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Security Council Unanimously Endorses Formation Of Interim Iraqi Government Adopts resolution 1546 (2004) 1

A week after the formation of an interim government of Iraq, the United Nations Security Council on 8 June unanimously endorsed the new leadership and paved the way for Iraqis to assume "full responsibility and authority" for their country, including decisions on security matters, at the end of the month.

In a 15-0 vote, the Council adopted a resolution welcoming the end of the occupation of Iraq by 30 June and the dissolution of the United States-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) at that time, enabling Iraq to "reassert its full sovereignty."

Speaking to reporters after the Council action, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he believed the resolution was a "genuine expression" of the international community's will "to come together again after last year's divisions and to help the Iraqi people take charge of their own political destiny, in peace and freedom, under a sovereign government of their choosing."

The Council's text spelled out a "leading role" for the United Nations to help Iraq convene a national conference in July to select a Consultative Council, advise and support the new authorities on the process for holding elections, scheduled for January 2005, and promote national dialogue and consensus on the drafting of a new constitution.

In addition, Secretary-General Kofi Annan's yet-to-be named Special Representative and the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) were tasked with helping the Government develop civil and social services, coordinating reconstruction, development and humanitarian assistance, promoting the protection of human rights, and helping the authorities plan for a census.

On security matters, the Council, noting that the US-led multinational force (MNF) is in Iraq at the request of the incoming interim Government, decided that the Force's mandate could be reviewed or terminated  should the Iraqis ask, but will nonetheless expire once a permanent Government is constitutionally elected by the end of 2005.

The text welcomed recent letters from Prime Minister Ayad Allawi and US Secretary of State Colin Powell stating that arrangements are being put in place to establish a "security partnership" between the Iraqi Government, which will have command over Iraqi security forces, and the MNF and to ensure coordination between the two.

The Council also noted the intention of creating a separate force under the command of the MNF dedicated to providing security for the UN presence in Iraq, and called on countries to provide the necessary resources, including contributions to that force.

The resolution gave Iraqis authority over oil and gas revenues collected for the Development Fund for Iraq, although the International Advisory and Monitoring Board, with an Iraqi representative, will continue to audit the account.

 

Secretary-General Pledges UN Will Play Its Role In Iraq's Next Phase 2

Describing the Security Council's unanimous adoption of a resolution on Iraq as "a genuine expression of the will of the international community," Secretary-General Kofi Annan said on 8 June that he welcomed its passage and pledged the United Nations would play its part in the next phase of the country's transition from war and occupation.

In remarks to reporters at UN Headquarters in New York following the Council's adoption of Resolution 1546, the Secretary-General said it was important that the new Interim Government of Iraq had participated in the consultations before the vote.

"I very much welcome this. I think it is a good resolution in itself," he said, explaining it will help Iraqis to "take charge of their own political destiny, in peace and freedom, under a sovereign government of their choosing."

The resolution calls for Iraq to "reassert its full sovereignty" following the end of the occupation by 30 June and the dissolution of the United States-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) at the same time.

The text also recommends the UN play a "leading role" in: helping Iraq organize a conference in July to select a Consultative Council; advising on the process of holding elections, scheduled for January; and promoting national dialogue on the drafting of a new constitution.

Mr. Annan said the UN is having talks with several countries that are likely to contribute troops or resources to the multinational forces in Iraq to determine what kind of security UN staff will require when they return to Iraq. The resolution notes the intention of creating a separate force under the command of the multinational force dedicated to providing security for the UN presence in Iraq.

Stressing he wanted an environment that gives UN staff "reasonable mobility and flexibility" to do their work, he said the protection forces would be under one command.

"We are not asking for 100 per cent security or guarantee. We operate in the real world and we know there are risks, but there are certain limits that we have to impose on ourselves," he said.

The Secretary-General said he hopes to soon name his Special Representative who, together with the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), will have the job of spearheading the UN's future role in the country.

 

UN Human Rights Report Urges Steps To End Abuses in Iraq 3

A United Nations report on the human rights situation in Iraq released on 4 June documents alleged violations while recommending steps to prevent them from recurring.

The report notes the complexity of Iraq's situation, marked by the political transition, acts of terrorism, detainees reportedly suffering at the hands of occupation forces, as well as extensive loss of life among civilians.

On the positive side, "the Iraqi people have been relieved of the massive, systematic and institutionalized violations of human rights that took place under the preceding regime, and that they now have the prospect of arranging for their own democratic governance under the rule of law and in the spirit of international human rights norms," the Acting UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Betrand Ramcharan, says in an introduction to the 45-page document.

The report is based on a field visit by UN human rights experts who met in Amman with Iraqis from Baghdad, Basra, Erbil, Karbala, Mosul, Ramadi and Sulaymaniya.

In comments on the report, the United States authorities stated that they were "particularly concerned about these allegations which they considered extreme and inconsistent with other reports." They added that the charges would be investigated.

The report notes that leaders of the countries concerned have condemned rights violations and have pledged to bring those responsible to justice. "It is imperative that this be done, with accountability to the international community."

The report also calls for measures to prevent future abuses, and contains a series of recommendations to achieve this end, including the appointment of an international ombudsman on human rights and humanitarian law who could issue public reports on compliance by coalition forces with international norms of human rights.

The experts also stress the need to establish an Iraqi Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

On the broader context, the report calls for accountability for human rights in conflict situations and in the struggle against terrorism. "The letter and spirit of international human rights and humanitarian law must be upheld. It is an imperative duty on all involved."

 

UN Announces Establishment Of Iraq's Independent Electoral Commission 4

The head of the United Nations electoral team in Baghdad on 4 June announced the formation of Iraq's Independent Electoral Commission _ the autonomous body that will guide the country towards polling set for January 2005.

In making the announcement, Carina Perelli congratulated the Iraqi people "for having moved the process of transition and self-determination a step further in the road towards a democratic, sovereign and peaceful Iraq."

The Commission, she said, "is well balanced and represents the rich diversity of Iraq and its people." Those serving are Ibrahim Ali Ali, Abdelhussein Yaqoub Aziz Al-Hindawi, Hmdia Abbas Muhamad Al-Hussaini, Souad Mohammed Jalal Shalal Al-Jabouri, Izdin Mohammed Shafiq Al-Mohammdy, Farid Ayar Mikhail Ayar and Mustafa Safwat Rashid Ghafour Sidqi. The Chief Electoral Officer is Adil Mohammed Alwan Allami.

These individuals were chosen following a participatory and transparent process marked by nominations from any Iraqi wishing to suggest candidates.

Ms. Perelli explained that a one-time system to be used for elections to the National Assembly will employ proportional representation viewing the whole of Iraq as a single district.

"This system will allow voters to cast their vote wherever they are" from certified lists, she said. "The principles that guided the design were inclusivity and possibility for disperse communities of interest to accumulate their votes."

 

S-G Urges G-8 Leaders To Give Top Priority To Millennium Development Goals 5

Ahead of the upcoming meeting of the Group of Eight industrialized countries, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has urged the leaders of the so-called G-8 to give high priority in their national policies to a set of key development goals approved by world leaders four years ago at the Millennium Summit.

"Let me appeal to you to incorporate the MDGs [Millennium Development Goals] as an explicit priority in the programmes and policies of your Governments, and to do whatever you can to show that you are serious about them," the Secretary-General wrote in a letter to the G-8 summit that will be held in the United States from 8 to 10 June on Sea Island, Georgia.

The Millennium Development Goals, adopted unanimously by all UN Member States back in 2000, set out yardsticks for measuring development progress by 2015 in eight areas of global importance, including hunger, poverty and health.

Noting that four of the 15 years have already passed with "mixed results," the Secretary-General stressed that the goals could still be reached by almost every country _ "as long as it pushes through the necessary internal reforms and receives the necessary external support."

"We are running out of time, especially in sub-Saharan Africa," Mr. Annan wrote in the letter that was released at UN Headquarters in New York. Noting that the task of achieving the MDGs posed the greatest challenge in Africa, he said that trade, health and official development assistance (ODA) were the three areas where action was vital for the continent.

The Secretary-General emphasized the crucial importance of Goal Eight _ a global partnership between developed and developing countries _ for achieving the other seven targets. He also pointed out that reversing the spread of HIV/AIDS was a pre-requisite for attaining other goals in regions where the impact of AIDS and malaria was particularly severe, as in sub-Saharan Africa. Mr. Annan welcomed recent initiatives by Canada and United States to give developing countries easier access to affordable anti-retroviral therapies, but noted that in themselves those measures were "not enough."

 

S-G Remembers Leadership, Personal Warmth Of Former US President Reagan 6

Recalling the leadership and resolve in world affairs of Ronald Reagan as well as his personal warmth and humour, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said on 7 June that he was saddened to learn of the death of the former President of the United States.

In a statement by his spokesman, Fred Eckhard, Mr. Annan extended his condolences to Mr. Reagan's wife, Nancy, and to the Government and people of the United States. 

"President Reagan will be remembered for his leadership and resolve during a period of momentous change in world affairs, as well as for the warmth, grace and humour with which he conducted affairs of state," Mr. Annan said.

"The positive and optimistic attitude that he brought to ending long-standing conflicts led to historic agreements on the reduction of nuclear arms as well as advances in peace processes in different parts of the world."

 

S-G: US Leadership Based On Common Values And Universal Principles 7

Leaders of the United States over the last six decades have understood and demonstrated that true international leadership depends on common values and a shared view of the future, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said on 10 June in a commencement address to students at Harvard University.

Stressing the value of supporting multilateral institutions and international law, Mr. Annan said US power gains legitimacy and is more effective when it is deployed within that framework.

"Over 60 years, whenever this approach has been applied consistently, it has proved a winning formula," he said at the graduation ceremony, during which he was also presented with an honorary degree.

Describing the US as "a unique world power," the Secretary-General said it is exceptional because it "feels the need to frame its policies, and exercise its leadership, not just in the light of its own particular interests, but also with an eye to international interests, and universal principles."

He pointed to the US role after World War II in founding the UN, developing the Marshall Plan for the economic reconstruction of Western Europe and promoting decolonization as examples of when the US has worked in statesmanlike ways to craft a stable international order.

"This country is, inextricably and indispensably, a part of this successful international system, based on the primacy of the rule of law," he said.

But he said the willingness of US leaders to continue to follow these principles is in jeopardy because of the recent crises of collective security, global solidarity and cultural division and distrust.

While acknowledging that in the wake of the terrorist attacks against the US in September 2001, the world must deal aggressively with the threats of terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and rogue or dysfunctional states, Mr. Annan said that does not mean every country should have the right to use force unilaterally "simply because it thought there might be a threat."

The Secretary-General urged countries to take heed of his panel of eminent persons, which is studying how to make the UN more effective on questions of international security, when it issues its recommendations later this year.

Citing recent events in the Darfur region of western Sudan, he also said that collective security means the international community must not tolerate instances of massacres and other atrocities, as it did in Rwanda and Bosnia during the 1990s.

"The international community must insist that the Sudanese authorities immediately put their own house in order…Further delay could cost hundreds of thousands of lives," he warned.

Mr. Annan said the crisis of solidarity last year on how to deal with Iraq should not divert people from working together on tackling such problems as extreme poverty, HIV/AIDS and the lack of debt relief for poor countries.

"Unless we make those issues a priority now, we shall soon run out of time to achieve the Millennium [Development] Goals by 2015 _ which means that millions of people will die, prematurely and unnecessarily, because we failed to act in time," he said.

The Secretary-General also stressed that the world must fight against the rising tide of prejudice and intolerance between faiths and cultures.

"It is in times of fear and anger, even more than in times of peace and tranquility, that you need universal human rights, and a spirit of mutual respect," he said.

 

Sec-Gen: Civilians Still Bearing The Brunt Of War 8

Civilians continue to bear the brunt of armed conflicts, and sexual violence _ especially against women and girls _ is increasingly used as a weapon of war, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan says in a report released on 7 June.

In a report to the Security Council on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, Mr. Annan cites the wars in Sudan's Darfur region, Côte d'Ivoire, Iraq and Nepal as some of the worst examples where civilians have been suffering.

He warns that, since his last report 18 months ago, "the very fundamentals of international humanitarian law and human rights have been under great pressure, and there are concerns that counter-terrorism measures have not always complied with human rights obligations."

The report also examines some positive developments, including the improved treatment of civilians in countries recently emerging from conflict, such as Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and
Liberia.

It notes, however, that any significant progress in those countries has depended on the continuing presence and involvement of the international community.

Mr. Annan says there is "stark and disturbing evidence" of how much civilians are still suffering because of war, with "too many instances" of civilians being subjected to extreme violence or being denied humanitarian aid.

"Societies in conflict expect and deserve the fruits of peace, not merely an end to fighting," he states in the report.

In Darfur, for example, more than one million people have been displaced from their homes by the conflict there, while many others have been killed or raped and numerous villages have been destroyed.

In Côte d'Ivoire, there have been widespread cases of sexual violence, torture and murder, with ethnic communities often the target of campaigns of forced displacement.

Noting that rape is used as a weapon of itself or as a means to spread HIV/AIDS, he says the violence has been sustained by "a prevailing culture of impunity" for the perpetrators.

Mr. Annan stresses the importance of having a regional dimension to any measures to protect civilians, saying they are the most effective way to deal with cross-border issues such as human trafficking and the illegal flow of arms.

He urges the Security Council, and the rest of the UN family, to take a more systematic and empirical approach to studying the problem so that it can be better monitored and tackled.

Mr. Annan says it is vital that the UN sets out clear standards for the protection of civilians to make sure that they can be enforced and to help prevent countries that are undertaking peace processes from sliding back into conflict.

 

S-G: Advance UN Team Called For Ahead Of Expected Peace Mission In Southern Sudan 9

Secretary-General Kofi Annan on 8 June called for the deployment of an advance team in Sudan to prepare for a future United Nations peacekeeping mission as hopes rise of a comprehensive peace agreement to end the 21-year civil war in the south of Africa's biggest country.

In a report to the Security Council, Mr. Annan says the sheer size of Sudan _ it is about as large as the whole of Western Europe _ and its relative lack of infrastructure means it is important that staff go in as early as possible so they can handle the inevitably daunting logistical challenges.

The planned sectors in a UN peacekeeping mission in Sudan are each the size of Austria, Mr. Annan adds, explaining this will make the tasks of monitoring and verifying any peace deal extremely difficult.

According to the report, the future operation will face many tasks, including the coordination of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programmes for ex-combatants, the monitoring of ceasefire arrangements, the return of refugees and other humanitarian activities, the organization of elections and the destruction of landmines.

The Sudanese Government and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) are holding talks in Kenya to try to reach a full ceasefire and peace agreement. Mr. Annan says in his report that Khartoum and the SPLM/A "at long last…are poised to put an end to the long war."

Last month the two sides initialled three protocols aimed at ending the conflict, which has had a devastating impact on Sudan's south. More than two million people have been killed since the war began in 1983, 600,000 fled the country as refugees and another four million people have become internally displaced.

As the war in southern Sudan nears an end, however, a separate conflict in the Darfur region in the country's west _ which began early last year _ has been described recently by senior UN officials as the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

More than two million people from Darfur are either internally displaced or have escaped to neighbouring Chad because of the fighting between Government-backed militia and two rebel groups.

A UN human rights report found that Janjaweed militias, bands of Arab fighters recruited and armed by Khartoum, have committed atrocities against civilians such as murder, rape and the ransacking of villages.

In his report to the Council Mr. Annan says the parties to the conflict in southern Sudan must do all they can to bring an immediate halt to hostilities in Darfur. He also says the recent spate of violence around the town of Malakal in the Upper Nile region of southern Sudan must stop.

Outlining his plan to appoint a Special Representative and two Deputy Special Representatives soon to head up the peacekeeping mission, Mr. Annan stresses it is vital that the international community maintain solid support and investment for the peace process.

 

Côte d'Ivoire 10

For the peace process in Côte d'Ivoire to succeed, the West African country's leaders must give priority to the national interest over personal ambitions, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan says in his first report to the Security Council on peacebuilding there.

The United Nations cannot impose, let alone enforce, peace on the Ivorian people, nor can it protect them from themselves, he says in the report.

The political parties must "break the current vicious circle of recriminations, resume dialogue and resolve all outstanding issues on the basis of mutual respect and accommodation," he says.

Threats to the UN Operation in Côte d'Ivoire (UNOCI) from President Laurent Gbagbo's supporters "have been escalating, as have rumours that Prime Minister (Seydou) Diarra may resign, which would likely lead to a major confrontation between supporters of President Gbagbo and the opposition," Mr. Annan writes.

The only alternative to the 2003 Linas-Marcoussis peace agreement, which ended fierce fighting between the government and the opposition Forces Nouvelles, would be further confrontation, with the possibility of widespread violence, the report says.

"Political rhetoric and posturing, the lack of effective cooperation within the Government of National Reconciliation, deliberately restrictive interpretations of the Linas-Marcoussis Agreement and the de facto partition of the country, coupled with threats of recourse to violence, all constitute very dangerous ingredients that are not conducive to the implementation" of the accord, the report says.

Because of the political crisis, the country's gross domestic product contracted 7.4 per cent between 1999 and 2003, its patterns of trade have been disrupted and poverty has risen, but the government has been encouraged to revise its poverty reduction paper, based on wide-ranging consultations, it says.

The Security Council established UNOCI to support the peaceful settlement and assist with the elections scheduled for 2005.

 

No Basis For Active UN Role As Cyprus Standoff Continues, Security Council Told 11

Secretary-General Kofi Annan does not see any basis for resuming his active good offices on Cyprus now that it has missed its final chance to join the European Union as a united country, a senior United Nations adviser told the Security Council on 8 June.

On 24 April, Greek Cypriots rejected by a three-to-one margin a plan that would have created a United Cyprus Republic comprised of a Greek Cypriot constituent state and a Turkish Cypriot constituent state linked by a federal government. In a separate, simultaneous referendum, Turkish Cypriots approved the plan by a two-to-one vote.

"Throughout the effort, which began in late 1999, the goal has been to bring about a settlement through a decision of the people on each side," Alvaro de Soto, the Secretary-General's Special Adviser on Cyprus, said in his briefing to Council. Now that a decision has been made, it "must be respected."

He also pointed out that although Cyprus remained divided, a great deal had nevertheless been achieved through the negotiation effort. He called for building on this progress to keep alive the prospects of reconciliation and reunification in the future.

The Secretary-General has voiced hope that Greek Cypriots will reflect on the outcome of the process in the coming months. "We need to better understand the reasons for their strong rejection of the plan," Mr. de Soto said. "And we need to know how the Greek Cypriot side sees the way forward."

The Secretary-General has also welcomed the fact that the Turkish Cypriots, in approving the plan, unequivocally signalled their commitment to reunification. "This is more than a mere expression of goodwill for a solution to the Cyprus problem: the Turkish Cypriot people have clearly backed away from their search for separate sovereign statehood," Mr. de Soto said. "This is a fundamental turnabout in the direction taken by the Turkish Cypriot side for over two decades."

The Security Council, which had fully backed the Secretary-General's efforts, should play its part by giving "a strong lead to all States to cooperate both bilaterally and in international bodies to eliminate unnecessary restrictions and barriers that have the effect of isolating the Turkish Cypriots and impeding their development."

The envoy stressed that this was not meant to "afford recognition or to assist secession, but rather to promote reunification and reconciliation."

 

Middle East 12

The senior United Nations envoy for the Middle East, Terje Roed-Larsen, on 7 June welcomed the Israeli cabinet's decision to begin preparations for a withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank.

Mr. Roed-Larsen said he took positive note particularly of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's announcement that his intention is to evacuate all settlements in the Gaza Strip.

The international community, led by the Quartet, Mr. Roed-Larsen said, has repeatedly pledged its support to any Israeli plan that would lead to an end of the occupation of the Gaza Strip.

Last month, after meeting in New York, the Quartet of the UN, European Union, Russian Federation and United States issued a positive reaction to Prime Minister Sharon's plan, calling it a "rare moment of opportunity" and a possible restart to its Road Map peace plan for the Middle East.

That plan calls for a series of parallel and reciprocal steps by the Israelis and Palestinians leading to two states living side-by-side in peace by 2005.

* * *

Voicing concern about access for 60,000 Palestinian school students seeking to travel to key examination sites, 10 United Nations agencies issued a joint statement calling on the Israeli authorities to ease movement restrictions in the occupied territories.

7 June marks the start of the Tawjihi high school matriculation exams, which are considered key to the future of young Palestinian pupils.

"Failure to sit for these exams will result in forfeiting the entire school year," said David S. Bassiouni, UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) Special Representative in the West Bank and Gaza. "Students will not be able to study in universities and they will be forced to repeat their studies next year," he added.

Anders Fänge, Director of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) operations in the West Bank, agreed. "If these children are denied safe access to their examination sites, their whole future is undermined," he said.

Adding his voice, Khaled Abdelshafi, head of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) in Gaza, pointed out that Israel's recent incursions in Rafah have damaged the area's economy and infrastructure. "To add this restriction of preventing the school children from writing these exams to the already volatile equation will seriously stifle our efforts to attain human development in the area," he said. "It's like adding insult to injury."

Regular and safe access to schools has been an ongoing problem for many Palestinian children. A survey of UN-run schools showed a 16 per cent low-achievement rate, and an 11.5 per cent rate of fear and anxiety among school children.

The statement was issued by UNICEF, UNRWA, UNDP, World Food Programme (WFP), World Health Organization (WHO), Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian affairs (OCHA), UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

* * *

Senior United Nations officials on 7 June urged donors meeting in Geneva to financially support relief efforts aimed at helping millions of Palestine refugees.

Peter Hansen, Commissioner-General of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), hailed the two-day conference but said it should not be an end in itself. "It should instead act as a catalyst to prompt wider consequences in the years to come," he said.

"How diligently we follow up will be the real mark of our collective commitment to ensuring the Palestine refugees are not short-changed," he stressed.

In a message to the event, Secretary-General Kofi Annan called attention to the wider political context. "We meet at a difficult time in the Middle East," he said. "The Palestine refugees continue to struggle to cope with increased socio-economic hardship, and are grappling with painful uncertainty about the future."

He cited compelling statistics about the need for international support, noting that since September 2000, the number of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip who rely on UNRWA for food aid has increased almost ten-fold to 1.1 million from 130,000. In that same time period, the percentage of Palestinians living below the poverty line has tripled to 60 per cent from 20 per cent.

"As if this sharply growing distress was not enough, recent months have seen a deeply troubling upsurge in violence," he said. "Indeed, at times the conflict has appeared at risk of spiralling out of control, necessitating a clear response from the international community."

Thanks to UNRWA, he said, a Palestine refugee child born today is more likely than at any time in the past, and more likely than his or her non-refugee peers in the region, to survive infancy in good health.

But he warned that under-funding the Agency has resulted in over-crowded classrooms and clinics, and in decaying UNRWA infrastructure. "There is real concern that if these trends continue, the key human development strengths of the Palestine refugee population will begin to unravel," he observed.

Mr. Annan praised the resilience and commitment of the Palestine refugees, and appealed to all present to "reinforce the partnerships with UNRWA that you have so generously nurtured since 1950."

 

UN And Individual Countries Pledge To Never Desert Palestinian Refugees 13

The United Nations and the international community will not abandon the estimated four million Palestinian refugees scattered across the Middle East _ that was the vow by participants at the conclusion of a two-day (7-8 June) conference in Geneva about tackling the Palestinians' humanitarian needs.

During the meeting of countries and international organizations, delegates pledged to donate $10.5 million to help the Palestinians, with several other countries or regional groups also promising to give financial aid in the future.

They also agreed that special attention should be given to the needs and concerns of Palestinian children, saying they would improve the standard of school buildings and continue measures to boost health care.

The delegates stressed they would try to ensure a safe environment in areas where Palestinian refugees are living so that the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) can better deliver essential services.

Delegates also agreed to focus on several areas of reform in the years ahead: building greater respect for international humanitarian law, ensuring the freedom of movement for refugees, improving access to jobs, and increasing community development.

The conference was organized and hosted by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.

The countries and organizations that made pledges were Algeria, Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Spain, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) Fund for International Development. France, Norway, Sweden, the United States and the European Union said they would donate funds soon.

 

Gabon's Foreign Minister Elected President Of Next General Assembly Session 14

Foreign Minister Jean Ping of Gabon was elected on 10 June to preside over the fifty-ninth session of the United Nations General Assembly, which is scheduled to open on the 14 September.

All 191 UN Member States are represented in the Assembly, which, as the world body's main deliberative organ, tackles everything from broad security and development concerns to budgetary and administrative matters.

Following his election, Mr. Ping, who will succeed outgoing President Julian R. Hunte of St. Lucia, said the decision crowned Gabon's participation for some 50 years in the UN's noble mission to build a more caring world in which future generations would be freed from the ravages of war and underdevelopment.

Supporting the President this year will be Vice-Presidents from Algeria, Burkina Faso, Djibouti, Ghana, Zambia, Bangladesh, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Syria, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Antigua and Barbuda, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Australia and Belgium, the Assembly decided.

The five permanent members of the Security Council _ China, France, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States _ are automatically accorded seats as Vice-Presidents.

The Assembly's annual General Debate, which brings together presidents and prime ministers from across the globe, is scheduled to begin on 21 September. Nearly 75 national leaders have already confirmed their attendance.

 

UNEP Meeting Looks At Ways To Rid World Of Harmful Pollutants 15

Ridding the world of PCBs _ pollutants that can suppress the human immune system and could cause cancer _ was the focus of a two-day meeting sponsored by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) which wrapped up in Geneva on 10 June.

PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, have been used extensively in electrical equipment such as transformers and large capacitors in power lines and in additives in paint, carbonless copy paper and plastics. They are one of 12 highly toxic chemicals targeted for elimination by the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants that entered into force last month.

UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer said the financial and technical challenges of eliminating PCBs from the planet will require a "vigorous" public-private partnership. "While international donors and national governments will set priorities and invest tens of millions of dollars, commercial firms have the expertise and technologies to perform much of the actual clean-up work," he said.

Many hundreds of thousands of tons of PCBs have been commercially manufactured for some 75 years. Although production is now banned under the Stockholm treaty, PCBs continue to pose a risk to human health and the environment because of the wide array of PCB-containing electrical equipment still in service. Tons of wastes containing or contaminated by PCBs are also being held at temporary storage sites, particularly in developing countries, according to UNEP.

In addition, large quantities of PCBs have been discharged into soils, rivers and lakes over the years. Further releases continue to result due to accidents, the repair and decommissioning of equipment, the demolition of buildings and the continued existence of imperfectly sealed landfills and waste drums, the agency said.

The Convention, which entered into force on 17 May, gives governments until 2025 to phase out "in-place equipment" containing PCBs, as long as the equipment is maintained in a way that prevents leaks. It also grants another three years to ensure the environmentally sound management of PCB-contaminated wastes.

 

UNIC Observes World Environment Day 16

 

UNIC observed World Environment Day on this year's theme "Wanted! Seas and Oceans _ Dead or Alive?

l-r: Ms. Sonu Jain, Special Correspondent (Environment), Indian Express,
Dr. Harsh K. Gupta, Secretary, Dept. of Ocean Development, Mr. Feodor Starcevic, UNIC Director, Dr. Ashok Khosla, President, Development Alternatives and
Ms. Swayam Prabha Das, Coordinator, Oceans and Coasts Programme, Worldwide Fund for Nature-India.

 

ILO Reviews Migration Trends 17

Working to develop a new programme of action on worldwide migration, the United Nations International Labour Organization (ILO) on 4 June released an up-to-date report on related trends in 93 of its member states.

ILO Migration Survey 2003: Country Summaries says the number of migrants seeking work and security in foreign countries is expected to increase rapidly in the coming decades. Collectively, these people would comprise the world's fifth most populous country if they were grouped in a single political entity.

"In practically every region, the rising mobility of people in search of decent work and human security has been commanding the attention of policy-makers," says Manolo Abella, Chief of the ILO's International Migration Programme. "Migration is driven by differences and imbalances among countries and these differences have grown and not shrunk with globalization."

The report will be the basis for a general discussion on migration during the 92nd International Labour Conference which runs through 17 June in Geneva. It includes the latest information on migration trends, conditions, law and practice, its impact on recipient and donor countries while describing national experiences with regulating both migration and migrant employment.

The annual ILO conference debates global social and labour issues, oversees compliance with international labour standards and establishes the agency's budget.

 

UNHCR: Asylum-Seeker Numbers Fall Again In First Quarter Of 2004 18

The number of asylum-seekers reaching the world's developed countries fell again in the first three months of this year, continuing a downward trend documented over the past few years, according to new figures released on 4 June by the United Nations refugee agency.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said a "spectacular decline" in the number of Iraqis, Afghans and Russians _ who are overwhelmingly Chechens _ seeking asylum led the way for a global fall in asylum claims.

Between 1 January and 31 March this year, there were 92,679 applications for asylum in the industrialized world _ a 16 per cent drop on the previous quarter and more than 25 per cent below the same quarter last year. 

The latest data maintains a steady trend that began in 2002. Last year, asylum-seeker numbers had already fallen to their lowest levels since 1997.

UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond told a press briefing in Geneva that "this is the eighth quarter out of the last 10 during which the number of asylum applications has decreased."

Almost every one of the 29 countries measured by the UNHCR's Population Data Unit reported sharp falls from the last quarter of 2003, with Europe recording an overall slump of 18 per cent, North America down 8 per cent, and Australia and New Zealand sliding by 7 per cent.

France was the biggest recipient nation, with 15,739 claims during the three months. But this was still a 7 per cent decrease on the previous period.

The United Kingdom was the second greatest recipient, followed by Germany, the United States, Canada and Sweden.

Russians remained the largest group seeking asylum, with 7,508 claims made between January and March this year. However this was 26 per cent below the previous quarter's figure and the lowest amount in a year.

Iraqis and Afghans comprised the two biggest asylum groups in 2001 and 2002, but their numbers have dropped dramatically since then. The number of Iraqi asylum-seekers in the first quarter of 2004, for example, was 2,143 _ 81 per cent below the figure from the corresponding period last year.

 

WHO: Violence Creates Huge Economic Cost For Countries 19

Violence exacts a huge financial toll above and beyond the physical and emotional devastation it causes, with violence-related injuries costing some countries more than 4 per cent of their gross domestic product (GDP), a report issued on 9 June by the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) reveals.

The report, released on the final day of a four-day conference in Vienna devoted to injury prevention and safety promotion, found that at least 1.6 million people around the world die from violence every year, with millions of others injured or suffering from physical, sexual or mental health problems as a result.

Violence is the biggest cause of death among people between 15 and 44, accounting for 14 per cent of male deaths and 7 per cent of female deaths in that age bracket. The killers of males are usually strangers, but almost half of the women who die because of violence are killed by their current or former husbands or partners.

The WHO report focused on the economic costs to countries of violence from murder, sexual assault and violent injury, measuring the medical, legal, judicial and police costs as well as the indirect costs of lost productivity, psychological suffering and future criminality.

It found that Colombia and El Salvador spend 4.3 per cent of their GDP on health costs related to violence, while Brazil spends 1.9 per cent and Peru 1.5 per cent.

Industrialized countries also face high economic costs. In Australia, for example, workplace violence costs $837 million to the economy each year and $5,582 to employers for every victim. In one province of South Africa, Western Cape, homicides alone cost $30 million each year.

Sexual violence, especially involving children, also leads to high costs. Data from some countries suggests about 20 per cent of women and between 5 and 10 per cent of men were abused as children.

WHO said one study had indicated that child abuse costs the United States economy as much as $94 billion a year _ or about 1 per cent of its GDP. 

 

Threats To Cold-Water Coral Reefs Spotlighted On World Environment Day 20

Slow-growing cold-water corals are being damaged by heavy, deep sea fishing gear, waste disposal and oil and gas exploration and production, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) said on 4 June.

Cold-water corals grow slowly and build beautiful but fragile 3-dimensional lace work structures, which are particularly vulnerable to impacts. UNEP warned that some reefs in the East Atlantic have already been destroyed, and most others show scars from trawling. Other threats include the impact from the laying of cables and telecommunications links, UNEP said.

The new findings, with the theme "Wanted! Seas and Oceans: Dead or Alive?" have been in conjunction with World Environment Day, marked on 5 June.

UNEP appealed to the more than 40 countries with the coral reefs in their deep waters to safeguard them, noting that new submersible technologies have shown that they are much more widespread than formerly thought.

Until recently, cold-water corals were known largely in the northern hemisphere off Canada, the United Kingdom and the Nordic countries. The latest surveys, however, have detected cold-water coral reefs as far south as the Galapagos Islands, Angola, Brazil, Indonesia, Spain, Suriname and the Seychelles, UNEP said.

Some reefs, such as the individual ones on the continental shelves stretching from Norway to West Africa, when combined were far bigger than the more famous tropical ones, such as Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

 

FAO: More Countries Adopting Global Code On Responsible Fishing 21

More countries say they are fishing responsibly, altering their laws and practices to adhere to an international code of conduct on fishing, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) announced in a report issued on 8 June.

FAO said 52 of its Member States have reported changing their fisheries management plans to include provisions such as banning destructive practices, promoting the use of selective fishing gear and allowing depleted fish stocks to recover.

These provisions are part of the 1995 Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, endorsed by 170 countries, which sets non-binding standards for governments to protect marine flora and fauna and to conserve ocean ecosystems.

At least 50 countries said they have taken steps to ensure that when their ships operate in the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of other countries, they are properly authorized. They are also more closely monitoring the activities of ships in their own EEZs.

Ichiro Nomura, FAO Assistant Director-General and head of its Fisheries Department, said the changes reflect a growing worldwide recognition that taking care of the environment actually benefits the long-term health of the fishing industry. 

"Much remains to be done in order to ensure that fisheries worldwide are being conducted in a responsible and sustainable manner, but the indications are that countries and private industry are both starting to respond to over-exploitation and environmental concerns," he said.

Mr. Nomura said there is room for improvement on several fronts, particularly the setting of approved fishing catches based on the assessment of fish stocks.

He also said countries remain slow to adopt the provisions of four supplemental action plans to the code _ covering excess fishing capacity, illegal fishing, shark fisheries management and the accidental capture of seabirds.

Only six countries have formal plans about shark fishing, for example, although another 10 nations say they are close to finalizing their plans.

 

UNFPA Spotlights Problem Of Child Marriage 22

More than 100 million girls over the next decade will marry before their 18th birthday, including many aged as young as eight or nine, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) warned on 4 June at an international meeting in Washington on youth health.

Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, Executive Director of UNFPA, told the annual conference of the Global Health Council, host of the meeting Youth and Health: Generation on the Edge, that the issue of child marriage has been neglected in the global agenda.

"Married adolescents have been largely ignored in the development and health agenda because of the perception that their married status ensures them a safe passage to adulthood," she said, adding "nothing could be further from the truth." 

Ms. Obaid called for more initiatives to combat the incidence of child marriage, citing its deleterious effects on the health, education and social, economic and political growth of girls. She noted that child marriage is particularly entrenched culturally in many nations.

The UNFPA chief said the root causes of child marriage, such as poverty, discrimination against girls and the lack of education for girls, must be tackled. Paid jobs give girls "a degree of autonomy, mobility and freedom from traditional gender roles."

She called for public awareness campaigns in countries with a high prevalence of HIV/AIDS alerting girls of the increased infection risk resulting from marrying much older men.