Published Weekly by the United Nations Information Centre New Delhi

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4 September, 2004

 

Table Of Contents

 

Sec-Gen, UNICEF Call For Immediate Release Of Russian Hostages 1

United Nations officials on 1 September strongly condemned the hostage-taking of hundreds of people, including many children, at a school in southern Russia, with Secretary-General Kofi Annan calling for their immediate release and an end to "this criminal act directed against the most vulnerable members of society."

In a statement released by his spokesman in New York, Mr. Annan said he was "appalled" to learn that more than a hundred pupils were being held hostage at a secondary school in Beslan, Russian Federation, in an attack that has already resulted in deaths.

"He calls for the immediate release of the children, their parents and teachers, and condemns in the strongest terms this criminal act directed against the most vulnerable members of society," the statement added.

Also appealing for the immediate and unconditional release of the youngsters, UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director Carol Bellamy said their safety should be the paramount concern of all parties involved.

"Children must never be used for political purposes, and schools must never be degraded to places of violence," she added. "They must be preserved as safe havens for children to learn and play. If we don't respect the sanctity of childhood, then we have nothing."

 

Sec-Gen Appalled By Murder Of Twelve Nepalese Civilian Hostages In Iraq 2

Voicing his condemnation of the gruesome murder of a dozen Nepalese civilian hostages in Iraq, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said on 31 August that he was especially concerned by the cruel use of the killings as a public spectacle.

Mr. Annan was "appalled and dismayed" by the murders of the 12 men and offered his deepest sympathy and condolences to the families of the victims, according to a statement released by his spokesman at UN Headquarters in New York.

"The Secretary-General is particularly disturbed by the cruel nature of these crimes and their use as public spectacle," the spokesman's statement read.

Saying the taking of hostages or the killing of innocent civilians can never be justified, Mr. Annan called for all hostages in Iraq to be released immediately and appealed to all sides to show respect for human life.

 

UNESCO Chief Condemns Murder Of Journalist In Nepal 3

The head of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on 27 August condemned the murder of a Nepalese journalist by Maoist rebels as an affront to democracy and an attack on the whole of society.

Maoist rebels abducted Dakendra Raj Thapa, a reporter for state-owned Radio Nepal, on 26 June and killed him earlier this month, accusing him of spying. Mr. Thapa was alsoan advisor to the Dailekh district committee of the Human Rights and Peace Society's (HURPES), a Kathmandu-based human rights organization.

"I am gravely concerned by the conditions faced by journalists in Nepal and call on all the parties concerned to respect the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which enshrines press freedom and freedom of expression as a fundamental human right," UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura said.

"There can be no justification for the use of violence to muzzle journalists and prevent them from carrying out their professional duty," he added. "A free press is essential for democracy which is why attacking journalists is tantamount to attacking all members of a society."

The Committee to Protect Journalists, a United States-based non-governmental organization (NGO) dedicated to promoting press freedom, has counted 14 other reports of beating, harassment, imprisonment and abduction of journalists in Nepal this year alone.

 

Israel Bars Agency Head From Leaving Gaza In Unprecedented Ban On UN Mobility 4

Israel has barred the head of the main United Nations body for Palestinian refugees from leaving the Gaza Strip to perform his duties in the West Bank in what the agency on 1 September called a "flagrant" step and "unprecedented and serious development" in a security clampdown.

"It is unheard of for the executive head of a UN agency to have his freedom of movement flagrantly curtailed by a member state of the UN in this way," the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) said of the closing of the Erez crossing to the agency's Commissioner-General and UN Under-Secretary-General Peter Hansen.

"I fail to see any rational reason _ and we have not been offered any _ for this unacceptable disrespect for international law and just common decency," Mr. Hansen said of the closure, which Israel has attributed to the discovery of explosives on a Palestinian worker using the labourers' crossing point at Erez from Gaza to Israel. "The Agency's ability to carry out its essential humanitarian operations is being seriously undermined."

UNRWA stressed that Israel had refused to open the crossing to the UN, although Palestinians use an entirely different passage, UN staff have diplomatic visas issued by Israel and a UN-issued Laissez Passer, no international staff has ever been implicated in a security matter and no false Laissez Passer has ever been presented.

"As a signatory to the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations, and to specific agreements between UNRWA and Israel, the Government of Israel is again failing to live up to its obligations under international law and to allow freedom of movement for UN personnel," the Agency added.

UNRWA, established by the General Assembly in 1949 to carry out direct relief and works programmes for Palestinians after the first Israeli-Arab war, is today the main provider of basic services, including education, health, relief and social services, to over 4.1 million registered Palestinian refugees in the Middle East.

 

Sanctions On Al-Qaeda Must Be Upgraded Or Risk Irrelevancy, UN Panel Chief Says 5

With al-Qaeda-related terrorism posing as great a threat as ever, the head of the United Nations committee monitoring sanctions against the group on 30 August called for "pressing on the accelerator a lot more" to strengthen steps to cut off financing and prevent the terrorists from obtaining a dirty bomb or other means of mass destruction.

"We need to be ahead of the terrorists _ not behind them _ and they have had a great deal of flexibility to adapt to our sanctions," Chilean Ambassador Heraldo Muñoz, Chairman of a UN Security Council Committee monitoring sanctions against al-Qaeda and the Taliban, told a news conference in New York on a new report by the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team.

"We are at a critical juncture," he warned. "We either strengthen the sanctions regime that the UN Security Council has implemented or we risk those sanctions falling into irrelevancy."

The report recommended strengthening the sanctions, which were first imposed in response to the indictment of Osama bin Laden for the 1998 terrorist bombings of United States embassies in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam. Mr. Muñoz said his committee would pass the monitoring team's recommendations on to the Security Council for action.

"We need to press the accelerator a lot more. We did in January. We advanced a great deal," Mr. Muñoz said of earlier recommendations. "But I think we were too timid and I think this report underlines the need to go in the direction that nobody went, that nobody explored in January. We need definitely to have the Security Council make a pronouncement on these recommendations."

Among the team's proposals is the need to design effective measures to curb al-Qaeda's ability to construct non-conventional bombs to cause mass casualties, including chemical, biological or radioactive devices. The team said it would join with other international bodies to assess the availability of components or expertise for such weapons and make appropriate recommendations.

It also said it would make proposals to curb the flow of funding, which together with the arms embargo and a travel ban are among the major sanctions aimed at hamstringing al-Qaeda terrorists.

"Even though a great deal needs to be done, we want to win the struggle against terrorism, but we are far yet from achieving that goal," Mr. Muñoz said, adding that there was no other international body except the UN Security Council that is up to the task. "The best way to work is through concerted multilateral action," he declared.

 

Italian Major-General Named New UN Chief Military Observer In India-Pakistan 6

Secretary-General Kofi Annan on 30 August named Maj.-Gen. Guido Palmieri of Italy as Chief Military Observer in the United Nations Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP).

The 60-year old Major-General's extensive military career includes experience in South Asia, where he attended the Artillery Officers School and Command and 

Staff Colleges in Quetta, Pakistan. He subsequently served as Assistant Military Attaché in New Delhi, where he had the opportunity to meet UN observers stationed in Srinagar, where UNMOGIP is deployed.

He has held staff and command appointments up to the regiment level. Over the past decade, he has worked with NATO, where he was Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations in 1999 and Deputy Assistant Director of the Cooperation and Regional Security Division from 1999-2002.

UNMOGIP was deployed in January 1949 to supervise the ceasefire between India and Pakistan in the State of Jammu and Kashmir. Since renewed hostilities in 1971, the mission monitors the ceasefire called for by the Security Council.

 

Iraqi Officials Seek UN Help In Rehabilitating Najaf And Sadr City 7

Iraqi officials on 30 August sought United Nations help in rehabilitating urban areas hard-hit by recent clashes, including Najaf and Baghdad's Sadr city.

Iraq's Minister of Planning and Development, Mahdi al Hafez, relayed the request during a meeting with the Deputy UN Special Representative for Iraq, Ross Mountain, who arrived in Baghdad on 29 August.

Mr. al Hafez voiced appreciation for the level of coordination between the UN and Iraq, noting that many rehabilitation projects _ focusing on water, electricity, education and health _ are already receiving financial support from the UN Development Group Trust Fund for Iraq.

 

S-G Condemns Palestinian Attack In Israel; Calls For End To Heinous Crimes 8

The United Nations on 31 August strongly condemned the double deadly terrorist attack in the Israeli city of Beersheba, with Secretary-General Kofi Annan calling on the Palestinian Authority to do everything possible to bring the perpetrators to justice and "put an end to such heinous crimes."

In a statement released by his spokesman, Mr. Annan sent his deepest sympathy and condolences to the families of the victims of the attack that killed at least 15 people and wounded many more.

The Security Council was briefed by the Secretariat on the terrorist attacks and issued a press statement saying the members "strongly condemned these bombings that resulted in the loss of innocent lives."

The 15-member body also condemned all other acts of terrorism, "denounced the escalation of violence in the Middle East and called on all the parties for the continuation of the Middle East peace process," the Council President, Russian Ambassador Andrey Denisov, said.

 

UN Concerned For Palestinian Prisoners On Hunger Strike 9

More than a dozen United Nations institutions operating in the occupied Palestinian territories on 27 August voiced concern at a reported hunger strike by over 2,900 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel and reminded the country's authorities to comply with their obligations under international humanitarian law.

The UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Terje Roed-Larsen, urged Israel to make every effort to find, with the prisoners, an appropriate resolution to the hunger strike which the Palestinians launched to demand an end to inhuman conditions, including beatings and prolonged periods of solitary confinement. They are also seeking to secure family visits as well as access to adequate health care and medical treatment.

The UN agencies reminded Israel of its obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention, governing the protection of civilians in time of war, and other relevant human rights instruments providing for the protection of detainees and prisoners.

According to the Israeli Prison Service, more than 2,900 prisoners have joined the hunger strike that began on 15 August. The Palestinian Authority quotes a slightly higher figure. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross more than 8,000 prisoners are currently detained by Israel on security grounds. Of these, more than 90 are women and 360 are children, according to the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF).

Secretary-General Kofi Annan supported the statement and hopes that the matter will be resolved soon in a manner consistent with international humanitarian law, his spokesman said.

In New York earlier last week, the Bureau of the UN Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People said prisoners were routinely subjected to "inhumane conditions of incarceration, including arbitrary and indiscriminate beatings, humiliating strip searches, solitary confinement for excessive periods of time, and severe restrictions on family visits." It voiced particular distress at reports of continued use of torture and other forms of ill-treatment of the detainees.

 

Sec-Gen Voices Deep Concern At Weekend Series Of Deadly Bombings In Afghanistan 10

Noting the high death toll from the two explosions in Afghanistan over the last weekend, Secretary-General Kofi Annan on 30 August voiced his deep concern at the continuing violent attacks on the country's electoral process.

Ten people, including nine children, were reported killed after an explosion on 28 August tore through a religious school in Paktia province, southeast of the capital, Kabul. Then, at least nine people died following a car bombing in Kabul itself on 29 August, according to press reports.

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) also reported that a vehicle of the Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) was struck by an improvised explosive on 28 August in Nangarhar province, east of Kabul. No one was hurt in that attack.

Mr. Annan "is particularly troubled by the high toll of dead and wounded, including children," he said in a statement released by his spokesman at UN Headquarters in New York.

The Secretary-General urged the Afghan Government, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force for Afghanistan (ISAF), and the Coalition forces to take all necessary safety and security measures to protect people working towards the election process.

 

Millionth Afghan Refugee Returns Home From Iran In Landmark For UN 11

The United Nations refugee agency on 1 September marked a symbolic milestone with the return home of the one millionth Afghan from Iran since the start of voluntary repatriation to their war-ravaged country in April 2002, reducing by half the overall Afghan refugee population there.

"I remain concerned at the deterioration in the security situation in some regions (of Afghanistan), but today gives us all the opportunity to take stock of how much has been accomplished already," UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Ruud Lubbers said.

"Behind this figure there are 1 million individual stories, 1 million people who made the choice to go back, and are now rebuilding not just their own lives, but also their homeland," he added. If the current trend continues, UNHCR estimates that another 200,000 Afghans will have gone home by the time the voluntary repatriation programme is scheduled to end in March 2005.

More than 2.1 million Afghans have also returned home from Pakistan, the other major host country, since the start of the programme.

The millionth return from Iran comes towards the end of a summer season that has seen a marked increase in the repatriation trend. In recent weeks, up to 4,000 Afghans a day have made the journey home following the introduction of a series of new measures implemented by UNHCR to facilitate repatriation.

 

UNICEF Head Wraps Up Tibet Visit Aimed At Slashing Disparities With Rest Of China 12

UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) chief Carol Bellamy completed a two-day visit to Tibet as part of an effort to refine strategies to reduce the stark disparities that affect much of Western China.

"There has been much progress for women and children here, but there is still much work to do to catch up with the rest of China," Ms. Bellamy said on 31 August. "We need to strengthen preventive health and do a better job of packaging interventions like education, sanitation and hygiene," she added.

Although there has been significant progress in primary health care in the last decade, Tibet still has the highest maternal and child mortality rates in China. UNICEF has been working with local government in Tibet since 1980.

In the last decade, child and maternal death rates in Tibet have dropped by around half, reflecting enormous gains. Still, child mortality stands at 53 per 1,000 live births and maternal mortality is over 400 per 100,000 live births, up to eight times higher than the national rate.

The UNICEF China programme is mounting intensive efforts, in collaboration with local partners, to develop new strategies to tackle these disparities over the next five years.

Ms. Bellamy, who visited families, health clinics and elementary schools in Naidung and Chongjie counties and received an up-close look at issues faced at village level through numerous discussions 

with parents, health workers and teachers, called for expanding preventive health practices as opposed to relying on traditional treatments of disease.

Tibet and much of Western China lag behind the rest of the country in the use of iodized salt to combat iodine deficiency, a problem which reduces IQ by 10 to 15 points. Household usage of iodized salt in Tibet is 39 per cent while the rate for China as a whole is over 95 per cent.

"We are gratified to see how the Government has met the substantial challenges in basic education, but with the dramatic social changes coming to China time is running out to help Tibet and all the Western provinces to catch up," Ms. Bellamy said, summing up her visit.

 

ILO: Economic Insecurity Fosters World Full Of Anxiety And Anger 13

People in countries where income is protected report high levels of happiness, but about three quarters of the world's workers live in circumstances of economic insecurity that foster `a world full of anxiety and anger,' according to a new United Nations study published on 1 September.

Only 8 per cent of people _ fewer than one in 10 _ live in countries providing favourable economic security, according to the survey produced by the International Labour Organization (ILO). A socio-economic safety net, rather than income level, not only promotes personal well-being, happiness and tolerance but also benefits growth, development and social stability, it says.

"Unless we can make our societies more equal and the global economy more inclusive, very few will achieve economic 

security or decent work," ILO Director-General Juan Somavia said in connection with the study's release in Geneva.

The report marks the first attempt to measure global economic security as perceived by ordinary people and was based on detailed household and workplace surveys covering over 48,000 workers and more than 10,000 workplaces worldwide.

Survey results paint a mixed global picture, showing that some lower-income countries achieve higher levels of economic security than certain rich nations. South and South-East Asia have a greater share of global economic security _ 14 per cent _ than their share of world income _ 7 per cent. By contrast, Latin American States provide their citizens with less economic security.

Other key findings of the survey include: 

* The most important determinant of national happiness is the extent of income security, measured in terms of income protection and a low degree of income inequality.

* Employment security is diminishing almost everywhere, due to the informalization of economic activities, outsourcing and regulatory reforms.

* Job security _ defined as a position with good prospects of satisfying work and a career _ is weak in most countries.

* Women usually experience more employment insecurity on average than men and face more types of insecurity.

* Political democracy and civil liberties significantly increase economic security but economic growth has only a weak impact on security over the longer-term. 

 

On International Day Of The Disappeared UN Launches Call For Action 14`

Noting that the enforced disappearance of people around the globe continues unabated and is even growing in some countries, the United Nations on 30 August marked International Day of the Disappeared with an appeal to all governments to take preventive action and end impunity for the responsible security forces and armed bands.

The UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances expressed particular concern over the situation in Nepal, where the number of alleged disappearances has risen to 130 for the first half of 2004 as compared to 18 for all of 2003, Russia with more than 270 cases, and Colombia where more than 890 cases remain to be clarified.

In UN-administered Kosovo where some 3,000 people are missing in the wake of ethnic fighting between Serbs and Albanians, Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Special Representative Søren Jessen-Petersen called for the enhanced cooperation of every organisation.

"Where are they?" he asked in a message on the Day. "Far more should be done to shed light on the fate of missing persons. All those involved in issues relating to missing persons must speak with one voice to exert pressure at every level so that the process of identification is accelerated. It is clear that not enough is being done to ease the suffering of the affected families."

The Geneva-based Working Group noted that while in the past disappearances were mainly associated with the State policies of authoritarian regimes, they now occur in the context of much more complex situations of internal conflict generating violence, humanitarian crises, and human rights violations.

"The Working Group calls upon all governments to take action to prevent disappearances, and in particular to end the practice of secret detentions," it said in a message. "All governments must end impunity for security forces and armed bands who perpetrate disappearances, and must make every effort to discover the fate of disappeared persons, share that information with family and friends of the disappeared, and provide compensation in the case of death."

The Group was established by the UN Commission on Human Rights in 1980 to assist the relatives of disappeared persons in ascertaining their fate and whereabouts and to act as a channel for communication between the families and governments concerned.

 

UNHCR: Number Of Asylum Seekers In Industrialized Countries Plunges To 1987 Level 15

The average number of people seeking asylum each month in over two dozen industrialized countries has plummeted to a low point not seen in 17 years, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said on 31 August.

"The total number of claims in all 30 industrialized countries during the first six months of 2004 is 22 percent lower than during the first half of 2003," spokesman Rupert Colville told a press briefing in Geneva. "The monthly average for the first half of this year is at its lowest level since 1987."

France, the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and Austria were the top five countries of asylum during the period, he said. 

The 25 European countries included in the report received 147,340 claims during the first six months of this year, a drop of 18 per cent compared to the same period last year, Mr. Colville said.

Among the 20 EU member countries, the 14 older members of the European Union (EU) included in the report fell by 20 per cent compared to the same six-month period last year.

The six newer EU States, however, saw an increase of 31 per cent during the first six months of this year and together formed the only region to show a major increase during the second quarter of 2004, Mr. Colville said. Japan experienced an increase in both quarters.

In the second quarter, applications in Cyprus went up 90 per cent to 2,110, mainly from Bangladeshis who had entered the country on student visas. Slovakia's applications went up 52 per cent to over 3,800 and Poland's went up 34 per cent to 1,770. In all three cases the rise cancelled out much of the decreases of the previous quarter, he said.

Russians _ most believed to be Chechens _ were the largest group seeking asylum, with 7,310 during the second quarter, he said. People from Serbia and Montenegro were in second place, followed by Chinese, Turks and Indians.

The numbers of Afghans and Iraqis continued to decline, but less sharply than over most of the past year. The number of Somalis also fell heavily for the third quarter running, Mr. Colville said.

 

UN: Judiciary Must Guard Long-Held Principles In War On Terrorism 16

In the war against terrorism, the judiciary should not yield its long-accepted principles of safeguarding human rights to an executive using secrets to achieve unknown ends, the United Nations human rights chief said on 27 August.

Addressing the International Commission of Jurists in Berlin, Germany, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour said, "Put bluntly, the judiciary should not surrender its sober, long-term, principled analysis of issues to a call by the executive for extraordinary measures grounded in information that cannot be shared, to achieve results that cannot be measured."

The law that is capable of delivering justice and providing remedies for grievances is what must guide societies, not the laws like those of formerly apartheid South Africa "that regulated oppression and led to a horrific denial of dignity," she said.

In the long term, a commitment to human rights and the rule of law will be a key to success in countering terrorism, rather than an impediment, she said.

Although defining terrorism remains a problem, the December 2003 judgment of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in Prosecutor vs. Galiæ was a landmark. It added to the terrorist acts based on traditional war crimes against the civilian population some new offences drawn from the Financing of Terror Convention, Ms Arbour said.

These included terror-inducing "acts of violence directed against the civilian population or individual civilians not taking direct part in hostilities causing death or serious injury to body or health within the civilian population," she said.

Reviewing several relevant cases decided by courts around the world since the 11 September 2001 attack on the United States, Ms. Arbour said, "Terrorism casts a terrible, dark shadow over our world today."

Nonetheless, "it is incumbent on all of us to ensure that the prevention of terrorism is not pursued with a single-minded zeal that leads us to give up our freedom in exchange for our security," she said.

 

INTERNATIONAL LITERACY DAY 17

8 September 2004

Message of the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan

"The theme of this year's International Literacy Day, gender and literacy, highlights the obstacle of gender inequality in our work for literacy for all.

In this second year of the United Nations Literacy Decade, more than 500 million women make up the majority of adult illiterates around the world, while girls constitute the majority of children who are not in school. At the same time we know, from study after study, that there is no tool for development more effective than the education of girls and women. No other policy is as likely to raise economic productivity, lower infant and maternal mortality, improve nutrition, promote health — including the prevention of HIV/AIDS — and increase the chances of education for the next generation. For millions of women, literacy activities can offer a rare opportunity to learn a new vocabulary of possibility, opening up a new world beyond their immediate existence and that of their families. And what is true of families is true of communities — ultimately, indeed, of whole countries.

In other words, literacy is not only a goal in itself. It is a prerequisite for a healthy, just and prosperous world. It is a crucial tool in our work to translate into reality the Millennium Development Goals — adopted by all the world's governments as a blueprint for building a better world in the 21st century. Equally, literacy is a human right, as set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which spells out everyone's right to education. It is unconscionable that 20 per cent of the world's adult population are still denied that right.

There is no time to lose if we are to meet the goal agreed by the world's Governments to increase world literacy rates by 50 per cent by the year 2015. Although literacy campaigns have succeeded in increasing literacy worldwide, an enormous task lies ahead. That means we must go beyond efforts of the past, and apply lessons learnt from past mistakes. We must build on the most successful approaches we know — those based on community action which take into account local context and conditions. We must work in partnerships bringing together Governments, civil society, the United Nations family and other international organizations. And we must place the needs of learner communities — especially women — at the centre of our efforts.

The United Nations Literacy Decade gives us an opportunity to step up our commitment and investment. The cost of building a literate society is relatively low compared with the cost of failure, in terms of prosperity, health, security and justice. On this International Literacy Day, let us rededicate ourselves to our mission of literacy for all — women and men alike."

 

Rapporteur On Right To Education Appointed 18

A Costa Rican professor and adviser with a long record of advocating for the protection of human rights has been selected by the United Nations to serve as the world body's Special Rapporteur on the right to education.

The UN Commission on Human Rights, based in Geneva, announced on 30 August that it has appointed Vernor Muñoz Villalobos to the post _ which examines obstacles to the right to education and identifies ways to remove them _ initially until 2007.

Mr. Muñoz Villalobos, who currently works in the office of the Costa Rican Ombudsman, is a professor of civil rights at the Latina University of Costa Rica and a human rights adviser. The Commission said he also has a long history of integrating human rights issues into mainstream planning in the field of education.

In his new post, Mr. Muñoz Villalobos will be required to frame recommendations on how to promote and protect the right to education, gather and analyze information about its current state, and review how the right to education relates to other human rights.

Announcing the appointment, Commission Chairman Mike Smith also praised Mr. Muñoz Villalobos' predecessor, Katarina Tomasevski, who served in the position from its inauguration in 1998 until July this year.

 

Experts Call For More Women And Youth Participation In AIDS Vaccine Trials 19

With women at least twice as likely to become infected with HIV as men when exposed to the virus that causes AIDS _ and six times as vulnerable in parts of sub-Saharan Africa _ HIV vaccine clinical trials must be geared towards meeting their needs, the United Nations health agency said on 31 August.

"In spite of the epidemiological reality, women and adolescents, especially girls, have often had minimal involvement in clinical trials of HIV vaccines, as compared to men. This is in spite of the fact that they would be major beneficiaries of a future HIV vaccine," said Saladin Osmanov, Acting Coordinator of the HIV Vaccine Initiative of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).

Reasons women are not covered include their lack of empowerment and education as well as prevailing discrimination, according to a meeting of 40 international experts organized by WHO and UNAIDS in Lausanne, Switzerland, last week on vaccine research for the epidemic which infects 5 million people and kills 3 million every year.

Pregnancy and the potential effects of a candidate vaccine on a foetus, and stigma associated with high-risk behaviour also play a role.

"We have identified measures aimed at rectifying the injustice stemming from the frequent exclusion or low participation of women and adolescents in HIV vaccine clinical trials," Ruth Macklin, co-Chair of the meeting and a bioethics professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, told the gathering convened to address issues of gender, age and race in HIV vaccine-related research and clinical trials.

"Clinical trial enrolment needs to be more inclusive, so the benefits of research are more fairly distributed," she added. Girls and young women aged 15-24 make up 62 per cent of young people in developing countries living with HIV or AIDS.

Recommendations included choosing trial sites with enrolments that include appropriate numbers of people from different sub-groups and trying to better understand the barriers that have prevented wider participation.

"Women and girls are particularly vulnerable to HIV infection for biological, social and economic reasons," Catherine Hankins, Chief Scientific Advisor at UNAIDS told the meeting. Youth and young adults are also at high risk for HIV. About half of new HIV infections in the developing world occur among 15 to 24 year olds.

More than 30 promising new candidate HIV vaccines are currently being tested in 19 countries, double the number of four years ago. While there has been a lack of incentive by the private sector to engage in product development, in June the Group of Eight (G-8) leading industrial countries endorsed a global plan to accelerate the effort.

 

UNFPA Urges Donors To Make Good On Reproductive Health Pledges 20

Developing countries have made tremendous strides in improving reproductive health and tackling women's rights issues, but rich nations have only paid a little more than half of the $6.1 billion they pledged for these goals a decade ago at a watershed United Nations population conference, a senior United Nations official said on 31 August.

Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, the Executive Director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), made her comments in an address to "Countdown 2015," a global round table discussion in London organized by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to mark the 10th anniversary of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD).

Countries incorporated the ICPD Programme of Action into their national policies, and have reconfirmed their commitment to it in regional meetings, but "they are hampered by inadequate support from rich nations," she said.

Ms. Obaid told a subsequent news conference that a recent UNFPA survey answered by 169 governments showed that most have taken steps since 1994 to empower women and address key reproductive health concerns.

"But it also showed that much more needs to be done to improve maternal health, slow the spread of HIV/AIDS and ensure adequate supplies of essential contraceptive commodities," she said.

The donors' share of funding for contraceptive supplies, plus condoms for the prevention of HIV/AIDS infection, has declined by one-third since 1994, but the need for such commodities will grow 40 per cent by 2015, she said. Meanwhile, UNFPA has collected $3.1 billion of the $6.1 million pledged.

"In 2004, it is a crime that women still die because they are having babies," Ms. Obaid added, referring to the persistence of high maternal death rates in many developing countries, especially among poor and young women. 

 

UN And Brazil Join Forces To Boost Poor Nations' Technical Ability To Fight AIDS 21

Introducing a new weapon in the global arsenal against AIDS, the United Nations and Brazil have joined forces to reinforce the technical capacity of developing countries to fight a pandemic that kills nearly 16,500 people worldwide every day.

The agreement provides for multilateral accords between the joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), the Brazilian Government and other developing countries and includes setting up an International Centre for Technical Cooperation on AIDS based in Brazil.

"The new initiative will give other countries the necessary tools to effectively fight AIDS, now that financing is greatly increasing," UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot said in the Brazilian capital Brasilia on 1 September. "Making this money work is now a priority. We urgently need to identify new ways for countries to build technical capacity to tackle the epidemic, the largest human development crisis in history."

The new centre will initially be funded by UNAIDS and the Brazilian Government. Additional resources will be raised through the private sector and international foundations.

 

UNICEF Calls On Southeast Asia To Redouble Efforts To Halt Child Landmine Deaths 22

With landmines and other unexploded ordnance (UXO) continuing indiscriminately to maim and kill children across Southeast Asia, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) is calling on regional governments to redouble their efforts to clean up the devastating waste from decades of war.

"Children are particularly vulnerable to landmines and UXO," senior UNICEF official Patrick Hennessy told a three-day Regional Workshop on Mine Clearance and Victim Assistance in Southeast Asia, which opened on 30 August in Bangkok, Thailand.

"They like to explore, they like to play with objects they find and they cannot read signs warning them of danger. Children also frequently undertake household tasks that involve going near or through mine-affected areas. In Viet Nam, they account for half of all mine-related injuries and one-third of all deaths," he added.

The region contains some of the most heavily mined countries in the world. Landmines and UXO are a danger to children in nearly half of all villages in Cambodia and nearly one-quarter of all villages in Laos. Up to 800,000 tons of UXO and 3.5 million landmines still cover Viet Nam, where over 100,000 people have been killed or injured since 1975.

The effect on children is particularly vicious. Some 85 per cent of youngsters who step on landmines die before they reach hospital. Those who survive are often denied their basic rights. They are excluded from school and left with little chance to marry, find work or contribute to their families and societies. Rehabilitation clinics are often too far away or too expensive to access, although children need more care than adults. As they grow, new prostheses need to be fitted regularly, and a child survivor may have to undergo several amputations, since bone grows more quickly than surrounding tissue.

The workshop is being hosted by the Thai Government as part of preparations for the First World Summit on Landmines in Nairobi, Kenya, from 29 November to 3 December, which will focus on clearing/marking mined areas, educating people at risk, destroying stockpiles, providing assistance to landmine victims and universalizing ratification of the Mine Ban Treaty, already ratified by 141 states.

Conflict-related injuries represent the fourth leading cause of all fatal injuries worldwide. Twenty countries are attending the workshop: Afghanistan, Australia, Austria, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Canada, China, Indonesia, Japan, Kenya, Laos, Malaysia, Mozambique, Myanmar, Norway, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, the United States and Viet Nam.