Annan praises US human rights record after country loses seat on UN

“The Secretary-General believes that the United States made a major contribution to the work of the United Nations in the field of human rights,” spokesman Fred Eckhard said. “The United States has played a leading role over the years in drafting landmark documents such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and has been a key member of the Commission.”Mr. Annan’s comments followed the US failure yesterday in Geneva to be re-elected to the UN Commission on Human Rights. This is the first time since the Commission’s inception in 1947 that the US has not been a member.

SecretaryGeneral welcomes release of political detainees in Myanmar

In a statement released through his spokesman, Mr. Annan also expressed hope that more political detainees would be released in the near future.”The Secretary-General reiterates that there is no alternative to the ongoing talks between the Government and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to bring about the democratization and national reconciliation in Myanmar,” the statement said. “He urges the two sides to make further efforts to achieve tangible progress and calls on the international community to continue supporting the dialogue process in Myanmar.”The release of the group, which included Saw Mra Aung, a senior member of the National League for Democracy, eight more members of parliament and four others, took place on 13 and 14 June 2001, shortly after the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy, Razali Ismail, visited the country. read more

Security Council expresses deep concern at humanitarian situation in Afghanistan

Meeting this evening at the request of the United States and the United Kingdom, the Council heard a briefing by representatives from both countries on the military action that was launched yesterday in Afghanistan.Addressing the press after the meeting, Council President Richard Ryan of Ireland said the US and British delegates had told the Council that the strikes had been taken in self-defence and directed at terrorists and those who harboured them. The delegates also stressed that every effort was made to avoid civilian casualties, and that the bombings were in no way a strike against the people of Afghanistan, Islam or the Muslim world.The Council members will meet tomorrow morning to further discuss the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, in particular the situation of refugees.

Annans envoy in southern Lebanon to meet with newly elected administrators

Staffan de Mistura will travel throughout southern Lebanon on Tuesday and Wednesday to gain “a first-hand view of the current needs of the south and the priorities set by the local administration to address those needs, with the help of the Government,” according to the UN Information Centre (UNIC) in Beirut. Mr. de Mistura will meet with administrators elected during last month’s municipal election. “The visit should also provide an occasion to discuss the manner in which demining initiatives could fit into the overall plans for development of the south by the newly elected administrators,” UNIC Beirut noted. While in the area, Mr. de Mistura is also scheduled to meet with a number of senior officials, including the Governor of the South, Faisal Sayegh, as well as the Governor of Nabitiyeh, Mahmoud Al-Moullah. During his trip, the envoy will be accompanied by representatives from UN agencies, the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), and the UN Mine Action Service. read more

UN efforts to broaden availability of antiAIDS drugs gain momentum

Thanks to a UN initiative known as “Accelerating Access,” the number of patients who have access to the drugs – known as antiretrovirals – in countries that have negotiated agreements with pharmaceutical companies has increased over the past year and a half, UNAIDS said today. Prices of some antiretroviral drugs have been cut on average by 85 per cent in sub-Saharan African countries where agreements have been negotiated through the initiative.Fourteen States – including 10 in Africa – are part of the “Accelerating Access” process, while a total of 72 countries worldwide have indicated their interest in the effort.”This is just the beginning, but the results so far show that significant progress can be made in accelerating access to antiretrovirals in the countries that need it the most,” said Dr. Tomris Türmen, Executive Director in charge of HIV/AIDS at WHO. “The biggest challenge remains bringing broad based care and support, including antiretrovirals, to as many people as possible living with HIV/AIDS.””Accelerating Access” involves “fast track” support for developing countries that have formally indicated that they want UN assistance to expand access to HIV care, support and treatment. The initiative emerged out of a partnership between the United Nations and five pharmaceutical companies – Boehringer-Ingelheim, Bristol-Myers Squibb, F. Hoffmann – La Roche, GlaxoSmithKline, and Merck & Co., Inc. Other members of the industry have since signed on to the initiative.Dr. Türmen warned that the task ahead remains daunting. “With 95 per cent of the world’s 40 million HIV-infected people living in developing countries, better and faster access to care is essential,” he said. “The challenge now is to improve access to care, including treatments for opportunistic infections and antiretroviral therapy, in the hardest-hit regions of the world.” read more

UN health agency urges more funding to boost TB control in affected

Experts working with WHO estimate that the total cost for TB control worldwide is $1.2 billion every year. Three quarters of that total is already covered by countries, donors and other sources. The remaining $300 million each year is urgently needed if the targets are to be met by 2005.WHO’s World Health Assembly has set global targets of detecting 70 per cent of TB patients and successfully curing 85 per cent of these patients by 2005.”This is a race against time,” said Dr. J.W. Lee, Director of WHO’s STOP TB Department in Geneva. “Poor control practices in many countries and the TB/HIV co-epidemic mean that urgent action needs to be taken to control TB.””This funding gap is clearly identified and affordable,” he added. “If we are to meet these targets, we must act now.”According to WHO, the 22 countries worst hit by TB are: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Brazil, Cambodia, China, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Myanmar, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, the Philippines, the Russian Federation, South Africa, Tanzania, Thailand, Uganda, Viet Nam and Zimbabwe. read more

On Staff Day tribute paid to UN workers killed in the line

In remarks at a memorial ceremony outside UN Headquarters in New York, the Deputy Secretary-General noted that 57 peacekeepers and six civilian staff have been killed since Staff Day last year. “These numbers are grim reminder of the real and mortal danger faced by UN staff in the field, more than anyone else in the Organization,” she said. Ms. Fréchette said Secretary-General Kofi Annan was exploring the possibility of using the money from last year’s Nobel Peace Prize to establish a “United Nations Nobel Peace Prize Memorial Trust Fund” for the education of children of staff members who have lost their lives while working for the world body. In addition, she said the UN has taken important steps to strengthen its ability to protect field staff, including the establishment of a full-time UN Security Coordinator, as well as the adoptiion of a package of proposals to increase the number of personnel dedicated to staff security, improve their training and equipment and enhance the accountability of UN managers responsible for security-related decisions. In another address to mark Staff Day, the Deputy Secretary-General noted that this was a tense and troubled moment in world affairs, with the recent car bombing in Bali underscoring both “the degree to which the fight against terrorism has quickly become one of the main priorities of the United Nations, and the importance of international cooperation in that struggle.” Ms. Fréchette also stressed that Staff Day was a time to contemplate “our roles and responsibilities, and on how we can better respond to perennial and emerging challenges.” Any organization, whether local or multilateral, whether focused on a single issue or on the human condition, must deliver for its constituents, she said. “But the United Nations, as the repository for so much of humankind’s hopes for a peaceful, equitable global order, has a special responsibility to be strong and effective, and to keep pace with the times,” she said. The Deputy Secretary-General then went on to list some highlights of the Secretary-General’s report on UN reform, mentioning such changes as flexible working arrangements, new recruiting procedures and the establishment of a UN Ombudsman. “Together, they add up to a very different way of doing business,” she said. read more

UN inspections pick up pace in Iraq

Two teams of missile inspectors from the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) today visited separate locations involved in missile activity: the Saad General Company, owned by the Military Industrialization Corporation, and the Taji Fiberglass production plant. When last inspected in 1998, the fiberglass plant employed very few people, but now it has over 200 workers.The UNMOVIC biological team inspected the Institute for Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering within the Baghdad University complex at Al Jadiriya. “The Institute is engaged in training, teaching and research activities in biotechnology and genetic engineering,” UN spokesman Hiro Ueki explained. “The team completed full inspection of the whole building housing the Institute with the assistance of the Institute Director and the chiefs of two departments.”Inspectors then revisited the Al Amiryah Serum and Vaccine Institute in Baghdad to seek clarifications from the former Director of the Institute, according to the spokesman. The team took physical inventory of the Institute and took some samples.An UNMOVIC chemical team inspected the Al Nassir Al Atheen State Company, formerly known as Heavy Engineering State Company. “The team conducted rebaselining inspection, including changes that had occurred since 1998” when the UN probe was suspended, Mr. Ueki said. “The team inspected all the buildings and dual-purpose equipment at the site.”A team from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) visited three sites: the Hatteen State Company, the Iskanderya Foundry and the Iskanderya State Enterprises for Mechanical Industries. “Following discussions with the sites’ operators, the team took environmental samples, inspected the machine tools in the factories, and conducted a radiological survey of the sites,” Mr. Ueki said.Another IAEA team visited four sites: Al Qa Qaa, Mussayib Army Munitions Depot, Al Motaseem Factory, and the Hatteen Establishment’s testing range. According to the spokesman, these sites work as a unit in the Iraqi military armaments structure to produce and test munitions. Describing the Al Qa Qaa site in an interview with UN Radio, UNMOVIC spokesman Ewen Buchanan said Iraq had conducted much of its nuclear weapons programme there in the past. “It’s a large sprawling site with quite literally hundreds of buildings so its not particularly surprising that it would be subjected to fairly close investigation,” he said. read more

Security Council calls on Ethiopia Eritrea to cooperate with UN mission

In a statement to the press, Ambassador Munir Akram of Pakistan, which holds the Council Presidency for the month, said that during earlier consultations on the situation, the members of the 15-nation body had expressed concern at the restrictions both Ethiopia and Eritrea have placed on UN staff working in the frontier area. They were particularly concerned that Eritrea has retained restrictions on the movements of UN peacekeepers north of the Temporary Security Zone (TSZ), the buffer area between the two countries, and has closed the main supply rout to UNMEE troops in the western sector.He said Council members were also concerned that increased detention of UNMEE local staff has had a negative effect on the Mission’s effectiveness, and that recent public allegations by a senior Eritrean official in charge of cooperation with UNMEE may have a detrimental effect on the security of mission staff.The call for full cooperation with UNMEE reiterated the Council’s demand in a resolution unanimously adopted in March for Eritrea to remove “without preconditions” any and all restrictions on impediments to the mission’s work and to ensure full freedom of movement for its staff.Ambassador Akram also said Council members “viewed with disappointment” Ethiopia’s continued rejection of significant parts of the Ethiopia-Eritrea Boundary Commission’s (EEBC) decision, “which heightens and blocks completion of UNMEE’s mandate.””Members of the Council stressed that UNMEEE was established at the invitation of both parties, standing ready to help them in the implementation of the Algiers Agreements,” the Council President said. “They pointed out that the failure of Ethiopia to permit full demarcation to go forward as well as the continued and increasing restrictions of the work of UNMEE raised serious concerns about the long-term value of this mission.”The lack of progress in the implementation of the final and binding demarcation decision of the EEBC also deeply troubled Council members, Ambassador Akram said. They therefore reiterated the call on the parties to cooperate full and expeditiously with the Boundary Commission, and reiterated their support for the efforts of the Special Envoy to engage the parties with the objective of overcoming the current stalemate in the peace process. Video of President reading statement read more

UN observes World Press Freedom Day

With last year’s toll of journalists adding up to 56 killed, 19 missing and 124 jailed, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan today marked World Press Freedom Day by paying tribute “to those who have fallen victim to their calling.”“We salute the courage and dedication of journalists struggling against risk and outright brutality to exercise their right to seek and tell the truth. And we remind governments especially that the right to ‘seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media’ is enshrined in article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” he said.“Censorship, the suppression of information, intimidation and interference are a denial of democracy, an obstacle to development, and a threat to the security of all,” he added.He noted that the UN was focusing on “hate media,” using as the most recent examples radio in Rwanda and Côte d’Ivoire, where, as in other places, “the world has seen fanatical groups fill radio airwaves and television screens with incendiary messages designed to incite.”The third seminar of the UN Department of Public Information’s (DPI) “Unlearning Intolerance,” following seminars on anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, was reflecting on how the media could protect themselves “against fanning the flames of racism and xenophobia and, instead, promote tolerance and understanding,” Mr. Annan said.Press freedom would continue to play a central role in enlarging liberty for all and his recommendations, contained in the “In Larger Freedom” report on reforming and revitalizing the UN system, called for bold decisions by world leaders at their summit in September at UN Headquarters in New York, he said.The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), whose mandate is to promote the free flow of ideas, was observing the Day in Dakar, Senegal, with a conference looking at the media’s role in promoting good governance, freedom of information, human rights and good journalistic ethics.“UNESCO has decided to pay tribute to this critical role played by the media in promoting democracy and good governance by choosing ‘Media and Good Governance’ as the key theme for this year’s celebration,” UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura said.“Accurate and professional reporting is often the only recourse that society has to combat corruption,” he said. “Journalists need the support of the larger society to eliminate hindrances to accurate reporting. Furthermore, pledges to increase transparency and accountability in public administration must be backed up with laws granting full access to areas of information in the public interest.”Such a legal framework permits independent and pluralistic media to flourish and is a pre-condition of good governance, he said.In addition to journalists killed for exposing secrets about corruption and abuses of power, many receive death threats, and some are held hostage or tortured for doing their work, he said.“These acts are unconscionable not only because they violate the human rights of individuals but also because they poison the well-spring of good governance and democracy, namely, the flow of accurate and reliable information,” said Mr. Matsuura, who has issued a series of denunciations of violence against reporters.The UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize of $25,000 was won by Cheng Yizhong, the former editor of the Nanfang Dushi Bao (Southern Metropolis Daily). He was imprisoned for five months and has been barred from resuming his work after he published articles disclosing the 2003 SARS epidemic and death in a Guangzhou police station.As part of the observance of World Press Freedom Day, DPI released a list of 10 stories that have not been adequately covered, about half of them concerning or including African issues. read more