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Paul Conlon United Nations Sanctions Papers

In his United Nations Sanctions Management: A Case Study of the Iraq Sanctions Committee 1990-1994 (Ardsley, NY: Transnational Publishers, Inc., 2001), Conlon describes United Nations practices which place the archive in contex.

from Page 30:

Meetings [of the Sanctions Committee] were captured for institutional memory purposes by a "summary record." [6] About half of the ISC's summary records were written in English; most of the others were in French and a few were in Spanish. The draft of the summary record would be reviewed by the ISC's Secretariat and corrected or adjusted where necessary. The final version would then be translated into the remaining five official languages. The English version was captured in an electronic database (COMSR.ASK), which was available for keyword searching. To some extent, it bears emphasis, the only official texts available for ISC decisions are to be found in the summary records, [7] and this raises problems since a "summary record" is not intended to be "verbatim," but, rather, to paraphrase in the third person what is said, particularly with a view to shortening it and rendering the speaker's message in a concise and stylistically appealing way.

"At the meetings, delegates occasionally misunderstood each other, in part because they were listening to the proceedings in different languages. Moreover, misunderstandings would arise when the discussion was placed in the summary record. Thus, the summary record for the 105th meeting quotes the chairman as saying that he would 'establish a working group on the practical issues involved [with disbursements from the escrow account] that would enter into dialog with the Iraqi Government." [8] According to this author's notes, he said that "he wished to advance the idea of setting up an informal working group to talk through the con-cerns of all delegations on this issue; he would be happy to convene such a group; this would also require some dialog with the Iraqi Government.' From the summary record it appears that the purpose of the group would be to negotiate with Iraq; in fact, the reference to dialog with Iraq came as an afterthought. [9]


[6] Specimens of Committee summary records are found in 2 The Kuwait Crisis: Sanctions and Their Economic Aftermath, pt. 11 (D. L. Bethlehem ed., 1991).

[7] The other possibility of ascertaining the exact decision of the Committee in a specific instance is to go according to the wording of the letter sent to a member state by the chair-man in his response. However, these were quite sparsely worded, particularly in later years. In earlier years, the chairman frequently informed the interlocutor state of decisions verbally, thus leaving posteriority without any written record except the summary record.

[8] chairman in CSR-105 (S/AC.25/1993/COMM.4031).

[9] According to this author's notes, he ended by saying that this could be done in early January 1994, and he hoped the delegates would come back with their views on this after Christmas. In actual fact, the matter was never mentioned again. Procedural Note for the 105th Meeting of the Committee (Dec. 22, 1993).

And at page 42:

In the Security Council administration in 1990, computers were used only by secretaries and for word-processing purposes. Most officials either had no computer skills or considered it beneath their professional dignity to use menial office equip-ment. Nevertheless, in 1990, the strategy of the Security Council division man-agement was to use the new committee and the new priority on sanctions as a wedge to promote the use of computers and to showcase the Council's ability to adapt to the exigencies of the "new world order." The organization's uppermost management agreed, therefore, to provide both resources and support, with the result that cooperation was forthcoming from other departments with technical skills or more experience.

This initiative produced in the first few years, a degree of computerization that was advanced for the organization's higher political departments and resulted in all of the databases, some of which are listed in Appendix 1. The most impressive of these was COMSR.ASK, a full-text database of the ISC's summary records. It ulti-mately encompassed the first 117 meetings, containing some 6,800 individual inter-ventions and, if printed out, some 2,500 pages. It is fully searchable with the typical Boolean commands used with such electronic databases.

Ultimately, however, the practical use of computers was limited by the fact that most officials and secretaries refused to use them. Computerization would threaten the power and advancement of the officials within the organization, perhaps also reduce their control over their subordinates. Even discussions of computerization with decision-makers were difficult because they understood neither the terminol-ogy used nor the workings of such systems, and were unwilling to admit this to those who were inferior to them in rank. A frequent reaction of decision-makers was to feign support, but then reject proposals on the grounds that the delegates would never accept them. [26]

The secretaries had their own financial reasons for not cooperating. Typing up the correspondence logbooks used until 1993 [27] entailed $60,000 in annual labor costs. Estimates of their cost per page ranged from $35 to $58, a high price for Luddism. The failure to combine all humanitarian waiver processing steps in a sin-gle computerized system by 1994 entailed some 95,000 superfluous data inputs annually.


[26] Some arguments were even more resourceful. Discussion of a teleconferencing linkup, which would permit Council members to hold telemeetings if a natural disaster or some other extraordinary circumstance prevented their getting to the U.N. building, was summarily scotched by one high official on the grounds that such a practice would violate the U.N. Charter.

 [27] These are sources cited as Comms Log and Notes Log in the footnotes. See Appendix 1 for explanations.



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