UN human rights mission contacts Israel seeking cooperation for visit

The three members of the mission – to be led by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson – received a communication from the Permanent Representative of Israel to the UN in Geneva that their request for the country’s cooperation had been forwarded to its Government and would be given careful consideration in light of the unfolding situation and bearing in mind other important impending visits.The team, which also includes former Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez and former African National Congress Secretary-General Cyril Ramaphosa, issued a joint communiqué in Geneva today stressing that their mission “should be seen in tandem with the peacemaking efforts currently underway, notably the mission being undertaken by US Secretary of State Colin Powell.”The three also voiced hope “that a cessation of hostilities and movement on the Tenet and Mitchell plans will go hand-in-hand with measures to protect human rights – in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, as well as in Israel.” In their letter to the Israeli Government, the team had expressed confidence “that the Israeli authorities would share our hope that whatever can be done to protect human life and safety should be done as a matter of utmost urgency.” read more

UNICEF denounces violent attacks on schools in Afghanistan

“Children have the right to education, they have the right to play, they have the right for hope, they have the right for joy, they have the right to grow, and they have the right to learn,” said UNICEF Representative Eric Laroche. “What we are seeing in recent weeks is precisely a violation of all these rights because a child that goes to school – a girl that goes to school and sees her school being burnt down is deprived of her rights.” Reporting that over the past week, there had been incidents against schools in Kandahar, Wardak and Sar-i-Pul, he told reporters in Kabul that the pattern could not be allowed to continue. Anticipating questions on whether the Taliban was involved, he said, “We don’t think it is a resurgence of Taliban but we think it is time… to help people react against these acts of violence.”He warned that there could be no peace in the future of Afghanistan until the people understood that education was central to the country’s growth and economic development. For its part, UNICEF would “help at the community level, at the local level, at the central level, the government, to make sure that children’s education, children’s schools are going to be protected,” he said.Amid this grim picture, he voiced optimism about the overall trend, noting that 3 million Afghan children went back to school following the fall of the Taliban, including a significant percentage of girls, who had been banned from receiving an education during the Taliban’s rule. “If you would have talked to a child, any Afghan, two years ago or even one and a half years ago, what struck me was the lack of hope,” he said. “We are restoring hope.” read more

UN mission chief in DR of Congo meets with top Ugandan officials

During a visit yesterday to Uganda’s capital Kampala, William Lacy Swing, head of the UN Organization Mission in the DRC (MONUC) met with Vice-President Gilbert Bukenya and updated the Ugandan Government on recent developments in the DRC peace process. He also confirmed that the transitional government effectively “took off,” saying progress had been noted and that a meeting of armed groups operating in Ituri is scheduled for next Thursday in the Congolese capital of Kinshasa.Mr. Swing also announced that MONUC troops would be ready to take over from the multinational force due to withdraw from Bunia on 1 September. He thanked Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni for the facilities availed to the mission’s logistic base in Entebbe in the framework of its operations in Ituri. He also pointed out that his visit in Uganda coincided with the signing of the State of Forces Agreement between Uganda and MONUC, which officially authorizes the opening of a MONUC office in Kampala. read more

UN agencies appeal for urgent food and health aid for Namibia

“Tens of thousands of children and their families will face severe difficulties in the coming months unless international assistance is forthcoming,” UN World Food Programme (WFP) Regional Director Mike Sackett said in an appeal for $5.2 million to fund its emergency operation for the next six months. “A swift response is needed to contain the crisis and give the government time to build up its capacity during this acute emergency,” he added. WFP will provide 8,000 tons of food to 111,000 rural children and their families in the six northern districts that have suffered most from three years of erratic weather. With its limited resources, the Namibian Government plans to give food assistance to some 530,000 people. For its part, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is seeking $616,000 to fund its emergency operation for the coming half year to help some 500,000 people by providing insecticide treated bed nets to prevent malaria, expanding immunization campaigns, undertaking Vitamin A distribution and improving nutritional surveillance. “The lingering threat of malnutrition means that this appeal must go beyond food aid,” UNICEF Regional Director Per Engebak said, adding that the current “crisis exceeds the Government’s capacity to respond.” In recent years, HIV/AIDS has spread across Namibia with extraordinary speed, soaring from just 4 per cent in 1992 to its current level of 22 per cent – the seventh highest rate in the world. Increased adult mortality has led to a steep rise in the number of orphans. Latest estimates indicate that at least 120,000 children have been orphaned as a result of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Namibia. read more

Worlds worst humanitarian crisis unfolding in Darfur Sudan UN official

Tom Eric Vraalsen, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Humanitarian Affairs in Sudan, is working with UN staff to try to re-start talks on establishing a humanitarian ceasefire in Darfur.UN agencies have received numerous reports of systematic, deliberate attacks against civilians in Darfur since fighting erupted a year ago between the Sudanese Government, rebel groups including the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), and local militia. Those reports include descriptions of murders, abductions, the burning of villages and the looting of property,More than 110,000 Sudanese have fled across the border into neighbouring Chad to escape the conflict, while another 700,000 people are internally displaced within Darfur, beyond the reach of humanitarian officials because of the continuing fighting.UN spokesman Fred Eckhard told reporters in New York today that while access for relief agencies “has improved slightly,” fighting still constrains their work. But he said the prospects for the resumption of ceasefire talks are good. read more

Security Council concerned about economic difficulties in GuineaBissau

Guinea-Bissau requires “strengthened efforts in support of the economic reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts…particularly through the Emergency Economic Management Fund (EEMF), managed by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP),” the Council President for April, Ambassador Gunter Pleuger of Germany, told reporters after a closed meeting.At the meeting, the Council heard an updated briefing on the country by the Secretary-General’s Representative, who is also the head of the UN Peace-building Support Office in Guinea-Bissau (UNOGBIS), David Stephen. He gave the Council details of the 28 to 30 March legislative elections, adjudged by international observers as “free, fair and transparent.” Nearly 100 international observers were deployed throughout the country to oversee the elections, which were held to reconstitute the National People’s Assembly that was dissolved in 2002. Guinea-Bissau also experienced a brief military coup in mid-September 2003.”Members of the Council welcomed the holding of the legislative elections, commended the people of Guinea-Bissau for their sense of public-spiritedness during the poll and encouraged them to stay the course,” Ambassador Pleuger said.It also “urged the political parties to continue to work together for national reconciliation and the return to constitutional normalcy, as well as the consolidation of peace stability, unity and democracy in Guinea-Bissau,” he added.Guinea-Bissau is one of the eight countries forming the West Africa Economy and Monetary Union (WAEMU). They share a single currency, central bank, development bank, regional stock exchange and banking regulator. read more

Afghanistans first free presidential election campaign kicks off

The Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) issued a statement declaring that campaigning began at 7am today and ends on the morning of 7 October, two days before more than 10.5 million registered Afghan voters – including at least 4.3 million women – are scheduled to cast their ballots.”The political campaign must be based on the principles of freedom of expression and conducted in a climate free of intimidation, which allows for democratic debates and discussion,” the statement read.JEMB said it has established a media commission to monitor reporting during the election campaign and to probe possible breaches of the media code of conduct, which calls for fair and balanced reporting and promotes retractions and rights to reply.The presidential election is Afghanistan’s first poll since the UN Assistance Mission to the country (UNAMA) was set up to help reconstruction following a quarter century of war and Taliban misrule. National and local parliamentary elections are scheduled for next April.UNAMA spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva, briefing reporters on Sunday in Kabul, said there are also regulations in place requiring free and equal access to candidates on state-run media.He also said the budget to run the elections now has more than $58 million, thanks to contributions from the United States, United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Finland, Canada, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Japan and Germany. read more

17 developing countries receive UN grants to battle violence against women

Noeleen Heyzer, Executive Director of the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) which administers the Fund, said the problem of gender-based violence “only deepens with war.” In all, 17 groups in developing countries will receive the latest grants including community leaders in the DRC who will be trained to address the communal impact of violence against women. In the Southern Sudan the capacity to document the war’s impact on women will be enhanced and used to influence post-conflict reconstruction, and ensure better access for women to services and training to participate in peace processes. In the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Jerusalem, medical practitioners and health care workers will develop a Code of Ethics for assistance to survivors of violence while government officials in Georgia and Azerbaijan will receive training to promote the use of violence prevention and prosecution mechanisms at institutional and policy levels. In Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica, research and investigation into the scale of gender-based violence will be used to influence reform of legislation and public policies, and encourage greater collective action to end impunity. The Fund, a unique multilateral mechanism established by the UN General Assembly in 1996, has granted $8.3 million to 175 initiatives in 96 countries since then. Demand continues to outstrip supply. UNIFEM has received up to $17.5 million in requests, with only about $1 million to give out each year. “For every project funded, there are at least 10 turned away,” Ms. Heyzer said. “Our biggest obstacle is not a lack of ideas. It is a lack of resources.” read more

UN refugee agency concerned at crackdown on illegal immigrants in Malaysia

But the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has received “assurances from the highest levels of the Malaysian Government that people of concern to us will not be affected,” spokesman Ron Redmond told a news briefing in Geneva, noting that there are some 47,000 people of concern, including ethnic groups from Myanmar, people fleeing from Indonesia’s Aceh province, and other nationalities. In readiness for the crackdown, UNHCR has put in place a number of informal arrangements both with the police and RELA, a half-million-strong civil volunteer force, to prevent “people of concern to us” being affected, he added. The agency has set up a 24-hour operations room with three hotline numbers to ensure that the authorities can check whether an individual is registered with UNHCR or is of concern to the office. If so, they should then be released. UNHCR will also be increasing monitoring activities at immigration depots, and intensifying registration efforts. In mid-December 2004, it started sending mobile registration teams to the jungle camps to provide documentation to hundreds of refugees and people of concern who often live alongside illegal migrants, increasing their risk of being picked up. “We hope that these combined measures will go a long way to protecting refugees and people of concern to UNHCR during the crackdown,” Mr. Redmond said. “We have been encouraged recently by a constructive and strengthened relationship between UNHCR and the Government. Last week, for instance, in a much welcome act, the police force in Sepang district released into UNHCR custody 14 Acehnese registered with us who had been arrested. UNHCR is greatly encouraged that documentation was respected by law enforcers.” read more

Eight candidates named to become UN High Commissioner for Refugees

Eight nominees have been short-listed to become the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), replacing Ruud Lubbers, who resigned a month ago as chief of the refugee agency amid a media furore over allegations against him of sexual harassment, which he denied.At the beginning of the latest search, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he wanted someone with a thorough knowledge of refugee issues and of unimpeachable personal and professional integrity. The person would also have to have proven skills in managing a complex organization, be able to mobilize resources and be an unflinching champion of the refugee cause.Today Mr. Annan’s spokesman, Fred Eckhard, issued a list of people chosen to be interviewed by a panel of senior management officials in the next few weeks. The panel will refer the finalists to Mr. Annan and his Deputy, Louise Fréchette, for final interviews. Mr. Annan will then forward the name of his nominee to the UN General Assembly.The eight include Emma Bonino of Italy, Member of the European Parliament, Committee on Foreign Affairs, Committee on Budget, Sub-Committee on Human Rights; Hans Dahlgren of Sweden, State Secretary for Foreign Affairs; Gareth Evans of Australia, President and Chief Executive of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group; and former Prime Minister António Guterres of Portugal.Also listed are Søren Jessen-Petersen of Denmark, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Kosovo and head of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission there (UNMIK); Bernard Kouchner of France, Former Minister of Health and Mr. Annan’s former Special Representative for Kosovo; Kamel Morjane of Tunisia, currently the Assistant High Commissioner for Refugees; and Mark Verwilghen of Belgium, Minister of Economy, Energy, Foreign Trade and Scientific Politics. read more