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UN rights experts urge Saudi Arabia to immediately halt child executions

INTERNATIONAL – A group of independent United Nations human rights experts today urged the Saudi Arabian Government to stop the imminent execution of Ali Mohammed al-Nimr, convicted for a crime he allegedly committed as a child.

According to a press release, Mr. al-Nimr, then a high school student, was arrested in 2012 when he was 17 by the Saudi authorities for his reported participation in ‘Arab Spring’ protests in Qatif, Eastern Province. The Specialized Criminal Court in May 2015 sentenced him to death for joining a criminal group and attacking police officers. He was reportedly subjected to torture and ill treatment by the General Investigation Directorate which forced him to confess the charges against him.

“Confessions obtained under torture are unacceptable and cannot be used as evidence before court. Any judgment imposing the death penalty upon persons who were children at the time of the offence, and their execution, are incompatible with Saudi Arabia’s international obligations,” said the Special Rapporteurs, while recalling the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Saudi Arabia is a party.

As per the news release, Mr. al-Nimr’s appeal made by his lawyer was heard without prior notification and the proceedings fell short of international standards.

“Mr. al-Nimr did not receive a fair trial and his lawyer was not allowed to properly assist him and was prevented from accessing the case file. International law, accepted as binding by Saudi Arabia, provides that capital punishment may only be imposed following trials that comply with the most stringent requirements of fair trial and due process, or could otherwise be considered an arbitrary execution,” said the experts.

The Special Rapporteurs also asked the Saudi authorities to “ensure a fair retrial of Ali Mohammed al-Nimr and to immediately halt the scheduled execution.”

Two other individuals are at risk of an imminent execution after being arrested for their participation in Qatif when they were children.

“We urge the Saudi authorities to establish a moratorium on the use of the death penalty, halt executions of persons convicted who were children at the time of the offence, and ensure a prompt and impartial investigation into all alleged acts of torture,” urged the human rights experts.

Independent experts or special rapporteurs are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.


UN agency warns European leaders of ‘last opportunity’ for response to refugee crisis

INTERNATIONAL – European Union leaders are meeting in Brussels today and tomorrow to discuss the ongoing refugee and migration crisis, in what the United Nations cautioned may be the last chance to create a coherent response to end the suffering and exploitation of refuges and migrants.

“This is a crisis of political will combined with lack of European unity that is resulting in management mayhem,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres.

“When in 1956, 200,000 Hungarians fled to Austria and Yugoslavia, not only were people properly received, but a relocation programme was quickly put into place and 140,000 people were relocated to other countries,” he noted.

“What was possible then should be possible now. Tomorrow’s EU Council meeting is absolutely crucial to overcome Europe’s divisions and create needed political commitment and momentum.”

The Office of the High Commissioner (UNHCR) has urged that the creation of 120,000 additional places for refugees be approved this week. It also noted that the refugee relocation programme cannot be implemented properly without adequate reception facilities in countries where refugees are entering Europe.

On average, 6,000 people arrive in Europe each day, and many tens of thousands are likely to require assistance at any given time.

In addition to the relocation programme, UNHCR has proposed a number of measures to help Europe resolve the crisis, including strong European support for the immediate creation of facilities in Greece to receive, assist, register and screen refugees arriving by sea. Similar facilities may also be required in Serbia or other EU countries.

It also called for the commencement of the relocation of 40,000 refugees to participating EU countries, as previously agreed, to be expanded with voluntary pledges by EU States for an additional 120,000 places, a figure UNCHR notes will likely increase in the future.

Measures are also needed to provide additional humanitarian funding and structural support to countries hosting refugee populations, including an increase in opportunities for Syrian refugees to access legal channels to the EU, including enhanced resettlement and humanitarian admission, family reunification and humanitarian and student visas.

UNHCR also noted the need to strengthen the mechanisms for the humane return of people not in need of international protection using the search-and-rescue operation FRONTEX.

Only a united European emergency response can address the present refugee and migration crisis, cautioned UNHCR, noting that Europe can no longer afford to continue with a disjointed approach that creates “chaos and desperation” among thousands of refugees.

“This may be the last opportunity for a coherent European response to manage a crisis that is increasing suffering and exploitation of refugees and migrants and tension between countries,” the agency stated.


UNICEF and Goodwill Ambassador Shakira urge leaders to join early childhood revolution

INTERNATIONAL – The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and its Goodwill Ambassador and international pop star Shakira urged global leaders today to invest heavily in early childhood development in the wake of new science that is creating a revolutionary shift in understanding the lasting effects of deprivation and stress on the developing brains of young children.

“More than 100 million children are out of school and 159 million boys and girls under five are physically and cognitively stunted due to a lack of care and proper nutrition,” said Shakira, who joined Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake and the Director of the Harvard University Center on the Developing Child, Dr. Jack P. Shonkoff at an event at UN Headquarters in New York.

“Every year that passes without us making significant investment in early childhood development and initiatives that address these issues, millions of kids will be born into the same cycle of poverty and lack of opportunity,” she added.

According to UNICEF, brain development is most intense during early childhood, with nearly 1,000 neural connections happening every second. These early synaptic connections form the basis of a child’s health and wellbeing, including the lifelong capacity to learn, adapt to change, and handle adversity.

Yet nearly one-third of all children under five years of age in lower- and middle-income countries are reportedly growing up in environments and situations that can interfere with this period of rapid growth and development.

Meanwhile, new scientific research shows that the developing brains of young children are as affected by environmental factors as they are by genetics. Inadequate nutrition, lack of stimulation, and toxic stress all can have a negative impact on brain development.

But it also shows that early, cost-effective interventions, such as encouraging breast feeding, or reading and playing with young children, as well as formal early education programmes, all support healthier brain development.

“What this new science is telling us is that literally, early experiences are kind of built into the body,” Dr. Shonkoff explained during a press conference on the issue. “They literally affect the development of the circuits of the brain, they affect the immune system’s development, they affect the development of the cardiovascular system, and so […] it’s a new opportunity to think about what we might do differently to protect children from the long-term consequences of that.”

UNICEF says these findings have significant implications for children growing up in extreme poverty, exposed to domestic violence, or in countries affected by conflict and other crises. In addition, these effects on the developing brain can actually alter the expression of genes, potentially affecting the next generation.

“What we are learning about all the elements that affect a child’s brain – whether her body is well nourished, whether her mind is stimulated, whether she is protected from violence – must change the way we think about early childhood development, and how we act,” said Mr. Lake.

“To give every child a fair chance in life, we need to invest early, invest equitably, and invest smartly – not only in education, but in health, in nutrition, and in protection.”

Evidence increasingly points to investment in early childhood as one of the most cost-effective ways to achieve sustainable development. A study on increasing pre-school enrolment in 73 countries found higher future wages of $6 - $17 per dollar invested, indicating potential long-term benefits ranging from $11 to $34 billion.

The event preludes this week’s adoption of the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which will officially include early childhood development as part of the transformative agenda for 2015 and beyond.

UNICEF is highlighting that early childhood development provides a natural link between the new global goals, producing a multiplier effect that can help address poverty, improve health and nutrition, promote gender equality, and reduce violence.

The Secretary-General shared a similar message, underlining that investing in early childhood development “does not just benefit children, it benefits societies.”

“We all have a shared responsibility to build this movement,” he said. “Today I ask you to make this call your own. Use your influence to make early childhood development a public priority.”

He urged the global community to make a commitment to Generation 2015, to give all the children born this year the best start in life.


Concerned by escalating violence in Burkina Faso, Ban urges respect for all citizens

INTERNATIONAL – United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is following with “great concern” the situation in Burkina Faso, and today called upon the country’s defence and security forces to avoid at all costs an escalation of violence and to ensure the respect for physical security and human rights of all Burkinabé citizens.

Mr. Ban also reiterated his call for “a swift resumption of the transition process to enable Burkina Faso’s return to constitutional order with the holding of presidential and legislative elections in accordance with the Constitution and the Transitional Charter,” Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric told reporters today during the regular briefing at UN Headquarters.

President Michel Kafando, Prime Minister Yacouba Isaac Zida and several Government ministers were detained last Wednesday and later released by elements of the Presidential Guard.

Meanwhile, as the Secretary-General follows the ongoing regional mediation efforts towards the resolution of the crisis, his Special Representative for West Africa, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, is coordinating with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union and other international partners to support and safeguard the transition in the country.


Ahead of sustainability summit, ‘Global Goals’ will light up UN Secretariat building in New York

INTERNATIONAL – The United Nations Secretariat Building in New York will be illuminated this evening with massive projections relating to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) ahead of the three-day special UN summit beginning on Friday.

“Starting at 7:30 p.m. until 10 p.m., we expect to illuminate the building with [images] relating to the Sustainable Development Goals, as well as images related to the 70th anniversary of the United Nations,” Under-Secretary-General for Public Information Cristina Gallach told reporters at a press conference, noting that filmmaker Richard Curtis produced the project.

The projections were developed in collaboration with the Global Goals campaign and 59 Productions. The filmed footage will be edited into a four-minute film to be shown at the Global Citizen Festival on 26 September and broadcast around the world as part of international coverage of the event.

The Global Goals campaign – funded by Mr. Curtis and launched at UN Headquarters earlier this month – aims to reach 7 billion people in seven days with news of the Global Goals for Sustainable Development.

“We think it’s going to be a moment to raise awareness, so [its] the right thing to do just a few days before the summit,” she added.

More than 150 world leaders are expected at UN Headquarters to formally adopt at a three-day summit that begins Friday 25 September, an ambitious new sustainable development agenda. It will serve as the launch pad for action by the international community and by national governments to promote shared prosperity and well-being for all over the next 15 years.

Agreed by the 193 Member States of the UN, the new framework, Transforming Our World: 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, consists of a Declaration, 17 Sustainable Development Goals and 169 targets, a section on means of implementation and renewed global partnership, and a framework for review and follow-up.

Also speaking at the press conference was Amina J. Mohammed, Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Post-2015 Development Planning, who described the agreement as “really meaningful.”

“It’s universal so it applies to everyone,’ she explained. “We will no longer have a North-South conversation about what the North is doing for the South, but what we are doing for each other. Clearly anything that happens anywhere in this world has that fallout in many other places – from the global financial crisis to conflict and migration, we feel it everywhere – to natural disasters and climate change.”

The agenda builds on the successful outcome of the Conference on Financing for Development that recently concluded in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and is expected to positively affect the negotiations on a new meaningful and universal climate agreement in Paris this December.

Its adoption on Friday will be preceded by an address to the General Assembly by Pope Francis. Shortly after he departs, a special video will be projected in the Hall.

Performances are also expected by international pop stars and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassadors Shakira and Angélique Kidjo. Malala Yousafzai will then share a message alongside 193 young people representatives from all UN Member States. The summit will then officially open.

Once the goals are adopted, Ms. Gallach said, every goal will be read out by a group of different people – female presidents, young children, celebrities and other individuals.


No country has yet achieved equality between men and women – UN human rights chief

INTERNATIONAL – The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said today that no country to date has achieved full equality between the sexes and urged the 47 members of the Human Rights Council “to do better than our societies” and make a real difference in achieving gender parity.

“Very frequently, we see a preponderance of women experts on panels that discuss issues specific to women and children – as if such issues could not be of deep concern to men,” Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said in his opening remarks to a panel discussion on gender equality held by the Council in Geneva.

“Conversely, discussions on situations of armed conflict, on counter-terrorism, on sanctions regimes, and on the death penalty almost seem as though they are reserved for men,” he noted.

The High Commissioner said “the lack of gender parity in UN human rights bodies may indeed be symptomatic of the under-representation of women in Member States,” adding that “we need to do better than our societies.”

He spoke of the importance of “visible equality.”

“Girls may stay away from computer technology or engineering because beating the boys in maths is seen as somehow ‘unfeminine,’” he noted, and “girls who grow up seeing only male presidents or ambassadors may develop a belief that power is essentially male.”

He said “quotas and other temporary efforts to achieve parity can help to bring women’s voices into legal and political systems, the corporate boardroom, the workplace and higher education,” leapfrogging a process that might otherwise take generations.

Saying “all of us have the power and responsibility to promote gender parity,” he urged action “to address discrimination, combat stereotypes, and promote equality” at the international and national levels.

“We must stop regarding parity as a token exercise, and grasp at last that equal representation of women and men, across themes and bodies, not only embodies but also builds more just societies,” he said.

For his part, the High Commissioner pledged that he will no longer take part in any panel discussion that does not include women experts, and committed to improving gender parity within his office.

At its 6th session, the Human Rights Council encouraged States to promote gender balance by taking all the necessary measures, including budgetary and institutional measures, to guarantee the full participation of women in medium- and high-level ranks, regularly nominating more women candidates for election and appointment to the human rights treaty bodies and mechanisms, international courts and tribunals, the specialized agencies and other UN organs.


UNICEF advocate David Beckham issues call to end violence against children

INTERNATIONAL – David Beckham, Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), is championing a letter signed by 18 child survivors of violence that calls on world leaders to end the widespread abuse affecting millions of children around the world.

“When I visited Cambodia with UNICEF earlier this year, I spent time with children and young people who have experienced terrible violence and abuse often at the hands of the people who were supposed to protect them,” said Mr. Beckham. “Their stories were deeply distressing and as a father it is devastating to think that any child should have to suffer like this.

“After listening to these incredibly brave children and hearing about the abuse they have endured, I want to make sure that world leaders act to protect children from danger,” he continued in a news release.

“Every child, especially the most vulnerable, should be safe. That’s why I am going to travel to the UN this September, to make sure that children’s voices are heard and that the world comes together to stop violence against children.”

The letter includes the words of survivors of violent conflict in South Sudan, sexual abuse in Iceland, and child trafficking in Pakistan, highlighting an epidemic of violence that faces children around the globe.

Mr. Beckham will join Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake in New York next week to ask world leaders to put children, especially the most disadvantaged, at the centre of all decisions and investments made over the next 15 years as part of the new 2030 Agenda.

Earlier this year, Mr. Beckham launched a new fund with UNICEF, and made a commitment to helping the world’s most vulnerable children over the next decade, including children affected by violence.

“It is shocking that every five minutes a child dies as a result of violence,” he stated. “I hope others will join me to call on world leaders to put children at the heart of the new goals and commit to ending violence against children.”

Cornelius Williams, UNICEF’s Global Chief of Child Protection, noted that violence against children, especially sexual violence, leaves deep scars that live on in them right through adulthood.

“It rips apart families and societies, shatters stability and sets back progress,” he said. “Yet all too often, it is unseen and cloaked in silence. We have to speak about the unspeakable, make it visible, and act to end it.”


UN chief to highlight important work that lays ahead for world leaders in coming weeks

INTERNATIONAL – Ahead of what is expected to be one of the busiest high-level periods in recent memory at the United Nations, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will brief reporters on Wednesday on a range of issues that world leaders will tackle in New York beginning next week.

Member States will gather at the highest level to adopt the landmark 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development during a special summit to be held at the UN from 25 to 27 September. This is one of several milestones in what the UN has dubbed a year of global action and which is expected to culminate with a universal agreement on climate change in December.

This year’s gathering of world leaders also takes place amid several crises, such as the ongoing conflicts in Syria and Yemen, the challenges posed by the recent massive influx of refugees and migrants into Europe, the threat of violent extremism, and violations of international humanitarian and human rights law in various parts of the globe.


UN agency urges Europe to develop coherent response to refugee crisis

INTERNATIONAL – While welcoming the steps taken by European leaders at their meeting in Brussels to tackle the current refugee crisis, the United Nations refugee agency today said a robust and coherent response is still urgently needed.

Yesterday's meeting of the European Council of Ministers saw the formal adoption of an earlier relocation proposal involving 40,000 people.

“This is a single welcome step towards addressing the current refugee situation in Europe, but it is clear that much more is still needed,” Melissa Fleming, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told a press conference in Geneva.

“UNHCR is deeply disappointed that although a majority of member States were in agreement with a wider relocation proposal involving 120,000 people, a final consensus on this could not be reached,” she added. “Decisive agreement is needed without further delay to address the needs, as is bold action based on solidarity from all member States.”

Speaking at a press conference in Brussels, High Commissioner António Guterres warned that the EU must move quickly to help solve the crisis.

“This is a moment of truth for the EU,” he said. “Either it acts, or it will become irrelevant in international affairs.”

Mr. Guterres pointed out that the massive influx of Syrian refugees is the result of a loss of hope, as well as severe cuts in life-saving assistance in the neighbouring countries’ refugee camps due to of lack of funding. For example, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) has been forced to cut down on food assistance by 40 per cent.

“In an ideal world, there would be a common European asylum policy and refugees could move freely within the EU. But that is not the case,” he stated, calling for legal alternatives to reach safety so that people will not have to resort to smugglers and undertake dangerous, irregular journeys.

While welcoming a proposed relocation scheme for 160,000 refugees from Greece, Italy and Hungary, Mr. Guterres emphasized that estimates have indicated an even higher number that will require assistance.

“A plan B is necessary,” he said. “We can’t wait until October for another meeting of the European Council who then reverts back to the European Parliament, then back to the European Council … the Union has 500 million people – it’s a manageable situation, and it needs to be managed.”


Opening 70th UN General Assembly, President underscores urgent need for action

INTERNATIONAL – A major priority for the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly is to ensure that all actors move swiftly to deliver on the promises being made for sustainable development, the President of the 193-member body said today.

“In less than 10 days’ time, our leaders will gather in this hall to adopt the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” Mogens Lykketoft said as he opened the session.

The Agenda, which will be adopted during a special summit at UN Headquarters, consists of 17 Sustainable Development Goals and 169 targets that aim to be a charter for people and the planet in the twenty-first century. They will stimulate action over the next 15 years in areas of critical importance towards building a more equitable and sustainable world for all.

“The summit, of course, marks only the beginning,” Mr. Lykketoft continued. “There is an urgent need for action right across the three pillars of the UN and ample opportunities to do so during this session. […] An ambitious and universal climate agreement is an absolute must and the first real test of the world community’s ability to deliver the necessary policy tools for sustainable development.”

Indeed, not long after the summit and the annual General Debate, leaders will come together in Paris for the UN climate change conference – or COP21.

At the same time, Mr. Lykketoft warned there will be no sustainable development without peace and security and respect for human rights.

“The UN and its Member States have a strong obligation to work together to end the catastrophic wars and conflicts – not least in and around Syria. And we will have to act here and now to address the huge and explosive refugee crises resulting from ongoing conflicts – and to protect the human rights of all refugees.”

In addition to several high-level meetings and thematic debates he will hold over the course of his one-year tenure, the new President said he plans to continue efforts to revitalize the General Assembly’s work and to reform the Security Council.

“I will conduct all activities in as transparent, inclusive and open a manner as possible,” Mr. Lykketoft assured. “Where it is relevant I will also engage with and involve civil society representatives and others, such that a multi-stakeholder approach becomes a hallmark of my presidency.”

Also addressing the meeting, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recalled that this new session of the General Assembly marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Organization.

“The Charter’s principles have stood the test of time, and the United Nations can look back on a record of achievement,” he stated. “At the same time, we know that suffering remains widespread across the world. My thoughts today are especially with the people of Syria – those inside the country facing terrible violence, and those who have fled, desperately seeking a safe haven and a better life.”

Mr. Ban called on the 70th General Assembly session to be one of compassion, prevention and, above all, action.

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