UN Daily News For The 10 December, 2008

Published: Fri 12 Dec 2008 11:49 AM
UN Daily News For The 10 December, 2008
From The United Nations News Service
The international community has not lived up to the vision held in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today told a ceremony marking the 60th anniversary of the landmark document.
Drafted amid the “utter destruction and destitution following the Holocaust and World War II,” the Declaration is at the core of the United Nations’ identity, as “it reflects humanity’s aspirations for prosperity, dignity and peaceful coexistence,” Mr. Ban said in a video message.
The Declaration, which was adopted by the General Assembly 60 years ago on this day in 1948, states that everyone has the right to life, liberty and security and that all – regardless of race, gender, colour, sex, language, religion or political opinion – are equal before the law.
“Since I took office as Secretary-General, I have been very humbled and saddened by having seen so many people whose human rights are being abused and not properly protected,” the Secretary-General told attendees at a ceremony marking the day in New York.
“We see human trafficking, the exploitation of children, and a host of other ills plaguing millions of people,” he said, adding that despite “all the lessons we profess to have learned, shocking acts of brutality against innocent people often go unanswered.”
Mr. Ban also paid tribute to the individuals who risk their lives defending the rights of others around the world, including human rights experts, lawyers and journalists, as well as “ordinary people who find extraordinary courage and stand up for what is rightfully theirs, yours, mine and ours.”
Challenges threatening human rights around the world include the global financial crisis, the food emergency and “humankind’s assault on the natural environment,” he said in a separate message celebrating Human Rights Day, adding, that “there is political repression in too many countries, and, as ever, the most vulnerable continue to be on the frontlines of hardship and abuse.”
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, in her own statement commemorating the milestone, underscored the importance of the Declaration in shaping the principles laid down in the constitutions and laws of more than 90 countries.
She highlighted a range of specific provisions made in the Declaration, from the right not to be tortured, enslaved or arbitrarily detained, to the freedom of opinion, expression and religion, and the right to education, health and equal pay for equal work.
“For many people, the Universal Declaration remains an unfulfilled promise, as States’ political will to fulfil their obligations lags lamentably behind their pledges.”
The High Commissioner’s Representative in Nepal, Richard Bennett, echoed Ms. Pillay’s remarks at an event celebrating the Day in Kathmandu, adding that the Asian country’s progress towards peace faces its own formidable challenges, not least with problems related to discrimination.
Nepal faces many challenges, ranging from the extortion of money from businessmen by armed groups in the Terai to assuring employment for Dalit children, he said.
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Nepal and its partners staged a number of activities commemorating the anniversary, including a photo exhibition highlighting prison conditions, launching a “Know Your Rights” campaign and a human rights marathon.
UN independent human rights experts marked the Day with a call to all States to intensify their efforts to realize the Declaration’s promise of dignity, justice and equality for all and to act together to guarantee human rights in today’s challenging times.
They stressed that the interests of individual States are inter-connected, emphasising that “new challenges include ensuring global access to food, and those presented by climate change and financial crisis have potentially massive human rights and development implications. If we are to confront them effectively, we must do so collectively.”
Opening two panel discussions commemorating the Declaration’s anniversary, the President of the General Assembly, Miguel D’Escoto, stressed that education, health, employment, housing, culture, food and recreation for all human beings are the document’s “essence.”
Sounding the alarm about the crisis of the lack of political will, Human Rights Council President Martin Ihoeghian Uhomoibhi voiced regret at the current dismal picture of human rights.
“The problem of poverty is rampant and stands at the core of the denial of many basic human rights. Children are exploited, the elderly are neglected and women are still denied their fundamental rights,” he said in his message to the General Assembly.’
Racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance all pose huge challenges to establishing the pledges of equality, justice and freedom made at the signing of the Declaration, according to Mr. Uhomoibhi
Appealing to all Somalis to put an immediate stop to human rights violations and abuses, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative to the Horn of Africa nation, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, portrayed the grim reality on the ground for millions of the country’s impoverished people.
He said that the media coverage of piracy off the Somali coast has overshadowed the dire situation in much of the country, where many live in extreme poverty while atrocities such as killings, torture, rape and indiscriminate attacks on civilians continue unabated.
While welcoming a recent agreement to set up a working group to address the problem of impunity, Mr. Ould-Abdallah stressed that “leaders of all parties and groups involved since 1991 must take responsibility and be held accountable. Punishing the perpetrators of human rights abuses and protecting the vulnerable in their communities are universal obligations.”
Events commemorating the Day are planned to take place at UN Headquarters today, among them a plenary session of the General Assembly to present this year’s recipients of the UN Prize in the Field of Human Rights with their awards, panel discussions on human rights and a screening of a selection of the Stories on Human Rights films.
World-renowned pianist and UN Messenger of Peace, Daniel Barenboim, will also be performing with members of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra in the General Assembly on 15 December. The concert is meant to commemorate the 60th anniversary and wrap up a year-long UN system-wide campaign, with the theme “Dignity and Justice for All of Us,” aimed at raising awareness of the Declaration.
The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) honoured Stéphane Hessel, who helped draft the Declaration, with its prize for the Promotion of a Culture of Human Rights, at a presentation in Bilbao, Spain.
Mr. Hessel – one of the few survivors from the day of the adoption – was chief of staff for Deputy Secretary-General Henri Laugier at the time, and feels that the Declaration has aged somewhat.
“It is a monument to a certain era,” he told the UN News Centre, adding that “It didn't broach a number of problems like humankind's relationship with the environment and terrorism.”
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On the day that the United Nations celebrated the 60th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the world body’s new top human rights official brought her own special focus to the issue – as victim and nemesis of abuse.
“I was told things like ‘white secretaries can’t take instructions from a black person,’” High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, who is of Indian descent, told the UN News Centre today, recalling her years growing up in apartheid South Africa when she wanted to become a lawyer in a society stratified by institutionalized racial discrimination.
But she persevered, completed her university law studies and, finally, was taken on as an intern by a black lawyer. She opened a law practice of her own in 1967, not out of choice, but because nobody would employ a black woman lawyer, and by the early 1970s, had challenged laws that permitted torture and unlawful methods of interrogation, leading to better conditions for all those imprisoned on Robben Island, including future president Nelson Mandela.
Over 20 years later, Ms. Pillay was on the other side of the bar, meting out justice to the Hutu extremist perpetrators of the massacre of hundreds of thousands of Tutsis and moderate Hutus as President of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).
“I came to know in painful detail, killing by killing, the unimaginable destruction of humanity when ethnic hatred exploded into genocide,” she said. “I know that the consequences of allowing discrimination, inequality and intolerance to fester and spiral out of control can have genocidal consequences.”
And how does the world appear today after a century marked by so much blood-letting, torture and persecution?
“Impunity, armed conflict and authoritarian rule have not been defeated,” she said. “Regrettably, human rights are at times sidestepped to promote short-sighted security agendas. And lamentably, a trade-off between justice and peace is often erroneously invoked when societies emerge from conflict and combatants return to their communities.
“It also distresses me that violence against women is still a daily occurrence in too many countries. The UN Security Council and international tribunals have clearly established that rape and other forms of sexual violence can amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity or may be regarded as constitutive acts with respect to genocide. Perpetrators should be brought to justice if cycles of violence and brutal retribution are to be halted.”
But just as she persevered over 40 years ago as a young university student, so will she persevere today as the world’s top human rights official. “One of the main challenges I face, like my predecessors, is to get the international community to take human rights seriously. When I leave this job, I would like to be able to say that I've made a real difference in some people’s lives, because the organization I head has functioned to its full potential.”
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The United Nations envoy tasked with helping to resolve the conflict that has engulfed the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has expressed satisfaction at progress made in talks between the country’s Government and a leading rebel group, but noted that some issues must be resolved to ensure success.
Olusegun Obasanjo, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy and former Nigerian president, and Benjamin Mkapa, former Tanzanian leader who is representing the African Union (AU) and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), are facilitating the discussions under way in Nairobi, Kenya.
Mr. Obasanjo said that there has been some progress made in reaching agreement on the format and rules for more substantive discussions, between the Government and the militia known as the National Congress in Defense of the People (CNDP), that he said he believes will begin before the end of this month.
“But success has been blocked by two difficulties that need urgent resolution,” the Envoy said.
The CNDP, led by renegade general Laurent Nkunda, is insisting on discussions on the obstacles facing the entire DRC, not just the conflict and humanitarian situation in the east. “Without prejudice to the rights and wrongs of this demand,” Mr. Obasanjo said that both he and Mr. Mkapa believe this goes “beyond the mandate given to us” last month by the Great Lakes Region, the AU and the UN.
Further, progress in the talks have been slowed down because the decision-making powers of the CNDP delegation have been curtailed by the militia’s leadership, he noted.
But Mr. Obasanjo underscored that he and Mr. Mkapa will continue their diplomatic efforts “in search of a way forward in the interest of durable peace that the people of the DRC so fully and rightly deserve.”
Escalating conflict between Government forces (FARDC) and the CNDP has uprooted an estimated 250,000 people since late August, mainly in North Kivu province, which borders Rwanda and Uganda. Other armed groups, including the Mai Mai, have also been involved in deadly clashes, some of which have been along ethnic lines.
The UN refugee agency today said that thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in North Kivu cannot be reached by aid workers.
In Beni territory, at least 8,000 people who fled the fighting between the FARDC and CNDP are in need of humanitarian assistance, while still others have been uprooted by clashes between Government troops and another militia known as the Front Populaire pour la Justice au Congo (FPJC).
The UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC, known by its French acronym MONUC, today reported that the security situation remains fragile in North Kivu despite the retreat of the CNDP from some areas.
MONUC military spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Jean Paul Dietrich said that other militias, such as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a mainly Hutu rebel group, have taken advantage of the CNDP’s withdrawal and replaced them in some regions.
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Ministers and other top officials from nearly 200 nations are gathering in Poznan, Poland, for United Nations-led negotiations aimed at reaching an ambitious global climate change deal next year.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will address the high-level segment tomorrow and will appeal to the gathered leaders to not let the food, financial and other current crises dissuade them from taking urgent action on climate change.
The ministerial meeting caps off the two-week Poznan conference, which marks the half-way point in efforts to reach agreement on a successor pact to the Kyoto Protocol, the legally binding regime for reducing greenhouse gas emissions whose first commitment period ends in 2012.
The ministerial segment caps off the two-week Poznan conference, which marks the half-way point in efforts to reach agreement on a successor pact to the Kyoto Protocol, the legally binding regime for reducing greenhouse gas emissions whose first commitment period ends in 2012.
Last December, countries at the landmark UN climate change conference in Bali, Indonesia, agreed to take action to adapt to the negative consequences of climate change, such as droughts and floods; devise ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; find ways to deploy climate-friendly technology; and finance adaptation and mitigation measures.
The agreement to be reached by nations must include emissions reductions targets by wealthier countries and must also address funding for developing nations, said Yvo De Boer, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
“We must have a politically ratifiable outcome that can enter into force in 2013,” he added.
So far in Poznan, discussions have focused on how to narrow differences between nations ahead of the December 2009 conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, where negotiations are expected to conclude. A negotiating text for an agreement is expected to be placed under consideration at a UNFCCC gathering next June.
In a related development, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) said today that weather-related natural disasters causing even more damage than earthquakes, further endangering vulnerable communities and straining global insurance companies.
Preliminary data shows that while 2008’s costliest event was the devastating earthquake that struck China in May. But the largest number of major disasters were weather-related, with the deadliest among them, Cyclone Nargis which hit Myanmar earlier this year, claiming 84,500 lives and leading to uninsured economic losses of $4 billion.
The re-insurance and insurance industry has taken a big hit from weather-related disasters, but Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director, said that it “also has an important role in the profitability and viability of many of the solutions,” ranging from innovative insurance policies to help home-owners and businesses in at-risk areas to solutions to cover wind farm operators against challenging weather conditions.
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The World Bank has created a $2 billion fast-track facility to speed up grants and long-term interest-free loans to help the world’s poorest countries cope with the impact of the global financial crisis, noting a marked slowdown everywhere, including in formerly resilient developing nations.
“The poorest people will be hit the hardest by the crisis that is likely to get worse next year,” World Bank Group President Robert B. Zoellick said. “Our Global Economic Prospects report projects developing country growth will be 4.5 per cent next year, down from 7.9 per cent in 2007. We want to help countries manage this downturn with rapid financing to help minimize its impacts and by assisting them in designing supportive policies.”
The facility will quickly make available an initial $2 billion of the $42 billion International Development Association (IDA) Financial Crisis Response Fast-Track Facility resources to 78 of the poorest countries over the coming three years.
It will foster rapid Bank response to the pressing needs of IDA countries based on more swift World Bank analysis of those needs. It will finance expenditures needed to maintain economic stability and sustain growth, address volatility, and protect the poor. Operational responses will include funding budget expenditures in infrastructure services, education, and health and social safety nets.
“We cannot afford business as usual. We need a human rescue package, not just a financial rescue package – and we need a new rapid response capability to make sure the money gets quickly to where it is most needed,” Mr. Zoellick said. “Already 100 million people have been driven into poverty as a result of high food and fuel prices, and we estimate that a 1 per cent decline in developing country growth rates will trap 20 million more people in poverty.”
The full impact of the global financial crisis will hit IDA countries later than higher-income countries, but the development costs will be higher there. In low-income countries the financial sector is less well integrated into global financial markets, so the direct effect on the financial sector will be significant only in countries with plans to access markets and those with high foreign bank presence.
A new World Bank report, Global Economic Prospects 2009, predicts that global gross domestic product (GDP) growth will slip from 2.5 per cent in 2008 to 0.9 percent in 2009. Growth in rich countries next year will likely be negative.
“We see that the global economy is transitioning from a long period of strong growth led by developing countries to one of great uncertainty as the ongoing financial crisis has shaken markets worldwide,” World Bank Global Trends Manager Hans Timmer said. “The slowdown in developing countries is very significant because the credit squeeze directly hits investments, which were a key pillar supporting the strong performance of the developing world during the past 5 years.”
With tighter credit conditions and less appetite for risk, investment growth in the developing world is projected to fall from 13 per cent in the 2007 to 3.5 per cent in 2009, deeply significant because a third of GDP growth can be attributed to it.
In East Asia and the Pacific, GDP growth slowed to an estimated 8.5 per cent in 2008 and is expected to drop to 6.7 percent in 2009. Growth in Europe and Central Asia is expected to slow to 5.3 per cent in 2008, falling to 2.7 per cent in 2009. In Latin America and the Caribbean, growth, expected to be 4.4 percent in 2008, is at risk, pressuring private sector investment.
The Middle East and North Africa region appears to have held up well in 2008, growing at an unchanged 5.8 per cent in 2008, but growth is expected to be just 3.9 percent in 2009. In South Asia GDP growth eased to 6.3 per cent in 2008 from 8.4 percent in 2007 and is expected to slip to 5.4 per cent in 2009.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, growth expanded to 5.4 per cent in 2008, and is expected to ease to 4.6 per cent in 2009. But the contribution of net exports to African GDP growth may fall, and many countries are exposed to terms-of-trade shocks. Higher food and fuel prices have also widened the poverty gap, raising the risk of social unrest.
The report also noted that recent sharp declines in oil and food prices marked the end of what has been the greatest commodity price boom of the past century. Like earlier booms, this one was driven by strong global economic growth and has come to an end with the abrupt slowdown in the global economy precipitated by the financial crisis.
But despite the decline, concerns persist about long-term demand and supply, and about the impact of high commodity prices on poor people, but the world in not necessarily heading into a prolonged period of insufficiency with, as some fear, dwindling supplies of oil, metals, and food grains, and ever-increasing prices.
“We find that speculation about looming shortages of food and energy is not well founded, and that the world won’t run out of key commodities given the right policies,” Andrew Burns, lead author of the report, said. “How things actually play out over the next 20 years depends on governments taking steps to reduce oil dependence, promote alternative energy, combat climate change, and boost farm productivity.”
A separate report by UN Economic Commission for Latin America & the Caribbean (ECLAC) noted that while the percentage of the population living in poverty in the region dropped to 33.2 per cent or 182 million people in 2008 from 34.1 per cent pr 184 million the previous year, the actual number of people living in extreme poverty rose to 71 million (12.9 per cent) from 68 million people (12.6 per cent).
* * *
The Security Council today urged all parties to make concerted efforts in determining the fate of Kuwaitis and other nationals missing since Iraq’s 1990 invasion, and expressed concern over the lack of progress in finding the Kuwaiti national archive.
Gennady Tarasov, the High-level Coordinator for the issue of missing Kuwaiti and third country nationals and the repatriation of Kuwaiti property, briefed the Council on the latest report of the Secretary-General concerning the matter, which noted that the remains of only 236 of the 605 missing persons had been identified.
The Council said that it regretted the stalling of exhumation activities carried out by the Iraqi Ministry of Human Rights, noting that only one additional case had been identified since the previous report.
“Council members again expressed their deepest condolences and sympathy to the families of those involved,” the 15-member body said in a statement read out by the President of the Security Council and Deputy Permanent Representative of Croatia, Ranko Vilovic.
“The Members of the Security Council expressed their concern at the absence of progress on clarifying the fate of the Kuwaiti national archives,” he added.
Mr. Vilovic, who holds the rotating presidency for this month, noted the intentions of both Governments to co-operate on this issue and hoped that further progress would be made during the coming months.
* * *
The United Nations General Assembly today awarded its top human rights prize to seven global advocates ranging from a Congolese doctor who treats female victims of sexual violence, a nun who fought for indigenous rights before her murder in Brazil, and the assassinated Pakistani leader Benazir Bhutto.
The UN Prize in the Field of Human Rights, awarded every five years, was presented at a General Assembly ceremony marking the 60th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).
The winners are former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour; United States ex-Attorney-General Ramsey Clark; Executive Director and co-founder of Jamaicans for Justice Carolyn Gomes; Denis Mukwege, co-founder of the General Referral Hospital of Panzi in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC); Human Rights Watch, represented by its executive director Kenneth Roth; Ms. Bhutto; and Dorothy Stang of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur who was murdered in Brazil three years ago.
They join a distinguished roster of previous laureates that includes apartheid fighter and former South African President Nelson Mandela, US civil rights leader Martin Luther King, former US first Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, former US President Jimmy Carter, and Amnesty International.
The prize was first awarded on 10 December 1968 on the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the UDHR.
“As we mark the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we acknowledge the tireless work and invaluable contribution of these individuals and organizations that have fought to see the rights and freedoms embodied in this historic document become a reality for people in all corners of the world,” Assembly President Miguel D’Escoto said.
“These awardees constitute symbols of persistence, valour and tenacity in their resistance to public and private authorities that violate human rights. They constitute a moral force to put an end to systematic human rights violations.”
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The Nepalese army has recommended a resumption of its minefield clearance operation, which it conducts with the assistance of the United Nations Mine Action Team, UN spokesperson Michele Montas told reporters today.
Five minefields had been cleared in the Himalayan nation this year before the monsoon season forced a five-month break in the demining process, leaving 48 military minefields as well as a number of fields consisting of improvised explosives still to be swept.
Mines in Jaalbhanjyang, laid on a steep hillside to protect a strategic telecommunications tower during the decade-long civil war, have already claimed the life of a 10-year-old boy and injured a deminer.
Once the minefields have been cleared, 150 local people will be able to use the land for grazing cattle and have access to the local temple, which is next to the tower.
“The Nepalese army understands the need to clear the minefields for both humanitarian reasons, and as required by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and the Agreement on Monitoring the Management of Arms and Armies,” said UN Mine Action Team Programme Manager in Nepal, Stephen Robinson.
The army is developing mine clearance skills and expertise, said Mr. Robinson, adding that it can potentially “apply these skills to benefit the international community by deploying as United Nations deminers in other mine-afflicted countries, such as Sudan.”
The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is working with the Ministry of Education to include mine risk education into classroom teaching.
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The United Nations has called for funding to help meet health needs in areas of Myanmar that are rebuilding after this May’s devastating Cyclone Nargis which claimed some 140,000 lives and left 800,000 others homeless.
Dozens of heads of diplomatic missions, UN agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) converged for a meeting in the capital Yangon yesterday, followed by a field visit to health facilities today.
“The past seven months’ experience of responding to the health needs of the cyclone-affected population has shown that effective aid delivery can be achieved,” said Bishow Parajuli, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator. “At the same time, the cyclone has resulted in a significantly increased level of general vulnerability amongst the population.”
He cautioned that progress could unravel unless coordinated efforts are made to support the country’s health system.
Two-thirds of the funds for the UN’s $451 million appeal have been met, but agriculture and early recovery sectors are lagging with only 25 per cent and 39 per cent of needs met so far.
Despite fears, a ‘second wave of death’ has been averted, with nearly 750,000 people having been treated in the Ayeyarwady Delta by health providers. The disease surveillance reporting system – set up with Myanmar’s Health Ministry – has helped to prevent disease outbreaks and malnutrition through vaccination campaigns and other activities.
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Discrimination and the social exclusion of people living with HIV are undermining efforts to respond to AIDS in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet republics in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), one of the few areas in the world where incidence continues to rise, according to a United Nations report released today.
“Just as HIV transforms the lives of people living with HIV – who must come to terms with their HIV-status, identify coping and health promotion strategies, and follow life-saving treatment regimes for the rest of their lives – so too must states and societies in the region undergo transformations in the way they care for their populations and relate to each other for generations to come,” UN Development Programme (UNDP) Regional Director Kori Udovicki said.
The report – “Living with HIV in Eastern Europe and CIS: The human cost of social exclusion” -calls for concrete efforts to adjust health, social and other services to accommodate the needs of the growing ranks of people living with HIV and of populations at risk, including injecting-drug users, sex workers, men who have sex with men, migrants and their spouses and partners.
Many people living with HIV fear social stigma more than the health consequences of the disease, the report stresses. The fear of stigma and discrimination is a major cause of reduced up-take of prevention, care treatment and support services, even when free, by people living with HIV or at risk of infection, which in turn diminishes the effectiveness of national responses.
Limitations on rights can fuel the spread of the epidemic and exacerbate the impact of HIV, it adds. Consequently, respecting people’s individual rights and improving the status of historically marginalized populations can lead to lower rates of HIV transmission, fewer health disparities in society, and improved socio-economic and human development outcomes, the report stresses.
From an estimated 630,000 people living with the virus in 2001, HIV prevalence in the region has risen to 1.5 million as of 2007, a 140 per cent increase. Nearly 90 per cent of newly reported HIV cases are from Russia and Ukraine. In Central Asia and the Caucuses, the number of newly reported HIV diagnoses is also rising rapidly, with the highest incidence found in Uzbekistan.
The lack of basic training on HIV epidemiology, transmission and prevention, explicit biases against patients being treated for AIDS and unclear policy guidelines are among the key factors contributing to the unpreparedness of employers, educational institutions and health service providers outside of specialized AIDS centres to accept and serve people living with HIV.
The report’s launch was timed to coincide with both World AIDS Day and the 60th Anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
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ZIMBABWE: UN CALLS FOR $6 MILLION TO FIGHT DEADLY CHOLERA EPIDEMIC The United Nations health agency today called on international donors for $6 million to fight Zimbabwe’s worst cholera outbreak in over a decade, with the toll already reaching over 16,140 suspected cases and 775 deaths since August in the impoverished southern African country.
“This outbreak can be contained, but it will depend on many factors, in particular a coordinated approach between all health providers to make sure we are providing the right interventions where they are needed most,” UN World Health Organization (WHO) country representative Custodia Mandhlate said. “Such interventions include prevention, quick case detection and control, and improved treatment.”
Warning that the widespread outbreak, under-resourced and under-staffed health system, and inadequate access to safe drinking water and hygiene threaten the well-being of thousands of people, WHO is establishing a cholera control and command centre, in conjunction with the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare and other health partners to respond in a coordinated manner.
With the rainy season commencing and increased transit of people likely due to the Christmas season, there are risks for further spread of cholera if strong measures are not taken.
There are also serious regional implications, with cholera cases crossing into South Africa and Botswana. On 2 December, South African health authorities said the country had recorded 460 cholera cases and nine related deaths, mostly in border areas near Zimbabwe.
The major cause of the outbreak is the inadequate supply of clean drinking water and poor levels of hygiene. WHO is calling for improved access to oral rehydration salts for treating moderate dehydration, which is a symptom of cholera. This could quickly reduce sickness and deaths.
To help the Zimbabwean authorities and partners respond to the emergency, WHO has sent medical supplies to treat 50,000 people for common conditions for three months, as well as 3,200 moderate cases of cholera. WHO has also sent epidemiologists, a water and sanitation expert and a logistician to Harare, the capital, to strengthen response efforts on the ground.
About half the cases have been recorded in Budiriro, a heavily populated suburb on the western outskirts of Harare. Other major concentrations of reported cases include Beitbridge, on the South African border, and Mudzi, on the border with Mozambique.
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The United Nations has shipped another convoy of emergency food supplies to the Vanni region of northern Sri Lanka, as part of its ongoing humanitarian aid effort assisting thousands of people forced from their homes by violent conflict.
The World Food Programme (WFP) has dispatched a total of 4,120 tons food to an estimated 200,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the war-torn Vanni region, UN spokesperson Michele Montas told reporters today.
She said that the agency’s weekly dispatch of trucks carrying food to the region is in its the third month.
Intensified clashes in recent months between Government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) separatist group had forced tens of thousands of civilians to flee their homes and sparked warnings from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and other UN officials about the humanitarian impact on the people of Sri Lanka.
WFP provides food assistance to 1.1 million people in Sri Lanka, including IDPs, the economically affected, school children and other most vulnerable people.
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Cash reserves of the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees have plummeted from $60 million in 2006 to just $1 million, enough for less than one day’s average expenditure, a senior official said today, warning of “the very real prospect” of having to make cuts in basic education and health services.
“Effectively we are now running on empty,” UNRWA Deputy Commissioner General Filippo Grandi told the agency’s annual pledging conference at UN Headquarters in New York. “As everyone can understand, driving a complex machine such as ours on little or no fuel dramatically raises the odds, sooner or later of a breakdown.”
On present projections, UNRWA is facing a deficit next year in excess of $150 million to its overall budget, with it General Fund requirement for 2009 standing at $545 million.
“The social, humanitarian and potentially political repercussions in this already volatile region do not need to be spelt out,” Mr. Grandi said. “These new financial pressures come at a precarious time. Refugee needs are growing and becoming increasingly complex.
“Unless we get significant new or increased pledges in the next six months, there will be serious consequences for the refugees.”
Meanwhile UNRWA managed to get 13 trucks into the Gaza Strip today with medicine and cooking oil, but the Agency said this was still not enough for the area, whose 1.5 million inhabitants have been subjected to a series of Israeli closures in recent months.
Last month, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon voiced regret that Israel had not heeded his call to urgently permit the delivery of humanitarian assistance to Gaza’s civilian population. At the same time he reiterated his condemnation of rocket and other attacks by Palestinian militants in Gaza against Israeli civilian targets, which Israel has cited as a reason for the closures.
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United Nations and Cambodian officials have agreed on the need to strengthen the UN-backed tribunal trying Khmer Rouge leaders accused of mass killings and other crimes in the south-east Asian country by enhancing its human resources management, including anti-corruption measures.
A high-level UN Secretariat delegation led by Assistant-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs Peter Taksoe-Jensen met yesterday with Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister and Chairman of the Royal Government Task Force on the Khmer Rouge Trials, Sok An, holding constructive discussions on various issues of mutual concern with regard to the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC).
Both sides welcomed the significant achievements made by the ECCC, including progress towards the imminent start of the first trial.
Under a 2003 agreement between the UN and Cambodia, the ECCC was set up as an independent court using a mixture of Cambodian staff and judges and foreign personnel to try those deemed most responsible for crimes and serious violations of Cambodian and international law during the Khmer Rouge rule from 17 April 1975 to 6 January 1979.
In a joint statement issued today, the two sides recognized the ECCC’s potential to address impunity for crimes of the former Khmer Rouge regime and expressed the hope that it will become a model for future judicial systems.
They agreed to set up joint sessions between the national and international related structures to ensure that the entire administration operates in a transparent, fair and efficient way, meeting the requirements of due process of law, including full protection against retaliation.
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The top United Nations envoy to Somalia today welcomed the return of an opposition leader, who took part in reconciliation talks with the strife-torn Horn of Africa nation’s Government, to the capital Mogadishu.
The Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, characterized the return after a nearly two-year absence of Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, who heads the Alliance of the Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS), as “a most welcome development.”
Under June’s Djibouti Agreement, the ARS and the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) decided to end their conflict and called on the UN to deploy an international stabilization force to the troubled nation, which has not had a functioning national government since 1991.
Somalia has been beset by fighting and massive humanitarian suffering for the past two decades but the violence has flared anew this year, particularly in and around the capital, Mogadishu, and caused widespread displacement.
Mr. Ould-Abdallah also issued a call for Somalis of all political or other affiliations, during the period of Eid al-Adha to agree on pressing ahead with reconciliation, security, unity and dignity.
* * *
The top United Nations refugee official has called on the world to do more to help nearly 6 million long-term refugees, who have spent years and sometimes decades in exile, often in the poorest countries in Africa and Asia.
The UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), António Guterres, said there were at least 30 long-term refugee situations around the world that had lasted five years or more.
“The burden of hosting these refugees falls almost exclusively to developing states,” he said today at the opening session of a two-day conference on protracted refugee situations, taking place in Geneva. “It is important to recognise that the international community as a whole has not done enough to share that burden.”
Guterres said that once the media spotlight turned away from refugee emergencies and international attention faded, the displaced people could go unnoticed for years.
He added that much of the pressure fell on some of the poorest countries in the world, and hailed the example of Tanzania, whose Prime Minister, Mizengo Kayanza Peter Pinda, joined him at the conference podium. Tanzania has offered local integration, including naturalization and citizenship, to most of the Burundian refugees who fled their homeland in 1972 and who wish to remain in the country. Some 175,000 refugees stand to benefit from this programme, while others have opted to return to Burundi.
For his part, Prime Minister Pinda called on the international community to recognise the impact of protracted refugee situations on host countries, including the over-exploitation of natural resources, environmental degradation, strains on social services and the spread of small arms and insecurity.
* * *
The pre-trial chamber of the International Criminal Court (ICC) today has asked prosecutors to submit additional information regarding their request for arrest warrants for three rebel commanders for their role in last year’s deadly attack against peacekeepers in the war-ravaged Sudanese region of Darfur.
Some 1,000 rebels attacked the Haskanita camp in South Darfur state on 29 September 2007, killing 12 peacekeepers serving with the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS) – a predecessor to the joint UN-AU peacekeeping mission, known as UNAMID– and wounding eight others.
Last month, ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo presented evidence against the unnamed three commanders, who “planned, led their troops and directed the attack… and completely destroyed AMIS facilities and property, directly affecting aid and security for millions of people of Darfur who are in need of protection.”
The Prosecution said that there are reasonable grounds to believe the three commanders bear criminal responsibility for three counts of war crimes for murder, intentionally directing attacks against personnel and objects involved in a peacekeeping mission and pillaging.
Some 300,000 people are estimated to have been killed across Darfur, an impoverished and arid region of western Sudan, as a result of direct combat, disease or malnutrition since 2003. Another 2.7 million people have been displaced because of fighting among rebels, Government forces and the allied Janjaweed militia.
This is the third case arising from the situation in Darfur, which was referred to The Hague-based Court by the Security Council in 2005.
The pre-trial chamber issued arrest warrants in May 2007 for Ahmad Harun, former Sudanese Minister of State for the Interior and now the Minister of State for Humanitarian Affairs, and Ali Kushayb, a Janjaweed leader.
The ICC is also examining the Prosecutor’s application filed in July for an arrest warrant against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for alleged war crimes, including genocide, in Darfur.
Last month, Mr. Ocampo told the Security Council that it must take concerted action to enforce any warrant against Mr. al-Bashir.
“Genocide continues. Rapes in and around the [internally displaced persons’] camps continue. Humanitarian assistance is still hindered. More than 5,000 displaced persons die each month,” ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said, adding that the international community cannot conceal the President’s crimes.
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Facing a surge in hijackings of United Nations and non-governmental organization (NGO) vehicles in Sudan’s war-ravaged Darfur region, the joint UN-African Union mission in Darfur (UNAMID) has handed over equipment for two new Sudanese police posts in the southern area.
The posts, to be located at the eastern and southern entrances to the UNAMID compound in Nyala, capital of South Darfur province, will serve as permanent checkpoints, mainly in supporting the night patrolling carried out by the Sudanese emergency police and national security forces.
The basic equipment handed over includes beds, tables, chairs, water containers and mattresses.
Last week, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes told the Security Council that 261 vehicles had been hijacked and 172 compounds broken into so far this year.
Rebel movements, or those linked to them, appear primarily responsible for the majority of “these terrifying incidents” in rural areas, but many also occur in main towns in Government control, he said.
* * *
Over 2,000 children are killed daily from injuries sustained in preventable accidents and every year tens of millions more suffer injuries that often leave them with lifelong disabilities, according to a new United Nations report.
At least 1,000 children’s lives could be saved every day if proven prevention measures – including laws on child-appropriate seatbelts and helmets and hot tap water temperature regulations – are adopted everywhere, concluded a joint UN World Health Organization (WHO) and UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) report released yesterday.
“In addition to the 830,000 deaths every year, millions of children suffer non-fatal injuries that often require long-term hospitalization and rehabilitation,” said WHO Director-General Margaret Chan.
She warned that treatment costs could drive families into poverty. “Children in poorer families and communities are at increased risk of injury because they are less likely to benefit from prevention programmes and high quality health services.”
The report, a collaborative effort involving more than 180 experts worldwide, found that Africa has the highest overall rate deaths resulting from unintentional injury, with its children being 10 times more likely to die from accidents than children from high-income countries.
“It shows that unintentional injuries are the leading cause of childhood death after the age of nine years and that 95 per cent of these child injuries occur in developing countries,” said UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman.
Although wealthier countries have been able to reduce their child injury deaths by up to 50 per cent over the past 30 years, the issue still remains a problem as unintentional injuries make up 40 per cent of all child deaths in these nations, the report, entitled “The World Report on Child Injury Prevention,” found.
The leading cause of unintentional injury deaths and child disabilities are road accidents, killing some 260,000 children a year and injuring around 10 million. Drowning account for 175,000 deaths a year, while fire-related burns kill claim the lives of 96,000 children, falls cause 47,000 deaths and poisoning leads to more than 45000 children dying each year.
“When a child is left disfigured by a burn, paralyzed by a fall, brain damaged by a near-drowning or emotionally traumatized by any such serious incident, the effects can reverberate through the child’s life,” said Etienne Krug, Director of WHO’s Department of Violence and Injury Prevention and Disability.
“Each such tragedy is unnecessary. We have enough evidence about what works. A known set of prevention programmes should be implemented in all countries,” added Dr. Krug.
The report outlines a number of proven life-saving measures, such as child-resistant closures on medicine bottles, lighters and household product containers; separate traffic lanes for motorcycles or bicycles; draining unnecessary water from baths and buckets; redesigning nursery furniture, toys and playground equipment; and strengthening emergency medical care and rehabilitation services.

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