Press Releases

    GA/L/3290
    10 November 2005

    General Assembly Asked to Seek Enhanced Efforts by United States, as Host Country, on Issue of Entry Visas for UN Diplomats

    In Other Actions, Legal Committee Urges Priority for Aid to Third States Affected by Sanctions, Support for Wider Appreciation of International Law

    NEW YORK, 9 November (UN Headquarters) -- The General Assembly would have the United States, as host country to the United Nations, enhance its efforts to issue entry visas in a timely manner to accredited diplomats, by one of three draft resolutions approved, without a vote, by the Sixth Committee (Legal) this morning.

    A second draft on the Special Committee on the Charter and on the Strengthening of the Role of the Organization sets the Special Committee's next session from 3 to 13 April 2006, and it gives priority to the issue of implementation of Charter provisions related to assistance to third States affected by sanctions, as well as to ways and means to improve the Special Committee's working methods and enhance its efficiency.  That draft was introduced by the representative of Egypt.

    By the third draft text approved today, on the United Nations Programme of Assistance in the Teaching, Study, Dissemination and Wider Appreciation of International Law, the Assembly would state that it was convinced that States and international organizations and institutions should be encouraged to give further support to the Programme and to increase its activities.

    By the provisions of the draft text on the report of the Committee on Relations with the Host Country, the Assembly would express its anticipation that the host country would enhance its efforts to issue entry visas in a timely manner to representatives accredited to the United Nations, and would note that a number of them had asked for a shorter time period.  Maintenance of appropriate conditions for the normal work of United Nations delegations and their missions, and the observance of their privileges and immunities, was an issue of great importance, the draft states.  The host country would be requested to continue to solve, through negotiations, problems that might arise and to take all measures necessary to prevent any interference with the functioning of missions.

    The 19-member host country Committee oversees practical matters connected with diplomats accredited to the United Nations, including financial indebtedness, education and health, as well as privileges and immunities, among other issues.

    The Chairman of the host country Committee introduced both the report and the accompanying draft resolution.  According to the report, the Committee noted that the host country had removed some travel restrictions placed on certain missions and Secretariat staff members of certain nationalities and urged that the remaining restrictions be removed as soon as possible.  The Committee stressed the importance of permanent missions and their personnel, as well as Secretariat personnel, meeting their financial obligations.

    The representative of the United States, as host country, responded.

    Also addressing the Sixth Committee on the subject were the representatives of the United Kingdom (for the European Union), Cuba, Russian Federation, Venezuela, Botswana and Syria.

    The Sixth Committee will meet again on a date to be announced to take action on its remaining draft resolutions and to conclude its work for the current session of the General Assembly.

    Background

    The Sixth Committee (Legal) met this morning to consider the report of the Committee on Relations with the Host Country (document A/60/26) which covers its activities for the past year.

    The Committee was also expected to take action on several draft resolutions related to its work.

    By one draft, on the United Nations Programme of Assistance in the Teaching, Study, Dissemination and Wider Appreciation of International Law (document A/C.6/60/L.5), the General Assembly would approve the guidelines and recommendations concerning the Programme's activities as contained in the Secretary-General's report on the Programme.  The Assembly would state that it was convinced that States and international organizations and institutions should be encouraged to give further support to the Programme and increase its activities.  The Secretary-General would also be requested to consider the relative advantages of using available resources and voluntary contributions for regional, subregional or national courses, as distinct from courses organized within the United Nations system.

    In another draft, on the report of the Committee on Relations with the Host Country (document A/C.6/60/L.15), the General Assembly would endorse the recommendations and conclusions of that Committee.  It would express its anticipation that the host country would enhance its efforts to issue entry visas in a timely manner to representatives accredited to the United Nations and would note that a number of them had asked for a shorter time period.

    The Assembly would express its consideration that the maintenance of appropriate conditions for the normal work of delegations and their missions to the United Nations, and the observance of their privileges and immunities, was an issue of great importance, and in the interest of the United Nations and all Member States.  The host country would be requested to continue to solve, through negotiations, problems that might arise, and to take all measures necessary to prevent any interference with the functioning of missions.

    A draft on the report of the Special Committee on the Charter and on the Strengthening of the Role of the Organization (document A/C.6/60/L.13) would have the Assembly decide that the Special Committee would hold its next session from 3 to 13 April 2006.  A priority of that meeting would be the implementation of Charter provisions related to assistance to third States affected by sanctions.  Other issues that would be on the agenda include the maintenance of international peace and security; the peaceful settlement of disputes; and proposals referred to it by the General Assembly concerning the decisions of the High-level Plenary Meeting of the sixtieth session in September 2005.  Another priority question to be considered would be ways and means to improve the Special Committee's working methods and enhancing its efficiency.

    The Assembly would invite the Special Committee at its 2006 session to identify new subjects which would contribute to the revitalization of the work of the United Nations.

    By other provisions of the draft text, the Assembly would recognize the important role of the International Court of Justice in adjudicating disputes among States and the value of the work of the Court, as well as the importance of recourse to the Court in the peaceful settlement of disputes.  It would stress the desirability of finding practical ways and means to strengthen the Court.

    Further, the Assembly would take note of the progress made in the preparation of studies of the Repertory of Practice of United Nations Organs and their posting on the Internet in three languages, as well as the progress made towards updating the Repertoire of the Security Council's Practice.

    Host Country Committee Report

    The 19-member Committee on Relations with the Host Country overseas practical matters connected with diplomats accredited to the United Nations, including financial indebtedness, education and health, as well as privileges and immunities, among other issues.

    According to its report, the Committee, at four meetings during the year, dealt with issues concerning transportation, particularly, motor vehicles and parking problems of the diplomatic community; acceleration of immigration and customs procedures; entry visas issued by the host country; exemption from taxes; and host country travel regulations, which affected diplomats from certain countries, as well as staff of the United Nations of certain nationalities.

    The Committee in its report said the observance of privileges and immunities was an issue of great importance and it emphasized the need for resolution, through negotiations, of problems that might arise.  The Committee would continue to review the operation of the Parking Programme for Diplomatic Vehicles, which was introduced in 2002, to ensure its proper implementation in a fair, non-discriminatory and effective manner consistent with international law.  It asked the host country to bring reports about other problems experienced by the permanent missions or their staff to the attention of New York City officials.

    On the question of entry visas, the report said the host country Committee expressed its anticipation that the host country would enhance its efforts to issue them in a timely manner to representatives, noting that a number of them had asked for a shorter time period.

    According to the report, the Committee noted that the host country had removed some travel restrictions placed on certain missions and Secretariat staff members of certain nationalities, and urged that the remaining restrictions be removed as soon as possible.  The Committee stressed the importance of permanent missions and their personnel, as well as Secretariat personnel meeting their financial obligations.

    Introduction of Host Country Committee Report and Draft

    ANDREAS D. MAVROYIANNIS (Cyprus) introduced the report, divided into four chapters, including organization of the work of the Committee and its recommendations and conclusions, as well as two annexes.  He said the host country Committee was an important forum for Member States seeking a resolution of their problems.  The Committee had proved to be an open, transparent and flexible body.  He stressed that any interested delegation could participate in its work as an observer.  A number of issues had generated interest during the past year.  He requested all its members to work towards strengthening dialogue in the tackling of issues that might arise.  He expressed gratitude to its members, the host country, the City of New York, the observer delegations and the Secretariat for their cooperation.

    He introduced the draft resolution on the report contained in document A/C.6/60/L.15.

    Statements

    GAVIN WATSON (United Kingdom) spoke on behalf of the European Union, including the acceding countries, Bulgaria and Romania; the candidate countries, Croatia and Turkey; the countries of the Stabilization and Association Process and potential candidates -- Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia; the EFTA country Iceland, member of the European Economic Area; and the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine.

    He said the host country Committee remained an important forum for discussing and resolving problems which might arise for delegations and Missions accredited to the United Nations in New York.  The European Union thanked the host country for its efforts to accommodate the interests and requirements of the diplomatic community in New York.  He said the Committee's report had been studied carefully by the European Union, and it supported its recommendations and conclusions.  The European Union hoped that the host country Committee would continue to work in a spirit of cooperation to resolve issues raised.  It had full confidence in the host country's commitment to take any necessary measures to ensure the effective functioning of Missions.

    JUANA ELENA RAMOS RODRÍGUEZ (Cuba) said the host country must properly apply its relevant treaty obligations.  There were certain aspects that were of particular sensitivity for Missions and their personnel in carrying out their functions.  Some delegations, including her own, had encountered difficulties related to timely issuance of visas.  She said the President of Cuba's National Parliament had been prevented from attending the Second World Conference of Parliamentarians because the United States had denied him a visa; the alleged reason was that the meeting was not considered an official United Nations activity.  She cited General Assembly resolutions urging the host country to accord the usual courtesies to the participants.  Also, the participation of the Cuban head of delegation in the High-level Summit in September had been delayed.

    Travel restrictions that were applied in an arbitrary and unjustified fashion prevented Cuba from participating in a meeting at Princeton University to discuss the "crime of aggression", she said, and she expressed regret that the host country continued to deny visas to, or placed travel restrictions on, Cubans.  Such practice, she added, put Cuba at a disadvantage when it came to negotiations and deliberations, and the adoption of documents.  The policy of applying travel restrictions against Cuban diplomats and Cuban nationals that were accredited to the United Nations, or worked for the Organization, was unjust, politically motivated and discriminatory, as well as against the obligations under the Headquarters Agreement.  She urged the host country to reconsider its position.

    MARIA V. ZABOLOTSKAYA (Russian Federation) said her delegation had always paid close attention to the work of the host country Committee.  It was convinced that most complex matters should be resolved in accordance with international law.  She noted that not all the tasks before the Committee had been dealt with successfully, and she referred to the vehicle parking problems of missions, restrictions on the movements of diplomats of certain missions and Secretariat staff of certain nationalities.  Efforts had to be made to resolve those problems.  However, the work of the host country Committee had proven to be insufficient in dealing with them.  She said that despite some progress that had been made with regard to the parking problem, the issue remained unresolved.  It was high time that the wishes of delegations were resolved.

    She said that some delegations were experiencing difficult problems regarding the timely receipt of entry visas, and hoped that a new deadline for receipt of visas would be met.  The maintenance of restrictions on the movements of diplomats within the United States was evidence of discrimination.  Despite the persistent efforts of her delegation, no tangible progress had been noted in the resolution of the problem.

    She believed that a practical solution was required.  That would enhance the authority of the host country Committee, she said, and she expressed gratitude to the United States Mission, pointing out that, because of the dedication of some of its staff, some problems had been resolved.

    FERMÍN TORO JIMÉNEZ (Venezuela) took issue with what he described as the "improper behaviour of the United States" regarding the United Nations High-level Summit, when Venezuelan President Chavez had been forced to postpone his trip, because of a delay in the issuance of visas to certain key members of his delegation, including security officials and the medical team.  Such action was a breach of compliance with the Headquarters Agreement, which required issuance of timely visas.

    A second example of improper conduct, he said, was humiliating treatment and harassment at United States airports, experienced by diplomatic personnel, including the head of the Venezuelan mission.  Although the host country had said that the measures only applied for the security of diplomats, and attributed any improper behaviour to certain airlines personnel, those measures were the direct responsibility of the United States' national security officials.  He urged the United States to provide the necessary training for airport personnel to educate them about the Headquarters Agreement and familiarize them with the immunities and privileges of diplomats.

    If there were no immediate change, the only solution would be to change the site of the Headquarters of the United Nations.  He requested the United States to adopt the necessary measures to prevent any interference with mission personnel in carrying out their functions.  He called for an end to "unjust, selective and discriminatory practices" that placed certain diplomats at a disadvantage in their negotiations and deliberations that constituted a part of the work of the United Nations.

    CAROLYN WILLSON (United States) said that along with the honour of hosting the United Nations and the world's largest and most diverse diplomatic community came a broad range of treaty obligations.  Since 1946, the United States had fulfilled those obligations and it remained committed to doing so in the future.  The host country Committee was a valuable forum for discussing issues related to the presence in New York City of the largest, most diverse and dynamic diplomatic community --- New York City being one of the largest, most diverse and most dynamic cities in the world.  The ability of delegations that were not Committee members to participate in the Committee's work had helped make its deliberations open and more representative.  The Committee's limited membership made it efficient and unusually responsive.

    Describing the Diplomatic Parking Programme as a success, she said the number of parking tickets received by the diplomatic and consular corps was only a small fraction of what it was before the Programme.  Congestion near the United Nations had also been reduced.  Noting that a small number of missions continued to experience problems, she said the representatives of the host country were committed to working with New York City authorities to ensure that the Programme functioned as written and as intended.

    Restrictions on private non-official travel of members of certain missions did not violate international law.  Those restrictions did not interfere with travel for United Nations official business.  However, she was pleased to report that the United States had been able to modify some -- and in some cases, in the past year, remove altogether -- restrictions imposed on certain affected delegations.

    PATRICK GUNDA (Botswana) said his delegation had been concerned by a statement reportedly made by United States Senator Hillary Clinton of New York to the effect that she did not know why countries of delegations that refused to pay parking tickets should receive aid from the United States.  He wondered whether the Senator's comment reflected official United States Government thinking.

    NAJIB ELJI (Syria) said his delegation's position had been reflected in the report of the host country Committee.  He believed that every country had the right to introduce rules on vehicle parking, and that it was the obligation of the diplomatic corps to respect them.  However, the particular vehicle parking programme in operation in New York contravened both the Vienna Convention on Immunities and Privileges and the Headquarters Agreement between the United Nations and the United States.  On the question of entry visas, he said it was the obligation of the host country to issue them in a timely manner to facilitate the participation of all members of official delegations.  Putting a time frame on the issuance of visas was inconsistent with the obligations of the host country.

    The Sixth Committee then approved the draft resolution on the report of the Committee on Relations with the Host Country contained in document A/C.6/60/L.15 without a vote.

    The Committee next approved the draft resolution on the United Nations Programme of Assistance in the Teaching, Study, Dissemination and Wider Appreciation of International Law, also without a vote.

    MAHMOUD SAMY (Egypt) introduced the draft resolution on the report of the Special Committee on the Charter of the United Nations and on Strengthening of the Role of the Organization contained in document A/C.6/60/L.13.

    The Sixth Committee Secretary said the conference servicing requirements of the Special Committee for its anticipated nine-day session in 2006 were estimated at $489,700 (at 2006-2007 rates).  He said the session had already been programmed in the draft calendar of conferences and meetings for the biennium 2006-2007, so no additional appropriation would be required.

    The representative of Syria said that his delegation had reservations about the phrase "...within the level of the currently approved budget..." in operative paragraph 12 of the draft resolution, but would not object to its approval.  He asked the Chairman for clarification whether approval of the text would affect the consideration in the Fifth Committee of the proposed programme budget for 2006-2007.

    The Sixth Committee Chairman said that the work of the Committee was different from that of the Fifth Committee.

    Mr. TORO JIMÉNEZ (Venezuela), in a statement before the vote, said his delegation dissociated itself from the preambular paragraphs 12 and 13 of the draft text, which refer to certain provisions of the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document.

    The Sixth Committee then approved the draft resolution without a vote.

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