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Millennium Summit - 2000

November 22, 1998  UN DEPLOYED FOR CAR VOTE
  People have been voting in parliamentary elections in the Central African Republic, with more than 1,000 UN peacekeepers deployed in a bid to forestall any violence.
  Reports from the capital, Bangui, say voting started briskly and long queues built up, although there were delays at some polling stations because of organisational problems.
  The UN force is made up mainly of soldiers from French-speaking African countries, and is the second largest UN operation on the continent.
  However, there have been no reports of any major incidents during the poll.
  Voting is also being monitored by observers from the European Union, the francophone club of French-speaking nations and independent African watchdogs.
  A history of instability
  The diamond-rich Central African Republic hit the world headlines during the 1970s because of the excesses of its then ruler, the self-proclaimed Emperor Bokassa, who was eventually overthrown in a French-backed coup.
  The current president, Ange-Felix Patasse, has faced three army mutinies since since taking over in 1993 with a promise to introduce civilian government.
  The army is dominated by ethnic Yacoma soldiers, who are loyal to the country's former military ruler, while President Patasse's supporters are from other ethnic groups.
  The key issue is whether President Patasse's ruling group, the Movement for the Liberation of the Central African People (MLPC), is able to retain its majority in parliament.
  More than 300 candidates from nearly 30 parties are standing for the newly-expanded parliament - many of them chosen on ethnic lines.
  Opposition fears
  One of the opposition leaders, former prime minister Jean-Paul Ngoupande, predicted that the government would try to manipulate the result.
  "There will be many attempts at fraud by those in power who are under pressure, but I am confident that in spite of that, the opposition will win the election if there is a minimum of transparency," he said.
  On the eve of the vote, there were complaints about incomplete voters' lists, and the non-delivery of voters cards.
  The BBC West Africa Correspondent, Mark Doyle, says that if the result splits along ethnic lines, or if there is renewed violence, the country may face continued instability.
  A second round of voting is due to take place next month.

November 1, 1998
  Arbitration settled island dispute
  Yemeni Defence Minister Mohammad Diefallah Mohammad raised his country's flag over the island of Greater Hanish as Yemeni army and navy troops took up positions on it.
  At the same time, Eritrean troops departed on board a helicopter and a naval vessel.
  The two countries fought a battle over the three main islands of the Hanish archipelago three years ago, before agreeing to international arbitration.
  THE PERMANENT COURT OF ARBITRATION ruled that the Hanish groups of islands, and several smaller islands in the region belonged partly to Yemen and partly to Eritrea.
  The archipelago is close to the southern entrance of the Red Sea, in the middle of strategic shipping lanes.
  'Bridge of friendship'
  Diplomats in the region have said that the conflict was triggered by competition over the right to prospect oil and develop tourist projects on the islands.
  The Hanish islands used to belong to the Ottoman Empire and their ownership had never before been established by international convention.
  The court decided Yemen owned the Hanish islands but Eritrean fishermen should be allowed fishing rights in waters awarded to Yemen.
  Yemeni Foreign Minister Abdel Kader Bajammal said: "The Hanish islands will not be used under Yemeni sovereignty for military purposes.
  "They will be a bridge of friendship between all the countries which border the Red Sea."
  The decision by Eritrea and Yemen to accept the ruling without complaint won praise from the international community, which held it up as model for the resolution of other territorial disputes.

 The International Court of Justice, The Hague

Friday, July 17, 1998
      A United Nations conference in Rome has overwhelmingly approved a draft treaty to set up a new, permanent war crimes court.
      One hundred and twenty countries voted in favour, with seven opposing it - including the United States, Israel, India and China - and 21 abstaining. 
      The court will have powers to try - independently of the UN - individuals on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and violations of the laws of war.
      It will be set up in The Hague in Holland once 60 countries have ratified the treaty. Some pressure groups expressed regret that countries ratifying the treaty will still be able to opt out of the court's jurisdiction on war crimes for up to seven years.

   It has been 50 years since the United Nations first recognized the need to establish an international criminal court, to prosecute crimes such as genocide. In resolution 260 of 9 December 1948, the General Assembly, "Recognizing that at all periods of history genocide has inflicted great losses on humanity; and being convinced that, in order to liberate mankind from such an odious scourge, international co-operation is required", adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Article I of that convention characterizes genocide as "a crime under international law", and article VI provides that persons charged with genocide "shall be tried by a competent tribunal of the State in the territory of which the act was committed or by such international penal tribunal as may have jurisdiction . . ." In the same resolution, the General Assembly also invited the International Law Commission "to study the desirability and possibility of establishing an international judicial organ for the trial of persons charged with genocide . . ."
     Following the Commission's conclusion that the establishment of an international court to try persons charged with genocide or other crimes of similar gravity was both desirable and possible, the General Assembly established a committee to prepare proposals relating to the establishment of such a court. The committee prepared a draft statute in 1951 and a revised draft statute in 1953. The General Assembly, however, decided to postpone consideration of the draft statute pending the adoption of a definition of aggression.
     Since that time, the question of the establishment of an international criminal court has been considered periodically. In December 1989, in response to a request by Trinidad and Tobago, the General Assembly asked the International Law Commission to resume work on an international criminal court with jurisdiction to include drug trafficking. Then, in 1993, the conflict in the former Yugoslavia erupted, and war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide -- in the guise of "ethnic cleansing" -- once again commanded international attention. In an effort to bring an end to this widespread human suffering, the UN Security Council established the ad hoc International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, to hold individuals accountable for those atrocities and, by so doing, deter similar crimes in the future.
     Shortly thereafter, the International Law Commission successfully completed its work on the draft statute for an international criminal court and in 1994 submitted the draft statute to the General Assembly. To consider major substantive issues arising from that draft statute, the General Assembly established the Ad Hoc Committee on the Establishment of an International Criminal Court, which met twice in 1995. After the General Assembly had considered the Committee's report, it created the Preparatory Committee on the Establishment of an International Criminal Court to prepare a widely acceptable consolidated draft text for submission to a diplomatic conference. The Preparatory Committee, which has been meeting since 1996, will hold its final session in March and April of 1998 to complete the drafting of the text.
     At its fifty-second session, the General Assembly decided to convene the United Nations Diplomatic Conference of Plenipotentiaries on the Establishment of an International Criminal Court, to be held in Rome, Italy, from 15 June to 17 July 1998, "to finalize and adopt a convention on the establishment of an international criminal court".

September 15, 1998
  George Soros: Earlier predictions of economic crisis in Russia
  International investor George Soros has warned that the global capitalist system is "coming apart at the seams."
  Mr Soros said the panic withdrawal of capital which had spread to Latin America could lead to financial collapse in Brazil and then spread to Argentina.
  He warned that a "global credit crunch" was in the making and would probably lead the world into recession.
  He also slammed the West's response to the Russian crisis and called for greater intervention by leading nations if a full blown crisis was to be averted.
  He described the leading industrial nations' response to the financial market meltdown in Russia as "woefully inadequate".
  Mr Soros was testifying before the US House of Representatives Banking Committee.
  Call for greater intervention
  Mr Soros said further turmoil could only be prevented "by the intervention of international financial authorities but these prospects are dim."
  This was not good for either the periphery or the centre in the long term.
  New rescue agency
  Mr Soros renewed a previous call for a new global credit insurance body to complement the efforts of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank.
  Mr Soros proposed the creation of special drawing rights whereby countries which could not repay their debts could restructure their loans to easier terms if their governments pursued policies approved by the IMF.
  He said countries should be rewarded for biting the bullet and confronting their problems - unlike Malaysia which has closed itself off to the world in a negative move that would hurt its neighbours.
  "If there is no reward for good behaviour, meltdowns will multiply," he said.
  He said the loan programmes of the IMF had so far not worked but urged the US Congress to pass the IMF funding bill the agency needs to continue its work.
  "Unless Congress is willing to support the IMF the disintegration of the global capitalist system will hurt US financial markets because we are the centre of the system."

                     "No money? Kill the banker" reads this message on a wall in St Petersburg

Monday, July 13, 1998
   The announcement of huge new loans organised by the IMF for Russia have already had their effect on financial markets: Russian government bonds have strengthened. Our economics correspondent James Morgan says the move has in fact raised the stakes for those betting on the success of the country's economic reform programme:
  If Russia does at last embark on the structural reforms approved by the IMF the vast loan package should enable the currency to avoid a devaluation and help the government to restructure its own debt. At present it lives on hand-to-mouth borrowings that are constantly at the mercy of market sentiment.
  Reserves of gold and foreign exchange have dwindled. But given the chequered history of Russian economic reform programmes the new loans, which will amount to more than $22bn this year and next, represent a huge gamble.
  The IMF is staking much of its declining reserves on success. It is in effect offering more money to Moscow to do the things it has so far failed to do.
  One surprising feature of the programme is the amount coming from Japan. It is putting up $1.5bn of the total, making it among the largest government contributors: one must assume this is part of a wider piece of financial diplomacy between Washington and Tokyo.
  The Russian crisis and that afflicting East Asia are rapidly becoming part of the same global problem. That means the major financial powers are having to struggle with both, and their interactions, at the same time.
  The question now is, what will happen when the next crisis emerges in another part of the world?

  Wednesday, July 15, 1998
  The emergency rescue package to save Russia's government and economy is threatening to undermine the operations of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The organisation is the main contributor to the $22.6bn over two years bail-out, and the new commitment has caused a liquidity crisis.
  During the past year alone, the IMF had to organise four rescue packages: for Indonesia, South Korea, Thailand and now Russia.
  The three interventions in Asia have cost $31bn. Helping Russia will cost at least $11.2bn, on top of an existing $9.2bn loan.
  The Fund can afford this - but only just. The IMF is down to its last $17bn.
  This may sound a lot, but in practice it is probably less than the next big bail-out might require and covers less than 30% of the fund's obligations, which in the world of sound banking is not enough.
  One year ago, the IMF could command funds worth 120% of its obligations. 

Overdrawn - the developing world's debt crisis

  Countries face a mammoth gap between what they owe and can pay (Source: Jubilee 2000)
  With the new Millennium fast approaching, the developing world's debt crisis has been slowly edging up the agenda in the West.
  Campaigners who want to see the crippling burden of debt repayment eased say there is no better time to wipe the slate clean and offer poor countries a fresh start.
  But despite some attempts to cut the spiralling bill, most developing countries continue to struggle to repay a fraction of what they owe.
  The initial borrowed amounts are now just a distant memory. They have been subsumed by new loans which were arranged to pay off the original ones, and snowballing interest sums.
  The onus of repayment has forced countries to skimp on their funding for essential public services such as health and education.
  The cost, according to the Jubilee 2000 Coalition - a global grouping of charities and church organisations set up to fight the debt crisis - is in human lives. 
  For each $1m paid in debt service by sub-Saharan countries in Africa and diverted from health and education, 24 extra women will die in childbirth and 159 extra babies will die before they reach their first birthday.
  In the three heavily indebted African countries of Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso, primary school attendance is less than 30%.
  The figures speak for themselves: Every second the debt total increases by more than £1,500; every baby born in the developing world owes £313; for every £1 we give in aid, £3 comes back as debt repayment.
  Yet despite the fact that preliminary figures for 1997 show the total developing world debt reaching £1.4 trillion, the sum is relatively small says Ian Bray of Oxfam, which is part of the Jubilee 2000 stable.
  In the 1970s and 80s many developing countries borrowed too much and invested it badly, often with the backing of Western governments.
  The trouble began when oil prices rose against a fall in the price of commodities which many poor export.
  Faltering economies in the West cut into their markets and the problem was further compounded by corrupt governments which siphoned off the foreign dollars into private accounts.
  With economies of debtor countries growing too slowly to service the loans, they began to fall behind with repayments.
  Attempts have been made to resolve the problem. But Mr Bray points to a number of flaws in the latest, Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC), initiative, developed by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
  Principally is the fact that of the 41 countries listed as eligible for HIPC, which promises to slash debts to not more than 20-25% of export earnings, only one country - Uganda - has so far benefited from it.
  Countries must adhere to strict economic programme to be considered for the scheme. But doing so means they must skimp on funding for basic services while outside economic forces can also force them to fall foul of the criteria.
  And for some countries that might qualify, such as Mozambique, the 20-25% threshold is often still too high, says Mr Bray.
  "HIPC was set up in response to what Latin American countries could afford. For Africa it's got to be a lot more generous," he says.
  Oxfam, which has long-campaigned for easing the debt burden, wants a swifter, more accessible and more flexible route for indebted countries.
  In return, they would ask for a contract with developing governments that the money being written-off goes into "pro-poor" growth schemes such as health, education, agriculture and social infrastructure.
  Without more help, the world's developing countries will start the year 2000 poorer than ever. Meanwhile, campaigners say, the £750m that will have been spent on Britain's Millennium Dome could have been used to cancel the entire debt of the eight "least developed" countries ranked by the United Nations