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Myanmar: UN rights chief says violence in Rakhine state 'predictable and preventable'

INTERNATIONAL, 29 August 2017 – Alarmed at renewed fighting and incitement in the wake of the attacks on Myanmar security forces in northern areas of Rakhine state, the top United Nations human rights official today urged all sides to renounce the use of violence and called on State authorities to ensure they abide by their obligations under international human rights law.

“This turn of events is deplorable. It was predicted and could have been prevented,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, noting that “decades of persistent and systematic human rights violations, including the very violent security responses to the attacks since October 2016, have almost certainly contributed to the nurturing of violent extremism, with everyone ultimately losing.”

The High Commissioner called on the political leadership to condemn the inflammatory rhetoric and incitement to hatred that is proliferating, including on social media.

Mr. Zeid also expressed concern about claims by the State Counsellor's Office that international aid workers were complicit in or supporting the attacks.

“Such statements are irresponsible and only serve to increase fears and the potential for further violence,” he said. “I am extremely concerned that the unsupported allegations against international aid organizations place their staff in danger and may make it impossible for them to deliver essential aid.”

Mr. Zeid said the perpetrators of the attacks on security personnel must be brought to justice, as must those who have been attacking the civilian population.

State authorities should issue clear instructions to security forces to refrain from using disproportionate force, minimize damage and injuries and respect the right to life, he said.

“The State has a duty to protect those within its territory – without discrimination,” stated Mr. Zeid.

“I call on the Government of Myanmar to follow the recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, headed by Kofi Annan, for an integrated and calibrated response to the situation in Rakhine state, to address rather than sacrifice human rights concerns in the interests of maintaining peace and order,” he said.

The High Commissioner also expressed concern about thousands of Rohingya having fled from Myanmar into Bangladesh since the attacks, adding to the tens of thousands who have been arriving in Bangladesh since October 2016.

UN refugee agency urges open borders for people fleeing violence in Rakhine

Meanwhile, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today communicated to the Government of Bangladesh its readiness to support the country in assisting refugees crossing the border.

As of Sunday, it was estimated that some 5,200 people had entered Bangladesh from Myanmar since Thursday. Several thousand were reported to be in locations along the Myanmar side of the border.

The agency is aware of several reported instances of people being prevented from entering Bangladesh. UNHCR believes it is of the utmost importance that Bangladesh, which has hosted refugees from Myanmar for decades, continues to allow Rohingya fleeing violence to seek safety there.

UNHCR also called on the international community to support Bangladesh in doing so, with all necessary aid and other help.

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UN chief Guterres condemns latest ballistic missile launch by DPRK

INTERNATIONAL, 29 August 2017 – United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has condemned the latest ballistic missile launch by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), in violation of relevant UN Security Council resolutions.

“The launch undermines regional security and stability and efforts to create space for dialogue,” said a statement issued by UN spokesperson Eri Kaneko.

According to press reports, early Tuesday morning, the DPRK launched a ballistic missile that travelled some 2,700 kilometers, flying over Japan before crashing into the Pacific Ocean.

“The Secretary-General calls on the Government of the DPRK to fully comply with its international obligations and to work to re-open channels of communication,” the statement said, adding that Mr. Guterres remains in close contact with all parties concerned.

Meanwhile, the UN Security Council is scheduled to meet urgently on the issue this afternoon at the request of Japan, the United States and the Republic of Korea.

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UN chief urges all countries to join legally-binding treaty against nuclear tests

INTERNATIONAL, 29 August 2017 – United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has urged all countries to sign and ratify a global treaty that bans nuclear explosions on the Earth's surface, in the atmosphere, underwater and underground.

“More than 2,000 nuclear tests have been conducted over the past seven decades – from the South Pacific to North America, from Central Asia to North Africa. They have harmed some of the world's most vulnerable peoples and pristine ecosystems,” the Secretary-General said in his message for the International Day against Nuclear Tests.

To ensure that no country could conduct another test, he urged all countries to sign and ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT).

To date, 183 countries have signed the CTBT and 166 have ratified it. For the treaty to enter into force, ratification is required from eight more of the so-called Annex 2 States. Of these, China, Egypt, Iran, Israel, and the United States, have yet to ratify it.

DPRK, India and Pakistan are among the 13 countries that have not signed the CTBT.

“I urge all countries yet to join the CTBT to do so as soon as possible,” Mr. Guterres said. “For almost 20 years, a global norm has existed against nuclear testing based on voluntarily unilateral moratoriums. I applaud this restraint, but it is not enough.”

He noted that continued nuclear tests by DPRK demonstrate that “even the strongest norm is no substitute for a legally-binding prohibition.”

Overnight, DPRK fired a ballistic missile in violation of Security Council resolutions, Mr. Guterres said in a separate statement condemning the event and urging DPRK to fully comply with its international obligations.

The comments come on the International Day against Nuclear Tests, which is observed annually on 29 August, following the declaration of that day in a resolution unanimously adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2009.

The resolution called for increasing awareness and education “about the effects of nuclear weapon test explosions or any other nuclear explosions and the need for their cessation as one of the means of achieving the goal of a nuclear-weapon-free world.” The resolution's adoption also commemorated the closure of the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site in Kazakhstan in 1991.

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In crisis-torn countries, children's access to safe water and sanitation is a right, not a privilege – UNICEF

INTERNATIONAL, 29 August 2017 – In countries beset by violence, displacement, conflict and instability, children's most basic means of survival – water – must be a priority, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) said today, warning that children living in fragile situations are four times more likely to lack access to drinking water.

“Children's access to safe water and sanitation, especially in conflicts and emergencies, is a right, not a privilege” said Sanjay Wijesekera, UNICEF's global chief of water, sanitation and hygiene, who warned, as World Water Week gets underway, that more than 180 million people in crisis-torn countries have no access to drinking water.

UNICEF said that in Yemen, a country reeling from the impact of over two years of conflict, water supply networks that serve the country's largest cities are at imminent risk of collapse due to war-inflicted damage and disrepair. Around 15 million people in the country have been cut off from regular access to water and sanitation.

As for Syria, where the conflict is well into its seventh year, around 15 million people are in need of safe water, including an estimated 6.4 million children. Water has frequently been used as a weapon of war: In 2016 alone, there were at least 30 deliberate water cuts – including in Aleppo, Damascus, Hama, Raqqa and Dara, with pumps destroyed and water sources contaminated.

In conflict-affected areas in northeast Nigeria, 75 per cent of water and sanitation infrastructure has been damaged or destroyed, leaving 3.6 million people without even basic water services. The UN agency adds that in South Sudan, where fighting has raged for over three years, almost half the water points across the country have been damaged or completely destroyed.

“In far too many cases, water and sanitation systems have been attacked, damaged or left in disrepair to the point of collapse. When children have no safe water to drink, and when health systems are left in ruins, malnutrition and potentially fatal diseases like cholera will inevitably follow,” said Mr. Wijesekera.

In Yemen, for example, children make up more than 53 per cent of the over half a million cases of suspected cholera and acute watery diarrhoea reported so far. Somalia is suffering from the largest outbreak of cholera in the last five years, with nearly 77,000 cases of suspected cholera/acute watery diarrhoea. And in South Sudan, the cholera outbreak is the most severe the country has ever experienced, with more than 19,000 cases since June 2016, said UNICEF.

In famine-threatened north-east Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen, nearly 30 million people, including 14.6 million children, are in urgent need of safe water. More than five million children are estimated to be malnourished this year, with 1.4 million severely so.

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UN chief welcomes parties' commitment towards permanent ceasefire in Eastern Ukraine

INTERNATIONAL, 28 August 2017 – United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres welcomed today the commitment by the parties to implement a permanent ceasefire in eastern Ukraine on the occasion of the start of the new school year.

“He stresses the need to ensure that the ceasefire is sustainable and calls on all parties to fully abide by its terms especially in order to protect the civilians who suffer most from the ongoing hostilities,” said a statement form a UN spokesperson.

Through the statement, the Secretary-General also reiterated the support of the United Nations for the efforts of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the Trilateral Contact Group and the Normandy Four to find a negotiated solution to the conflict.

“He urges all concerned to work towards that end,” the statement concluded.

In late February 2014, the situation in Ukraine transcended what was initially seen as an internal Ukrainian political crisis into violent clashes in parts of the country, later reaching full-scale conflict in the east. Despite a September 2014 ceasefire agreed in Minsk, the situation since deteriorated, with serious consequences for the country's unity, territorial integrity and stability.

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Myanmar: UN chief concerned by reports of civilian deaths during security operations in Rakhine state

INTERNATIONAL, 28 August 2017 – Deeply concerned at the reports of civilians being killed during security operations in Myanmar's Rakhine state, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres today reiterated the responsibility of the Government to provide security and assistance to those in need.

According to a statement from UN Spokesman Stéphane Dujarric, this latest round of violence comes after the attacks on Myanmar security forces on 25 August.

“The Secretary-General, who condemned those attacks, reiterates the importance of addressing the root causes of the violence and the responsibility of the Government of Myanmar to provide security and assistance to those in need,” said the statement, adding that Mr. Guterres fully supports the recommendations of the report by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan [as Chair of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine state] and urged the Government to effectively implement them.

Recognizing that Bangladesh has hosted generously refugees from Myanmar for decades, the Secretary-General through the statement went on to appeal for the authorities to continue to allow the Rohingya fleeing violence to seek safety in Bangladesh.

Many of those fleeing are women and children, some of whom are wounded.

“[Mr. Guterres] calls for humanitarian agencies to be granted unfettered and free access to affected communities in need of assistance and protection,” the statement concluded, adding that the UN stands ready to provide all necessary support to both Myanmar and Bangladesh in that regard.

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International community must unify efforts to assist Libya in overcoming 'serious' governance challenges

INTERNATIONAL, 28 August 2017 – Libya's future prosperity and stability depends on the international community further strengthening and unifying its efforts on behalf of the whole country, as well as Libyans themselves “seizing the window of opportunity” that is before them to ensure peace, the head of the United Nations mission there said today.

“We need to act; we need to act together and we need to act now,” Ghassan Salamé, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), addressing the Security Council for the first time since he took up the post last month.

Reporting on a wide-ranging series of meetings – throughout Libya and to Egypt, Algeria and Italy – Mr. Salamé that all would benefit from a stable, peaceful and reconciled Libya.

And yet, despite a nearly two-year-old Political Agreement, Libya itself remains fraught with political divisions, mired in conflict and a stumbling economy. Saying that in his talks with the Libyan people “a clear picture is emerging,” Mr. Salamé noted that insecurity, frustration, political dysfunction and economic despair are among the raft of challenges the country faces.

Despite its relative oil wealth, he said, endless cuts in utilities; sporadic violence across the country and political stalemate; were preventing the country from fulfilling it's potential.

“There is obviously a serious problem of governance that can hardly wait to be addressed,” Mr. Salamé stressed, warning that people's welfare is a fundamental element to in Libya's future stability and in that regard, unless the economic challenges are addressed – “and soon” – the country's humanitarian crisis would deepen.

In addition, that irregular migration and the revenue it generates for smuggler networks had proven to be a “direct threat” to stability in parts of Libya, even as hundreds of thousands of migrants who are stuck in the country often “suffer abuses and detention in inhuman conditions.”

While he noted some positive steps, including improvements in the security situation in Tripoli and elsewhere, and a marked increase in oil production which allowed the Presidency Council and the Central Bank to work together to deliver a budget, “the key to lasting stability requires addressing the overarching political situation,” namely the status of the two-year-old Libyan political Agreement; the prospect of adopting a new constitution; and the possibility for fresh elections.

“The UN stands willing and able to act in the best interests of all Libyans at equal distance from all parties,” Mr. Salamé told the Council, explaining that he very much hoped that with the trust of Libyan partners and the confidence of the regional organizations and concerned Member States, “we are able to strengthen and unify our collective efforts and together restore Libya to its rightful place in the family of nations, one united stable, and prosperous country.”

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At start of World Water Week, UN Assembly President says water and sanitation goals need 'major push'

INTERNATIONAL, 28 August 2017 – Encouraging global action to support clean water and sanitation, United Nations General Assembly President Peter Thomson today underscored that when it comes to the environment, everything is connected.

“None should imagine that the state of sanitation and coral reefs are anything but directly connected,” Mr. Thomson said, delivering the keynote address at special event in Stockholm to start World Water Week. “It makes no sense to consider terrestrial environmental issues, fresh water challenges or climate change in isolation.”

He urged the international community to take an “inclusive, integrated approach,” and put to use all skills, idea and energies.

Water and sanitation are among the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which were adopted by the 193 Members of the UN in September 2015, and which are guiding the work of the development efforts of the international community through 2030.

Combined with the Paris Agreement on lowering the impact of climate change, the SDGsrepresent “the best chance our species has to achieve a sustainable way of life on Planet Earth before it is too late,” Mr. Thomson said.

He commended World Water Week for bringing together more than 3,000 participants from nearly the entire world. The 2017 edition of the week will address the theme 'Water and waste: reduce and reuse.”

Experts, practitioners, decision-makers, business innovators and young professionals from a range of sectors and countries come to Stockholm to network, exchange ideas, foster new thinking and develop solutions to the most pressing water-related challenges of today.

In his address, Mr. Thomson noted The Ocean Conference, which, held in New York in June, was meant to raise attention and start working on stopping marine pollution – mainly plastics – ocean acidification, ocean warming, overfishing, damage to biodiversity and ecosystems, and strengthen governance on these issues.

The Conference resulted in a political declaration, partnerships dialogues and nearly 1,400 voluntary commitments to help overcome these issues.

“North and south east and west, the ocean unites us and we have to bring humanity back into a relationship of balance and respect with the water: that great reservoir of H20 which is of course shared by clouds into the rivers and lakes that give us the fresh water that we drink,” Mr. Thomson said.

He said The Ocean Conference gave a boost to a global movement to deliver on SDG14, or the so called Ocean Goal, and similarly, it is time to push for world action on SDG 6, related to water and sanitation.

SDG6, the water and sanitation Goal, is in need of a major push. The time is right, thus I encourage you all to join together to develop concerted global action to deliver on the targets of [that Goal],” Mr. Thomson said.

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Cholera spread slows in Yemen; locals pitch in to help curb outbreak – UN agency

INTERNATIONAL, 28 August 2017 – The weekly number of reported new cholera cases in Yemen has declined by one third since late June, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) today said, praising Yemenis for leading a “heroic daily fight” against the outbreak, which remains the worst in the world.

“Health, water and sanitation personnel – who have not received salaries in over ten months – have been working tirelessly to stem the outbreak,” UNICEF said.

Since April, more than 550,000 cases of cholera have been suspected, more than half of them children.

The UN agency praised “massive collective efforts” to treat the sick and improve water and sanitation for slowing down the disease.

“We had difficulties managing the number of patients that came to us – many of them with severe conditions,” Nahla Arishi, Deputy Manager and Head of the cholera treatment center at Alsadaqah Hospital in Aden City, told UNICEF. “The hospital is crowded and beds and essential medicines are in short supply. But I can't close the hospital's doors and not accept children because there aren't enough beds – I am a doctor and a mother too.”

A nationwide cholera awareness campaign is currently underway, mobilizing over 40,000 volunteers going house-to-house and reaching over 2.7 million families so far – approximately 80 per cent of households in Yemen.

“Many of the children I have visited in their homes are thin and weak,” Muthab Alburaik Salem, a community health volunteer working on the campaign, told UNICEF.

“It's crucial to spread awareness among vulnerable communities so they are spared additional suffering. I fear that my own children will be exposed to diseases – so I treat all children I'm working with in Yemen as if they were my own,” adds Ms. Muthab, a mother of two.

Despite these recent gains, the fight against cholera is far from over, UNICEF cautioned.

“Amid continued violence, water and sanitation systems are collapsing, and more than half of Yemen's health facilities are out of service,” the agency said, noting that almost 15 million people are cut off from safe water and access to basic healthcare.

In addition, the country remains on the brink of famine, with an estimated 385,000 children suffering from severe acute malnutrition, putting them at heightened risk of acute watery diarrhoea and cholera.

In today's statement, the UN agency reiterated its calls to end the fighting, urging all parties to the conflict to find a peaceful political solution to the crisis.

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UN chief Guterres meets Israel's Netanyahu in Jerusalem, pledges to fight anti-Semitism

INTERNATIONAL, 28 August 2017 – Reiterating his commitment to fighting anti-Semitism, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres today told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he is committed to protecting Israel and its right to exist.

On his first visit to Israel since taking office at the beginning of this year, the Secretary-General met with Prime Minister Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders in Jerusalem.

“I understand the security concerns of Israel, and I repeat that the idea or the intention or the will to destroy the State of Israel is something totally unacceptable from my perspective,” he said.

Calling himself an impartial “honest broker” and a “messenger of peace,” Mr. Guterres noted that Members of the UN are sovereign countries with their own interests, values and convictions.

“To be an honest broker means that all countries must be treated equally both by the Secretary-General and the Secretariat that the Secretary-General directs. This is for me very clear and you can be sure that these values will be upheld,” he said.

He added that he has expressed his opposition to the settlement activity in the region, but also noted the terrorism, violence and incitement, as well as the difficulties created by the separation between the West Bank and Gaza.

Speaking alongside Mr. Netanyahu to the press after their meeting, Mr. Guterres disclosed what he said was a long-time dream that the Holy Land be home to two states, with a Jerusalem which is shared by three religions.

Earlier today, Mr. Guterres visited Israel's official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, where he reiterated his commitment to fighting anti-Semitism in all its expressions.

“The Holocaust was not a crazy initiative of a group of paranoid Nazis but it was the combination of millennia, of persecution and discrimination of the Jewish people of what we today call anti-Semitism,” he told the press after touring the Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.

Mr. Guterres said that he had been “shocked” when a few days ago he listened to the chanting of a neo Nazi group in a developed country chanting the slogan of the Nazis – “blood and soil.”

“That is a dramatic demonstration that it is our duty to do everything possible and, as Secretary-General of the United Nations, I fully assume that commitment to do everything possible to fight anti-Semitism in all its expressions,” he said, adding that his commitment to fighting anti-Semitism is as great as his commitment to fight racism, xenophobia, ant-Muslim hatred and all other forms of bigotry.

During his three-day visit to the region, Mr. Guterres will meet with Palestine leadership and engage with civil society and university leaders. He is also scheduled to visit a facility run by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

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