Thursday, September 27, 2012

Latvia Tells World to Unite to Prevent Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons

The international community must be united in its commitment to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons, Latvia’s President Andris Berzinš told the United Nations General Assembly yesterday.

“The proliferation risk of weapons of mass destruction is one of the most serious global threats,” President Berzinš said, adding that Latvia is seriously concerned about potential stockpiles of chemical weapons in Syria and the lack of progress in dialogue with Iran on the nature of its nuclear programme. More than 18,000 people, mostly civilians, have died in Syria since the uprising against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad began 18 months ago, and there have been concerns over the potential use of chemical weapons in the conflict. Iranian officials have stated that their country’s nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes, but some other countries contend it is aimed at producing nuclear weapons.

“We call for strengthening efforts to reach the goals of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and its Action Plan,” he said. “In this regard, we applaud steps made by the United States and Russia towards global disarmament and transparency. We hope it will trigger further efforts to reduce the reliance on nuclear weapons.” The NPT’s objective is to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology, promote cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and further the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament and general and complete disarmament.

President Berzinš also stated that countries need to implement coordinated policies to overcome the global economic and financial crisis. “The economy still remains fragile even if positive trends can be observed. Latvia welcomes all efforts to stabilize the situation in the Eurozone and supports the recent steps to ensure it,” he said.

He noted that despite the global economic crisis, Latvia’s gross domestic product grew by more than 5.5 per cent last year and its economy will be more competitive and prepared for the next growth cycle. “What matters most, is the sustainability of economic health achieved along with the eurozone integration process,” the Latvian leader added. “Latvia believes that complications can be overcome and aims to introduce the Euro in 2014.”

(UN Press Release)

September 27, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Haiti Tells World to Keep the Flame of Hope Alive

Haiti’s President Michel Martelly called on the United Nations today to ensure that the flame of hope for a better world ignited by the world body’s foundation 67 years ago continues to burn brightly by ensuring the equality of all states, both large and small. “We have learned from history that there was no justice or equality in international relations when each nation sought its own interests,” he told the 67th General Assembly on the second day of its annual General Debate. “The creation of the United Nations lit the hope among the peoples that things could be different. We must not let that flame die.”

“In any family in general, and in that of the United Nations in particular, there cannot be big powers and small, giants and dwarfs, but only equal beings who have interests to defend, opinions to advance on the basis of relations turned towards the future, relations bearing the stamp of freedom, equality, fraternity and the pursuit of happiness for all,” he added.

President Martelly said his country, one of the world’s poorest, which over the past has suffered from political instability, a devastating earthquake, hurricanes, and cholera, is making progress as it seeks to emerge from the morass of problems besetting it. “I can truly claim that the impulse has been launched and I do not doubt that we will be able to see the results in a few months or a few years time,” he stated. “But will these national dreams come to pass if the pledges made to help the development of countries like ours are not effectively realized, if all kinds of prejudices and suspicions are maintained towards those who are less endowed?” he asked.

(From a UN Press Release)

September 26, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Estonia and the Open Internet

At the United Nations General Assembly today, the President of Estonia, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, highlighted the immense opportunities offered by information and communication technologies (ICTs) to advance development and promote good governance, citing examples from his own country’s experience. 

The information revolution has assisted Estonia in rapidly transforming itself into a democratic society based on the rule of law, President Ilves said in his address to the 67th Assembly’s General Debate, which began at UN Headquarters in New York on Tuesday. He said that Estonia was the first country where people could cast their vote online in parliamentary and municipal elections. Also, this year, over 90 per cent of the country’s taxpayers filed annual income tax returns via the Internet. A range of electronic services, including e-government and e-medical prescriptions, have increased transparency and helped to reduce corruption and costs. “More importantly, however, they have increased the possibility to exercise fundamental rights and freedoms and improve inclusive and responsible governance,” said the President. 

Noting that millions remain in poverty around the globe, despite the world’s best efforts, he noted that the information technology transformation will create massive opportunities. “We must, however, avoid a digital divide that would stymie this historic chance to accelerate the development in all parts of the world,” he said.  

The Estonian leader voiced concern about the gap between the “digital haves and have-nots,” especially since his country was among those that have “leapt into modernity and transparency” by investing in information technology. “New information and communication technologies have the potential to trigger the next Industrial Revolution. But governments cannot achieve it all alone,” he stated, adding that those expanding the range of global knowledge networks are key partners in fighting poverty and creating a more transparent economy. Governments, however, must provide a secure and fruitful environment for these sorts of ideas to emerge and prosper. “Twenty-one years after restoring our independence, Estonia is an example where a combination of responsible free enterprise, E-governance, international partnerships and eco-friendly policies can put you in the fast lane of development,” he said. 

President Ilves also said that too many countries speak about the dangers of a free Internet from a security perspective. “The truth is that cybersecurity is needed to prevent oppressive governments and criminals wreaking havoc,” he said. “It is not to prevent peaceful individuals from speaking their minds or gathering information and exchanging ideas.” Despite having experienced “extensive” cyberattacks, he added, Estonia does not support more rigid regulation and censorship in cyberspace, but is committed to an open, secure and reliable Internet. 

September 26, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Australia Supports Work of the United Nations

In her speech to the United Nations General Assembly today, the Prime Minister of Australia, Julia Gillard, covered a wide range of topical issues on the global agenda, as well as her country’s efforts in each of them, while also re-affirming its commitment to the world body and its ideals. “Australia embraces the high ideals of the United Nations and takes a practical approach to achieving change,” Prime Minister Gillard told the 67th Assembly’s General Debate, which began on Tuesday. “The work of the United Nations is an historic task in which Australia wholeheartedly joins.”

“Australia's ideals in the world are those of the UN – and Australians know the practical value of the UN's work,” she added, noting that that was why Australia seeks to serve in all areas which the United Nations works in, and particularly on the Security Council. The Antipodean nation seeks one of the ten non-permanent seats on the 15-member Council for the 2013-2014 period.

In her statement, the Australian leader noted her country’s work in peace and security affairs around the world, including its lead-role in the UN-mandated peacekeeping mission in Timor-Leste, its UN-endorsed regional assistance mission to the Solomon Islands and its contributions to the UN-mandated International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.

“Australia will bring this record of service to the international community to our service on the UN Security Council should we have the privilege to be elected by the UN membership in October,” she said. “There and beyond, our work and the work of every nation for peace must continue.”

In relation to the crisis in Syria, Prime Minister Gillard called on UN Member States must do everything possible to end the suffering of the Syrian people. “We urge the members of the Security Council to do so and to act decisively,” she said. More than 18,000 people, mostly civilians, have died in Syria since the uprising against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad began 18 months ago. A further 2.5 million Syrians urgently need humanitarian aid, according to UN estimates.

The Prime Minister added that the international community must unite behind the new Joint Special Representative of the United Nations and the League of Arab States, Lakhdar Brahimi, who took over the mission from former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan at the beginning of September. Addressing journalists after a briefing to the Security Council earlier this week, Mr. Brahimi said that while the situation in Syria continues to be “very grim,” a solution may be forthcoming. The Joint Special Representative recently returned from a trip to the Middle East where he met with President al-Assad to discuss the crisis. 

Prime Minister Gillard touched upon a range of other issues of global concern in her statement to the Assembly, including the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the Middle East peace process, cooperation with Pacific island states and religious tolerance.

(From a UN Press Release)

September 26, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Mexico Urges Countries to Increase Measures to Combat Illegal Drug Trade

In his remarks to the United Nations General Assembly today, Mexican President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa today strongly urged Member States to increase their efforts to combat the illegal drug trade, stressing that it is necessary to explore new options to find a solution to this scourge, which claims thousands of lives every year. “Mexico has suffered for years the consequences of inaction before this criminal activity. Protecting Mexicans from criminality has been a legal, political and moral imperative for my Government,” President Calderón told the 67th Assembly’s General Debate, at UN Headquarters in New York. “However, Mexico notes with deep regret that the determination which we use to combat these criminal organizations is not the same in all countries.”

The Mexican President emphasized that drug consumer countries have not made progress in reducing their levels of consumption, in order to decrease global demand, and underlined that these nations must redouble their efforts to treat this as a public health issue. “We need preventive policies against addiction and media campaigns that make youth around the world understand that addictions are the 21st century form of slavery,” he stated.

However, he said, these policies need to be accompanied by a strategy which stops the extraordinarily high flow of money to criminal organizations. “The enormous profits from the black market due to prohibition have exacerbated the ambition of criminals, increasing the massive flow of resources to their organizations and allowing them to create powerful networks,” President Calderón said, noting that with unlimited resources, criminal organizations can corrupt authorities as well as resort to cruelty and violence. “Thousands and thousands of young people in Latin America have died because of drug trafficking-related violence, and, in particular, the nations that are suffering the most are the ones located between the drug-producing zone in the Andes and the main drug market: the United States,” he added.

In his statement to the General Debate, President Calderón also underscored that stricter international arms controls are needed, and noted, with disappointment, that there had been no agreement in this area during the recent Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT).

At the four-week long conference, held in New York in July, representatives of the 193 UN Member States failed to reach agreement on a treaty that would have set common standards to regulate the international trade in conventional arms. The treaty was seen as the most important initiative ever regarding conventional arms regulation within the United Nations. According to media reports, some countries had indicated they needed more time to consider the issues.

The Mexican leader stated that every alternative to eliminate profits to criminals must be explored, including market regulation. He also called on developed countries to assume responsibility and, in addition to their efforts to reduce demand, stop the flow of resources that finance criminal networks.

In addition, he called on the UN to take action on this issue the way it has done to combat famine, disease and climate change. “I urge the UN to not only take part but to lead a 21st century discussion that, without false prejudices, can lead us all to find solutions to this problem under new frameworks.”

(UN Press Release)

September 26, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

UN Security Council Welcomes Cooperation with League of Arab States

United Nations Security Council LogoThe Security Council today welcomed the growing cooperation between the United Nations system and the League of Arab States in the wake of the transformations taking place across the Middle East and North Africa.

The Council also recognized and further encouraged efforts by the Arab League to “contribute to collective endeavours to settle conflicts in the Middle East peacefully as well as to promoting international responses to the transformations experienced in the region,” in a presidential statement that followed a high-level meeting, held on the margins of the 67th session of the General Assembly. 
“With a new political era at hand in the Arab world, the Arab League has acquired a new sense of purpose,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his remarks to the meeting, chaired by Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle of Germany, which holds the rotating presidency of the Council for this month.  

He noted that both the UN and the Arab League worked to help ensure the transparency of landmark elections in Tunisia and Libya following the uprisings in those countries. “Our joint role has been most prominent in Syria,” the Secretary-General said, noting that members of the Arab League made significant contributions to the UN military observer mission deployed earlier this year. 

The two organizations also jointly appointed first a Joint Special Envoy, Kofi Annan, and now a Joint Special Representative, Lakhdar Brahimi, as their emissaries in the search for a political solution to the crisis in Syria, where more than 18,000 people, mostly civilians, have died since the uprising against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad began 18 months ago.

Mr. Ban cited four areas that merited special attention, beginning with improving the exchange of information, including through “focused and frequent” dialogue between the secretariats of the two bodies. Another avenue for enhanced contacts, he added, may be the placement of the Office of the Joint Special Representative for Syria and his Deputy in Cairo, a possibility that is being explored.  Attention should also be given to putting conflict prevention front and centre; exploring new areas for collaboration; and ensuring the success of the transitions that have been set in motion.  “We must continue to be ready to provide concrete assistance, if and when requested. Outsiders can share their experience and encourage progress – humbly, patiently and respectfully. But the major work has to be done by and in each society,” said Mr. Ban.

Nabil El-Araby, Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, said that a fundamental pillar for international peace and security is the effectiveness and credibility of the Security Council, as well as the “full, faithful and precise” implementation of its resolutions. 

“The League believes that non-implementation of said resolutions is one of the fundamental reasons for tension and instability, both regionally and internationally,” he added. 

Mr. El-Araby also pointed out that the challenges confronting the Arab world are varied, and are not just political and military but also related to development and humanitarian issues. Cooperation between the UN and the League on these issues and others requires a review of the relations between the two organizations, as well as new mechanisms, he said.

He proposed that the cooperation agreement signed between the League and the UN be updated to keep up with priorities as well as emerging and future challenges. Also suggested is the holding of regular meetings, as well as those required by events, between the two bodies; raising the status of the meetings between them so as to enable them to reach decisions that are implementable, particularly in preventing and resolving disputes and maintaining peace; and giving more importance to cooperation between the Council and the League in humanitarian assistance.

(UN Press Release)

September 26, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Law Schools Should Have This Problem . . .

The Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology had too large an entering class.  The Wall Street Journal reports today that the school ended up offering some students as much as $20,000 to defer their admissions for a year.  


September 26, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Japan Wants to Pass on Lessons Learned from its Nuclear Disaster

Recalling that a year and a half had gone by since the earthquake which struck his country last March, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda of Japan today told the United Nations General Assembly that his Government was determined to pass on lessons learned from the resulting disaster and make concrete contributions to nuclear safety.

Speaking at the 67th Assembly’s General Debate, at UN Headquarters in New York, he enjoined the community of nations to “imagine the benefits of future generations” and to act on their behalf, adding that the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station last year – a result of the “Great East Japan Earthquake” – had led the Government to take steps to create a society not dependent on nuclear power by the 2030s. To this end, the Prime Minister said, the Government is co-sponsoring, with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Fukushima Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Safety at the end of 2012 and in three years, the 3rd UN World Conference on Disaster Reduction. 

Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant that was severely damaged during the earthquake, when the building housing the plant exploded and three of its nuclear reactors suffered a meltdown in what was reported to be the worst nuclear accident since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. A 19-kilometre exclusion zone still surrounds the disaster site. Pointing out that the world is going through a period of complicated and violent change, the Japanese leader went on to say that the concept of the rule of law is the foundation for a stable and reliable society, adding that violation of this principle “must not be tolerated for any reason.”  Japan is leading the world in its personnel and financial contribution to international judicial institutions, he added.

In his remarks, the Prime Minister also called on his counterparts to do more to combat threats such as environmental degradation, terrorism and the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and to build a sustainable future for the sake of succeeding generations. “Political leaders must take charge of their responsibilities now for tomorrow,” he said. 

The Japanese leader stated that his country intends to put more pressure on the Government of Syria, along with the international community, and extend humanitarian assistance to the Middle Eastern country’s people. Civilians, he said, must be protected and the safety of diplomats and workers of international organizations must be secured in the international community. More than 18,000 people, mostly civilians, have died in Syria since the uprising against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad began 18 months ago. A further 2.5 million Syrians urgently need humanitarian aid, according to UN estimates.

Making the case for fiscal responsibility, Prime Minister Noda warned that deficits must be trimmed now by cutting spending and striving to increase revenues. Over the past 20-odd years, Japan repeatedly procrastinated in politics and was considered a symbol of a “country that delayed decisions,” he noted.   He resolved that Japan would undertake “comprehensive reform of social security and taxation systems” in the face of an aging population. 

(From a UN Press Release)

September 26, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Kuwait Calls for Security Council Seats for Arab and Islamic Nations

The Arab and Islamic world must be properly represented on an expanded Security Council, Kuwait’s Prime Minister Sheikh Jaber al Mubarak al Hamad al Sabah told the United Nations General Assembly today. “The State of Kuwait reaffirms the need to reform the Security Council to reflect the new international reality, and guarantee the rights of Arab and Islamic States in being represented in conformity with their size, their contributions, and their role in advocating the objectives and the principles of the Charter,” the Prime Minister said at the Assembly’s General Debate, which started on Tuesday. Enlargement of the 15-member Council has been an ongoing concern of many countries over the years with various states and regions seeking permanent representation.

The Prime Minister also reaffirmed Kuwait’s commitment to international efforts to find a political solution to the conflict in Syria, where over 18,000 people have been killed and hundreds of thousands of others driven from their home since an uprising against the regime of President Bashar Al-Assad erupted 18 months ago. He called on the international community to provide more humanitarian aid to alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people both inside and outside their country.

The Kuwaiti leader also appealed to Iran to cooperate with international efforts to reach a political settlement on its nuclear programme and dispel doubts surrounding its goals and purpose. Iran’s nuclear programme – which its officials have stated is for peaceful purposes, but some other countries contend is aimed at producing nuclear weapons – has been a matter of international concern since the discovery in 2003 that the country had concealed its nuclear activities for 18 years in breach of its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty NPT). The Director General of the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Yukiya Amano, last week said that Iran is not providing the cooperation needed to provide credible assurance to conclude that all nuclear material is for peaceful activities.

The Kuwaiti Prime Minister also denounced Israel’s continued occupation of Palestinian territories as a testament to the inability of the international community to end the plight of the Palestinians, citing Israeli settlement activities and other “gross violations of international; conventions and norms.”

(UN Press Release)

September 26, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Egypt's First Democratically Elected Civilian President Speaks at UN

Addressing the United Nations General Assembly for the first time since becoming his country’s first democratically and freely elected civilian President, Egypt’s Mohamed Morsy today highlighted his nation’s progress over the past 18 months, while citing the issue of Palestine as “the first issue which the world must exert all its efforts in resolving.” 

“Long decades have passed since the Palestinian people expressed their longing for restoring their full rights and for building their independent state, with Jerusalem as its capital,” President Morsy told the Assembly’s General Debate, which began on Tuesday at UN Headquarters in New York. “Despite their continued struggle, through all legitimate means to attain their rights, and despite the acceptance by their representatives of the resolutions adopted by the international community as a basis for resolving its problems, this international legitimacy remains unable until now to realize the hopes and aspirations of the Palestinian people,” he added. “The resolutions remain far from being implemented.”

The Middle East peace process is currently at a standstill, with Israeli-Palestinian talks stalled, following Israel’s refusal to extend a 10-month freeze on settlement activity in the occupied Palestinian territory. Noting that the Arab world has presented a comprehensive peace initiative for resolving the conflict, President Morsy assured the delegates in the General Assembly Hall of Egypt’s full support for any course of action that Palestine decides to follow at the United Nations. “I call upon all of you, just as you have supported the revolutions of the Arab peoples, to lend your support to the Palestinians in their endeavours to regain the full and legitimate rights of a people struggling to gain its freedom and establish its independent state,” he said.

Although Palestine is not a member of the UN General Assembly, in 2011 the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) became the first UN agency to admit it as a full member following a vote by UNESCO’s General Conference, the agency’s highest ruling body. The Egyptian leader also noted that his country remains committed to the international agreements and conventions that it has previously adhered to, while also noting that Egyptians support “the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people and are determined to pursue all efforts side by side with them until they regain their rights.”

The crisis in Syria also figured prominently in President Morsy’s statement to the General Debate. Noting an Egyptian initiative on Syria, put forward in August and involving three other countries, the President said they would continue to work to end the suffering in Syria, where more than 18,000 people, mostly civilians, have died since the uprising against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad began 18 months ago. A further 2.5 million Syrians urgently need humanitarian aid, according to UN estimates.

“I would like to emphasize that the initiative is open to all those who wish to positively contribute in resolving the Syrian crisis,” President Morsy said, adding that Egypt is also committed to supporting the mission of the Joint Special Representative of the United Nations and the League of Arab States on the Syrian crisis, Lakhdar Brahimi, as well as efforts aimed at unifying Syrian opposition groups.

President Morsy also flagged Egypt's commitment to working with other Arab nations to reclaim its “rightful position” in the world. “This Arab nation is an integral component of Egypt's vision of its national security, which extends from the Arab Gulf to the Atlantic Ocean, and is thriving with opportunities of cooperation and constructive engagement with the entire world,” he said.

The Egyptian leader came to office in an election process that ended in June this year. The polls were the first presidential election since the toppling of the long-standing regime of Hosni Mubarak amid popular protests in January 2011, and widely seen as a key element of the country's transition to greater democracy.

“We have taken several steps on the road towards establishing the modern state the Egyptians aspire for,” President Morsy said. “The vision of the new Egypt that we strive to realize for our nation also constitutes the frame of action we present to the world, and which should guide our cooperation with the international community, in a spirit of equality and mutual respect, entailing non-intervention in the affairs of other states as well as the implementation of the international principles, agreements and conventions.” He added, “Today we reiterate our commitment to them, particularly the United Nations Charter, which Egypt took part in drafting.” 

Referring to an anti-Islamic video produced in the state of California by a US citizen, as well as cartoons published in a French magazine, which have led to cities in North Africa and the Middle East recently experiencing violent protests in response, President Morsy said that Egypt respects freedom of expression – “one that is not used to incite hatred against anyone” – and stands firmly against the use of violence in expressing objection to such items.

Other topics covered in his statement to the General Debate included relations between Sudan and South Sudan, the outlook for Somalia following the end of its transitional governing arrangements, nuclear disarmament, relations with Africa, reform of the international financial system and UN reform. He also emphasized the need for the United Nations to give special attention to supporting women and youth issues. 

(UN Press Release)

September 26, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Informal Justice Systems are Essential to Development and Human Rights

Informal justice systems to resolve disputes must be integrated into broader development initiatives to guarantee the protection of human rights, since they are preferred by a large number of people in various developing countries, according to a United Nations study released today.

The report, Informal Justice Systems: Charting a Course for Human Rights-Based Engagement, argues that informal justice systems in countries such as Bangladesh, Ecuador and Malawi, among many others, “may be more accessible than formal mechanisms and may have the potential to provide quick, relatively inexpensive and culturally relevant remedies.”

Women, children and minorities in particular benefit from the impact of these systems, the report says, providing a source of empowerment for vulnerable populations. “Informal or customary justice systems are a reality of justice in most of the countries where UNDP works to improve lives and livelihoods and government capacities to serve,” said Assistant Administrator of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), Olav Kjorven.  “The evidence in this report illustrates the direct bearing such systems can have on women and children’s legal empowerment, covering issues from customary marriage and divorce to custody, inheritance, and property rights.”

The report – commissioned by UNDP, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) and produced by the Danish Institute for Human Rights – is the most comprehensive UN study on this area of justice to date, UNDP said in a news release. The report draws its conclusions based on research carried out in 18 developing countries. 

“There has been little research or literature on children and informal justice systems to date, and this study is important in beginning to document the issues around children’s engagement with informal justice systems,” said UNICEF Assistant Director Susan Bissell. “Reconciling the procedures followed by informal justice systems with children’s rights, and ensuring that international standards about children and justice are implemented, is a challenge that the report clearly documents.” 

Both formal justice systems – government-supported laws, police, courts, and prisons – and informal or traditional systems can violate human rights, reinforce discrimination, and neglect principles of procedural fairness. “The efficacy of working with informal justice systems requires that it be complemented by engagement with the formal justice system and with development programming that addresses the broader social, cultural, political, and economic context of informal justice systems,” the report says. Surveys in Somalia, it notes, found up to 80 per cent of the population preferred arbitration by clan leaders to engagement with the formal justice system.

The report points out that formal and informal justice mechanisms need to learn from and cooperate with one another to widen access to justice and protection of human rights to all citizens. Broader development initiatives in education and health may also help change the way informal systems are structured and help create an environment where human rights can be respected. “The crucial value in this report lies in its emphasis on what can be achieved in terms of improving access to justice and human rights through informal systems,” Mr. Kjorven said.  “Changes should be evaluated over the long term, but training adjudicators, increasing the number of women in decisions-making posts, empowering paralegals and women’s groups to monitor and engage with customary leaders – all these efforts will continually improve individual and communal experiences of justice.”

(Adapted from a UN Press Release)

September 26, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Liberia has "Turned the Corner" Towards Lasting Peace

Ten years after the end of Liberia’s brutal civil war, the country has made tremendous progress on the path to lasting peace and stability, its President, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, told the United Nations General Assembly today, while adding that serious challenges remain. “As Liberia moves toward its tenth year of sustained peace, we can state with conviction that our country has turned the corner,” President Johnson-Sirleaf said in her address to the Assembly’s high-level General Debate, which began at UN Headquarters in New York on Tuesday. “Liberia is no longer a place of conflict, war and deprivation. We are no longer the country our citizens fled, our international partners pitied and our neighbours feared,” she added.  

President Johnson-Sirleaf thanked the UN for being “a very committed and effective partner” with her country as it emerged from conflict and embarked on the path to peace, security and development. “We owe the Organization much gratitude for preserving an enabling environment for peacebuilding and state-building.” The UN has maintained a peacekeeping force in Liberia since 2003 to bolster a ceasefire agreement ending a decade of war that killed nearly 150,000 people, mostly civilians. The mandate of the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) includes helping to restore the rule of law and democratic processes, as well as facilitating humanitarian assistance.

The President highlighted some of the gains made in recent years which have resulted in an average annual growth of over six per cent; the mobilization of over $16 billion in direct foreign investment; an expanded fiscal space through unprecedented debt cancellation, infrastructure reconstruction and institutional rebuilding. “More importantly, we have earned our rightful place as a country of hope and opportunity,” she stated. “The processes of change which have started will continue and will not stop until the country is placed on an irreversible path of sustained peace, growth and development.” 

Earlier this month, the Security Council extended UNMIL’s mandate for another year, reducing its military strength in three phases and authorizing the Secretary-General to implement the first phase of that reduction – 1,900 personnel – between October 2012 and September 2013. The Council also decided that UNMIL’s primary tasks are to continue to support the Government’s efforts to solidify peace and stability, and to protect civilians, and that it will also support the Government in transitioning complete security responsibility to the Liberia National Police.

(Excerpts from a UN Press Release)

September 26, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Protecting Lawyers and Journalists in Honduras

The United Nations human rights chief today called on Honduras to take urgent steps to combat impunity for crimes against lawyers and journalists, stressing that recent killings reflect the “chronic insecurity” that these professions are subject to in the country.  “Sadly, these deplorable killings are far from isolated cases,” the High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said. “There is a menacing climate of insecurity and violence in Honduras, and human rights defenders have been targets of threats, harassment, physical assault and murder.  “The impunity that surrounds these violations is unacceptable. When the perpetrators know they are very likely to get off scot-free, there is nothing to deter them from killing off more of the country’s finest human rights defenders.” 

Last Saturday, Antonio Trejo-Cabrera, a lawyer prominent for defending the interests of peasant groups in land conflicts in the Lower Aguán Region of Honduras, was shot to death. He had repeatedly reported receiving death threats in the months leading up to his killing, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said in a news release.  Two days later, Manuel Díaz-Mazariegos, a public prosecutor in the city of Choluteca, who also worked on human rights cases, was gunned down. 

“I call on the Government to spare no effort in their investigations into the killings of Mr. Trejo-Cabrera and Mr. Díaz-Mazariegos, and to ensure that attacks or threats against other human rights defenders are taken seriously and promptly investigated,” Ms. Pillay said. “It is essential that the people who commit these crimes are brought to justice. Failure to do so will only exacerbate what is already a dire situation.” 

According to the Honduran Bar Association, 74 lawyers have been killed over the past three years, without an adequate response from the authorities. In addition, more than 60 people have been killed in land disputes over the past two years. 

“I call on the Government of Honduras to urgently adopt measures to address the vulnerability of human rights defenders, as recommended by the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, who visited the country in February this year,” Ms. Pillay said, noting that the Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, Frank la Rue, had also expressed alarm at the high rates of violence confronting Honduran journalists.  “I also urge the Government to implement the commitments it made during the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review of Honduras in 2010, particularly those aimed at strengthening rule of law institutions and the effectiveness of the administration of justice,” she said, reiterating her office’s readiness to assist the Government in its efforts to protect the people of Honduras. 

(UN Press Release)

September 26, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Republic of Equatorial Guinea Seeks to Institute ICJ Proceedings Against France

ICJIn a press release today, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) announced that the Republic of Equatorial Guinea has filed an application seeking to institute proceedings against France.  Guinea seeks to have the ICJ annul criminal proceedings in France against Guinea's President, Mr. Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, and its Vice President, Mr. Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue.  France had initiated criminal proceedings against the ruling family of Guinea at the request of the anti-corruption organization, Transparency International, which accused the Guinean ruling family of corruption and embezzlement.  In connection with those proceedings, French officials have seized both real and personal property in France belonging to the Guinean ruling family.  Guinea alleges that the actions of France violate several international law principles, including the sovereignity, equality of states, non-intervention and respect for immunity from criminal jurisdiction for heads of state.

There is no controlling international agreement that gives the ICJ jurisdiction over this dispute.  Accordingly, Guinea has invoked Article 38(5) of the ICJ's statute and requested that France give its consent to the proceeding.  Pursuant to that rule, a copy of the application has been transmitted to France.  Unless and until France consents to the suit, the case will not be listed on the ICJ's General List, nor will any other action be taken by the Court with respect to this matter.


September 26, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Spain Reaffirms Fundamental Role of the United Nations

Spain yesterday reaffirmed the “fundamental role” of the United Nations in solving the world’s problems, called for reforms to make it more efficient, and pledged to continue contributing to its peacekeeping operations. “Our commitment with the United Nations remains strong, actively participating in those initiatives that we have been supporting in the past few years because we believe that they are key to achieve the future that we desire,” Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy told the 67th General Assembly on the opening day of its General Debate.  “This year we have moved towards a more peaceful, just and sustainable world,” the Prime Minister said in a wide-ranging speech that covered current crises facing the world, including Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia and the Middle East. “However, as reflected in the cases I just mentioned, there is still much to do.”

Appealing for an end to violence in Syria, he called on President Bashar Al-Assad to make way to a political process that will allow a peaceful resolution of the conflict in which over 18,000 people have been killed and hundreds of thousands driven from their homes since the uprising against the Government erupted 18 months ago. “Thousands of innocent victims, the unbearable suffering of civilians and the serious risk of the conflict expanding to neighbouring countries are forcing us to act,” he said.

Prime Minister Rajoy noted that Spain wishes to serve on the Security Council for the years 2015-2016, and said the 15-member body – which many members want to enlarge to bring in more developing countries to permanent seats – needs to adapt to the challenges of the 21st century, building a new Security Council that is more effective, inclusive, representative and responsible to the General Assembly. “We are facing many challenges,” he concluded. “Spain hopes that when we meet again in 12 months, the list of problems will be shorter and that the United Nations will be more effective and efficient.”

The Spanish leader is one of many heads of State and government and other high-level officials presenting their views and comments on issues of individual national and international relevance at the Assembly’s General Debate, which ends on 1 October. The Prime Minister also discussed the problems in West Africa’s Sahel region and the humanitarian situation resulting from the Syrian crisis in a separate meeting with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who thanked him for Spain’s support for the UN’s sustainable development goals.

(Adapted from a UN Press Release)

September 26, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Afghan President Highlights Country as Testament to Multilateral Cooperation

In his speech to the United Nations General Assembly’s high-level debate today, the President of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, highlighted his nation as a testament to the “benefits of multi-lateral cooperation and international solidarity,” while also calling for international anti-terrorism efforts involving his country to be taken to their sources. “It was a little over a decade ago when many countries from across the world joined the Afghan people in our struggle for peace and against the forces of extremism and terrorism. At the time, Afghanistan was a country decimated in all regards,” President Karzai told the Assembly’s General Debate, which started at UN Headquarters in New York today.

“For decades, we had suffered unnoticed from violence, deprivation, and from sinister foreign interference,” he added. “Long before terrorism struck the world as a common security threat, Afghans were the victims of the atrocity of terrorist networks from different parts of the world that had made Afghanistan their haven.” Afghan authorities are currently working with the international community so that by 2014 they can assume full responsibility for security in all of the country’s 34 provinces. They are also working towards taking greater ownership of development in a country where more than one-third of the population lives below the poverty line, and one in every two children under five is chronically malnourished.

The United Nations has a Security Council-mandated political mission in the country – the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) – focussed on two main areas of activities: political affairs and development and humanitarian issues. 

In his statement, President Karzai flagged Afghanistan’s transformation over the past decade, noting that democracy has taken root, health services are accessible to the majority of the population, and millions of students – boys and girls – are enrolled in primary and higher education. “Our achievements have not come about easily, and the true aspirations of the Afghan people for peaceful, prosperous lives are yet to be realized,” he said. “As the world's fight against terrorism continues unabated, the Afghan people continue to pay the biggest price any nation has paid – in both life and treasure.”

In relation to terrorism in the Central Asian nation, President Karzai noted that terrorism is not, and never was, rooted in Afghan villages and towns, with its sources and support networks existing beyond the country’s borders. “Therefore, while the international community's security is being safeguarded from the threat of terrorism, the people of Afghanistan must no longer be made to pay the price and endure the brunt of the war,” he said.

He added, “It is in deference to the immense sacrifices of the Afghan people, and the precious lives lost from the international community, that the campaign against terrorism must be taken to the sources of terrorism and must be result-oriented.”

The President stated that, with peace being the “utmost desire” of the Afghan people, the country’s authorities have initiated a peace and reconciliation process which aims to bring all elements of the country’s armed opposition into society. He reiterated that his “hand of peace and reconciliation” remains extended not only to the Taliban, but also to all other armed opposition groups that wish to return to “dignified, peaceful and independent lives in their own homeland.”

“What we ask of them in return is simple: an end to violence, cutting ties with terrorist networks, preserving the valuable gains of the past decade, and respecting our Constitution,” the President noted, adding that to help facilitate the peace process, he was asking the Security Council to extend its full support to the Afghan Government’s efforts. “In particular, I urge the 1988 Taliban's Sanctions Committee to take more active measures towards delisting of Taliban leaders as a step to facilitate direct negotiations,” he added.

The Afghan leader also cited the role that neighbouring Pakistan could play in his country’s path to peace, noting its implications for Pakistan's own security, and the security of the wider region and beyond. “We are deeply committed to our brotherly relations with Pakistan, but are aware of the challenges that may strain our efforts at building trust and confidence,” President Karzai said. “Such incidents as the recent shelling of Afghan villages risk undermining the efforts by both governments to work together in the interest of our common security.” Other issues covered in President Karzai’s statement to the General Debate included religious intolerance, the situation in Syria, the plight of the Palestinian people and UN reform. 

(UN Press Release)

September 25, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Pacific Island States Address UN General Assembly

Two small Pacific Island states at ground zero for the potentially catastrophic effects of climate change and the need for mitigation efforts today called on the United Nations to ensure rapid attainment of legally binding agreement curbing global warming gasses. “The time is now over for endless North-South division and all-too predictable finger pointing must end,” President Christopher Loeak of the Marshall Islands, one of the lowest-lying nations in the world, told the 67th General Assembly on the opening day of the annual General Debate. He said his country had a national energy plan to cut its own emissions, boost its efficiency and pursue new technology. “I ask the rest of the world if you will also meet us in ambition,” he said. “Will it come soon enough?”

President Loeak noted that the Marshall Islands is at present heavily reliant on international assistance and has little other means to provide for adaptation measures needed to mitigate the effects of rising oceans. “The growing realization that, however, wrongful, we must finance some of our own adaptation efforts is perhaps the most compelling reason to rapidly expand our private sector,” he added.

In his statement to the General Debate, President Sprent Dabwido of Nauru noted that greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise each year with no end in sight. “Small islands may be the canary in the coalmine, but we are all staring a global catastrophe right in the face,” he warned. “If multilateralism is to have any credibility, then we must move to an emergency footing and those countries with the greatest capacity must immediately begin mobilizing the significant resources necessary to remake the energy infrastructure that powers the global economy,” he added.

He called for urgent action to achieve emission curbing and mitigation, and noted that many countries – including his own – are not on track to meet their Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and in some cases have suffered setbacks because of the recent global economic downturn. “At the same time, the flow of official development assistance from some channels has diminished, further jeopardizing our ability to achieve our MDGs,” President Dabwido said. “The UN's sustainable development initiatives have also been graced with an abundance of lofty rhetoric, but few resources.” 

The MDGs – which seek to slash a host of social ills, including extreme hunger and poverty, infant and maternal mortality, and lack of access to education and medical care – were agreed on by world leaders at a summit in 2000. They have a 2015 deadline for their completion.

(UN Press Release)

September 25, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Panama Calls for Cyberspace Regulation

The President of Panama, Ricardo Martinelli Berrocal, today called on United Nations Member States to share their experiences in cyberspace regulation, in order to protect young people from the risks of its misuse. “We should continue to harness our respective wills to reduce the digital gap and to maximize Internet access to more and more people across the world,” President Martinelli told the 67th UN General Assembly’s General Debate, which started today at UN Headquarters in New York. “Each step in this direction is key to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015,” he added. “Nevertheless, I am still uneasy about the risks of that the misuse of cyberspace can have boys, girls and adolescents.”

The MDGs – which seek to slash a host of social ills, including extreme hunger and poverty, infant and maternal mortality, and lack of access to education and medical care – were agreed on by world leaders at a summit in 2000. They have a 2015 deadline for their completion.

Noting that the protection of children and young people from such misuse is one of the most important social and ethical challenges the world faces, he pointed out that for this reason Panama has supported initiatives carried out in this area by the UN International Telecommunications Union (ITU). “I invite all the States here represented to share experiences in order to establish and harmonize, on the basis of international telecommunications criteria, norms that will allow us to guarantee that minors are no longer exposed to the risks and dangers that are disseminated through cyberspace,” the President said.

In his statement to the General Debate, the Panamanian leader also spoke about his country’s commitment to multilateralism, dialogue and negotiation, as well as the use of peaceful means for resolving all international conflicts, in line with the UN Charter and the principles of international law.

(UN Press Release)

September 25, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Nigeria Praises United Nations and Regional Cooperation in Peace

The United Nations’ urgent assistance is crucial in order to bring peace and security to West Africa, Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan said today at the General Assembly’s high-level debate, while also acknowledging the role played by regional organizations in stemming the continent’s violence. “The overall security situation in the West African sub-region should continue to be a matter of interest and concern to the rest of the international community,” President Jonathan declared n his address to the General Debate of the Assembly’s 67th session, taking place at UN Headquarters in New York.

“Although ECOWAS [the Economic Community of West African States] is taking measures to address the situation in Mali, particularly in the north, the urgent assistance of the United Nations and the support of other partners will be needed to build on recent gains to secure peace and stability in Mali and across the sub-region,” he stated, adding that West Africa could “ill-afford renewed insurgency.”  

Fighting between Government forces and Tuareg rebels broke out in northern Mali in January. The instability and insecurity resulting from the renewed clashes, as well as the proliferation of armed groups in the region, drought and political instability in the wake of a military coup d’état in March, have led over 250,000 Malians to flee to neighbouring countries, with 174,000 Malians estimated to be internally displaced.

President Jonathan noted that Nigeria had committed itself to the attainment of regional peace and security and was doing so in close coordination with the UN, African Union and ECOWAS partners, particularly in Mali, where Nigeria and ECOWAS are working in concert to prevent the country’s conflict from spilling over its borders.  In addition, he also highlighted Nigeria’s assistance to the Transitional Government in Guinea-Bissau as it works towards national reconciliation and the organization of credible elections following its unconstitutional change of government earlier this year.

Turning his focus to the issue of regional cooperation, the Nigerian leader emphasized that it had been “a key factor” in tackling West Africa’s security challenges, singling out Nigeria’s bilateral agreements with neighbouring Cameroon, Niger, and Chad. “We are confident that these measures will stem the flow and access to small arms and light weapons, which have indeed become Africa’s weapons of mass destruction and the most potent source of instability,” he added. 

(UN Press Release)

September 25, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Pakistan Government Would be First Civilian Government in 66-Year History of the Country to Complete its Full, Five-Year Term

Underscoring his country’s commitment to peace and democracy, Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari told the United Nations General Assembly today that his country had undergone “unprecedented reforms,” while also recalling the country’s many difficulties in achieving them. “Our democracy has brought about many changes,” President Zardari told the 67th General Assembly on the first day of its annual General Debate. He noted that the “gifts of democracy” in Pakistan included wide-ranging social reforms, the creation of the first social safety net for the country’s poor and a flourishing civil society, as well as enhanced rights for women and the poor. 

He also voiced the hope that his administration would be the first civilian government in Pakistan’s 66 year history to complete its full, five-year term. However, remembering Pakistan’s long and tortured relationship with authoritarianism and terrorism, President Zardari also reminded the gathered delegates that his country’s current troubles were “a product of dictatorships.”

“These dictators and their regimes are responsible for suffocating and throttling Pakistan, Pakistan’s institutions, and Pakistani democracy,” he stated, as he held a photograph of his deceased wife, the former Pakistani President Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated in 2007. 

President Zardari also linked Pakistan’s strides towards democracy and peace to its role at the United Nations which, he said, necessitated reform to better reflect democratic principles. “The UN represents our common aspirations for peace and development,” he said. “However, it needs reform. The UN system must become more democratic and more accountable. Reform should be based on consensus and democratic principles.” 

Turning his attention to regional issues, President Zardari affirmed Pakistan’s resolve to support the rights of the people of Jammu and Kashmir – a disputed border area between Pakistan and India, which has long been the subject of contention for both countries. “Kashmir remains a symbol of the failures, rather than strengths of the UN system. We feel that resolution of these issues can only be arrived in an environment of cooperation,” he stated. 

He also acknowledged that Pakistan’s friendship with its northern neighbour, Afghanistan, had begun to deepen and urged the international community to remain committed to the three million Afghan refugees who have fled the violence there. 

(UN Press Release)

September 25, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)