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Afghanistan: UN condemns blasts that leave 8 dead at cricket stadium

INTERNATIONAL, 19 May 2018 - The United Nations has condemned Friday's attack in eastern Afghanistan that killed at least eight people and injured at least 55 at a cricket stadium. 

UN Secretary-General António Guterres “condemns yesterday’s attack,” his Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq said in a statement issued on Saturday, which also stated “attacks targeting civilians are grave violations of human rights and international humanitarian law and can never be justified.”

“The United Nations maintains that all parties to the conflict must at all times uphold their obligations to protect civilians from harm,” Mr. Haq added.

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said that four explosives were detonated, targeting those gathered, after evening prayers, to watch a local match at the venue in Jalalabad.

“I am outraged by this attack that used four bombs carefully calculated to kill and maim civilians watching a cricket match,” said Tadamichi Yamamoto, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan. “This cold and brutal act can have no justification whatsoever; those responsible must be held accountable.”

UNAMA said two of the explosives were detonated inside the stadium, and the other two outside, apparently timed to target those fleeing the first blasts. The explosions left scores dead, with many of the injured now in critical condition. 

According to media reports, no one has claimed responsibility for the attacks, and the Taliban militant group has denied any involvement. Afghanistan has been in protracted conflict for nearly four decades. 

Armed conflict in Afghanistan killed 763 civilians and injured 1,495 in the first three months of this year. The 2,258 civilian casualties, documented by UNAMA, included 511 deaths and 989 injuries caused by anti-Government groups, including the Taliban and the Islamic State (IS), also known as Da’esh.

UN Photo/Fardin Waezi
United Nations Secretary-General's Special Representative for Afghanistan and head of UNAMA, Tadamichi Yamamoto, addresses reporters at a press conference in Kabul, Afghanistan. (file)

“At a time when Afghans are looking toward much-needed peace, we must not allow such attacks to deter our collective resolve to make progress on ending the conflict,” said Mr. Yamamoto, who is also head of UNAMA. “The United Nations stands with Afghans in solidarity and remains committed to an Afghan-led peace process that will end the war and enable Afghanistan to allocate more resources to protect all citizens from such atrocities.”

Mr. Guterres and Mr. Yamamoto expressed their condolences to the loved ones of those killed in the attack and wished a full and speedy recovery to those injured.

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UN chief welcomes start of Church-mediated national dialogue in Nicaragua

INTERNATIONAL, 19 May 2018 - United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has welcomed the start of a national dialogue in Nicaragua between civic groups and the government, following deadly clashes between security forces and people protesting the country’s planned social security reforms.

“The Secretary-General welcomes the start of a national dialogue led by the Catholic Church in Nicaragua,” said UN Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq, in a statement issued on Friday. 

“At the same time, the Secretary-General remains concerned about recent violence and calls on all Nicaraguans to abide by the rule of law, respect for human rights and the peaceful resolution of differences,” he added.

According to media reports, demonstrations that started in mid-April swelled into a nationwide revolt against President Daniel Ortega’s 11-year rule after they were met with lethal repression by pro-government forces, and the Church-mediated talks were attended by the President.

Human rights groups reported that at least 65 people, many of them student protesters, have been killed so far.

Mr. Haq said the Secretary-General also saluted the arrival in the country of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights – an organ of the Organization of American States – whose mission is to promote and protect human rights in the American hemisphere.

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UN and World Bank ink pact to spur cooperation on Global Goals

INTERNATIONAL, 18 May 2018 - The United Nations and the World Bank Group on Friday signed an agreement to work closer together to help countries implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and achieve measurable results to transform their economies and societies.

The agreement, known as the Strategic Partnership Framework (SPF), includes four key areas of cooperation.

The two institutions will cooperate in finding financial and other necessary resources to help countries achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and harness data to improve development outcomes.

They will also jointly spur global action on climate change and work hand-in-hand in post-crisis and humanitarian situations.

Adopted by UN Member States in 2015, the landmark Agenda and its 17 Goals are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity.

The SPF, signed by UN Secretary-General António Guterres and World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim in Washington, will build on past collaborations between the two entities and foster a new partnership. 

Specifically, SPF initiatives include:

• Mobilizing increased and better finance from all sources, including through domestic resources, and helping countries attract and manage private capital;

• Improving implementation capacity to achieve the SDGs, particularly at the national and local levels;

• Promoting joint action and investments to improve infrastructure and build human capital, including education and health;

• Convening governments, financial institutions, private investors, and development banks to mobilize, coordinate, and deliver financing to help countries make the transition to a low-carbon, resilient future;

• Strengthening collaboration and joint action in post-crisis and humanitarian settings to build resilience for the most vulnerable people, reduce poverty and inequality, enhance food security, prevent conflict, and sustain peace;

• Improving national statistical systems and enhancing countries’ digital data capacities to improve implementation and maximize positive development impacts, and;

• Expanding and deepening partnerships in policy development and advocacy, joint analysis and assessments, and program design and delivery.

Meanwhile, UN chief Guterres met with US President Donald Trump this afternoon at the White House.

“The Secretary-General and the President discussed the situation in the broader Middle East, the Korean Peninsula and the ongoing United Nations reform. The Secretary-General expressed his appreciation for the continued US engagement in the work of the United Nations,” stated a read-out issued today by the UN. 

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Teenage girl’s death sentence spotlights Sudan’s failure to tackle forced marriage, gender-based violence – UN rights office

INTERNATIONAL, 18 May 2018 - The case of Noura Hussein Hammad Daoud, a Sudanese teenager convicted of fatally stabbing the man she was forced to marry, after he had allegedly raped her, highlights the country’s failure to tackle the tragedy of early and forced marriage, marital rape and other discrimination and violence against women and girls, the United Nations human rights office said on Friday.

“We have received information that Hussein’s forced marriage, rape and other forms of gender-based violence against her were not taken into account by the Court as evidence to mitigate the sentence, and that the most stringent guarantees of a fair trial and due process were not fulfilled in this case,” said Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the High Commissioner for Human Rights told the press in Geneva.  

As the case has drawn international attention, the UN Human rights office said that it has become increasingly concerned for the teen’s safety and that of her lawyer and other supporters.

“We urge the authorities to ensure full protection for Hussein’s physical and psychological integrity during her detention, as well as full respect for her rights to a fair trial and appeal,” Ms. Shamdasani stressed.

In trials of capital punishment, scrupulous respect for fairness is particularly crucial.

The UN expert on summary executions has argued that imposing the death penalty against clear evidence of self-defense constitutes an arbitrary killing, particularly where women have been charged with murder when defending themselves.

“We call on the authorities to fully take into consideration Hussein’s claim of self-defense against the attempt by the man to rape her, after he had reportedly already raped her on a previous occasion with the help of three other people,” Ms. Shamdasani continued.

With only 15 days to appeal the Court’s decision ­– which was announced last week­ – the right for a conviction and sentence to be reviewed by a higher tribunal is particularly important.

“A review that is limited to the formal or legal aspects of the conviction – without any consideration of the facts – is not sufficient under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Sudan has ratified,” the spokesperson reminded the press.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and the UN Human Rights Committee have expressed serious concern about the situation of women’s human rights in Sudan.

“Hussein’s tragic case is an opportunity for Sudanese authorities to send a clear message that gender-based violence will not be tolerated in the country,” concluded Ms. Shamdasani, adding that the office would remain in contact with Sudanese authorities.

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DR Congo Ebola outbreak not yet a global ‘health emergency’, but strong response to disease vital – UN health experts

INTERNATIONAL, 18 May 2018 - An emergency meeting of United Nations health experts said on Friday that the Ebola outbreak in north-west Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) – where cases of the deadly disease have been confirmed in an urban area ­– does not yet meet the criteria to be deemed a “public health emergency of international concern.”   

But the World Health Organization (WHO) Emergency Committee advised the Congolese Government and all other actors to remain engaged in a “vigorous response” and called on the international community to support efforts on the ground.

Without this, the situation is likely to deteriorate significantly,” read the Public Health Advice issued by the Committee, which also called for global solidarity among the scientific community and for international data to be shared freely and regularly.

An outbreak of the Ebola virus disease (EVD) was declared in a remote town in DRC’s Equateur province on 8 May. Since then at least one case has been confirmed outside the initial zone. On 17 May, a patient in the provincial capital, Mbandaka, was confirmed as having contracted the disease.

According to WHO, 45 cases have been reported, of which 14 had been confirmed, 10 were “suspected” and 21 “probable.”

The Emergency Committee also decided that if the outbreak “expands significantly, or if there is international spread,” it will reconvene to take further action.

Both the site of the outbreak and Mbandaka city are situated on the Congo River, which many consider the “highway” for transport of goods and people in the region where connectivity is otherwise challenging.

No need for international travel or trade restrictions

In its Health Advice, the Committee underscored that while there should be no international travel or trade restrictions, the DRC’s neighbouring countries should strengthen preparedness and surveillance.

“Exit screening, including at airports and ports on the Congo River, is considered to be of great importance; however, entry screening, particularly in distant airports, is not considered to be of any public health or cost-benefit value,” it said.

The WHO Emergency Committee is composed of 11 international technical experts from various parts of the world, nominated by WHO member States. It is convened under the International Health Regulations – the legally binding international instrument on protection of lives endangered by the global spread of diseases and other health risks.

Response continues

Meanwhile, UN agencies and their partners on the ground have scaled up the response to contain the outbreak and support treatment of those suspected of or having contracted Ebola virus.

WHO has also brought in vaccines against the disease, bringing the total number of doses available to 7,500, according to the agency’s spokesperson Tarik Jašarević.

However, transporting them to affected areas in a safe and temperature controlled manner is a major challenge as roads are often impassable and electricity is limited.

This is the ninth Ebola outbreak in the DRC, a country where the virus is endemic. The virus causes an acute, serious illness, which is often fatal if untreated. First symptoms generally include the sudden onset of fever, fatigue, muscle pain, headache and sore throat. This is followed by vomiting, diarrhoea.

An outbreak in West Africa that began in 2014 left more than 11,000 dead across six countries, and was not declared officially over by WHO until the beginning of 2016.

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Force used against protestors in Gaza ‘wholly disproportionate’ says UN human rights chief

INTERNATIONAL, 18 May 2018 - A special session of the UN Human Rights Council has ended with a resolution by Member States to investigate weeks of violence on the Israeli border with Gaza, which has claimed the lives of more than 100 people in the enclave and left thousands wounded.

The draft text called for the Council to “investigate all alleged violations and abuses of international humanitarian law and international human rights law” in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and particularly the occupied Gaza Strip, since 30 March; the date when demonstrations along the border with Israel began, dubbed the Great March of Return.

The resolution was adopted by 29 votes in favour, with two against and 14 abstentions.

The development follows a request on Tuesday by Palestine and the Arab Group of States.

A day earlier, 60 demonstrators in Gaza were killed by Israeli forces, marking the highest one-day death toll in the territory since the 2014 hostilities. According to UN human rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, who addressed the council, 87 Palestinians have been killed during the protests, including 12 children, and more than 12,000 injured; 3,500 of them by live ammunition fire.

They are, in essence, caged in a toxic slum from birth to death; deprived of dignity - High Commissioner Zeid 

 “Palestinians have exactly the same human rights as Israelis do. They have the same rights to live safely in their homes, in freedom, with adequate and essential services and opportunities” said the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

“And of this essential core of entitlements due to every human being, they are systematically deprived”, he continued, adding: “They are, in essence, caged in a toxic slum from birth to death; deprived of dignity; de-humanised by the Israeli authorities to such a point it appears officials do not even consider that these men and women have a right, as well as every reason, to protest.”

Zeid said that some demonstrators threw Molotov cocktails and used sling-shots to throw stones at Israeli soldiers.

But this did not justify the use of lethal force and may be a breach of international law, he added.

Israel responded to the special session at the Human Rights Council saying that convening the meeting was evidence of its politically-motivated “anti-Israeli obsession”.

Ambassador Aviva Raz Shechter, Permanent Representative of Israel to the UN, said that the militant group Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip, and the Palestinian Authority in the occupied West Bank, had incited people to violence, by placing “as many civilians as possible – including women, children and journalists – in the line of fire".

Under the rules of the Human Rights Council, an extraordinary session can only be called by the body’s 47 Member States; it must also have the support of at least one-third of the membership. Friday marked the 28th time that there has been a special session of the Council.

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UN warns of ‘deteriorating climate’ for human rights defenders in Guatemala

INTERNATIONAL, 18 May 2018 - It’s becoming increasingly dangerous to defend the rights of indigenous people in Guatemala, the United Nations human rights office warned on Friday, following the murder of three activists over the past 10 days.

“We are concerned about what appears to be a deteriorating climate for the defence of human rights in Guatemala,” Ravina Shamdasani, Spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), told reporters in Geneva, urging the State to ensure a safe working environment free from threats and attacks.

On 9 May, a rights officer working on behalf peasants and indigenous peoples, was killed in the town of San Luis Jilotepeque Jalapa.

A community leader from the grassroots social justice group known as Comité Campesino de Desarrollo del Altiplano (CCDA), was murdered on 10 May, and another member of the organization was found dead on 13 May.

The two most recent killings took place in an area of Guatemala where CCDA, and other civil society organizations, have been working with the Government, on an agreement to address more than 50 land conflicts in the country.

We are concerned about what appears to be a deteriorating climate for the defence of human rights in Guatemala

Other rights defenders have also suffered threats and attacks in recent months, OHCHR said.

“We call on the authorities to promptly investigate these murders and other attacks and threats against human rights defenders, and to ensure that those found responsible are held accountable,” Ms. Shamdasani said.

“We share the deep concerns about the protection of indigenous peoples who claim rights to land, as expressed by UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, during her visit to Guatemala earlier this month,” she added.

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End ‘cycle of violence’ in Gaza, UN deputy chief tells forum on Palestine

INTERNATIONAL, 17 May 2018 - The “cycle of violence” in Gaza serves no one and it must end, the United Nations deputy chief said on Thursday, calling on everyone with a stake in Middle East peace, to exercise utmost restraint to avoid further deaths, especially the lives of children.

Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, speaking at the UN Forum on the Question of Palestine on behalf of Secretary-General António Guterres, urged both Israeli forces - as well as organizers from Hamas, and other leaders of demonstrations against Israel’s decade-long blockade of the Gaza Strip - to prevent all violent actions.

Today is an occasion to reflect on the costs and consequences of the 1948 War – which resulted in the mass displacement and dispossession of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homes,” said Ms. Mohammad, referring to what Palestinians call “Al Naqba”, or catastrophe.

She said that apart from addressing the history of the decades-long conflict, it also provided an opportunity to look ahead at what must be done to cement a lasting peace.

“This year we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The principles and standards enshrined in the Universal Declaration should guide the search for a durable solution to the question of Palestine”, said Ms. Mohammed, adding that a solution had to be found “that must be based on international law, the legitimate aspirations of Palestinians and Israelis, as well as dialogue for reconciliation and for accountability.”

In her remarks, Ms. Mohammad also cautioned against the establishment and expansion of more Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, noting that it displaced more Palestinians and was a major impediment to talks towards a two-state solution.

“We must strive for a future where Israel and Palestine thrive as states in which all are equally respected, and where civil society is able to play its constructive role,” she said.

“The UN will continue to support Israelis and Palestinians on the road to peace, by helping them to take the historic steps to achieve a solution of two states living side by side in peace and within secure and recognized borders with Jerusalem as the capital of both. Over the course of the next two days, I urge you all to reflect on how we can turn this vision into a reality,” she said.

The two-day Forum marks the anniversary of the 1948 War and mass displacement of Palestinians, convened by the UN Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People.

It brings together Palestinian, Israeli and international experts, as well as representatives of the diplomatic community and civil society, to discuss how a lasting settlement can be brought about.

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Judges urge Security Council to serve interests of all UN Member States

INTERNATIONAL, 17 May 2018 - The Security Council should act on behalf of the entire United Nations membership rather than prioritizing their own national interests, or those of close allies, international court judges said on Thursday, as the 15-member body debated how to effectively counter numerous threats to world peace.

“Against a backdrop of grave threats and growing turmoil in many regions, the unity of this body and the serious commitment of the entire international community will be crucial in preventing human suffering and defending our common humanity,” declared Maria Luiza Viotti, Chef de Cabinet, delivering a statement on behalf of UN Secretary‑General António Guterres.

She noted that the UN Charter does not rule out using any specific means of settling international disputes, leaving Member States free to choose from a range of different tools; including negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration and judicial settlement.   

Therefore, the Council could adopt a more open-minded approach, such as recommending that States settle disputes through special settlement mechanisms; a power it has rarely employed. 

Where States agree to use the International Court of Justice, the Council should ensure that its judgment is properly observed, she said, calling on Member States to consider accepting the compulsory jurisdiction of the Court.

“International law is foundational to this Organization and the Security Council has a special role to play in ensuring that it is respected”, she said.

Also briefing the Council was Hisashi Owada, Senior Judge and President Emeritus of the International Court of Justice, who said that the crucial question is how the Council and the Court should work together to resolve disputes.

The Court’s legal opinion has helped to inform the Council on choosing a means of resolving disputes, as was the case in 1970, with legal resolution of South Africa’s continued presence in Namibia. 

He said that the Council could seek the legal opinion of the Court on issues that often are at the root of the conflict; as it did following the Balkan wars of the 1990s, which led to the creation of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

To strengthen cooperation between the two bodies, he said, the Council could use its discretionary power more often to refer legal disputes to the Court, and consider making more use of the Court’s legal advisory function.

He noted that 15 of the 26 requests for advisory opinions came from the General Assembly, and the Council has sought out the Court only on a limited number of cases, such as Israel’s construction of a border fence in 2000 and Kosovo’s declaration of independence, in 2008. 

Theodor Meron, President of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals, said that international criminal justice “is still very much in its infancy, and it is in a highly vulnerable stage of development at present.”

“International courts were never designed to try any more than a small number of alleged perpetrators,” he said, and officials in national jurisdictions must take on “the lion’s share of this work.”

Mr. Meron suggested the Council develop and adopt objective criteria to assess all credible allegations of international crimes, and serve the interests of the UN membership as a whole, rather than prioritizing their own interests or those of their strategic allies.

He also encouraged the Council to simply refer possible violations of international law to appropriate judicial actors for further action, rather than being a gate-keeper and “risking becoming stymied in debates about whether or not egregious atrocities occurred in any particular situation or who might be responsible.”

Today’s debate was chaired by Andrzej Duda, the President of Poland, who urged States and the international community to reject the temptation to place force above law, and fear above trust.

“If we call an act of aggression a ‘conflict’, without properly defining the victim and the aggressor; if we call a threat a ‘challenge’ without defining the source of that threat… then we are helpless in terms of selecting legal steps to react,” he said.

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Economic growth ‘exceeds expectations’ but trade tensions are rising: UN report

INTERNATIONAL, 17 May 2018 - Global economic growth is exceeding expectations this year but heightened geopolitical tension and uncertainty over international trade could thwart progress, according to a new United Nations report.

The global Gross Domestic Product (GDP), is due to expand by more than 3 per cent this year and next, according to the UN World Economic Situation and Prospects (WESP) — an improved outlook compared with the 3 per cent and 3.1 per cent growth for 2018 and 2019, forecast six months ago.

The revision reflects strong growth in developed countries due to accelerating wage increases, broadly favourable investment conditions and the short-term impact of a fiscal stimulus package in the United States.

At the same time, widespread increase in global demand has accelerated the overall growth in trade, while many commodity-exporting countries will also benefit from the higher energy and metal prices.

Speaking at the launch, Elliott Harris, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development and Chief Economist, said the accelerated growth forecast was positive news for the international effort to reach the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which include eradicating extreme poverty and hunger.

However, Mr. Harris cautioned that “there is a strong need not to become complacent in response to upward trending headline figures”. He added that the report “underscores that the risks have increased as well”, adding that rising risk “highlights the need to urgently address a number of policy challenges, including threats to the multilateral trading system, high inequality and the renewed rise in carbon emissions”.

Trade barriers and retaliatory measures mark a shift away from unambiguous support for the norms of the international trading system, the report notes, which threatens the pace of global growth with potentially large repercussions, especially for developing economies.

The report also finds that income inequality remains alarmingly high in numerous countries but there is evidence of noticeable improvements in some developing countries over the last decade.

It cites some countries in Latin America and the Caribbean region where specific policy measures related to minimum wage levels, education and government transfer payments have significantly reduced inequality over the last 20 years.

The report also finds that global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions increased by 1.4 per cent in 2017 due to faster global economic growth; the relatively low cost of fossil fuels and weaker energy efficiency measures, among other factors.

Reforming fossil fuel subsidies and providing tax breaks to boost greener economic growth could accelerate the international effort to meet the greenhouse gas emission targets outlined in the 2015 Paris Agreement.

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