Press conference on Expert Panel Report on sanctions against UNITA

UN Document
Originally published
While he had not been involved in the writing of the Expert Panel Report on Sanctions Against the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), he endorsed it enthusiastically, the Chairman of the Security Council's Sanctions Committee, Robert Fowler of Canada, told journalists at a briefing at Headquarters this afternoon. The report, which named people who had breached the Council's sanctions and made 39 recommendations to improve the sanctions regime, was presented by Mr. Fowler to the Security Council this morning.
Three senior members of the 10-person Expert Panel on Sanctions Against UNITA -- it's Chairman, Swedish diplomat Anders Mollander, its Vice-Chairman Colonel Otisitswe B. Tiroyamodimo of Botswana and its Rapporteur Stanlake M. Samkange -- also attended the press conference.

There were no minority reports from the 10-member Panel, Mr. Fowler explained. He had played no role in writing the report, although Panel members had been before the Angolan Sanctions Committee and had heard that Committee's views on what lines of inquiry should be followed. The Expert Panel, which was established by Security Council resolution 1237 of 7 May 1999, began work in the closing days of August last year. Its report was produced within the six-month time frame specified and within its budget.

There had been leaks of the report over the last five days, Mr. Fowler said. Some people would say that such things were inevitable. Not all the things that purported to be leaks were accurate, but that too was something that happened, he cautioned.

Not one of the report's 39 recommendations was unreasonable, Mr. Fowler continued. Some were clearly more ambitious and more demanding of the Security Council than others, but all were within the realm of the possible. The ball was clearly now in the Council's court. He hoped the Council could act on the recommendations within about five weeks. Approximately 10 days would be allowed for Council members to send the report to their capitals and to allow those capitals to think about the report. After that, the Angolan Sanctions Committee would discuss the report's specific recommendations, with a view to drawing up a resolution that the Council would, he hoped, pass in April when Canada would hold the Council presidency.

The Chairman of the Expert Panel, Mr. Mollander, said he did not feel much of an introduction was needed, as the report spoke for itself. Strictly speaking, the mandate of the Expert Panel was finished, but those members present would answer questions. It had been a privilege, he said, to work on the report as the assignment was very important. If the panel could contribute to the end of the war in Angola, then its efforts would be worthwhile indeed. Others had suggested that the report might also make an important contribution to the credibility of sanctions and ultimately to the credibility of both the United Nations and the systems established to deal with situations like Angola.

The Security Council had decided to limit today's meeting to "rights of reply", rather than opening the meeting up to all United Nations Member States, Mr. Fowler explained, but a subsequent meeting might be required to discuss the report. He had a video, which would have offered further information on the evidence presented, but for reasons he had explained in the Council, he had chosen not to show it.

Asked what was different about this report, when compared to the Council's normal sources of information, Mr. Fowler explained that the Council had never employed an information-gathering process like this before. It had established its own source of information and investigation. He certainly hoped it would try the process again, although some people "would be taking a few deep gulps". The Panel had done exactly what it was instructed to do by the Council. It had named names. It had identified both the people who had busted the sanctions and the means they had used to do so.

The representative of France had raised many questions this morning in the Council and, "given twenty or thirty years", they could probably be answered, he continued. They were important questions and he did not mean to denigrate them. The amount of work that the Panel had accomplished was remarkable.

Normal practice was for the Secretary-General to report to the Council on an issue, and the Council was then free to respond as it wished, he continued. The Expert Panel's recommendations were highly specific and they belonged directly to the Security Council. Both the Panel and Mr. Fowler, as Chairman of the Angolan Sanctions Committee, worked for the Council. They had reported to the Council on what the Council ought to do, and the Council must now look at it.

Certainly, there would be attacks on the report, he said. They were to be expected. There would, of course, be specific concerns about rules of evidence and the Expert Panel would be best placed to answer them. He hoped at the end of today's Council meeting, he would have a chance to respond to questions raised.

The approach was innovative, he continued, and the Panel had done the Security Council proud by giving it something to chew on -- hard concrete proposals to move its work forward.

Asked whether six months was enough time for the Expert Panel to perform its tasks, Mr. Fowler said that it clearly had been, as evidenced by the report that had been produced. The Panel had very specifically recommended that the examination continue, because the examination process itself had yielded some significant results. That its members had visited 30 countries asking extremely embarrassing questions, and leaving questionnaires behind seeking further information - "creating a fair amount of heat and light" -- had, according to very specific information the Sanctions Committee had received, made it more difficult for UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi to resupply. He was finding it more difficult to get people to sell him weapons and to fly weapons in to Angola. Of course, the Angolan Government had also made Mr. Savimbi's task a lot tougher by denying him his principle airfields, he added. He hoped that the Council would continue "to shine the light on the subject" -- and thereby help avoid the possibility that matters would return to the state they had been in for the first eight years after Council's arms sales ban.

A journalist stated that, along with leaks from the report, criticism of it had also leaked, including that the Panel had relied too much on defectors over other sources of information, and that it had not looked at other diamond markets, such as India and Israel. Mr. Mollander explained that the Expert Panel had, in fact, visited Israel and engaged its Government and the Government's diamond controllers in a dialogue. It had gathered information on the nature of the diamond business in Israel and the type of controls that were in place. That knowledge had been used in writing the report.

Regarding reliance on information from defectors, Mr. Samkange (described as "the team's lawyer") explained that by the time the Panel met with the defectors in January this year, it had already spent four and a half months travelling throughout Africa, Europe and North America investigating issues. By then, it had a lot of information, and a pretty good picture of how things worked. The defectors were particularly useful in eliminating certain possibilities that had come up and in providing information to direct the Panel's focus. But they were only used to confirm information received elsewhere.

In no case had the Expert Panel relied solely on defectors' statements or comments, Mr. Samkange continued. Information from them was only used where it was corroborated by other sources. As a consequence, there were people about whom the panel had evidence but who were not mentioned in the report, because the Panel did not feel that the evidence met the high standards of proof the Panel had set for itself. In the cases of heads of State, the Panel had required direct first-hand evidence. This standard of proof was higher than that demanded according to normal legal standards, he explained. The Panel had employed a political standard, and political standards of proof were higher than legal standards of proof.

Asked whether the Panel had only spent one hour with the Belgian High Diamond Council in Antwerp, Belgium, Mr. Mollander said this was definitely not true. He himself had spent about three days with them in January. In addition, the Diamond High Council had spent a lot of time with the Expert Panel. In addition to the meetings in Antwerp, the High Council had appointed a person to liaise with the Panel, and Mr. Fowler and that representative had met with the Panel in New York and in Paris. Mr. Mollander had also been in contact with Belgian Government representatives -- Customs, Security Services, Foreign Office and so on -- in Brussels. And he had seen individual diamond dealers, including one mentioned in the report.

Asked for concrete examples of the sanctions beginning to bite, Mr. Fowler said that he had information to that effect from three defectors. These were Mr. Savimbi's former Chief of Logistics, his former diplomatic number three, who had been UNITA "ambassador" in the former Zaire and Togo and had spent time in Cote d'Ivoire, and the former head of UNITA's telecommunications network -- two colonels and a full general. Each had stated that UNITA was finding it harder to find people to supply the goods Mr. Savimbi wanted. They suggested that Mr. Savimbi was having to pay more for goods, that he was finding it harder to get transport to move them into Angola, and that he was finding it harder to market diamonds. As a result, the rate of supply -- and especially, the most vulnerable part of that supply, which was fuel -- had fallen off significantly.

Mr. Fowler said he did not want to understate the significance of UNITA's loss of most of the central highlands, and particularly the key airfields in that region. These losses were fundamental, and meant that even if supplies were obtained they could not easily be brought in to Angola.

Mr. Mollander added that one country the Panel had visited, had spent the first 15 minutes of the first meeting describing activities it had undertaken subsequent to a visit by the Sanctions Committee in response to that Committee's questions.

Asked how strong, using legal criteria, the case against those accused of sanctions busting was, Mr. Samkange said it was stronger than would normally be required in a court. Statements from people who said they had personally handed diamonds to heads of State in return for favours were a very direct form of evidence. Usually, courts only received second-hand testimony and then drew conclusions. One could certainly be prosecuted for bribery on the basis of second-hand evidence.

Mr. Fowler said he had personally heard two senior officers, on separate occasions, state that they had handed packets of money or diamonds to heads of State in return for favours.

Asked to respond to an allegation that the recent opening of two diamond mines by Canada meant that Mr. Fowler could have a conflict of interest, Mr. Fowler said that he had not received any instructions from his Government or the Canadian diamond industry on any aspects of this report. Nor had he or the Expert Panel given the Canadian Government any opportunity to influence the report. The answer was a "resounding no".

Asked whether the report could serve as a model for the examination of other sanctions regimes, Mr. Fowler said the role of the Panel and his Committee was to focus on Angola only. However, there were obviously other situations that had potential to be very similar to Angola, notably Sierra Leone, which also had diamonds. Speaking as the Canadian representative on the Security Council, he was anxious to see cross-fertilization happen. When he had started on his quest, sanctions had been in place on Angola for seven years but they had been totally ineffective. Many people did not even know they existed, and when told of them, they expressed doubt that, after seven years, any action would be taken to enforce them.

Regarding the possibility of developing ongoing United Nations sanctions monitoring mechanisms, he said it was too soon to start designing them. Rather, the Council should wait to see if these recommendations -- and the sanctions they aimed to improve -- worked. He hoped the Panel would be seen as a model for future operations, but the questions of how many of its recommendations would be accepted and what difference they would make was yet to be answered. As he had said in the past, he could not believe how ill-equipped for research and investigations the Security Council was. It had no resources. It must get some.

Asked to describe the situation in Angola, Mr. Fowler said that Angola had a population of a little more than 12 million. It was an enormously rich country and, in a couple of years, it was expected to pump more oil than Nigeria. It also had about 6 per cent of the world's diamonds and these were high-quality, high-value diamonds. Somewhere between 3 and 4 million Angolans were internally displaced and more than a million had been killed by the conflict. The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) had said that Angola was the single worst place in the world to be a child.

From his own experience, which he admitted was limited, he had not found a single person, family, building or entity that was not damaged by the war, he continued. No family, no village and no part of Angola was untouched, and everywhere was still under threat. Civil wars were destabilizing the region. The potential for this war to move beyond Angola's border -- there had been significant incursions already across the Angolan-Namibian and Angola-Zambian borders -- would make efforts to deal with other conflicts even more difficult.

Asked if he was concerned that the "name and shame" approach in the Panel report was provoking a backlash, Mr. Fowler said that he accepted that United Nations reports naming heads of State were not the norm. On the other hand, the Council required the Panel to offer any information that came into its possession on how sanctions were being busted and who was busting them. Once the experts had information that heads of State were sanctions busting, they had no option but to name them. That was their mandate -- what the Security Council had told them to do. He certainly was not about to say that the Council had not meant some part of that mandate. The Panel had done what it was instructed to, and on the basis of very hard firm evidence that would stand up anywhere.

Of course, there were people who would seek to denigrate the people and the process, he added. What other choice did they have?

Asked to state how many African leaders were implicated but not mentioned in the report, Mr. Fowler explained that the Panel had set itself high standards of evidence. If, on investigating allegations, the Panel found that these standards were not met, then it did not mention the allegations in the report, and it would certainly not mention them now.

Asked if there was any evidence to show direct or indirect links between Bulgaria and UNITA's arms purchases, Mr. Mollander said that UNITA's recent practice had been to use private used arms dealers to secure its weapons. Those arms dealers would then find sources for the arms required. The Panel had not received evidence of contact between Bulgaria and UNITA. Rather, evidence had been received that sanctions-busting flights came from Bulgaria, and that boxes of arms arriving in Angola had markings indicating they also came from Bulgaria.

Mr. Fowler said he had seen some of those boxes himself.

The Bulgarian Government was now working with the Sanctions Committee, Mr. Mollander said. It had provided some information, for example, on what it had sold to Togo, and the Sanctions Committee must now follow up on that. The Bulgarian Government now realized that Bulgaria had been used. As an aspirant member of certain regional organizations, it knew it had to abide by the rules of those organizations, and so it had tightened its internal controls.

Asked why UNITA people were leaving UNITA, Mr. Fowler said that UNITA was not doing well. In addition, the evolving situation gave them the opportunity to escape. Mr. Savimbi was not kind to people who even contemplated such action. So certain senior people would take any opportunity they saw, and recently, there had been many.

In response to a question about alleged differences between information presented to the Council in January by Mr. Fowler and the conclusions of a United Nations investigation team regarding the shooting down of two United Nations planes, Mr. Fowler said that he had simply presented information he had received. He added that the United Nations team had included no investigator, had only had very limited access to the crash sites, and that the International Civil Aviation Organization had not yet drawn any conclusions about the crashes. Faced with evidence about the murder of 24 people, he had felt he had no option but to present it, without prejudice to how it fitted with any ongoing investigation.

Asked to respond to reported statements from the Belgian High Diamond Council that the Panel had made unsupported allegations, Mr. Mollander said that what the Panel had actually said in the report was that the Belgian Government could do more to carry out the sanctions -- a position with which the Belgian Government agreed. He noted that after the report was completed, the Belgian Government had reacted, and there seemed to be some very positive elements in its new actions. Had they taken place a few weeks earlier they would have been included in the report.

Mr. Fowler said that the very changes made in the last week by the Government of Belgium were an example of the achievements of the investigation process.

Asked about Israel's involvement, Mr. Mollander said that meetings had been held with Israel. The Panel had been told that very few rough diamonds arrived in Israel and that controls were watertight. It had also inspected those controls. Israel was not mentioned in the report because no evidence of it breaching the sanctions had been received by the Panel.