues that are on its agenda in a spirit of cooperation and in accordance with international law, he said.
In the ensuing debate, the representative of Syria noted that his country was recently added to the list of countries whose movements are restricted by the host country. “The problem does not rest here in New York,” he said, but in the politicized decisions of Washington, D.C. Also highlighting the closure of personal bank accounts due to sanctions against Syria, he said while private institutions are allowed to exercise such policies, a bank official told them the decision was being implemented on behalf of the United States Department of the Treasury.
The Russian Federation’s delegate highlighted violations of immunities regarding the official premises of his country’s Mission in Long Island, which had been seized by United States authorities in 2016. Further, in March, the United States sent his country an ultimatum to return to the Russian Federation 12 of its staff members along with their families. The host country has also created visa problems for Russian citizens in New York on United Nations business, he said.
Responding, the representative of the United States said the Russian Federation has provided no evidence that it intended this property to be part of its Mission as required under article 12 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. The premises never enjoyed inviolability under the Convention or the Headquarters Agreement, she stressed, adding that a full response had been made by her delegation in the General Assembly’s seventy‑second session.
She also emphasized that her country takes its obligations as a host country very seriously. Highlighting 5,000 visas issued to members of the United Nations diplomatic community this year and 247 protective details arranged during the high‑level week of the General Assembly, she added that unimpeded travel to unofficial events or for recreational purposes is not required by the Headquarters Agreement or any other international agreement.
Nonetheless, the representative of Mauritius pointed out, the United Nations generates thousands of jobs and millions of dollars towards New York City’s economy. Commenting on an extensive parking problem that emerged because of New York City Police security measures for the high‑level week of the General Assembly, he called for better strategies in the future to support and accommodate the diplomatic community. New York is a place of welcome, he emphasized, citing John Rockefeller Jr. who, in 1946, said: “It is my belief that the City affords an environment uniquely fitted to the task of the UN and that the people of New York would like to have the UN here permanently.”
In other business, the representative of Austria introduced four draft resolutions on the report of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL).
Also speaking today were representatives of Cuba and Iran, as well as the European Union.
The representatives of the Russian Federation, Syria and Cuba spoke in exercise of the right of reply.
The Sixth Committee will next meet at 10 a.m. on Monday, 5 November, to hear the reports of working groups and take action on the draft resolution of the Special Committee on the Charter of the United Nations and on the Strengthening of the Role of the Organization.
Introduction of draft resolutions
The representative of Austria introduced four draft resolutions concerning the report of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL), including the omnibus resolution on the work of the Commission in its fifty‑first session, as well as three additional texts on a convention and the Model Laws which the Commission finalized this year.
The omnibus resolution, “Report of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law on the work of its fifty‑first session” (document A/C.6/73/L.11), is based on the text of last year’s resolution, she said, but contained some important additions. By the terms of that text, the General Assembly would stress again the importance of international trade law and recall the mandate, work and coordinating role of the Commission. It endorses the efforts of the Commission as the core legal body in the field of enhancing cooperation in international trade law within the United Nations system. This year’s text also highlighted the important progress achieved by the Commission, particularly by finalizing the Convention on International Settlement Agreements resulting from Mediation. There was also additional language concerning the working methods of the Commission.
Turning to the second draft resolution, “United Nations Convention on International Settlement Agreements resulting from Mediation” (document A/C.6/73/L.12), the General Assembly would adopt the Convention as finalized by the Commission and contained in the annex of the present draft.
She then turned to the third draft, “Model Law on International Commercial Mediation and International Settlement Agreements Resulting from Mediation” (document A/C.6/73/L.13). By the text, the General Assembly would express its appreciation to the Commission for finalizing and adopting the Model Law and would request the Secretary‑General to disseminate it.
The fourth and final draft, “Model Law on Recognition and Enforcement of Insolvency‑Related Judgements” (document A/C.6/73/L.14), would express the General Assembly’s appreciation to the Commission for finalizing and adopting that Model Law and its guide to enactment as contained in the annex to the report of the Commission, she said. The Assembly would request the Secretary‑General to disseminate that Model Law.
Thanking all delegations for their constructive proposals on the texts, she said she was confident that the Sixth Committee will approve these drafts without a vote.
Introduction to Report on Relations with Host Country
KORNELIOS KORNELIOU (Cyprus), Chair of the Committee on Relations with the Host Country, introduced the related report (document A/73/26), emphasizing the importance of the forum. The Committee, which allows Member States to seek remedy of different problems faced by the diplomatic community, has proved to be an open, transparent and flexible body. Any interested delegation can participate in it as an observer. Moreover, it is of a unique nature, since it is the only body in the United Nations system which is mandated to consider matters in relation to the host country and then report to the General Assembly.
He highlighted the important issues that were raised relating to the implementation of the Agreement between the United Nations and the United States of America regarding the Headquarters of the United Nations. Those included entry visas, travel regulations, issues related to the security of missions and the safety of their personnel, as well as banking issues. The Committee will continue its efforts in addressing all issues that are on its agenda in a spirit of cooperation and in accordance with international law, he said.
The Committee has tried to fully reflect in the report the discussions that took place throughout the year, he continued. There is new language on privileges and immunities applicable to premises of permanent missions to the United Nations and on the issuance of entry visas to representatives of Member States and members of the Secretariat. In addition, there is new language on travel regulations issued by the host country regarding personnel of certain missions and staff members of the Secretariat, as well as on the role of the Secretary‑General in the work of the Committee.
ERIC CHARBOUREAU, the European Union, said that the observation of privileges and immunities of diplomatic personnel is an issue of great importance, based on solid legal principles. To this end, there is a need to safeguard the integrity of the relevant body of international law, particularly the Headquarters Agreement between the United Nations and the host country, the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations.
He noted that, during the reporting period, the Committee continued to represent an open and efficient forum for dealing with a range of diverse issues pertaining to the activities of permanent and observer missions to the United Nations and their staff. Via the Committee, the membership of the Organization can communicate matters of concern to the host country so that they can be discussed in a spirit of mutual understanding and cooperation. The maintenance of appropriate conditions for the delegations and missions accredited to the United Nations is in the interest of the United Nations and of all the Member States. He recognized the efforts of the host country in implementing the Agreement between the United Nations and the United States regarding the Headquarters of the United Nations and encouraged the host country to continue enhancing its efforts in this regard.
AMMAR AL ARSAN (Syria), thanking the Mayor of New York City for his assistance to members of the Syrian delegation and their families, noted that Syria was recently added to the list of countries whose movement is restricted. Also thanking the staff of the United States Mission, he highlighted their professionalism and their willingness to listen. “But the problem does not rest here in New York” but in the politicized decisions of the capital, Washington, D.C., he noted. The Syrian Mission is experiencing genuine obstacles due to closure of personal bank accounts under the pretext of American sanctions against Syria and its citizens. This year, TD Bank, the only bank that had opened accounts for Syrian diplomats, has suddenly refused to open new ones. The representative of the host country might try to justify this by saying these are private institutions, but TD Bank responded categorically that they were implementing a decision by the United States Department of the Treasury.
In addition, Amazon had recently closed the accounts of some Syrian staff saying that the Treasury Department refused to recognize “license no.1” which authorized an exception from the sanctions for diplomats, he continued. He also highlighted visa restrictions as well as restraints on the travels of diplomats and representatives of the Syrian Government, including Syrian diplomats being told they could not travel beyond 25 miles from Columbus Circle in New York City. This situation is not the typical experience of all diplomats. Despite the host country’s acceptance of the report, the practical results on the ground are only getting worse due to the obstinacy of the host country’s Government. “The colleagues from the American Mission know well that we are not blaming them,” he said. He and diplomats from countries such as Iran and the Russian Federation are merely trying to bring problems to light. “They reflect our lived experience,” he added. Calling on the Secretary‑General for an annual report on the status of relations between the United Nations and the host country, he said that the Committee should broadcast live its meetings with the host country.
INDIRA GUARDIA GONZALEZ (Cuba) said she is compelled to underscore the repeated failures of the host country to fulfil its obligations to the Organization. Some of the concerns expressed by Member States continue to persist due to the host country’s inaction. Noting various aspects critical to the effective functioning of diplomatic missions, she said the policy of applying restrictions on the movements of diplomats bearing certain citizenships, such as Syrian and Cuban, is unjust, discriminatory and an open violation of the Headquarters Agreement as well as rules of diplomatic law. Recalling article 26 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, she said that the receiving State is obliged to afford freedom of movement to all diplomatic representatives. The rule that Cuban diplomats must restrict their movements to a 25‑mile radius starting from Columbus Circle is an arbitrary restriction counter to international law and must be lifted immediately, she said.
Turning to the report, she said that treatment of diplomats and diplomatic pouches is an issue of huge importance and the authorities of the host country must safeguard the privileges and immunities of diplomats. Spotlighting repeated problems in the issuance of visas, prohibitions on the opening of bank accounts and blocking of banking channels, she said these are all examples of discriminatory treatment. None of these issues can be subject to conditions based on bilateral relations between the host country and Member States. As a member of the Committee on Relations with the Host Country, Cuba has been working to ensure a timely response to these issues, she said, calling on the Secretary‑General to intervene and review the host country’s non‑compliance with international law.
MAXIM V. MUSIKHIN (Russian Federation) said that in 2017, the Committee was forced to take up numerous violations by the host country of its obligations to observe the privileges and immunities of members of United Nations missions. None of the violations have been remedied and new ones have been added. Highlighting gross violation of immunities regarding official premises of his country’s Mission in Long Island, he recalled that this facility had been seized by United States authorities in 2016. The host country said it was entering into temporary possession. Since that time, staff of his Mission has not been allowed access to the premises. The United States State Department responds to requests without explaining reasons and is not taking any action to return the property. All efforts undertaken through the United Nations have not borne fruit and the ongoing non‑compliance creates serious difficulties. It is a matter of a flagrant arbitrary and discriminatory approach that is part of an overall policy of worsening relations with his country.
The authorities of the United States bear full responsibility for their unlawful acts and for any damage done to the premises, he continued. In March, the United States sent his country an ultimatum to return to the Russian Federation 12 of its staff members along with their families. The United States said the measure was adopted to demonstrate “unbreakable solidarity with the United Kingdom”. The United States State Department has applied sanctions on his Government’s United Nations delegation, based on bilateral agreements. Such agreements are based on false accusations against his country, he said.
On top of these violations, the host country has also created visa problems for Russian citizens in New York on United Nations business. Currently the Mission is facing three months of delays; this is probably how the United States authorities interpret the phrase “as promptly as possible”. A citizen of his country was selected for a position at the United Nations Secretariat, but the visa was refused. This is a gross interference by the host country in appointing staff at Headquarters, he said.
ALI NASIMFAR (Iran) said that although deliberations in the Committee have produced favourable results in some cases, there are still several long‑standing unresolved matters, including travel restrictions, visa restrictions and bank accounts, among others. This makes it clear that the mandate and power of the Committee does not match with its objectives. Furthermore, the working methods of the Committee need to be improved, he said, adding that the call of the General Assembly to enhance the Committee’s work has not been taken seriously. Rules governing privileges and immunities of the United Nations are politically neutral and should not be affected by the political considerations or bilateral issues arising between the host country and other countries.
On the matter of visas, he said there is no doubt that issuing single‑entry visas hinders the well‑functioning of missions. Due to such a discriminatory procedure, in many cases his colleagues have missed the opportunity to be with their loved ones at the most important and critical moments of their lives, whether it be a wedding or a funeral. Single‑entry visas for resident diplomats should be adjusted to allow representatives to leave the United States and return immediately, he said.
RISHY BUKOREE (Mauritius) said that right before the high‑level week of the General Assembly, missions were informed by the United Nations garage administration that cars would have to be removed from United Nations parking on the afternoon of 23 September for security exercises. Parking would reopen the following day at 4 a.m. This coincided with the time that the New York Police Department’s gridlock alert system was in place, with restrictions on several streets in the vicinity of Headquarters. Many diplomats who removed their cars from United Nations parking and parked them close to their homes were shocked to find their vehicles towed away between 1 a.m. and 4 a.m. on Monday, 24 September. He requested the Committee, United Nations garage administration and the relevant local authorities to come up with a solution to avoid unwarranted situations such as these. “Parking space is very scarce in New York,” he observed, asking that sweeping security exercises should take into account street parking restrictions.
Noting that tickets are given very quickly to diplomatic vehicles, he called for more restraint in that. Further, he appealed to relevant authorities to ensure more recognition for the tax exemption cards in restaurants, pubs and sports stadiums. Even taking into account the cost inferred, the United Nations not only generates employment for thousands of people, but also millions of dollars towards the economic output of New York City, he observed, citing John Rockefeller, Jr., who, in 1946, said: “New York is a centre where people from all lands have always been welcome and where they have shared common aspirations and achievements. It is my belief that the City affords an environment uniquely fitted to the task of the UN and that the people of New York would like to have the UN here permanently.”
EMILY PIERCE (United States) said that the Host Country Section of the United States Missions has worked hard to assist Member States during the past year. In 2018, 5,000 visas were issued to members of the United Nations diplomatic community. During the high‑level week of the General Assembly’s seventy‑third session, the Host Country Section’s offices assisted Member States with arrangements for 247 protective details, provided by the United States Secret Service and the United States Department of State Diplomatic Security Service for Heads of State, foreign ministers and their spouses.
Turning to concerns raised by some delegations about restrictions on the private non‑official travel of members of certain Missions, she said that such restrictions do not violate the United Nations Headquarters Agreement; they do not interfere with travel to the Headquarters district. Consistent with the Agreement, the United States provides representatives of Member States and others covered by the Agreement with unimpeded access to the Headquarters district. The United States is not required to permit all these individuals to travel to other parts of the country unless they do so for official United Nations meetings or on official United Nations business. Unimpeded travel to unofficial events or for recreational purposes is not required by the Headquarters Agreement or any other international agreement, she pointed out.
Regarding the statement made by the representative of the Russian Federation, she said that the United States had already given its detailed statement at the seventy‑second session of the General Assembly regarding the property on Long Island. The Russian Federation has provided no evidence that it intended this property to be part of its Mission as required under article 12 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. The premises never enjoyed inviolability under the Convention or the Headquarters Agreement.
Further, regarding the reference to the expulsion of 12 Russian Federation diplomats, she said that the action was consistent with the Headquarters Agreement. The Deputy Secretary of State, acting under the Secretary of State’s authority, determined that they had abused their positions at the Mission as cover to engage in intelligence activities that were prejudicial to the national security interests of the United States. The United States Mission engaged in consultations with the Russian Federation Mission on 26 and 27 of March. The Deputy Secretary of State then made his final determination after these consultations and his consideration of all the relevant facts and circumstances. The Russian Federation’s permanent Mission cannot be used as a platform for espionage activities, she said, adding that the United States rejects the assertion that it acted inconsistently with the Headquarters Agreement.
Also referring to comments by the representative of the Russian Federation on visa issuances, she said she could not discuss the details of individual visa cases. The United States takes its obligations as a host country to the United Nations very seriously and continues to consult with missions and the Organization as appropriate.
Right of Reply
The representative of the Russian Federation, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, responded to the representative of the host country, stressing that regarding the 25‑mile radius rule, such activities conducted by relevant missions through the United Nations had nothing to do with private travel. On visas, he said the host country obligations are clearly outlined in the Headquarters Agreement. They must be issued free of charge and in a timely fashion. Regarding his country’s Upper Brookville premises, he said it was used for official purposes by the Soviet Union and subsequently by the Russian Federation. Offering to make relevant documents available to the Committee, he said when the Americans placed illegal restrictions on “this object”, they said that from that time onwards, the object no longer enjoyed immunities. That is an acknowledgement that it did enjoy immunities until then. Further, if the note saying the staff of the Russian Federation had to leave the United States territory was how the United States interprets procedural requirements, then those procedures were essentially null and void.
The representative of Syria, aligning himself with the Russian Federation, added that the colleague from the host country had made it clear that her Government wanted an exclusive interpretation of the Headquarters Agreement and then implement that agreement coercively. This constituted a disagreement between the host country and Member States, in which case the Secretary‑General, the Governments of the Member States and the International Court of Justice are obliged to appoint mediators. “We don’t come to this room just to take pleasure in voicing our difficulties,” he said. “We are here to resolve our problems.”
The representative of Cuba said that she has listened to the delegation of the host country say that there is no provision in the Headquarters Agreement or any other international agreement regulating private travel. However, she underscored that article 26 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations does not make any distinction when it comes to travel. None of the privileges given to Member States under the Headquarters Agreement can be limited as a result of bilateral relations. Non‑issuance of visas to Cuba and other delegations is discriminatory. There is no justification for these restrictions, she said.