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

UN reform regional security and HIVAIDS top subjects of Annans talks in

The Secretary-General began the day with a visit to the Mahatma Gandhi memorial at Rajghat, where he and his wife, Nane, laid a wreath and then offered handfuls of rose petals, considered a sign of respect, at the flower-strewn cremation site.His first meeting was with External Relations Minister Natwar Singh at the historic Hyderabad House before moving on to discussions with President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam at the President’s residence.Following a luncheon hosted by Mr. Singh, Mr. Annan met with opposition leader L.K. Advani and then with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Afterwards he met with Sonia Gandhi, Chairperson of the Indian National Congress Party.The topics discussed during the Secretary-General’s meetings with the Indian officials ranged from UN reform to the regional security situation in India’s neighbourhood, with particular emphasis on the country’s relations with Pakistan and with China, as well as the situation in Nepal.Other subjects included the post-tsunami relief and reconstruction efforts and possibilities for cooperation between India and the UN in disaster preparedness and response, peacekeeping, terrorism, human rights, the situation in the Middle East, including Iraq, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and Lebanon.This afternoon, following a meeting with the Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss, the Secretary-General chaired a roundtable on HIV/AIDS, the main focus of which was the stigma and discrimination faced by people in India living with the virus.Saying that fighting HIV/AIDS was a personal priority of his, the Secretary-General asked the participants to describe what they would like to see people in the community do differently to ensure an environment free of stigma, and innovative experiences underway to tackle the problem. He also asked about awareness raising, prevention and care from their perspective. Mrs. Annan drew attention to the need to treat with dignity people living with AIDS, especially women.In the evening, Mr. and Mrs. Annan attended a dinner hosted by the Prime Minister.In a separate programme, Mrs. Annan visited a training and sensitization programme, supported by the UN Development Programme (UNDP), for Delhi police personnel on HIV/AIDS issues, with particular focus on their dealings with marginalized and vulnerable people.To date, 12,000 police officers have received training on the basics of HIV – transmission, prevention, testing, treatment, care and support, stigma and discrimination – as well as myths and misconceptions, gender and rights, legal and ethical issues, and living with HIV-infected and affected people.Mrs. Annan commended the police for their leadership in the drive to create an AIDS-free India, describing them as “torchbearers” in their outreach efforts with colleagues, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), schools and the community at large.Mrs. Annan also met with a group of Indian women activists brought together by the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) to discuss progress on issues facing women such as violence, trafficking, HIV/AIDS, legislative issues, political participation and economic development. read more

UNESCO adopts Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights

Beyond the well-established principles of informed consent and confidentiality, social responsibility, including improved access to quality health care, figures high in a new Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).“While it is still up to States to create legal texts and instruments appropriate to their cultures and tradition, the general framework proposed by the Declaration can help ‘globalize’ ethics in the face of the increasingly globalized sciences,” UNESCO said of the text adopted by acclamation at its General Conference’s 33rd session in Paris yesterday. “The Declaration meets a genuine and growing need for international ethical standards in this area,” it added citing the proliferation of practices that go beyond national borders, often without a regulatory framework such as biomedical research projects carried out simultaneously in different countries and the importing and exporting of embryos, stem cells, organs, tissue and cells. The first principle established by the Declaration is the respect of human dignity and human rights, emphasizing the priority of the interests and welfare of the individual over the sole interest of science or society.Beyond the already well-established principles of informed consent, respect for privacy and confidentiality, non-discrimination and non-stigmatization, UNESCO said the notion of social responsibility was new. “It stresses that progress in science and technology should promote the well-being of individuals and of humanity, notably by improving access to quality health care and essential medicines as well as to adequate nutrition and water,” it added. “The principle of sharing benefits is also affirmed… as is the safeguarding of the environment, the biosphere and biodiversity.”The Declaration is the third standard-setting text on bioethics adopted by UNESCO. The first, the 1997 Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights, was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1998. It was followed by the International Declaration on Human Genetic Data in 2003 that sets ethical standards for collecting, processing, storing and using human genetic data contained in biological samples such as blood, tissue, saliva and sperm. read more

Concerned at evictions UN calls on Angola to comply with human rights

Miloon Kothari, who was appointed by the UN Commission on Human Rights, said that “large-scale forced evictions have been on-going on in Angola for many years,” but he was particularly concerned by the more recent and reportedly violent cases in the capital Luanda, and also by the fact that the Government had postponed his planned visit to the country.“In my capacity as Special Rapporteur on adequate housing appointed by the UN Commission on Human Rights, I have been following closely for some time the situation with respect to housing rights in Angola, particularly in light of the persisting practice of forced evictions in Luanda.“I have brought my concerns to the attention of the national authorities, but no response has been received yet and the most recent events suggest that such appeals are not being taken into account. I am particularly concerned in light of the fact that my previously planned official visit to the country has been postponed and has not yet been rescheduled by the Government.”Citing specific examples, Mr. Kothari said that hundreds of families were affected at the end of last year when the Luanda Provincial Government undertook “forced evictions and demolitions of homes” in the municipality of Kilamba Kiaxi in the capital.“Over 600 families were affected by forced evictions for the purpose of implementing the governmental housing project Nova Vida,” he said, adding that those remaining in several of the neighbourhoods were then reportedly evicted earlier this month.“Reports indicated that members of the National Police Force, provincial inspectors as well as agents of a private security company shot into the crowd of residents, kicked and hit people with guns and whips. The law enforcement agents allegedly acted with excessive use of force.”Mr. Kothari said that he had repeatedly drawn attention to the “worrying practice of forced evictions worldwide,” and had recently developed a set of guidelines aimed at assisting States in developing policies to prevent forced evictions which he had also shared with Angolan authorities.“I call on the Angola Government to take immediate steps to comply with its human rights obligations and to promptly act on this now public appeal,” said the expert, who serves in his personal capacity and is unpaid. read more

Haiti UN satisfied at voting process despite isolated violence

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) today expressed satisfaction with the conduct of elections in the country while voicing concern at isolated outbreaks of violence.In a statement released in Port-au-Prince, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Edmond Mulet, said the start of the process allowing Haitians to elect representatives and finish a number of legislative run-off elections had been good.But MINUSTAH said it nevertheless regretted the isolated incidents of violence which upset the balloting, even if these affected only a small percentage of the electorate.The Mission’s 6,500-plus troops and 1,700 police were tasked with providing security and logistic support throughout the country, including distributing election material to some 9,200 polling stations. read more