Middle East need for parties to talk is critical Annan says

Speaking to reporters as he entered United Nations Headquarters in New York this morning, the Secretary-General at the same time reiterated the critical need for the parties to resume their negotiations “now that the killing is going on — now that we are living this tragedy.”Concerning his meeting yesterday with Permanent Representatives from the Arab Group, Mr. Annan said they had stressed that the Security Council “should take some action, should take initiatives that will help galvanize the parties to recognize that they have to work to stop the violence and begin to improve the situation and engage in the dialogue.””We had a very good conversation,” Mr. Annan said, referring to his meeting with the Arab representatives. “They really came to think together as to what the UN, in the form of the Security Council and the Secretary-General, can do to help the process.”Meanwhile, Peter Hansen, the Commissioner-General of the UN Relief Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), and Terje Roed-Larsen, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, met with Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres today in Tel Aviv.Their meetings followed an incident in Gaza yesterday when Mr. Hansen was stopped for over one hour at an Israeli check point.Afterwards, Mr. Roed-Larsen said he had been assured by Foreign Minister Peres that “the policy of the Government of Israel was to facilitate the work of the United Nations, and humanitarian workers in general.”According to a UN spokesman, an “open dialogue” on the issue will continue. Foreign Minister Peres said he had designated a high-level Foreign Ministry official to work with UNRWA in the days ahead.Mr. Roed-Larsen also met last night with Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat. Their meeting was described as “extremely positive,” the spokesman said. read more

Over 100 nations set to address UN forum on small arms

The UN Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects will aim to find ways to curb and eliminate illicit trafficking in such weapons, including pistols, assault rifles, machine guns, grenade launchers, shoulder-fired anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles. UN officials have stressed that the forum is not about outlawing the legal manufacture or trade of these weapons, nor their legal, private ownership. The Conference is expected to adopt a politically binding declaration, containing a programme of action with measures that States can take at the national, regional and international levels to deal with small arms and light weapons, which were the armaments of choice in 46 of the 49 major conflicts fought in the 1990s. Those conflicts killed some 4 million people, 80 per cent of them women and children.An estimated 50 to 60 per cent of the world’s trade in small arms is legal, but legally exported weapons often find their way into the illicit market, according to the UN. This includes leftovers from the cold war, especially in developing countries, such as Afghanistan, which alone has some 10 million light weapons. Arms stolen or captured from State security forces provide another major source of black market supply around the world. According to UN experts, the problem is compounded by irresponsible behaviour on the part of some States, and the lack of capacity to detect and seize illicit weapons on the part of others.Conference organizers say that some 120 Member States have signed up to address the forum, which has also attracted the participation of representatives of 177 non-governmental organizations (NGOs). read more

UN refugee agency opens new office in Afghanistan to better track returns

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has opened its fourth office in Afghanistan in an effort to improve its capacity to monitor the movements of returning Afghans and distribute relief aid.The agency’s new office, which opened on Sunday, is located in Jalalabad, home to many of the approximately 1 million refugees now living in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province. UNHCR also has an international presence in Kabul, Herat and Mazar-i-Sharif. The only key area where the agency has no office is Kandahar in the south, where security problems are hampering the relief effort.Despite the ongoing humanitarian and security problems in Afghanistan, many refugees have returned from neighbouring Pakistan and Iran in recent months. UNHCR estimates that 80,000 Afghans have crossed back since last November.At the same time, some 3,000 Afghans who left last week are still massed just inside the Pakistani border. According to UNHCR, the new arrivals said they had left because they lacked international relief aid, feared new bombing raids and were suffering the devastating effects of a three-year drought. read more

UN forum in Madrid set to tackle challenges of ageing world population

The Second UN World Assembly on Ageing will open on 8 April to review the outcome of the first World Assembly, held in 1982 in Vienna, and to adopt a revised plan of action focusing on links between ageing and development as well as measures to mainstream ageing within the context of current global development agendas.The five-day conference is also expected to examine appropriate forms of public and private partnerships at all levels to build a “society for all ages” and measures to strengthen the solidarity between generations.According to UN officials, an ageing population also affords opportunities to capitalize on the wealth of skills and experience that older people bring to the workplace, to public life and to the family.”Trees grow stronger over the years, rivers wider. Likewise, with age, human beings gain immeasurable depth and breadth of experience and wisdom,” UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who will open the World Assembly on Monday, has said. “That is why older persons should be not only respected and revered; they should be utilized as the rich resource to society that they are.”Real-time coverage of the World Assembly can be found on the UN Web site at www.un.org/ageing/coverage and is available in six languages – Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish. read more

Annan deeply disturbed by Israeli raid in Gaza

“The Secretary-General is deeply disturbed by Israeli military incursions today in Gaza City and the Rafah refugee camp, in which at least eight Palestinians were killed and many others injured,” a statement issued by a UN spokesman in New York said.”He stresses that such actions, including the reported house demolitions, are contrary to international humanitarian law. He believes that they contradict the international community’s efforts to restart the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, following yesterday’s presentation of the Road Map to the parties.”The Road Map is a plan drawn up by the diplomatic Quartet – the UN, United States, Russian Federation and European Union – which aims at settling the conflict through parallel steps over three years by the Israelis and Palestinians, culminating with the establishment of two sovereign states, living side-by-side in peace and security.”The Secretary-General remains convinced that there is no military solution to this conflict and calls on Israel to work with (new Palestinian) Prime Minister Abu Mazen to establish effective cooperation ensuring security for both Israelis and Palestinians,” the statement added. “He again urges the parties to embrace the Road Map and to work for its early implementation.” read more

Palestinian court complex opens under UN development scheme

The complex houses two courts – the magistrate court for the Nablus area and the primary court for the West Bank’s northern governorates, the UNDP said today in a statement.The building – paid for thanks to a $2.5 million contribution from Japan – was constructed through the UNDP’s Programme of Assistance for the Palestinian People. The UNDP has gathered about $13 million since July 2002 to support several projects in the Palestinian territories.Timothy Rothermel, Special Representative of UNDP’s Palestinian programme, said the Nablus court building would serve as a model for other construction projects.”Nablus is not only the largest city in the West Bank…it is also the oldest cradle of civilization in the territories. It is only fitting, therefore, that this new structure is located in Nablus,” he said. read more

Maintaining biodiversity is key to ending world hunger UN official says

In a speech at a World Food Day ceremony in Rome, Mr. Diouf said FAO was raising the alarm about the situation in which “just 12 crops and 14 animal species now provide most of the world’s food.””For many rural families, the sustainable use of local biodiversity is their key to survival. It allows them to exploit marginal lands and ensure a minimum level of food production even when faced with extremely harsh conditions,” he said. “Global food security depends not just on protecting the world’s genetic resources, but also on ensuring that these resources remain available to all.”Preserving biodiversity should be a joint effort involving farmers, commercial plant breeders and the scientific community, he said.FAO’s International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture entered into force this year. It secures the conservation and sustainable utilization of the world’s agricultural genetic diversity. It guarantees that farmers and breeders have access to needed genetic materials and ensures that farmers receive an equitable share of the benefits derived from their biodiversity work. For the first time on a World Food Day, which is observed on 16 October, farmers from across the planet spoke about their experiences in enhancing biodiversity and increasing sustainable food production. Mr. Diouf also introduced the newly appointed FAO Goodwill Ambassador, Italian ballerina Carla Fracci, director of the Balletto dell’Opera of Rome. FAO Goodwill Ambassadors help to focus global attention on devising ways to end hunger and poverty.The UN World Food Programme’s (WFP) Executive Director, James Morris, called attention to the enormous toll of hunger. “It is a shocking fact that now in the twenty-first century hunger is still claiming more lives than AIDS, TB and malaria combined. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), under-nourishment deprives the world of more productive life years than any other health risk.”Meanwhile, for every underfed child who made news headlines, millions more went unnoticed, he said.”When was the last time we read about hungry people in Azerbaijan, Guinea, Sri Lanka or Tajikistan? Even in regions that regularly hit the television screens, the hungry do not merit a mention. In all the news coverage of the West Bank and Gaza, when did we last hear about hungry Palestinians?” Mr. Morris asked.Solving these problems would take political will and determination, not just on World Food Day, but in the following days, weeks and years to come, he said. read more

Evil of Holocaust still threatens world Annan says ahead of special UN

The evil that killed 6 million Jews and others in the Nazi death camps 60 years ago still threatens the world, and the global community must ensure that such horror never occurs again, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said today ahead of next week’s special session of the General Assembly to commemorate the camps’ liberation.Monday’s meeting will have profound significance for the United Nations for several reasons, “first because the founding of this organization was a direct response to the Holocaust,” he told a news briefing. “Our charter and the words ‘untold sorrow’ were written as the world was learning the full horror of the death camps.”Second, it is essential for all of us to remember, reflect on and learn from what happened 60 years ago. The evil that destroyed the 6 million Jews and others in those camps is one that still threatens all of us today. It is not something we can consign to the distant past and forget about it.”Every generation must be on its guard to make sure that such a thing never happens again,” he added, stressing the need for succeeding generations to carry forward the work of remembrance death camp survivors dwindle in number.The special session marking the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camps is the first event of its kind that the General Assembly has ever held and has so far received support from 138 of its 191 Members States. The resolution calling for it was sponsored by Australia, Canada, Israel, New Zealand, Russia, the United States and the European Union.Mr. Annan said the “solemn and highly significant occasion” should be seen as “an expression of our commitment” to build a United Nations that can respond quickly and effectively to genocide and other serious violations of human rights.”Of course, that work is still far from complete,” he added.Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Dan Gillerman, stressed that he was acting as a representative not just of Israel or the Jewish people but also of the 6 million Jews and the many others who were “slaughtered in the Holocaust and the horrible dark days” of World War II.”We truly believe that Monday will be a very historic and solemn occasion and we believe it is a very important day not just for Israel, not just for the Jewish people, but also for the United Nations and for the world,” he added.He expressed the hope that it would “make sure that people remember and never forget and it will make sure that those horrible atrocities never ever happen again anywhere in the world.”The General Assembly President, Foreign Minister Jean Ping of Gabon, stressed that this is the first time the body is holding a commemorative special session. “I think that it will give us an opportunity. It is because it’s our duty to remember and to say it loudly, ‘Never Again!'” he said.”I hope also that it will give us the opportunity to renew our commitment to the objectives and the principles of the United Nations Charter and also to renew our commitment to human rights in general.”In conjunction with the session, two exhibits are being held at UN Headquarters in New York. One is called “Auschwitz – the depth of the Abyss,” and is a collection of photographs and paintings from the Auschwitz and Majdanek camps.The other, called “Afterwards, it’s just a part of you,” is an exhibit of photographs taken by youth groups who have visited what remains of the death camps. It also includes their written recollection of their visits and talks with survivors. Video of press remarks [25mins] read more

UN health agency puts out guidebook to establishing legal rights for mentally

“We have a moral and legal obligation to modernize mental health legislation,” said Dr. Lee Jong-wook, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO). “WHO is ready to help its Member States fulfil this obligation with technical support and expert advice.” The WHO Resource Book on Mental Health, Human Rights and Legislation includes input from hundreds of experts throughout the world, including leaders in the fields of psychiatry, psychology, law, and human rights, as well as representatives from mental health service users, family groups and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).The agency said that people with mental illnesses are among the most vulnerable in many places. Nearly a quarter of all countries have no mental health legislation, while many more have legislation that poorly protects the human rights of people with mental disorders.In some communities, WHO said, people with mental disorders are chained to trees. Others are put in prison without having been accused of a crime. In many psychiatric institutions and hospitals, patients face gross violations of their rights. People are subject to a range of abuse, including being restrained with metal shackles, confined in cages, deprived of clothing, decent bedding, clean water or proper toilet facilities.In addition, people with mental disorders often face severe stigmatization that results in what WHO calls additional human rights violations, including discrimination in education, employment and housing. In some countries they are prohibited from voting, marrying or having children.The WHO Resource Book examines international human rights standards and shows how they apply to people with mental disorders. It addresses the rationale and methods for drafting, adopting and implementation of laws and linking them to mental health policy. The book also includes a ‘step-by-step’ checklist for reviewing existing legislation and developing new laws said.Mental health issues will be WHO’s focus on Human Rights Day, which falls on 10 December 2005. read more

Young people gather at UN General Assembly to review global action plan

Welcoming the delegates between the ages of 15 and 24 this morning, Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette challenged them to help overcome the world’s ills, poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, HIV/AIDS and hunger, for a more peaceful, democratic and prosperous future.”We are gathered here because we know that young people are our future,” she told the mixed audience of General Assembly members and 48 youth delegates from two dozen countries. “They will inherit what we create in our time, both good and bad,” she added.Noting that almost half the world’s population is under the age of 25, she said that they will have to deal with the challenges before them, including 200 million youth living in poverty, 130 million illiterate, 88 million unemployed and 10 million living with HIV/AIDS.She also mentioned the “distressing statistics” that a quarter of all children living in the developing world are malnourished, as are half of all children in Sub-Saharan African and Southern Asia. Hundreds of millions of children are not in school, and 11 million under the age of five die each year from preventable diseases, she said.Among the young people addressing the meeting, Sweden’s representative, Hanna Hallin, asked delegations to imagine a world where millions of people did not die before the age of 20 as a result of poverty, pregnancy, conflict, lack of health services or HIV/AIDS; and where young women and men were able to read, obtain decent work with a decent salary, seek their identity without fear of discrimination, and make their voices heard.She said young people were being marginalized when governments did not respect their right to health, education and decent work, or when they were not allowed to express their sexual, religious or indigenous identity without fear for their lives.The World Programme of Action for Youth is considered the first “global blueprint” for developing effective policies for young people. The General Assembly is now considering a draft resolution on the issue which would urge Governments, in consultation with youth organizations, to develop holistic and integrated polices based on the World Programme and to evaluate them regularly as part of follow-up action on the Programme’s implementation. read more