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UN Daily News, 5 December, 2008

UN Daily News, 5 December, 2008

from the United Nations News Service
5 December, 2008


Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon voiced his growing frustration today that the United Nations’ long-standing efforts to promote national reconciliation and democratization in Myanmar have yet to achieve the desired results and he urged the Government to release all political prisoners immediately and initiate “genuine dialogue” with the opposition.

Speaking to journalists after convening a meeting in New York of the Group of Friends on Myanmar, a gathering of countries supporting greater dialogue in the Asian country, Mr. Ban said there had been little progress since the last meeting, held in late September.

“I sense not only a higher expectation, but also a growing frustration that our efforts have yet to yield the results we all hope for,” Mr. Ban said. “I share this sense of expectation and frustration.”

Mr. Ban said that while he welcomed the Myanmar Government’s declaration that cooperation with the UN is a cornerstone of its foreign policy, he expected “a concrete action by them to implement their commitment.”

The Secretary-General has been pursuing reconciliation and democratization in Myanmar through his good offices role, as mandated by the General Assembly, and his Special Adviser Ibrahim Gambari has visited the country several times and held talks with top Government officials.

“My good offices should not be seen as an end in itself, or as a justification for inaction,” Mr. Ban said today. “In order to be able to pursue this role in an effective manner, it is necessary that all concerned parties across the spectrum step up efforts to help my good offices move forward.

“I have taken note of the Group’s concern that recent actions by the Government of Myanmar that risk undermining the prospects of inclusive national reconciliation, democratic transition, and respect for human rights, and more generally at the lack of sufficient response by the Government of Myanmar to the concerns of the United Nations and the international community.”

Mr. Ban urged the Government to release all political prisoners – including opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest for much of the past two decades – as soon as possible. He also called for the “initiation of a genuine dialogue with the opposition.”

In response to questions, the Secretary-General stressed that he remains committed to continuing his good offices role and is willing to visit Myanmar again to discuss humanitarian issues and political issues.

“I am ready to visit any time, whenever I can have reasonable expectations of my visit, to be productive and meaningful.”

Mr. Ban pressed all countries – particularly those in the Group of Friends, which comprises 14 countries and one regional bloc – to “use whatever available leverage and tools to impress upon the Government of Myanmar to implement their commitment.”

The Group, founded in December, represents a range of views on Myanmar and was established to hold informal discussions and develop shared approaches to supporting UN efforts. The members are Australia, China, the European Union, France, India, Indonesia, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Norway, Russia, Singapore, Thailand, the United Kingdom, the United States and Viet Nam.

* * *


The United Nations envoy tasked with helping to resolve the conflict behind the recent fighting that has engulfed the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo will launch a dialogue next week in Nairobi between the DRC’s Government and the rebel group known as the National Congress in Defense of the People (CNDP).

Set to kick off on Monday, the talks will be facilitated by Olusegun Obasanjo, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on the Great Lakes Region and former Nigerian president, and Benjamin Mkapa, representing the African Union (AU) and the International Conference on the Great Lakes (ICGLR), who is also the former president of Tanzania.

The agreement to launch the discussion comes after the their recent talks with regional heads of State, the Congolese Government, the CNDP and other armed groups in which they appealed for dialogue and respect for the ceasefire to allow for humanitarian assistance

Escalating conflict between the FARDC and the CNDP has uprooted an estimated 250,000 people in the past three months, mainly in North Kivu province, which borders Rwanda and Uganda. Other armed groups, including the Mayi Mayi, have also been involved in deadly clashes, some of which have been along ethnic lines.

The UN peacekeeping mission in the country, known by its French acronym MONUC, has welcomed the decision to hold the talks, as well as the agreement to normalize bilateral diplomatic relations and regional economic cooperation between DRC and Rwanda.

MONUC said it will have to review the operational plan between the two nations to disarm the DRC-based Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a mainly Hutu rebel group.

It was announced yesterday that MONUC seeks to press FDLR fighters to leave a town near the Ugandan border they recently entered.

The mission disputed information in some news reports that FDLR had systematically redeployed to “fill in” positions vacated by the CNDP, although they had entered the town of Ishasha in north-eastern North Kivu.

Meanwhile, the UN refugee agency today said that over 90,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) taking shelter around Rutshuru, 80 kilometres north of Goma, North Kivu’s capital, cannot be accounted for.

For the first time, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was able to visit three former makeshift camps now that the security situation has calmed down. “As we feared, we found these sites empty,” agency spokesperson Ron Redmond told reporters in Geneva.

Three UNHCR-run sites in the area “were forcefully emptied and destroyed some weeks ago,” he said.

Some of the 5,000 IDPs who took sheltering around the MONUC base in the area told UNHCR that they are afraid of reprisals and do not want to return home.

“They alleged numerous atrocities and summary killings,” Mr. Redmond said.

UNCHR has passed out emergency aid supplies to over 10,000 in need in the destroyed camps around Rutshuru, and has delivered relief items to tens of thousands of others in surrounding areas.

There have been reports by local authorities in Orientale province, just north of North Kivu, that 2,000 IDPs who fled attacks by Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a notorious rebel group that has waged war against Ugandan Government forces since the mid-1980s.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) today estimated that over 83,000 Congolese have been uprooted due to LRA violence since mid-September, with some 6,000 fleeing to southern Sudan.

* * *


Zimbabwe is now facing its worst cholera outbreak in over a decade, with the number of suspected cases of cholera in Zimbabwe in recent months having climbed to nearly 14,000, including 589 deaths reported, the United Nations announced today.

The bulk of cases have been reported in Harare, the capital of the Southern African nation, and the outbreak is a national one, with nine out of 10 provinces and two-thirds of regions affected.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) today cautioned that UN updates of the number of cases were based on reports to medical centres around Zimbabwe, and therefore not portraying the full picture.

The needs stemming from the cholera outbreak has pushed the Consolidated Appeal for Zimbabwe for 2009 to $550 million, and the agency also warned of a shortage of fuel supplies exacerbating the problem.

While it understands the impact of the outbreak in Harare and the two other hardest-hit cities, the UN World Health Organization (WHO) said that did not have as clear a view of the situation in the countryside.

Cases have surged since late last month, the agency said, adding that it is airlifting emergency supplies from Dubai and mobilizing additional medicines from South Africa.

For its part, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) today said that outbreak was becoming increasingly difficult to control, with Harare suffering from a water shortage.

It said is has made a one-month supply of chemicals to treat water available and is distributing 360,000 litres of drinking water daily.

Yesterday, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stressed in a telephone conversation with South African President Kgalama Motlanthe that the UN and its relief partners must respond quickly to address the humanitarian needs of Zimbabweans and prevent the cholera epidemic from spreading.

* * *


Communities should harness the energy and initiative of the thousands of volunteers who contribute to projects around the world, including critical United Nations activities, senior UN officials said today as they marked the day dedicated to those who give their time and efforts for free to help others.

“The altruistic spirit of volunteerism is immense and renewable,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a message released for International Volunteer Day, which has been observed by the UN and civil society on 5 December every year starting in 1986.

Mr. Ban noted that many people have called for extra resources to combat some of the greatest problems facing the world today, such as the turmoil in financial markets, climate change and steeply rising food and fuel prices.

“Rarely, however, is volunteerism fully recognized as a potentially vast and powerful resource to engage people in the pursuit of peace and development,” he said, urging “all members of our global community to tap this great reserve of energy and initiative.”

UN Volunteers (UNV) deploys about 7,500 people in 140 countries every year to support national development efforts, and the programme’s Executive Coordinator Flavia Pansieri said the work of volunteers is being increasingly recognized and supported around the world.

Today UNV is launching an online volunteering service – which brings together hundreds of development organizations and thousands of volunteers who would otherwise have time or physical constraints from participating – in French and Spanish and re-launching an upgraded version in English.

“Online volunteers have contributed to environmental projects in Africa, human rights in Asia, youth education in Latin America, and community work worldwide,” Ms. Pansieri said in a statement.

“Online volunteering promotes social inclusion and contributes in a very tangible way to the work of development organizations and communities facing some of the toughest challenges of our time.”

UNV volunteers often work closely with the UN Development Programme (UNDP), and that agency’s Administrator Kemal Dervis highlighted their joint efforts to improve conditions in countries emerging from disaster or conflict by rebuilding infrastructure, promoting democratic governance and engaging marginalized or vulnerable groups, such as women and youth.

“Working with local authorities and communities, UNV volunteers ensure that governance is grounded in the principles of human rights, access to justice, inclusion and gender equality,” he said.

Around the world volunteers are holding events this week to mark the Day: in Haiti, a school damaged by hurricanes is being rehabilitated; in Sudan, doctors and dentists are providing free medical consultations; in Kazakhstan, children in orphanages and hospitals are receiving “clown therapy”; and in Indonesia, new mangroves are being planted.

* * *


Nepal’s Prime Minister, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, has agreed to release the remaining 3,000 former child soldiers from Maoist army cantonment camps, a senior United Nations official announced today.

The Nepalese Government has committed to discharging the children by February next year and for the process to be managed in cooperation with the UN Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) and the UN country team, which includes the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

The comprehensive peace agreement, which ended the conflict between forces loyal to the former King of Nepal and Maoists in 2006, called for the immediate release of the children once they entered the cantonments, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict Radhika Coomaraswamy told UN radio today at the conclusion of her six-day visit to the South Asian country.

UNICEF and UNDP have created reintegration packages for the children with about 64 options of various vocational and other skills tailored to their needs.

“The UN country team stands ready to support former [Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist] CPN-M child combatants to resume civilian life as they look to their future in a new peaceful Nepal,” Ms. Coomaraswamy told reporters in Kathmandu.

Ms. Coomaraswamy welcomed the readiness of the Government to address and prevent the misuse of children for political purposes, particularly their use in political violence. Both the CPN-M and the Unified Marxist Leninist (UML) groups told the Special Representative that discussions were under way on how to prevent the youth in their parties using violence.

She also raised concerns over the continuing social unrest in the Terai region in the country’s south, where armed groups and criminal gangs act with total impunity.

The Special Representative said she had met with children who had been forced to flee the violence and had lost their homes as a result. Some children had run away from home fearing recruitment into armed groups while others were afraid of threats against their families if they refused to join.

“Impunity for violence must stop and the rule of law must return to Nepal for peace to be given a chance and for children to live in security,” Ms. Coomaraswamy told the press conference.

She added that the commitment of Mr. Dahal to investigate the case of Maina Sunuwa is a symbolic step forward. Ms. Sunuwar, a 15-year-old girl, was tortured and killed in February 2004 while in custody of the Nepalese Army.

“Children are eager to play a key role in the creation of a new peaceful Nepal. The United Nations and the Government of Nepal are committed to supporting them in shaping their future free of violence,” said Ms. Coomaraswamy.

The Special Representative is slated to start a five-day visit to the Philippines on Monday to assess the impact of the conflict on children, paying particular attention to the issue of the association of children with armed groups, their return to civilian life and protection from violence.

* * *


The United Nations humanitarian chief announced today that around $380 million was pledged to its emergency relief fund that can be quickly accessed by the world body, potentially saving thousands of lives when responding to disasters.

The Central Emergency Relief Fund (CERF) was set up in 2006 to speed relief for natural and man-made disasters and save thousands of lives that would otherwise be lost to delay. Since its creation, the voluntarily-funded CERF has given nearly $700 million to help those affected by disasters.

“Given the volatility in economies around the world, it would have been natural to expect that pledges made for the coming year would decrease. But the pledges we heard are a ray of hope in an otherwise gloomy global economic climate,” said Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes.

“The pledges are an important signal to the millions of people caught in humanitarian crises around the world that they will not be abandoned, that international support for humanitarian efforts is as strong as ever,” he added.

Seven new countries were registered as donors for the CERF at the high-level event yesterday, bringing a total of 101 contributing nations to the Fund, representing well over half of all UN Member States.

Of the 101 States contributing to the Fund, 17 of them are also recipients of financing from the CERF, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, John Holmes, told reporters in New York.

Although the dollar amount committed to the Fund has dropped from last year’s $420 million donation, given current exchange rates the value of the money contributed to the CERF has risen.

“For the equivalent of that, last year would have meant pledges of $435 million,” said Mr. Holmes, adding that “a significant number of Member States increased significantly their contributions in their local currencies.”

Among the nine States that increased their commitments to the Fund was Spain, which added €10 million to its 2009 pledge of €20 million (more than $25 million), as well as adding €10 million to its commitment for this year.

Australia, Finland, Germany, Liechtenstein, Mexico, Montenegro, Morocco, the Republic of Korea and Sweden also increased the size of their pledges to the Fund compared to the previous year.

Mr. Holmes noted that yesterday’s meeting also resulted in pledges from seven first-time donors, Afghanistan, Kenya, Myanmar, Oman, Samoa, Saint Lucia and Timor-Leste. Four of the new donors to the fund – Afghanistan, Kenya, Myanmar, and Timor-Leste – have also been recipients of CERF funding. The two private sector donors are PricewaterhouseCoopers and Western Union, who had both also contributed in 2008.

“The numbers pledged yesterday are not the end of the story. Pledges continue to come in. Not all countries were ready to make pledges yesterday. Not all countries did make pledges yesterday, so the contributions will rise in 2009 as the year goes on,” said Mr. Holmes.

He warned that humanitarian needs are likely to rise in 2009 due to climate change driving natural disasters, the global food crisis, continuing and worsening conflicts, as well as the global and financial crisis.

Speaking at the opening of the conference, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said demand for resources to meet humanitarian needs continued to rise.

“Already, nearly 20 per cent of CERF funds are being used to help people suffering from extreme weather and other disasters caused by climate change. When food prices spiked earlier this year, I set aside $100 million from CERF to help more than 16 million people who could not afford enough to eat. Those funds have been used; in fact, we could have used three times that amount,” said Mr. Ban.

* * *


Nearly 180 business schools from around the world have now signed up to a United Nations-backed initiative aimed at steering tomorrow’s captains of commerce into conducting more ethical and inclusive business practices.

The Principles for Responsible Management Education, established by the UN Global Compact last year, commits the business schools to including values of corporate responsibility in such fields as human rights, fighting corruption and the environment in their curricula.

Speaking today to the conclusion of a forum in New York on the initiative, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed what he described as the “significant progress” over the past year and a half towards increasing business’ schools participation.

He said all the participating schools “can shape generations of business leaders and help bring to life our shared vision of a sustainable and inclusive globalization that benefits the greatest number of people, including the poor.”

He added: “As teachers, you can ensure that tomorrow’s leaders understand that the long-term growth of a business is tied to its environmental and social impact.

“As scholars, you can produce research that drives innovation and helps management to recognize the benefits of being a responsible business. And as thought leaders and advocates in your communities, you help advance awareness of broader challenges, opportunities and responsibilities.”

The Global Compact, set up in 2000, is a UN-created alliance in which participating businesses pledge to align their operations and strategies with 10 universally accepted principles in the areas ranging from human rights and labour to the environment and anti-corruption practices.

Close to 5,000 companies in 130 countries belong to the Compact, which aims to ensure that business helps markets, commerce, technology and finance advance in ways that benefit economies and societies everywhere.

The Secretary-General told participants that the educational training they deliver, which advocates corporate responsibility in finding solutions to urgent environmental and social challenges, support the broader goals of the UN.

* * *


United Nations General Assembly President Miguel D´Escoto today hailed the outcome of the recent Doha global finance meeting as “remarkable,” noting that it urged donor States to maintain their aid commitments to developing countries despite the global economic crisis.

“It was also agreed that the United Nations is the uniquely representative forum where major changes in the international financial and monetary architecture can be discussed to make the system more stable and equitable,” Mr. D´Escoto said in a statement issued by his spokesman.

He stressed that the declaration issued at the end of the meeting in Doha, Qatar, called for the convening of an inclusive international conference under the General Assembly President to review the international financial and monetary architecture.

“This key meeting should take place in the first half of 2009,” he said. “Doha marks the last rites of the so-called Washington Consensus and represents a call to greatly expand the narrow representation of institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF),” he added, referring to the 10-point reform agenda for international financial institutions adopted in 1989.

“It is now very clear that the confluence of crises affects all countries and the G-192 [the total UN membership] must be involved in finding the global solutions that meet every country’s needs and concerns, not just the traditionally dominant interests of groups like the [industrialized] G-8 or, more recently, the G-20 [that includes both industrialized countries and emerging economies].”

The four-day Doha meeting ended on 2 December with a declaration in which nations affirmed that the commitment made at the 2002 global partnership agreement for development in Monterrey, Mexico, for developed countries to devote 0.7 per cent of their gross national product (GNP) to official development aid (ODA) must be maintained, despite the current financial crisis.

“The Doha consensus sets the basis for an inclusive, democratic and transparent process to rebuild trust of all nations in the international financial, monetary and trade institutions,” Mr. D’Escoto said. “Only with the participation of all nations can we ensure that these policies truly benefit all people, especially the most vulnerable and poorest among us.”

* * *


From treating AIDS patients to rebuilding confidence for war-scarred villagers to dealing with cattle rustlers, more than 7,500 United Nations Volunteers (UNV) fan out around the globe every year, giving their time, hearts and sweat to helping some of world’s most deprived and traumatized people.

As the UN celebrated International Volunteer Day, it was just another regular workday for the volunteers, both national and international, in 140 countries, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, people like David Forest who gave up the comforts of his usual job to become a political affairs officer in sweltering Burundi, or Pham Thi Hue, tending HIV/AIDS patients in Vietnam.

“I am a kind of journalist-adviser,” says Mr. Forest, whose function makes him an interface between UN peacekeeping missions and the country at large, producing reports to help the local government and UN mission understand potential causes of violence. “I have to follow and analyse political and socio-economic developments in Burundi.”

For Eliana Rueda, a civil affairs officer with the UN Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT), the focus is on Quick Impact Projects (QIPs), the highly effective low-budget UN initiative that brings grass-roots aid to thousands of people in small communities, from repairing leaking roofs in schools to opening vocational centres to refurbishing sanitation facilities.

“Through QIPs we seek to contribute to the reinforcement of state authority, the promotion of intercommunity dialogue, and the creation of conditions for a safe and sustainable return of internally displaced persons (IDPs),” she says.

When Lubna Abdalla Lasu, a Sudanese, volunteered for UN peacebuilding in her homeland, cattle-rustling was probably not uppermost in her mind. But that is exactly what she is having to deal with in her area of operations.

“Most of the youth are unemployed, so they steal cattle to sell and do business with and also, unfortunately, to buy weapons,” she explains. Dealing with the situation requires sensitivity to the local culture and society, something Ms. Lasu is well placed to explain to the UN mission and local authorities.

Wild animals, this time, were not on the mind of Charles Kisamba from the Democratic Republic of the Congo when he volunteered his medical services to the UN mission in Côte d’Ivoire (ONUCI), but again they are rife in his area of operations in the north, where his vehicle became stuck.

“We could not get out for fear of wild beasts,” he says. “So we hung around until the return of the first villagers who helped us get out of the quagmire. It was an unforgettable day for all of us involved.”

On the other side of the world in China, Canaria Gaffar left her hometown of Urumqi, capital of the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region in the vast country’s far west, to go to Nanning, capital of another autonomous region, Guangxi Zhuang, to gather information on how the non- governmental organization (NGO) AIDS Care China successfully carried out its mission to support the HIV-infected.

“These are people who face those marginalized in society such as drug addicts,” she says. “It’s not easy, but they’re not judgmental and they're really providing significant care and support.”

But a problem she herself faced concerned her own food. It was virtually impossible to find places that served halal food to a Muslim like herself and she had to cook almost all of her meals. Still such minor inconveniences could not compare with the invaluable experiences she gained, she says.

Further south, in Cambodia, Christina Duggan from Ireland is helping families to deal with rising food prices. “The work is exciting and varied. One week you can be travelling to small, local communities to meet village leaders, another you would be carrying out research in the busy markets of the capital Phnom Penh exploring the potential for new rural based businesses,” she says.

Meanwhile to the east in Haiphong, Vietnam, Ph?m Th? Hu?, herself HIV-positive and a UN Volunteer since 2005, is working on a pioneering initiative to increasing the participation of people living with HIV themselves in planning and implementing HIV/AIDS activities and other efforts to improve their lives, families and communities.

“I am now so satisfied with my present life that often I forget that I am HIV-positive,” she says. “Or rather, I have managed to forget that being HIV positive is something which can stop me having this wonderful life. During the day, I busy myself with community work. At night, I hold my son’s hand and help him with his first attempts at writing. This happiness is like a dream I never thought I would live to see become reality.”

The UN Development Programme (UNDP) is supporting her son’s tuition fees.

Another flick of the globe brings round Haiti, where Sophie Picavet, a French civil servant, now coordinates civil affairs reports coming into Port au Prince, the capital, from the provinces – counterfeiters making mischief in Jérémie, drug traffickers continuing to cause trouble in Trou du Milieu, criminals arrested in the gang-ridden red zones.

“To be a volunteer is to enjoy a light feeling of freedom, to have left the well-balanced life at the ministry back home,” she says. “To give less importance to material thing, to relieve as much as possible the suffering of other human beings, sufferings I could not have thought of before, to be opened to the richness of people participating in the work of the UN, to laugh about the last Congolese [police] joke, to taste a Creole dish prepared by a National Police colleague.”

As Claire Whelan of Norway, a political affairs officer in the UN mission in Kosovo, says: “If you want to you get to know fascinating people from all over the world who like you are working away from the safety and comfort of what you know from before, you will have a great opportunity of doing so as a UNV volunteer.”

* * *


Boosting funding for efforts to slash greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation can simultaneously combat climate change and conserve biodiversity, a pioneering atlas launched today by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) shows.

The new Carbon and Biodiversity Demonstration Atlas – believed to be the first of its kind – pinpoints areas where high carbon and high biodiversity converge.

“At a time of scarce financial resources and economic concerns, every dollar, euro or rupee needs to deliver double, even triple dividends,” said Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director. “Intelligent investment in forests is a key example of where climate benefits and ecosystem benefits can be achieved in one transaction.”

Deforestation accounts for nearly 20 per cent of deforestation, and the launch of the atlas comes as countries are meeting in Poznan, Poland, for the latest round of UN climate change talks aimed at reaching agreement on a successor pact to the Kyoto Protocol, whose first commitment period ends in 2012.

Participants are also seeking to further plans to fund efforts for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, or REDD, as part of the post-Kyoto agreement.

Some 2,000 billion tons of carbon is stored in biomass above the ground and in the soil worldwide.

“Nature has spent millions of years perfecting carbon capture and storage in forests, peatlands, soils and the oceans while evolving the biodiversity that is central to healthy and economically productive ecosystems,” Mr. Steiner said.

While human and technological efforts to capture carbon dioxide produced by power plants and factories before it enters the atmosphere and storing it in oceans and other places play a role, “the biggest and widest returns may come from investing in and enhancing natural carbon capture and storage systems,” he added.

This will also help sustain livelihoods and add hundreds of thousands of new ‘green’ jobs in forestry and conservation in developing nations, the UNEP chief said.

Next year will be the year of climate change, a UN official told reporters in New York yesterday.

“The year between this meeting in Poznan and the meeting in Copenhagen is going to disproportionately on climate change as it should be in terms of attention of governments of the world,” as well as the private sector and civil society, said Robert Orr, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Strategic Planning in the Executive Office of the Secretary-General.

Economic recovery and climate change are heavily linked, he stressed at a press conference, “because you can’t really deal with one without the other.”

* * *


Eight United Nations agencies have co-sponsored the first Palestinian ‘festival’ to combat violence against women, driving home the message that so-called “honour killings” have nothing to do with honour and seeking to break the conspiracy of silence surrounding domestic abuse.

“It is time for action, not words,” UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) Programme Manager in the occupied Palestinian territory Alia El Yassir told the festival in Ramallah on the West Bank. “UN agencies are working as one on this issue and supporting civil societies in their efforts to end violence against women.”

The main message of the festival was threefold:

Killing a woman has nothing to do with honour. It is a violation of fundamental human rights and freedoms.
Break the conspiracy of silence surrounding domestic violence. Silence protects the perpetrators, and is the greatest obstacle encountered by women and girls in protecting themselves and their children.
Youth, especially young men, can play a positive and driving role. Male and female Palestinian youth have the right, duty and responsibility to play a key role in building a Palestinian society free of domestic violence against women and girls.
The emphasis on youth groups at the festival reflected the vital role the young can play, since they account for 48 per cent of the population in the occupied Palestinian territory.

Beside UNIFEM, the UN Development Programme (UNDP), UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), UN Population Fund (UNFPA), World Health Organization (WHO), High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) joined three Palestinian Authority ministries and 15 local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in sponsoring the event.

The festival, with a similar event taking place in Gaza, was part of the global 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence, an annual international campaign from 25 November, International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, to 10 December, International Human Rights Day.

* * *


While welcoming the evacuation by Israeli security forces of some 200 settlers from a house in Hebron in occupied Palestinian territory, a senior United Nations official today condemned ensuing settler violence against Palestinians, calling for an immediate end to such attacks.

“As the occupying power, the Government of Israel is under obligation to protect Palestinian civilians, property and holy sites,” UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Robert Serry said in a statement, denouncing the destruction and desecration of Palestinian property, mosques and graves, as well as settler attacks on Israeli security forces.

“I remain concerned about the potential for a further escalation of a tense situation. I call for an immediate end to settler attacks and restraint and calm from all parties, and urge vigilance from the Israeli authorities to ensure that the events of yesterday are not repeated.”

He added that extremists’ actions continued to pose a threat to the peace process, and further underlined the need for action to fulfil the commitments of the Roadmap plan, which calls for a two-State solution with Israel and the Palestinians living side by side in peace.

Meanwhile Mr. Serry’s office in Jerusalem, known as UNSCO, reported that all Gaza goods crossings were closed today after a partial opening yesterday. Once again, no humanitarian supplies, fuel or commercial commodities are being allowed in but the limited fuel that did get in yesterday has led to fewer power cuts in Gaza City.

UN officials, from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on downwards, have repeatedly called on Israel to urgently permit the delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza’s civilians. At the same time, Mr. Ban has reiterated his condemnation of rocket attacks by Palestinian militants in Gaza against Israeli civilian targets, which Israel has cited as a reason for the closures.

* * *


The prize-winning British children’s author and illustrator Lauren Child has been selected as the latest Artist for Peace by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the agency announced today.

The author’s appointment comes in recognition of her commitment and support of Programme for the Education of Children in Need and she will be formally inducted to the post by UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura at a ceremony in Paris on 12 December.

Under a partnership launched earlier in the year, Ms. Child and her publisher, Hachette Children’s Books, agreed to donate three years of royalties from her best-selling book That Pesky Rat to UNESCO’s Programme for the Education of Children in Need.

The funds will finance various UNESCO-supported projects for children in need, such as those of the Renacimiento Foundation, which works for street children in Mexico City.

Also part of the initiative is “My Life is a Story,” a campaign begun by Ms. Child to collect stories from children around the world, initially from those who are benefiting from UNESCO-supported projects, so that kids from differing backgrounds can compare their experiences. Several of these writings will be made available on line at

UNESCO Artists for Peace are internationally renowned personalities who use their influence, charisma and prestige to help promote the agency’s message and programmes. The artists include Manu Dibango, a Cameroonian musician; Patricia Velasquez, Venezuelan actress; Gilberto Gil, a Brazilian musician; Miyako Yoshida, a Japanese dancer; Sumi Jo, a Republic of Korea soprano; and Valery Gergiev, a Russian conductor.

* * *


The top United Nations envoy to Somalia today called for hostages, including two Catholic nuns, being held in the war-ravaged Horn of Africa nation to be freed immediately.

“On the eve of Eid al-Adha, a period of forgiveness, I appeal to all Somalis to help ensure that those hostages being held, both Somalis and foreigners, are allowed to enjoy their freedom and to return home safe and sound,” said Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative.

He noted that releasing hostages would help to boost Somalia’s image and “show that its people deserve respect and confidence.”

Many of those being held captive came to help the Somali people or explain their plight to the rest of the world, Mr. Ould-Abdallah said, adding that their disappearance has caused their families and friends great distress and has harmed the country’s reputation.

The two nuns being held were abducted last from a town on the border between Kenya and Somalia. “They should be allowed to return home immediately and I do not see any excuse for holding them any longer,” he said.

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.

The Representative led talks that resulted in June’s Djibouti Agreement, under which the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the opposition Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS) agreed 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.

* * *


The United Nations refugee agency and its aid partners in Montenegro have enlisted popular local sports coaches to take part in a new public awareness campaign aimed at fathers that is part of broader worldwide efforts to stem sexual and physical violence against women.

Under the campaign, fathers and father figures – such as uncles, older brothers, teachers and mentors – in the small European country are being encouraged to lead by example and teach their sons that all forms of violence against women are wrong.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which has co-developed and funded the project as part of the annual 16 Days of Activism to Eliminate Violence Against Women, launched the campaign yesterday in Podgorica, Montenegro’s capital.

About 10,000 posters have been distributed in schools, health-care centres and social welfare centres, public service announcements (PSAs) are being aired for free on television and radio, billboards are carrying key messages and some players in prominent sports in Montenegro are wearing campaign T-shirts before matches.

One of the participants is Igor Kolakovic, a top volleyball coach in Montenegro and a father of two boys, and he called on his countrymen “to teach your sons that being a real man means to respect and esteem women, and that being strong does not mean being a bully. You are their role model. They will listen to you. The power of change is in our hands.”

Violence against women is a serious issue in Montenegro, where a recent report found that one in two women is a victim of verbal abuse and one in every three is attacked physically.

UNHCR representative Serge Ducasse described the campaign, set up with the assistance of other UN agencies, the Montenegrin Government and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and drawing on material from the United States-based Family Violence Prevention Fund, as a trailblazer.

“Never before has a campaign in Montenegro called so directly upon men to challenge the deeply rooted belief in their superiority and their right to control the lives of their women,” said Mr. Ducasse. “Fathers have to speak out and teach their sons that violence is never an expression of strength, but one of cowardice.”


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