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Judges urge Security Council to serve interests of all UN Member States

INTERNATIONAL, 17 May 2018 - The Security Council should act on behalf of the entire United Nations membership rather than prioritizing their own national interests, or those of close allies, international court judges said on Thursday, as the 15-member body debated how to effectively counter numerous threats to world peace.

“Against a backdrop of grave threats and growing turmoil in many regions, the unity of this body and the serious commitment of the entire international community will be crucial in preventing human suffering and defending our common humanity,” declared Maria Luiza Viotti, Chef de Cabinet, delivering a statement on behalf of UN Secretary‑General António Guterres.

She noted that the UN Charter does not rule out using any specific means of settling international disputes, leaving Member States free to choose from a range of different tools; including negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration and judicial settlement.   

Therefore, the Council could adopt a more open-minded approach, such as recommending that States settle disputes through special settlement mechanisms; a power it has rarely employed. 

Where States agree to use the International Court of Justice, the Council should ensure that its judgment is properly observed, she said, calling on Member States to consider accepting the compulsory jurisdiction of the Court.

“International law is foundational to this Organization and the Security Council has a special role to play in ensuring that it is respected”, she said.

Also briefing the Council was Hisashi Owada, Senior Judge and President Emeritus of the International Court of Justice, who said that the crucial question is how the Council and the Court should work together to resolve disputes.

The Court’s legal opinion has helped to inform the Council on choosing a means of resolving disputes, as was the case in 1970, with legal resolution of South Africa’s continued presence in Namibia. 

He said that the Council could seek the legal opinion of the Court on issues that often are at the root of the conflict; as it did following the Balkan wars of the 1990s, which led to the creation of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

To strengthen cooperation between the two bodies, he said, the Council could use its discretionary power more often to refer legal disputes to the Court, and consider making more use of the Court’s legal advisory function.

He noted that 15 of the 26 requests for advisory opinions came from the General Assembly, and the Council has sought out the Court only on a limited number of cases, such as Israel’s construction of a border fence in 2000 and Kosovo’s declaration of independence, in 2008. 

Theodor Meron, President of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals, said that international criminal justice “is still very much in its infancy, and it is in a highly vulnerable stage of development at present.”

“International courts were never designed to try any more than a small number of alleged perpetrators,” he said, and officials in national jurisdictions must take on “the lion’s share of this work.”

Mr. Meron suggested the Council develop and adopt objective criteria to assess all credible allegations of international crimes, and serve the interests of the UN membership as a whole, rather than prioritizing their own interests or those of their strategic allies.

He also encouraged the Council to simply refer possible violations of international law to appropriate judicial actors for further action, rather than being a gate-keeper and “risking becoming stymied in debates about whether or not egregious atrocities occurred in any particular situation or who might be responsible.”

Today’s debate was chaired by Andrzej Duda, the President of Poland, who urged States and the international community to reject the temptation to place force above law, and fear above trust.

“If we call an act of aggression a ‘conflict’, without properly defining the victim and the aggressor; if we call a threat a ‘challenge’ without defining the source of that threat… then we are helpless in terms of selecting legal steps to react,” he said.

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Economic growth ‘exceeds expectations’ but trade tensions are rising: UN report

INTERNATIONAL, 17 May 2018 - Global economic growth is exceeding expectations this year but heightened geopolitical tension and uncertainty over international trade could thwart progress, according to a new United Nations report.

The global Gross Domestic Product (GDP), is due to expand by more than 3 per cent this year and next, according to the UN World Economic Situation and Prospects (WESP) — an improved outlook compared with the 3 per cent and 3.1 per cent growth for 2018 and 2019, forecast six months ago.

The revision reflects strong growth in developed countries due to accelerating wage increases, broadly favourable investment conditions and the short-term impact of a fiscal stimulus package in the United States.

At the same time, widespread increase in global demand has accelerated the overall growth in trade, while many commodity-exporting countries will also benefit from the higher energy and metal prices.

Speaking at the launch, Elliott Harris, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development and Chief Economist, said the accelerated growth forecast was positive news for the international effort to reach the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which include eradicating extreme poverty and hunger.

However, Mr. Harris cautioned that “there is a strong need not to become complacent in response to upward trending headline figures”. He added that the report “underscores that the risks have increased as well”, adding that rising risk “highlights the need to urgently address a number of policy challenges, including threats to the multilateral trading system, high inequality and the renewed rise in carbon emissions”.

Trade barriers and retaliatory measures mark a shift away from unambiguous support for the norms of the international trading system, the report notes, which threatens the pace of global growth with potentially large repercussions, especially for developing economies.

The report also finds that income inequality remains alarmingly high in numerous countries but there is evidence of noticeable improvements in some developing countries over the last decade.

It cites some countries in Latin America and the Caribbean region where specific policy measures related to minimum wage levels, education and government transfer payments have significantly reduced inequality over the last 20 years.

The report also finds that global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions increased by 1.4 per cent in 2017 due to faster global economic growth; the relatively low cost of fossil fuels and weaker energy efficiency measures, among other factors.

Reforming fossil fuel subsidies and providing tax breaks to boost greener economic growth could accelerate the international effort to meet the greenhouse gas emission targets outlined in the 2015 Paris Agreement.

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Celebrate love, strengthen partnerships to end AIDS epidemic by 2030 says UN agency

INTERNATIONAL, 17 May 2018 - Marking the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, the United Nations is calling for strengthened partnerships to support lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people and their families.

“Stigma, discrimination and social and physical violence against sexual and gender minorities prevents them from accessing health services,” Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), said in a message for the Day, which goes by the acronym IDAHOT.

Everyone has the right to health, no matter their gender or sexual orientation,” he added.

The IDAHOT celebration of sexual and gender diversity, is commemorated globally each year on 17 May. This year’s theme focusses on alliances for solidarity, to bring respect for LGBTI people and their families

According to UNAIDS, men who have sex with men and transgender women, are among the communities most affected by HIV worldwide.

More than 40 per cent of countries criminalize same-sex sexual relationships, driving gays and lesbians underground, and blocking access to health and social services, which leaves LGBTI people vulnerable to poor health and homelessness.

To end AIDS, it is essential to ensure that people can access HIV prevention technologies free from discrimination – including condoms, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), and quality HIV treatment and care.

UN Women, the UN Development Programme and UNAIDS are working with the Global Network of People Living with HIV to end all forms of HIV-related stigma and discrimination.

Requiring support across the board, and civil society leadership, the initiative will contribute to achieving the UN Member States’ commitment to end AIDS as a public health threat by 2030.

Increasing political commitment and investments for the health and well-being of some of the most vulnerable people in society, will help to ensure that no one is left behind: “We need zero discrimination for everyone, everywhere,” stressed Mr. Sidibé.

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Emergency meeting called as Ebola moves to Congolese city – UN health agency

INTERNATIONAL, 17 May 2018 - The World Health Organization (WHO) is convening an emergency meeting on Friday to “consider the international risks” of the latest outbreak of the deadly disease Ebola, which has now moved to an urban area of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

One new case of Ebola virus disease has been confirmed in Mbandaka, a city with a population of about 1.2 million, WHO confirmed on Thursday, raising fears that despite a rapid response by authorities, the outbreak has not been contained.

So far, 23 have reportedly died. Until Thursday, the more than 40 confirmed cases were all located in the area around Bikoro, close to the Congo River, and around 150 kilometres (about 95 miles) from the provincial capital Mbandaka, which is a busy port city.

This is a concerning development, but we now have better tools than ever before to combat Ebola,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of WHO.

“WHO and our partners are taking decisive action to stop further spread of the virus,” he added.

“The arrival of Ebola in an urban area is very concerning and WHO and partners are working together to rapidly scale up the search for all contacts of the confirmed case in the Mbandaka area,” WHO Regional Director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, said in a statement.

This is a concerning development, but we now have better tools than ever before to combat Ebola – WHO Director-General Tedros

The meeting of the Emergency Committee will decide whether to declare an official public health emergency, which would trigger more international involvement and free up more resources to deal with the outbreak.

Apart from WHO and other UN agencies, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), as other humanitarian organizations, have teams on the ground, working to contain the outbreak.

Response scaled up

The UN health agency is deploying around 30 experts to conduct surveillance in Mbandaka and is working with the DRC’s Ministry of Health advising communities on prevention, treatment and reporting of new cases.

WHO-partner, MSF, has also deployed its teams and is working with UN agencies to strengthen health capacity to treat Ebola patients.

Isolation zones have been set up in Mbandaka’s main hospital, and in Bikoro. Special Ebola treatment centers are also being established in Mbandaka and Bikoro, which will have capacity to treat 20 patients each.

In the next few days, MSF plans delivery of several tons of supplies, including medical kits; protection and disinfection kits; logistic and hygiene kits; and palliative drugs to Mbandaka.

Ninth outbreak in the country

This is the ninth outbreak, since the discovery of the Ebola virus in the country in 1976.

The virus is endemic to DRC, and causes an acute, serious illness, which is often fatal if untreated. The virus is transmitted to human through contact with wild animals and can then be passed from person to person. Ebola is fatal in about 50 per cent of cases.

An outbreak in West Africa that began in 2014 left more than 11,000 dead across six countries, and was not declared officially over by WHO until the beginning of 2016.

First symptoms generally include the sudden onset of fever, fatigue, muscle pain, headache and sore throat. This is followed by vomiting, diarrhoea.

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Obese people more likely to smoke, says new gene research: WHO

INTERNATIONAL, 16 May 2018 - New research indicates that people who are genetically prone to being overweight have a higher risk of taking up smoking - and they are likely to smoke more than average — UN scientists said on Wednesday.

According to Dr. Paul Brennan from IARC, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, around 70 genes have been identified for the first time that could explain this behaviour. IARC is a World Health Organization (WHO) agency, mandated to conduct research on the causes of cancer, and its prevention.

The study, which is being published on Thursday in the British Medical Journal, and funded by Cancer Research UK, found that increased body mass index (BMI), body fat percentage and even waist circumference, were associated with “a higher risk of being a smoker, and with greater smoking intensity, measured by the number of cigarettes smoked per day”.

“Based on genetic markers of obesity, the study allows us to better understand the complex relationship between obesity and important smoking habits,” said Dr. Brennan, a genetic epidemiology expert with IARC, and one of the authors of the study.

He added that the study showing the relationship between body mass and smoking, also suggested that there was possibly a “common biological basis for addictive behaviours, such as nicotine addiction and higher energy intake”.

Dr. Brennan also noted that in understanding the link better, it could also be useful as a tool in helping people to stop smoking — a habit that kills more than 7 million people each year, according to WHO.

It is well established that smokers have a lower body weight on average than non-smokers, possibly due to reduced appetite, but that many gain weight after they stop smoking.

“However, among smokers, those who smoke more intensively, tend to weigh more,” said IARC.

IARC Director, Dr. Christopher Wild, said that “prevention of smoking is key to reducing the global burden of cancer and other chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes”.

He added that obesity was among the most important preventable causes of those chronic illnesses. “These new results provide intriguing insights into the potential benefits of jointly addressing these risk factors.”

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Leading Palestinian legislator calls for ‘new international engagement’ in two-state solution

INTERNATIONAL, 16 May 2018 - Describing a viable two-state solution to end the Palestine-Israel conflict as “very much in doubt”, a leading Palestinian legislator called on Wednesday for “new international engagement” to move the process forward.

In an interview with UN News, Hanan Ashrawi, an Executive Committee Member of the Palestine Liberation Organization, described the deaths and injuries of Palestinians at the Gaza border on Monday as a “massacre”, adding that Palestinians everywhere were one people, who “share the same pain, the same sorrows, the same aspirations, the same hopes”.

The veteran peace negotiator and legislator, is at UN Headquarters in New York, to take part in a forum organized by the UN Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People.

Following the United States decision to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem this week – and act which she described as “becoming complicit in the occupation” – she said Palestinians “want a new multilateral mechanism; we want a new international engagement.”

She said that peace negotiations with Israel since the early 1990s, brokered by the US, had not worked: “The US certainly has joined Israel as a partner in crime. It has joined Israel in violating international law and the resolutions of the Security Council on Jerusalem and so on. So, what we need to do is to bypass these obstacles…and to find a sort of global forum for the solution,” she said.    

Asked if a two-state solution with both countries living side-by-side in peace, was still possible, Ms. Ashrawi said: “This is very much in doubt, it’s very questionable. Unless there is the will to engage, to intervene effectively – not just to end settlement activities but to begin to dismantle settlements – Israel will have succeeded in super-imposing Greater Israel on all of historical Palestine.”

Asked for her view on calls from senior UN officials for Hamas in Gaza to stop inciting any violence at the border, she said the militant group was being used as a “convenient scapegoat” to deflect blame and accountability away from Israel.

“It is not Hamas who is responsible for the killing fields that Israel has carried out in Gaza. The people who are on this march to return; these unarmed civilian protests against the moving of the American embassy - against the moving of American embassy…these are expressions of will by the Palestinian people, who are protesting, demonstrating on their own lands, she said, adding that “they are sending a message not just to Israel but to the rest of the world that we are a people who are alive and we want to live, and we want our freedom and we want our rights. This is not a sort of incitement or instigation by Hamas.”

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UN envoy ‘encouraged’ by Astana talks on avoiding ‘worst-case scenario’ in Syria’s Idlib

INTERNATIONAL, 16 May 2018 - The United Nations Special Envoy for Syria on Wednesday detailed his most recent efforts to revive stalled peace talks which could end the brutal conflict that has been raging there for more than seven years.

“As instructed by the Secretary-General, I have been consulting with a broad spectrum of relevant stakeholders and proactively identified options for a meaningful re-launch” of the complex UN-led efforts in Geneva, to forge a lasting peace, said Staffan de Mistura, the UN Special Envoy for Syria, briefing the Security Council via video-link.

Since January 2016, the Geneva-based envoy has conducted several rounds of negotiations between the warring Syrian parties – talks known as the Geneva process. The last meeting took place in Vienna, in late January.

The talks focus on how Syria will be governed; a timetable and process to draft a new constitution; and the holding of elections as the basis for a Syrian-led, Syrian-owned process, to end the brutal conflict.

Mr. de Mistura said he had been on a “tour” of consultations over the past two weeks, meeting with the Syrian Government and opposition, as well as Security Council members. He had also held talks with members of the Arab League, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, the European Union’s High Representative - as well as key European governments -Turkey, Russia and Iran.

“I returned to Geneva with a mixed picture,” he said, explaining that significant differences still remain between key actors, but all agree on the need to de-escalate the fighting and form a UN-sponsored constitutional committee.

They also agree on the need to create a “safe, calm and neutral environment”, he said, that enables the achievements of objectives in the political process and the need to respect Syria’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence.

“But these commonalities risk getting lost, especially in the absence of serious international dialogue,” Mr. de Mistura warned, adding that careful but proactive high-level diplomacy is required more than ever.

His office is assessing a number of creative options to revive and advance the Geneva process, he said.

Regarding the northern rebel-held area of Idlib, Mr. de Mistura said that if the Syrian government’s previously-used tactic of bombing a rebel territory followed by negotiations and then mass evacuations is repeated in Idlib, it could affect “six times” more people than the battle to retake the suburbs of Ghouta, near the capital Damascus.

“If we see a Ghouta scenario in Idlib, this could be six times worse, affecting 2.3 million people,” Mr. de Mistura said.

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Europe should make voice ‘more heard’ in today’s ‘dangerous world,’ says UN chief

INTERNATINOAL, 16 May 2018 - In an increasingly dangerous world, the European Union (EU) need to make its voice “more and more heard” as a “central pillar” of multilateralism, said the United Nations Secretary-General on Wednesday.

Speaking in the heart of the EU, in Brussels, António Guterres told reporters that climate change, a multiplication of conflicts and the global non-proliferation regime, were challenging all multilateral institutions, and the system of international law.

We live in a dangerous world. For the first time in many decades, the non-proliferation regime both in relation to nuclear weapons and in relation to chemical weapons are put into question,” Mr. Guterres said at a joint press conference with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels, Belgium.

He flagged that the Cold War was back, but without the mechanisms of dialogue, contact and control that existed in relations between the West and the Soviet Union, to ensure “that things not spiral out of control”.

“We have a multiplication of conflicts everywhere, more and more interlinked with each other and linked to a global threat of terrorism that we feel can strike anywhere in the world,” he continued.

The UN chief cited climate change as another challenge, saying said that while globalization has brought enormous benefits it has also “dramatically” increased inequalities and impacted the security of the world.

“In this dangerous world, it is absolutely essential to preserve two things:  Multilateral governance institutions and the rule of law in international relations,” he underscored.

Emphasizing Europe’s crucial role in this, the Secretary-General appealed to the EU “to be more and more united, more and more effective, more and more present and for its voice to be more and more heard in international relations as a central pillar of multilateralism in today’s world.”

He concluded by saying that the UN supports EU efforts “to rescue” the Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, from which the United States withdrew last week, as well as other efforts “to create conditions for a world in which peace, security, sustainable development and climate action are in the frontline of its activities and our common cooperation.”

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UNICEF delivers medical supplies to Gaza in wake of deadly protests

INTERNATIONAL, 16 May 2018 - Two truckloads of urgently needed medical supplies have been delivered to Gaza, where scores of Palestinians were injured during demonstrations along the border fence with Israel earlier this week.

The drugs and medical equipment delivered by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and partners, include antibiotics, saline solution and syringes to treat an estimated 70,000 people.

Over the past six weeks, Palestinians have been demonstrating against the decade-long blockade on Gaza, but Monday’s protests were the deadliest with nearly 60 killed and more than 1,300 injured.

UNICEF reported that medical facilities there are “buckling under the strain” of dealing with the additional casualties as the health system was already weakened due to shortages of fuel, medicine and equipment.

The agency added that the intensifying violence in Gaza has also worsened the plight of children “whose lives have already been unbearably difficult for many years”.

UNICEF said more than 1,000 children have been injured in violence since the start of the protests, and “many of these injuries are severe and potentially life-altering, including amputations”.

“Children should be protected, not targeted, used in violence or put in risky situations,” said the agency, and called on all actors within the occupied territories “to put in place specific measures to keep children out of harm’s way and avoid child casualties”.

Half of all children depend on humanitarian assistance in the Gaza Strip, and one in four, need psychosocial care. Families receive four to five hours of electricity each day and 90 per cent have no direct access to clean water.

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Syria: UN-backed watchdog says chemical weapon ‘likely used’ in February attack

INTERNATIONAL, 16 May 2018 - Deadly chlorine gas was likely used in an attack that took place in a Syrian town in rebel-held Idlib last February, said the United Nations-backed chemical weapons watchdog on Wednesday.

The report, released Tuesday by the fact-finding mission of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons(OPCW), concluded that “chlorine, released from cylinders through mechanical impact, was likely used as a chemical weapon on 4 February 2018 in the Al Talil neighbourhood of Saraqib”.  

The report said that their finding was based on the presence of two cylinders, which were determined to have containing the banned gas, together with samples that showed chlorine was unusually-present in the local environment.

The conclusions were also based on eye-witness testimony, and the number of patients showing symptoms indicating exposure to chlorine and other toxic chemicals.

The report noted that 11 men had arrived by ambulance, all within the same hour, at medical facilities seeking treatment. Patients displayed nausea, eye irritation, shortness of breath, coughing and wheezing.

Saraqib is located about 20 kilometres south-east of Idlib and was not under government control at the time of the attack, said the OPCW report.

“I strongly condemn the continued use of toxic chemicals as weapons by anyone, for any reason, and in any circumstances,” said OPCW Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu on Wednesday. “Such acts contradict the unequivocal prohibition against chemical weapons enshrined in the Chemical Weapons Convention.”

The fact-finding mission was set up in 2014 in response to persistent allegations of chemical weapon attacks in Syria with a mandate to establish only the facts. It does not identify who is responsible for alleged attacks.

A joint OPCW-UN investigation panel looking into attacks in Syria, set up by the Security Council to identify perpetrators, was disbanded last November, when Members were unable to agree its extension. 

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