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UN Daily News For December 9, 2008

UN Daily News For December 9, 2008

9 December, 2008


Corruption is partly to blame for the current global financial crisis and is also an obstacle to the achievement of development and human rights goals, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today, calling for stepped up efforts to wipe out the scourge.

Greed and corruption have to some degree propelled the economic turmoil, leading to a plummeting of confidence in the financial system and the loss of life savings of many people around the world, Mr. Ban said in a message marking International Anti-Corruption Day.

“This is bad enough, yet another silent financial crisis afflicting the world’s poorest people attracts far less attention,” he said.

Throughout the developing world, billions of dollars urgently needed for health care, education, clean water and infrastructure are drained through bribes and other offenses.

“This makes it harder to provide basic services and achieve the Millennium Development Goals [MDGs],” the Secretary-General noted, referring to the eight anti-poverty targets with a 2015 deadline. “It denies people their fundamental human rights.”

The UN is taking action against the scourge, he said, through the UN Convention against Corruption, which contains strong measures to boost integrity that are applicable to both the public and private sectors.

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Nearly 130 nations are Parties to the pact, which entered into force in December 2005.

Mr. Ban said today that the global financial crisis underscores the necessity for stepped up regulation, and under the UN Convention, bank secrecy is no longer an obstacle to recovering stolen assets.

“It is not only governments and financial institutions that need to do more to prevent corruption and strengthen integrity,” he said. “Corruption affects us all.”

The head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) today called for greater adherence to the Convention.

“The world’s anti-corruption treaty should be the basis for strengthening integrity and oversight and curbing economic crime,” said Antonio Maria Costa, UNODC Executive Director.

“If more governments and businesses implemented the Convention, we wouldn’t be in such a mess,” he added.

For her part, the UN Independent Expert on the question of human rights and poverty today underscored how corruption threatens efforts to eliminate poverty.

“The very funds being allocated to poverty reduction programmes are too often diverted into the hands of corrupt elites,” said Magdalena Sepúlveda.

She also stressed that the scourge disproportionately affects women because they are “over-represented in the poorest social segments of society and under-represented in decision-making bodies,” calling for gender discrimination to be taken into account when formulating anti-corruption initiatives.

* * *


United Nations-backed talks between the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and a main rebel militia kicked off today, in a bid to end the upsurge in the fighting which has uprooted an additional 250,000 people in country’s far east.

The event, being held at the UN’s headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, is being facilitated by 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).

“In their opening remarks to the talks, the two envoys urged participants to find a workable solution to the political and humanitarian crisis in eastern DRC,” UN spokesperson Michele Montas told reporters in New York, adding that the gathering is expected to continue tomorrow.

Escalating conflict between Government forces (FARDC) and the National Congress in Defense of the People (CNDP), led by renegade general Laurent Nkunda, 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 Mayi Mayi, have also been involved in deadly clashes, some of which have been along ethnic lines.

In a related development, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) today reported that the transfer of internally displaced persons (IDPs) from Kibati, on the northern outskirts of North Kivu’s capital Goma, to more secure camps is continuing.

But some 9,000 people are estimated to have recently fled to Kibati, and there have been reports of lootings in several villages in the past week.

OCHA said that five former IDP camps in Rutshuru, 80 kilometers north of Goma, were forcibly emptied and destroyed, and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has put the total number of displaced in North Kivu who cannot be provided shelter due to lack of means at more than 50,000.

* * *


The promises enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) remain unfilled for tens of millions of people worldwide, the top United Nations human rights official said today, on the eve of the landmark document’s 60th anniversary.

After World War II, many were determined to ensure that there would never be another Holocaust and that everyone – especially the poor, hungry, displaced and marginalized – would have institutions and laws to protect them, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay told reporters in New York.

The Declaration 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.

“Despite all our efforts over the past 60 years, this anniversary will pass many people by,” the High Commissioner said.

“Tens of millions of people around the world are still unaware that they have rights that they can demand, and that their governments are accountable to them, and to a wide-ranging body of rights-based national and international law,” she added.

Ms. Pillay also stressed that the global financial crisis could compound the dire situation faced by the poorest and most marginalized people around the world, adding that poverty is both the cause and a result of human rights violations.

“We will need to be extremely vigilant over the coming months to ensure that development programmes and social safety nets are maintained or enhanced, so the effects of the crisis do not become calamitous,” she said.

Despite the growing influence of the Internet enabling journalists, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other civil society groups to expose human rights abuses, “no country in the world can sit back complacently and say, ‘We’re there,’” said the High Commissioner.

Welcoming the designation of 2009 as the International Year of Human Rights Learning, she encouraged governments, teachers, parents and “others in a position of responsibility all across the planet to take this opportunity to ensure that the next generation is given the maximum opportunity to claim what was promised to them in that extraordinary document known as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

In related news, a special UN advisor to the General Assembly President on water issues said today that the right to water must either be added to the UDHR or else be enshrined in a separate covenant.

Waterborne diseases are the leading cause of death for children, and “in every single case, if their parents could afford clean water, they would not have to die,” said Maude Barlow.

Characterizing the situation as “the most powerful and important face of inequity in our world,” she underscored the need to protect the world’s finite water sources as a human right

“With declining fresh water sources and the demand growing so quickly, we’re now at a situation in the world where who owns and controls water is going to be very powerful,” the advisor cautioned.

* * *


A delegation United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) is currently visiting Zimbabwe, to help the Southern African nation respond to its worst cholera outbreak in over a decade.

A high-level WHO delegation, headed by Eric Laroche, Assistant Director-General for the agency’s Health Action in Crises cluster, arrived in the capital Harare over the weekend.

WHO hosted a meeting today drawing 50 representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), as well as UN and Health Ministry partners.

At the gathering, Mr. Laroche called for the creation of a strong control and command structure to lead the containment and response to the outbreak, as well as to coordinate the efforts of health providers in Zimbabwe.

Yesterday, he met with Zimbabwe’s Health Minister, David Parirenyatwa, offering WHO’s support in coordinating the response to the cholera outbreak.

The agency said that the number of suspected cases has risen to over 15,000, with nearly 800 deaths having been reported, since August in two-thirds of the country’s 62 districts.

But it cautioned that these numbers may not reflect the true extent of the outbreak, with reporting from more areas being incomplete, and as a result is working on a scenario dealing with 60,000 cholera cases to ensure an adequate response.

The epidemic has hit Harare and two other towns the hardest, and WHO noted that this outbreak exacerbates the already dire humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe.

For its part, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) noted today that 80 per cent of people in Zimbabwe lack access to safe and clean water, with the potential for the cholera outbreak to get even worse due to a deteriorating sanitation system.

* * *


The Untied Nations must head up a cohesive global drive to tackle the scourge of terrorism, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the Security Council today.

“The best response to a corrosive, malevolent ideology is a strong assertion of collective resistance,” Mr. Ban said at the open meeting.

As an independent and impartial universal organization, “the United Nations has a responsibility to lead the international community’s efforts to confront this menace, which no cause or grievance can justify,” he added.

The Secretary-General told the 15-member Council that combating terrorism must be one of the world’s top priorities.

“Those armed with planes and guns today could well arrive with more potent force tomorrow,” he warned. “And so those who believe that terror is a legitimate means by which they can achieve their goals must be shown that they will fail.”

At today’s meeting, which heard from over 30 speakers, Mr. Ban spotlighted the various efforts made by the UN to combat the scourge, ranging from Council and General Assembly actions to the advice and technical expertise provided by agencies such as the UN International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the UN International Maritime Organization (IMO).

He reminded the Council that in two days, it will be the one-year anniversary of the deadly terrorist attacks against UN facilities in Algiers, Algeria, claiming the lives of 17 staff members and injuring 40 others.

“It was all-too-reminiscent of the attack on the UN compound in Baghdad more than five years ago,” the Secretary-General said, referring to the August 2003 attack that killed 22 people, including top envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello.

In October, two UN staff working in the northern Somali town of Hargeisa were killed after a suicide bombing at the local UN Development Programme (UNDP).

“It is more apparent than ever that the United Nations, too, has become a deliberate target,” Mr. Ban said. “Yet these tragedies have deterred neither our will nor our ability to serve the international community.”

In a presidential statement at the end of the meeting, the Council emphasized the central role of the UN in the global struggle against terrorism and called on States to strengthen their cooperation to find, deny safe haven and bring to justice “on the basis or extradite or prosecute” al those who support, facilitate or participate in financing, planning, preparing or committing terrorist acts or provide safe havens.

“The Security Council condemns in the strongest terms the incitement of terrorist acts and repudiates attempts at the justification or glorification of terrorist acts that may incite further terrorist acts,” the statement said, calling on all Member States to renew the degree of solidarity shown after the 11 September, 2001, terrorist attacks against the United States.

* * *


Challenges facing the Asia-Pacific region – the food, energy and financial crises, as well as climate change – could unravel development successes, a top United Nations official warned today.

Addressing the start of a two-day UN-backed meeting in Indonesia, Noeleen Heyzer, Executive Secretary of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), said that these issues have resulted in enormous human, environmental and economic costs for the region.

“But the convergence of these crises has also brought an opportunity to take a fresh look at our policies and reshape our development agenda – for that, we must act together and act now,” she told participants at the high-level meeting.

Ms. Heyzer cautioned that the food, financial, energy and climate predicaments threaten to roll back progress in the Asia-Pacific in many development areas, such as reducing unemployment and hunger.

* * *


Sixty years ago to the day after the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that the world has continued to witness appalling acts that violate human dignity.

“And all too often the international response has been inadequate,” he told the Jewish community organization B’nai B’rith International at its annual UN Conference in a message delivered by Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe.

“The Convention was a direct outcome of the attempted extermination of the Jewish people during the Holocaust, and ever since has embodied the aspiration of the United Nations to prevent such a horror from occurring again. Let me assure you of my strong commitment to this work,” he added.

He noted that 60 years ago tomorrow, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted. “This document, too, was drafted amid the utter destruction and destitution following the Holocaust and the Second World War. And here, too, there is a great distance to travel if we are to bring this vision to life for everyone, everywhere,” he said.

“We will continue to need your voice in our efforts to ensure human dignity and an end to bigotry, including anti-Semitism.”

He reiterated his regret that the goal of reaching an Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty by the end of this year, first articulated in the 2007 Annapolis conference, appeared unlikely to be achieved. But he noted that recent months had been a crucial time in setting the stage for peace, with the parties engaging in direct, intensive negotiations and creating trust and a framework where none existed only two years ago.

“At the same time, recent developments underscore the large gap between the political tracks and the situation on the ground,” he said. “Continued rocket fire against southern Israel and other disruptions to the period of ‘calm’ agreed in June, along with settlement activity and violent acts by settlers in the West Bank, a humanitarian emergency in the Gaza Strip, and the ongoing split between Palestinian factions, pose considerable obstacles.

“If people are to have faith in the political process, there is a need for tangible improvements in living conditions and security,” he added, also stressing that the global financial crisis, a development emergency, food insecurity and accelerating climate change are inextricably linked.

“Solutions to each must be solutions to all. States, too, are more interdependent than ever, and cannot protect their interests or advance the well-being of their people without the partnership of the rest,” he concluded.

* * *


After nine and a half years of policing Kosovo, the United Nations mission has started phasing out its police component, handing over to European Union’s Rule of Law Mission known as EULEX.

The move is part of the reconfiguration of the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), which was set up in 1999 to run Kosovo after NATO forces drove out Yugoslav troops amid deadly fighting with the majority ethnic Albanian population there.

EULEX is set to police throughout Kosovo under the overall authority of the UN after UNMIK succeeded in establishing from scratch a local police force that is well respected in Kosovo and the region.

The UN is neutral on the question of the status of Kosovo, which proclaimed independence in February this year in a move that Serbia rejects.

In his latest report to the Security Council last month, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for the reconfiguration of UNMIK in response to the “profoundly changed reality” on the ground.

He noted the EU’s preparations to undertake an enhanced operational role with EULEX and said his Special Representative for Kosovo Lamberto Zannier was facilitating its deployment.

* * *


Haitians beset by a staggering rise in acts of banditry, including kidnapping, are set to benefit from a new United Nations-backed urban security plan launched by the national police, including an increased presence and nighttime patrols.

Under Operation Blue Shield of the UN Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), UN peacekeepers are expected to make up a substantial part of the patrolling force and will also double the number of mobile checkpoints.

The Mission says Operation comes in response to the staggering rise in banditry, which has soared by some 40 per cent in recent months, especially in Port-au-Prince, the capital.

MINUSTAH has frequently helped in cracking down on criminal and military gangs since it was set up in 2004 to help re-establish peace in the impoverished Caribbean country after an insurgency forced President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to go into exile.

* * *


Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed his “serious concern” today at the inactivity on recovering the remains of Kuwaiti and other nationals missing since the 1990 Gulf war, in a report made public today.

“I am also concerned at the absence of progress with regard to finding the Kuwaiti archives,” Mr. Ban wrote in his report to the Security Council.

Mr. Ban noted that Gennady Tarasov, the High-level Coordinator for the issue, reported that security conditions in Iraq had improved enough to allow exhumation work to resume at sites known to contain Kuwaiti prisoners of war and to permit the assessment of new mass graves.

The Iraqi Minister for Human Rights, who heads the only body authorized to exhume graves in the country, explained that it only had one team of 12 individuals able to perform the task and that they were currently occupied with the exhumation and identification of victims of the previous regime as well as casualties of the Iran-Iraq war.

In his report, the Secretary-General extended his “heartfelt condolences” to the families of the 236 Kuwaiti and third-country nationals whose remains have been identified to date – one more since his previous report in June – adding that no new information had been received on the fate of the missing American Serviceman, Captain Michael Scott Speicher.

Mr. Ban also stressed that despite constant encouragement by his Coordinator and himself, no information had emerged pointing to the whereabouts of Kuwaiti State and historical documents, nor had anyone confirmed that the archives had been destroyed.

“No credible facts or possible leads have emerged since my last report regarding missing Kuwaiti national archives,” said Mr. Ban.

While noting Iraq’s positive stance over the humanitarian process of identifying and repatriating missing Kuwaitis as well as finding the documents, he stressed that statements of goodwill need to be translated into concrete action.

“My appeal is directed to Iraq, as the side responsible for returning the Kuwaiti prisoners of war and archives, as well as to other parties concerned.”

* * *


Slavery may have been legally abolished around the world, but it remains “a widespread and deeply rooted component of contemporary life,” ranging from human trafficking to child labour to sexual servitude to bonded service, according to the first-ever comparative analysis published by the United Nations.

“If slavery has been legally prohibited, but its more heinous characteristics have continued under a variety of different designations, or through numerous illicit activities, on what grounds can we say that slavery has effectively come to an end?” the report Entitled Unfinished Business, asks, calling for strengthened sanctions and an end to impunity .

“If enslavement remains a fundamental issue in the absence of official recognition, on what grounds can we meaningfully distinguish chattel slavery from analogous forms of behaviour?”

Commissioned by the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Slave Route project and prepared by Joel Quirk of the Wilberforce Institute for the study of Slavery and Emancipation in the United Kingdom, the survey aims to provide the basis for dialogue on how to address contemporary slavery and the enduring legacies of historical slave systems.

It cites human trafficking as an example of the need to strengthen sanctions. “Throughout the twentieth century, trafficking was rarely treated as a specific offence, but would instead be covered indirectly as part of more general injunctions dealing with issues such as prostitution or kidnapping,” it says, noting that over the last decade, many countries have introduced anti-trafficking legislation, making it easier, at least on paper to pursue successful prosecutions.

“This trend needs to be expanded, particularly when it comes to labour exploitation, where penalties can be surprisingly lenient, notwithstanding the seriousness of the offences involved,” it adds, giving as a “notable example” bonded labour in the Indian subcontinent, where masters can usually expect, at worst, modest fines for keeping people in bondage.

“Laws against slavery and servitude need to be clear, comprehensive and contain appropriate penalties for abuses which amount to crimes against humanity under international law.”

The report calls for effective enforcement of laws. “Throughout history, there have been few (if any) serious repercussions for even the most heinous, systematic abuses,” it states. “This is largely a testament to widespread government involvement. Most historical abuses have taken place because of, rather than in spite of, official endeavours. This pervasive lack of accountability has continued to this day.”

“Bonded labourers on the Indian subcontinent have been freed, slaves and ex-slaves in Mauritania have fostered new opportunities, victims of trafficking have found refuge, yet their former masters have rarely been prosecuted. This widespread impunity ensures that masters in many jurisdictions have little fear of serious penalties for their predatory behaviour,” it adds.

The launch of the 139-page survey coincides with the International Film Festival against Exclusion and for Tolerance, held at UNESCO headquarters in Paris from 5 to 13 December.

* * *


East Africa is set to get a natural boost next year by tapping into the sizeable reservoir of geothermal energy in its Rift Valley, according to a statement released today by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The agency announced that its project in Kenya testing new seismic and drilling technology, has exceeded all expectations by hitting wells of steam able to generate four to five megawatts, and in one case a massive eight megawatts, of electricity.

This could lead to an estimated saving of as much as $75 million for the developer of a 70 megawatt installation as well as reduced electricity costs for generators and consumers, UNEP said in a press release.

Speaking at the latest round of UN climate change talks under way in Poznan, Poland, UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner noted that delivering electricity to the two billion people without access, while at the same time combating global warming, is a critical challenge facing the world.

Geothermal energy is “100 per cent indigenous, environmentally-friendly and a technology that has been under-utilized for too long,” he added.

The results of the project backed by the UN and funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) have paved the way for an international effort next year to expand geothermal operations up and down the Rift which runs from Mozambique in the South to Djibouti in the North.

With at least 4,000 megawatts of electricity ready to be harvested along the Rift Valley, “it is time to take this technology off the back burner in order to power livelihoods, fuel development and reduce dependence on polluting and unpredictable fossil fuels,” Mr. Steiner noted.

“From the place where human-kind took its first faltering steps is emerging one of the answers to its continued survival on this planet.”

As a result of the almost $1 million UNEP-GEF project, the number of wells likely to be needed to achieve 70 megawatts could be 15 versus over 30 using the previous technology, potentially saving as much as $5 million for each well drilled.

Kenya has set a goal of generating 1,200 megawatts from geothermal energy by 2015.

* * *


The independent inquiry into the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri has acquired new information potentially implicating additional individuals to the network that carried out the suicide car bomb attack, according to a new report to the Security Council released today.

In its report, the International Independent Investigation Commission (IIIC) requests a two-month extension of its mandate until 28 February to prevent any break in the inquiry before the international Special Tribunal becomes on operation on 1 March.

“For every inch of progress there is a mile of effort,” the IIIC stresses, thanking the Lebanese security forces for “their relentless and effective support and assistance” in protecting its staff and premises, without which it could not continue its work.

It also reports that cooperation provided by the Syrian authorities continues to be generally satisfactory.

The Council was set up the IIIC in April 2005 after an earlier UN mission found that Lebanon’s own inquiry into the massive car bombing that killed Mr. and 22 others was seriously flawed and that Syria was primarily responsible for the political tensions that preceded the attack. It has also been mandated with investigating 20 other attacks and has found additional elements linking some of them to the network behind the Hariri assassination.

“Those responsible for the attacks were professional and took extensive measures to cover their tracks and hide their identity. Much of the Commission’s activity at this point in the investigation focuses on piercing this smokescreen to get at the truth,” the report says, stressing that the panel has faced difficulties in obtaining potentially sensitive information for investigative purposes.

While the vast majority of formal requests for assistance for specific information sent to Member States are responded to in a timely and comprehensive manner, the Commission notes that late or incomplete responses slow progress in the investigation.

“There remains a significant amount of additional investigation work that must be undertaken in all the cases within the Commission’s mandate,” the report concludes. “The Prosecutor (at the new Special Tribunal) will therefore need to continue the investigation into these cases once he assumes his office in order to establish which cases are connected to the Hariri case.”

Announcing earlier this month that the tribunal is on track to begin its work on 1 March, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said IIIC staff in Beirut would gradually transfer to The Hague starting on 1 January. “This will be carried out in a manner that ensures that there is no interruption to the IIIC investigation,” he noted.

* * *


With 40 million people being pushed into hunger this year mostly due to soaring food prices, the number of undernourished people worldwide is approaching the 1 billion mark, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) announced today.

The total number of hungry people has risen to 963 million this year, up from 923 million last year, and FAO cautioned in the latest edition of its global hunger report that this number could rise further as a result of the ongoing financial and economic crisis.

“For millions of people in developing countries, eating the minimum amount of food every day to live an active and healthy life is a distant dream,” said Hafez Ghanem, FAO Assistant-Director General. “The structural problems of hunger, like the lack of access to land, credit and employment, combined with high food prices, remain a dire reality.”

He noted that while food prices have fallen since earlier this year, the food crisis persists in many countries.

Although the price of major cereals has dropped by more than 50 per cent from their 2008 highs, they still remain high compared to previous years, the report, entitled “The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2008,” said.

FAO’s Food Price Index is still nearly 30 per cent higher as of October 2008 than it was two years before.

Meanwhile, the prices of seeds, fertilizers and other inputs have more than doubled since 2006, leaving poor farmers unable to produce food.

“If lower prices and the credit crunch associated with the economic crisis force farmers to plant less food, another round of dramatic food prices could be unleashed next year,” Mr. Ghanem said, calling for a funding boost of at least $30 billion annually to help stave off more hunger and help farmers in developing countries.

The new report said that the vast majority of the world’s hungry – over 900 million – live in developing nations, with over two-thirds in seven countries: India, China, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan and Ethiopia.

Mr. Ghanem said that the food crisis has “mainly affected the poorest, landless and households run by women,” adding that that an “enormous and resolute global effort” is necessary to reach the target of cutting the number of hungry people in the world down to 500 million by 2015.

* * *


Human rights defenders continue to pay a high price – including death, disappearance and torture – 10 years after the United Nations General Assembly adopted a declaration enshrining their protection, rights advocates said today, calling on governments to ensure their safety.

“A climate of impunity for violations committed against defenders prevails in numerous countries of the world,” five UN and regional rights representatives said in a joint warning on the anniversary of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

“In every region of the world, defenders, and often their beloved ones, continue to be subjected to threats, killings, disappearances, torture and ill-treatment, arbitrary detention, surveillance, administrative and judicial harassment, defamation, and more generally, stigmatization by State authorities and non-State actors,” they added, while noting achievements such as regional mechanisms set up in Africa, Europe and the Americas to closely monitor the situation.

These steps have significantly contributed to implementing the Declaration in their respective regions, by raising awareness on the work of defenders, designing protection frameworks and strategies, and promoting their human rights activities.

But rights defenders still face illegitimate restrictions on the exercise of their rights to freedom of opinion and expression, access to information, access to funding, and freedoms of association, including registration, peaceful assembly, and movement, the five said.

“Of particular concern for the signatories of this joint statement is the plight of defenders who, due to the sensitivity of their work, are most exposed to attacks and abuses,” they added. “These include women defenders, defenders working on economic, social and cultural rights, on rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) persons, on rights of indigenous peoples and persons belonging to minorities, and fighting impunity for serious crimes and corruption, as well as youth defenders.

“They need specific and enhanced protection as well as targeted and deliberate efforts to make their working environment a safer, more enabling and accepting one,” they declared.

Calling on States other stakeholders to recognize the defenders’ activities as legitimate human rights work, ensure the removal of all obstacles, and take proactive measures to support such work, they stressed that the primary responsibility for such protection lies with Governments.

“Very often firm public stands in support of human rights defenders can transform a situation of vulnerability into one of empowerment for defenders. The new decade ahead must be one in which the provisions of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders are made a reality worldwide,” they concluded.

The joint statement comes ahead of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to be commemorated worldwide tomorrow.

The five are: UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders Margaret Sekaggya; Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights Reine Alapini-Gansou; Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe Thomas Hammarberg; Director of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights Janez Lenarcic; and Executive Secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Santiago A. Canton.

* * *


Steps to alleviate the “humanitarian catastrophe” in Gaza must be taken immediately, an independent United Nations human rights expert said today, calling on the world body to turn its words into action.

In a statement, Richard Falk, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, said that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, General Assembly President Miguel D’Escoto and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, among other top officials, have voiced their concerns over the “desperate plight” of Gaza’s civilian population.

“And still Israel maintains its Gaza siege in its full fury, allowing only barely enough food and fuel to enter to stave off mass famine and disease,” he said, characterizing the policy as one of “collective punishment.”

Acknowledging the potential political difficulties, Mr. Falk said “it is time to act,” adding that at the very least, the UN should make efforts to implement the principle of a “responsibility to protect.”

A limited amount of food entered Gaza today. Ten trucks of flour for the UN World Food Programme (WFP) was brought in while the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) managed to get in three trucks of tinned meat and three of cooking oil. But this is still not enough, UNRWA warned.

The agency will hold its annual pledging conference tomorrow at UN Headquarters in New York. Its general budget requirements for 2009 amount to nearly $550 million for education, health, social support and microfinance services. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has urged Member States to fully fund the budget to maintain essential services for 4.6 million registered Palestine refugees.

Last week, UNRWA Commissioner General Karen AbuZayd opened a year-long series of events in Jerusalem to mark the agency’s 60th anniversary on 8 December.

“Closures in the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza add to the terrifying sense of being trapped, physically, intellectually and emotionally, depriving children of that simplest of rights, the right to be a child,” said Ms. AbuZayd.

Following the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict, UNRWA was established by the General Assembly to carry out direct relief and works programmes for Palestine refugees.


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