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Mali: Security Council strongly condemns deadly attack on UN peacekeepers

INTERNATIONAL, 26 September 2017 – The United Nations Security Council has strongly condemned the attack by unknown assailants against a UN mission convoy in the region of Gao, northern Mali, on 24 September, that left three Bangladeshi peacekeepers dead and injured four others. 

Through a press statement, the Council expressed deepest condolences and sympathy to the families of the victims, the Government of Bangladesh and the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), according to a statement. 

Calling on the Malian Government to swiftly investigate the attack and bring the perpetrators to justice, Council members underlined that “attacks targeting peacekeepers may constitute war crimes under international law.” Moreover, they stressed that involvement in planning, directing, sponsoring or conducting attacks against MINUSMA peacekeepers constitute a basis for sanctions designations pursuant to Council resolutions. 

The members of the Council went on to reaffirm that terrorism in all its forms and manifestations constitutes one of the most serious threats to international peace and security, and underlined the need to bring perpetrators, organizers, financiers and sponsors of the reprehensible acts of terrorism to justice. 

Reiterating full support for MINUSMA and the French forces that support it, the Council also reiterated “strong support” for Mission chief Mahamat Saleh Annadif, and recognized the determination of the Group of Five Sahel States (G5) – Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger – to address the impact of terrorism and transnational organized crime, including through the conduct of cross-border joint military counter-terrorist operations. 

The Council members went on to express their concern over the security situation in Mali along with the transnational dimension of the terrorist threat in the Sahel region. They urged the Malian parties to fully implement the 2015 Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation without further delay, noting that its full implementation and the intensification of efforts to overcome asymmetric threats can contribute to improving the security situation across the country.

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Ongoing settlement activities undermining Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts, warns UN envoy

INTERNATIONAL, 25 September 2017 – Continuing settlement expansion, most notably in occupied East Jerusalem, is making the two-State solution increasingly unattainable and undermining Palestinian belief in the international peace efforts, a senior United Nations official told the Security Council today. 

“In addition to illegal settlements, the practice of demolishing Palestinian structures in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and displacing Palestinians undermines the prospects of peace,” said Nickolay Mladenov, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process. 

Briefing the 15-member body on the latest developments, Mr. Mladenov reported that since June, Israel’s illegal settlement activities have continued at a “high rate,” a consistent pattern over the course of this year. Activity during this period was concentrated primarily in occupied East Jerusalem, where plans were advanced for over 2,300 housing units in July, 30 per cent more than for the whole of 2016. 

The reporting period witnessed the eviction of a Palestinian family in Sheikh Jarrah, residents for over 50 years, after a protracted legal battle. The building is located in a section of the neighbourhood in which several settlement plans were among those promoted in July. 

“The United Nations considers all settlement activities to be illegal under international law and an impediment to peace,” the Special Coordinator stated. 

He went on to note that violence persisted as one of the main obstacles to resolving the conflict. Although the reporting period was characterized by relatively low levels of fatalities, a number of incidents occurred, resulting in the deaths of 19 Palestinians and eight Israelis. Settler-related violence and punitive demolitions of Palestinians homes by the Israeli authorities also continued. 

“Continued violence against civilians and incitement perpetuate mutual fear and suspicion, while impeding any efforts to bridge the gaps between the two sides,” said Mr. Mladenov. 

“I once again urge both Palestinians and Israelis to demonstrate their commitment to rejecting violence, inflammatory rhetoric and provocative actions.”

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New UN report details grave human rights violations in Crimea

INTERNATIONAL, 25 September 2017 – The human rights situation in Crimea has significantly deteriorated under Russian occupation, a United Nations report says, detailing how residents there were affected when Ukrainian laws were substituted by those of Russia, including the imposition of Russian citizenship. 

“Grave human rights violations, such as arbitrary arrests and detentions, enforced disappearances, ill-treatment and torture, and at least one extra-judicial execution were documented,” notes the report published today by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). 

“The citizenship issue has had a major impact on the lives of many residents of Crimea,” High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said in a press release. 

“As the report states, imposing citizenship on the inhabitants of an occupied territory can be equated to compelling them to swear allegiance to a power they may consider as hostile, which is forbidden under the Fourth Geneva Convention,” the High Commissioner added. 

The report reiterates that the imposition of Russian citizenship affected tens of thousands of people, particularly three groups: those who formally rejected citizenship; civil servants who had to renounce their Ukrainian citizenship or lose their jobs; and Crimean residents who did not meet the legal criteria for citizenship and became foreigners. 

Imposing citizenship on the inhabitants of an occupied territory can be equated to compelling them to swear allegiance to a power they may consider as hostile, which is forbidden under the Fourth Geneva Convention Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.

“Persons holding a residency permit and no Russian Federation citizenship do not enjoy equality before the law and are deprived of important rights,” the report says. “They cannot own agricultural land, vote and be elected, register a religious community, apply to hold a public meeting, hold positions in the public administration and re-register their private vehicle on the peninsula.” 

The report makes 20 recommendations to the Russian Government, urging it to respect “its obligations as an occupying power,” uphold human rights for all, and effectively investigate alleged torture, abductions and killings involving members of the security forces and Crimean self-defence.

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In Bangladesh, UN refugee chief warns influx of Rohingya outpaces capacities to respond

INTERNATIONAL, 25 September 2017 – The United Nations refugee chief today called for ramped-up support for an estimated 436,000 Rohingya refugees who have fled to Bangladesh from Myanmar in the last month, warning that the massive influx of people seeking safety far outpaces capacities to respond.

“Their situation remains desperate, and we risk a dramatic deterioration if aid is not rapidly stepped up,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said in a press release, following a visit yesterday to Kutupalong refugee camp and other areas along the Bangladesh-Myanmar border where people have made their own shelters on tiny slivers of land.

“Despite every effort by those on the ground, the massive influx of people seeking safety rapidly outpaced capacities to respond, and the situation has still not stabilised. More is needed, and fast, if we are to avoid further deterioration,” Mr. Grandi said.

UNHCR has now airlifted three planes loaded with relief items into the country, and is distributing emergency shelter kits, kitchen sets and solar lamps.

Its experts are working closely with the Government of Bangladesh to set up an organised site with water, sanitation and other facilities, and to register the new arrivals. Other international agencies and civil society partners are also on the ground.

Mr. Grandi arrived in Bangladesh on Saturday to see conditions for himself. He spoke with families living in the camp near Cox’s Bazar.

“They had seen villages burned down, families shot or hacked to death, women and girls brutalized. Many of the refugees said they would like to go home, but there needs to be an end to violence, and a restoration of rights inside Myanmar,” Mr. Grandi said.

“Solutions to this crisis lie within Myanmar. But for now, our immediate focus has to be to dramatically increase support to those who are so desperately in need,” Mr. Grandi said, stressing the importance of a proper registration system that could help ensure everyone is eventually able to exercise the right to return.

In the country’s capital, Dhaka, Mr. Grandi was scheduled to meet several senior officials, including the foreign minister as well as the ministers for home affairs and disaster management and relief.

Mr. Grandi thanked Bangladesh for keeping the border open. “In today’s world, that is something that cannot be taken for granted and should be appreciated.”

Meanwhile, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said yesterday that a consignment of its emergency suppliesfor hundreds of thousands of refugee Rohingya children and their families has arrived in Dhaka.

The cargo plane arrived from Copenhagen with 100 tons of supplies comprising water purifying tablets, family hygiene kits, sanitary materials, plastic tarpaulins, recreational kits for children and other items.

“Safe water for drinking and washing is absolutely essential in order to protect them against diarrhoea and other waterborne diseases,” said Edouard Beigbeder, UNICEF Representative in Bangladesh, warning that this is “a very real threat” especially amid the current heavy rains.

Other consignments – consisting of school bags, tents, early childhood development kits, family hygiene and dignity kits, tarpaulin and nutrition materials – were also on their way to Bangladesh.

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New lab will boost UN efforts to keep harmful insects at bay

CARIBBEAN, 25 September 2017 – The United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) today opened the doors of a new laboratory to help countries use a nuclear technique to keep harmful insects, such as mosquitoes and fruit flies, at bay.

The modern Insect Pest Control Laboratory (IPCL), located in Seibersdorf, Austria, will boost the Agency’s ability to assist Member States in applying the Sterile Insect Technique (SIT) to combat insect pests that spread disease and damage crops.

“With new and modern facilities, the IPCL will in future be able to do even more to help Member States control insect pests that endanger our crops, our livestock and our health,” IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano said during the inauguration ceremony.

The environmentally-safe SIT, a form of insect birth control, uses radiation to sterilize male insects, which are reared in large numbers and released in a target area to mate with wild females. Since they do not produce any offspring, the pest population is reduced over time, according to the Agency.

Along with additional space to train experts to support the transfer of SIT to countries, the new lab will facilitate research on the application of the technique for different insects, including mosquitos that transmit malaria, Zika and other diseases.

“The IPCL offers a very tangible example of the enormous practical benefits of nuclear science and technology,” noted Mr. Amano. 

Earlier this year, the IAEA, in partnership with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), assisted the Dominican Republic in using SIT to eradicate an outbreak of the Mediterranean fruit fly – one of the most damaging agricultural pests in the world that attacks several types of fruits and vegetables. 

Thanks to this assistance, the country was able to eradicate the fly within two years, and to regain access to export markets worth $42 million a year.

 
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Storm-ravaged Dominica in urgent need of food and water, finds UN assessment team

CARIBBEAN, 25 September 2017 – A United Nations disaster assessment official visiting the small island nation of Dominica, which was battered by Hurricane Maria, said today that an estimated 60,000 to 65,000 people, or 80 per cent of the total population, have been affected and that food and water are the most immediate needs. 

“There is a big, big urgency to get water and food,” said Sergio Da Silva, UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) team leader, who spoke to reporters in New York by phone from the ground, adding that inaccessibility to remote areas has made it difficult to ascertain just how many people have been affected.

“And when you fly over, you see all the trees are down…debris everywhere and people are homeless,” he added. 

Created in 1993, UNDAC is designed to help the UN and governments of disaster-affected countries during the first phase of a sudden-onset emergency. 

Maria made landfall on the tiny island of 72,000 on the evening of 18 September, with maximum sustained winds of nearly 160 miles per hour.

Mr. Silva said he has been in Dominica since Thursday, assisting in the coordination of incoming international relief.

Along with food and shelter, getting clean water is a priority, he said, as water in the river is not consumable. Work is also under way to restore hospitals.

Delivering humanitarian aid to remote villages remains a huge challenge as many roads were destroyed.

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Darfur: AU-UN mission urges restraint after clashes at camp for displaced persons

INTERNATIONAL, 22 September 2017 – The joint African Union-United Nations peacekeeping mission in Darfur today urged “the utmost restraint” by all parties after clashes between government forces and internally displaced persons at the Kalma camp led to the death of at least three IDPs and injuries to some 26 others.

“I call upon everyone involved in this situation to restore calm as soon as possible. A peaceful resolution of differences is the only way forward for the Darfuri people,” said Jeremiah Mamabolo, the Joint Special Representative and head of the AU-UN mission (UNAMID).

A medical team from UNAMID is currently at Kalma camp, located in South Darfur, to assist local authorities in treating the injured. The mission is also engaging with the state government and IDP leaders to peacefully resolve the issue.

The incident reportedly occurred after Sudanese Government forces dispersed a group of IDPs protesting against President Omar Al-Bashir’s visit to South Darfur.

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UN scales up response as number of Rohingya refugees fleeing Myanmar nears 500,000

INTERNATIONAL, 22 September 2017 – With the number of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar arriving in south-east Bangladesh edging towards half a million, United Nations agencies are stepping up delivery of life-saving aid to two official refugee camps, where the health concerns are quickly growing. 

At the request of Bangladeshi authorities, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is speeding up the distribution of plastic sheeting to get as many people as possible under at least minimal protection from monsoon rains and winds. 

“On Saturday, we plan to begin distribution of kitchen sets, sleeping mats, solar lamps and other essential relief items to an initial 3,500 families who have been selected by community leaders,” UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic told a press briefing in Geneva. 

Refugee volunteers and contractors are helping newly arriving refugees moving into emergency shelter, but it is vital that UNHCR site planners have the opportunity to lay out the new Kutupalong extension in an orderly way to adequately provide for sanitation and to make sure structures are erected on higher ground not prone to flooding. 

In total, more than 700,000 Rohingya refugees are now believed to be in Bangladesh; 420,000 of them have arrived in the past three and a half weeks. 

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi will be in Bangladesh this weekend to get a first-hand look at the scale of the crisis as well as UNHCR’s response, and meet with refugees. 

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) said that camps are bursting at the seams and there is a huge risk of disease.

“WHO is very concerned about the health situation on the border between Myanmar and Bangladesh, given the very crowded settlements, most of them spontaneous,” said Fadela Chaib, the agency’s spokesperson in Geneva. 

“It has been challenging to roll out the emergency response, not least because of the difficult terrain and the very heavy rains, and the fact that the population in question is dispersed, mobile and often injured,” she added.

Ms. Chaib said the greatest risk is related to water and sanitation, with poor conditions increasing the risk of vector- and water-borne diseases. Cholera, which is endemic in Bangladesh, cannot be ruled out. WHO has provided some 20,000 people with water purification tablets.

“Immunization rates among children is very low,” she said, explaining that when children are malnourished and exposed to the elements, the risk of childhood diseases such as measles are very high. 

WHO, together with other agencies, recently launched an immunization campaign against polio and measles. Owing to the poor weather conditions and the continuous influx of people, the campaign has been extended.

Around 40 WHO staff have been dispatched to Bangladesh, and the agency will deploy a team of epidemiologists over the weekend to support risk assessment for infectious diseases. 

For its part, the World Food Programme (WFP) has now reached at least 385,000 people with food aid as of today. Together with its partners, WFP feeds more than 5,000 people daily in the area. 

“The situation is dire and WFP is on the frontlines trying to reach people as quickly as possible,” spokesperson Bettina Luescher told reporters in Geneva. 

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Torture during interrogations not just wrong but also counterproductive – UN rights chief

INTERNATIONAL, 22 September 2017 – The torture and ill-treatment of persons suspected of crimes is not only “deeply wrong” but, from an interrogator's perspective, also counterproductive, the United Nations human rights chief said today at an event held in New York. 

“Abundant scientific and historical evidence demonstrates that the information yielded by people who are being subjected to violence is unreliable,” High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said at the event, entitled “Torture during Interrogations – Illegal, Immoral, and Ineffective.” 

The torture of detainees, who are captive and cannot defend themselves, also creates enormous rage among their larger communities, he added. “By feeding the desire for vengeance, torture produces more hatred and more violence.” 

Today’s event, organized by the High Commissioner’s Office (OHCHR) and held on the sidelines of the annual high-level segment of the General Assembly, sought to inform discussions among Member States about the development of standards and guidelines on investigative interviewing by police and other law enforcement agencies, with the aim of assisting States to meet their fundamental legal obligations to prevent torture and ill-treatment. 

Among the participants in the event were the lead investigative interviewer in the Anders Behring Breivik case in Norway, and a former NCIS Deputy Assistant Director for Counterterrorism from the United States. 

 “Officials required to enforce the law should not undermine the rule of law.”

The High Commissioner noted that people who are in police custody for a very broad range of reasons are frequently subjected to torture or other forms of ill-treatment. This is particularly true, he said, in the first hours and days after their arrest, when – although they should benefit from the presumption of innocence – suspects may have no access to legal assistance or independent medical examination, and have not been brought before a judge. 

“Alarmingly, in the past, some States have resorted to using psychologists to design brutal interrogation methods such as waterboarding, forcing detainees into small containers, forcing them to hold painful positions for hours or slamming them into flexible walls,” he stated. 

“Furthermore, conditions for detainees are often so squalid and inadequate that they may amount to torture or other forms of ill-treatment under the terms of the Convention against Torture. This is true even in numerous developed countries.” 

The High Commissioner cited the example of an allegation in which a pre-trial detainee in one of the richest countries in the world had died after prison guards cut off his water supply for seven days, to punish him for a violent outburst – leading to his death from dehydration. 

“These abuses should matter, very deeply, to every member of the community,” he said. “Not only do they violate the rights of the individuals concerned, they also corrode what should be the protective and principled function of every police force. 

“Officials required to enforce the law should not undermine the rule of law,” he continued. “If police break the law in pursuit of law enforcement, the message is one of capricious and abusive power. The institution which should protect the people becomes unmoored from principle; unresponsive to the law, it is a loose cannon. 

“This destruction of public trust is profoundly damaging. When added to the perception that police abuses and humiliation of specific communities is tolerated – based on economic, geographic, ethnic, religious or other distinctions – it will certainly exacerbate tensions and may lead to serious violence.

OHCHR is planning to co-create a Manual on Investigative Interviewing, with the UN’s Police Division, for use by UN police officers. The Convention against Torture Initiative and the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights are also preparing guidance on investigative interviewing that does not rely on threats and brutality.

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UN officials hail establishment of Technology Bank for world’s poorest nations

INTERNATIONAL, 22 September 2017 – United Nations officials today hailed the establishment of the Technology Bank for the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), which will go a long way in addressing one of the major challenges facing the world’s poorest nations. 

The Bank, to be headquartered in Gebze, Turkey, also marks the achievement of the first target of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, namely SDG 17.8. 

“This achievement is not only highly symbolic but also of great strategic importance to the LDCs in the overall achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals,” said Fekitamoeloa Katoa ‘Utoikamanu, the UN High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States. 

There are currently 47 countries on the list of LDCs, comprising more than 880 million people (about 12 per cent of world population), but accounting for less than 2 per cent of global GDP and about 1 per cent of the global trade in goods. 

“We must ensure that the LDCs are not yet again left behind,” Ms. ‘Utoikamanu told a press conference at UN Headquarters, stressing that access to technology, science and innovation are critical for this group of countries. 

The establishment of the Technology Bank was a priority under the Istanbul Programme of Action adopted in 2011, which represented the vision and strategy for the sustainable development of LDCs. Its importance was confirmed in the 2015 Addis Ababa Action Agenda, adopted at the Third International Conference on Financing for Development, and then again in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. 

The Bank is expected to broaden the application of science, technology and innovation in the world’s poorest countries. It will improve technology-related policies, facilitate technology transfer and enhance the integration of the LDCs into the global knowledge-based economy. 

It will also serve as a knowledge hub, connecting needs, resources and actors; facilitate the access of LDCs to existing technology-related projects; and foster joint initiatives with relevant organizations and the private sector. 

“We strongly believe that this Bank will help fill the technology gap and it will also speed up the structural transformation in the LDCs,” said Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavusoglu. 

With the signing of the host country and contribution agreements, the Turkish Government has committed to provide the Bank with $2 million annually for five years, and also provide personnel and premises in Gebze, which is located outside of Istanbul. It is also planning to implement joint projects with the Bank. 

Welcoming the signing of the agreements, Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed said: “We now have a collective responsibility to turn this tool into an effective mechanism for strengthening the science, technology and innovation capacities of LDCs. 

“I appeal to Member States and other stakeholders, including the private sector and foundations, to contribute generously to the financing of this Bank so it may reach its potential.”

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