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British spying on Annan illegal: UN

By Dharam Shourie at the United Nations
February 27, 2004 14:04 IST
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Reacting with restraint to allegations that British intelligence spied on Secretary General Kofi Annan in the run-up to the Iraq war, the United Nations has said that such an activity, if true, is 'illegal' and must be stopped.

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"We would be disappointed if this were true. Such activities would undermine the integrity and confidential nature of diplomatic exchanges. Those who speak to the secretary-general are entitled to assume that their exchanges are confidential," Chief UN spokesman Fred Eckhard said.

Former British cabinet minister Clare Short, who had resigned as international development secretary protesting UK's decision to join the US-led invasion of Iraq, claimed that Britain had spied on Annan in the run-up to the military action against Iraq.

UN Under-Secretary General Shashi Tharoor said: "All that we have got is media reports. But, of course, when what has been alleged by senior former cabinet minister, someone whom we know and whom we have worked with, we have to take it seriously."

If any member state wants to know the secretary general's point of view on a particular issue, "all that they have to do is go and ask him, that's the way this place functions, but it does not mean that the conversation that he has is for public consumption," he said.
Eckhard said the secretariat routinely takes technical measures to guard against such 'invasions of privacy' and those efforts would now be 'intensified.'

But veteran diplomats were not shocked by the allegations that Annan's phones were tapped by the intelligence agencies of the UK, pointing out everyone is spying on everyone else at the United Nations.

However, they said they were intrigued by the allegations as the United States and Britain, because of their position, could have easily got the information they were seeking without resorting to tapping of phones. The Russian and Chinese diplomats said they would not indulge in this type of activity.

An inquiry by the United Nations security is on the cards as diplomats concede that some insiders with an access to secure areas would have helped if the allegations are true.

Under intense questioning by reporters, Eckhard conceded that the world body is "not in a position to determine"    
whether this is true or not. "We are throwing down a red flag and saying stop it if this is true."

The UN security routinely checks the secretary-general's office and other parts of the UN premises for any bugging devices that might have been planted there and Eckhard said security measures, like secure phones and faxes, are in place to maintain the confidentiality of the conservations that the secretary-general has with others.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair did not confirm or deny the allegations but called Short's statement as "deeply irresponsible."

However, diplomats say the allegations are embarrassing for Blair as they come on the heels of the British government dropping a case against Katharine Gun who had disclosed a top secret memo in which the United States had sought the British intelligence's help to spy on six non-permanent members of the security council  - Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Bulgaria, Guinea and Pakistan - when the council was discussing a resolution to authorise the war against Iraq. The resolution did not come up for vote.

Giving the legal position, the United Nations said the 1946 Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations, the 1947 agreement between the United Nations and the United States and the 1961 Vienna Convention on
diplomatic relations contain provisions about inviolability of the UN premises.

The 1946 conventions, among other things, says that "the premises of the United Nations shall be inviolable. The property and assets of the United Nations, wherever located and by whomsoever held, shall be immune from search, requisition, confiscation, expropriation and any other form of interference, whether by executive, administrative, judicial
or legislative action. A similar provision exists in the Vienna convention.

The Headquarters Agreement entered into between the United Nations and the United States also has provision concerning the inviolability of the Untied Nations premises which is the obligation of the host country.


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Dharam Shourie at the United Nations
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