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15.05.2009 Press Release


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Friday, May 15, 2009.

In the headlines:
• Security Council members depart on four-nation Africa visit

• Membership in UN rights council brings greater responsibility, scrutiny – Pillay

• Top UN officials exhort countries to take action on climate change

• Ghanaian troops join UN mission in Chad, Central African Republic

• Number of confirmed influenza A(H1N1) cases rises to nearly 6,500 – UN agency

Security Council members depart on four-nation Africa visit

14 May - Members of the United Nations Security Council will depart today on a week-long mission to Ethiopia, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Liberia, a spokesperson for the world body announced.

The Ambassadors of France, Uganda, the United Kingdom and the United States will lead or co-lead the different segments of the trip, which wraps up on 21 May.

During the course of their visit, Council members will engage in talks with a number of actors, including government officials and staff of UN missions and agencies, as well as organizations such as the African Union.

The 15-member body visited Djibouti, Sudan, Chad, DRC and Côte d'Ivoire last June during a 10-day trip to the continent.

Membership in UN rights council brings greater responsibility, scrutiny – Pillay

14 May - In becoming a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council, a country not only takes on greater responsibility for tackling abuses worldwide, but also lays bear its own record for the scrutiny of others, the world body's top rights official said today.

“Council membership is not a reward for good behaviour. It is a responsibility, one that exposes members to increased accountability before their peers,” High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay wrote in an opinion piece published today in the International Herald Tribune.

She noted that critics of the Council point to the fact that among its 47 members are countries with “less-than-pristine” human rights records.

“To those critics I say two things: Is there any country that has a blemish-free record? Human rights violations are not the bane of any particular country or region. And even if such a thing were possible, what impact would a club of the virtuous have on those outside?”

Ms. Pillay called the Universal Periodic Review – by which the human rights record of every country in the world, including its own members, is examined – one of the “true innovations” of the three-year-old body. Almost 80 countries have already been scrutinized.

This week the United States became one of five countries – along with Belgium, Hungary, Kyrgyzstan and Norway – elected to the Council for the first time. “President [Barack] Obama's decision to seek membership is a welcome step to restoring international trust in US support for human rights,” noted the High Commissioner.

She added that participation in the Council is indispensable if States wish to influence how it develops, and also crucial to confront global human rights challenges and threats.

On terrorism, Ms. Pillay said that, in their countermeasures, the US and other governments have expanded executive power at the expense of the legislature and the courts, and eroded many of the most basic human rights guarantees of the modern era. “Experience shows that if checks and balances are not adequate, the margin of abuse is high.

“Although much more needs to be done, President Obama's determination to resolve the untenable situation of detainees at Guantánamo Bay, ban CIA prisons and implement the prohibition on torture in compliance with international standards is highly welcome,” she wrote.

“The US should also shed light into the still opaque areas that surround capture, interrogation methods, rendition and detention conditions of those alleged to have been involved in terrorism, and ensure that perpetrators of torture and abuse are held to account,” Ms. Pillay added.

The Geneva-based Council replaced the Human Rights Commission – which faced increasing criticism over the years as being ineffective and not accountable – in 2006.

Top UN officials exhort countries to take action on climate change

14 May - Warning that the clock is ticking towards a major United Nations conference in Copenhagen this December where nations are expected to reach agreement on a new greenhouse gas emissions pact, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the world body's top climate change official today urged the international community to pick up the pace of negotiations.

Addressing reporters in New York, Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), noted that the Denmark gathering is only 200 days away.

He said he is encouraged by progress made in the past 100 days, including the “very clear commitment of the new United States administration to the issue of climate change, to re-engage in the international negotiations to come to an agreement in Copenhagen in December, but also to put an ambitious domestic policy package in place.”

Further, Mr. de Boer said he is heartened to see that many countries – China and the Republic of Korea in particular – are seriously considering changing the direction of their economic growth as part of their recovery packages.

“Climate change as an issue has survived politically the financial crisis,” he said.

Even if there is “strong commitment” to conclude negotiations in December, Mr. de Boer cautioned that the limited amount of time remaining could threaten the comprehensiveness of any agreement.

The international community is “on track” to clarifying four key issues, Mr. de Boer said. Firstly, developed countries must lay out how much they are willing to slash emissions by 2020, and secondly, major developing countries must in turn identify what actions they are willing to take to curb their own emissions.

Thirdly, the topic of financial support for adaptation and mitigation for poorer nations is crucial. “I do not believe that developing countries will be willing to address climate change in a much more vigorous way unless there is international support,” he said. “They've made it clear that their overriding concern is economic growth and poverty eradication.”

Lastly, he called for the establishment of an international governance structure to oversee a long-term climate change regime.

Speaking at the launch of a report by the Commission on Climate Change and Development, comprising 13 renowned individuals, Mr. Ban emphasized that “climate change is happening, now.”

Stressing the necessity of leadership in reaching a deal in Copenhagen, he called attention to the need for adaptation for the world's poor to help them to deal with some of the worst consequences of global warming.

Ghanaian troops join UN mission in Chad, Central African Republic

14 May - Over 100 Ghanaian soldiers have joined the United Nations peacekeeping mission in the war-ravaged nations of Chad and the Central African Republic (CAR), it was announced today.

In a move welcomed by the mission, known as MINURCAT, 131 Ghanaian troops are in transit and will replace departing forces in the Farchana area of eastern Chad.

They will join 71 Ghanaian blue helmets deployed to MINURCAT last March, and at full strength, the mission will include 800 peacekeepers from Ghana.

In a related development, an attack last night on the station in Goz Amer, Chad, of the Détachement intégré de sécurité (DIS) – a security forced trained by MINURCAT to protect refugees, internally displaced persons (IDPs) and aid agencies in eastern Chad – resulted in the death of one DIS officer.

According to a MINURCAT report, six unidentified armed men in civilian clothing opened fire on the DIS officers present at the site.

In a press release issued in Abéché, the mission deplored the deadly attack and expressed its condolences to the family and colleagues of the DIS officer who was killed.

Eastern Chad faces an acute humanitarian challenge, with over 290,000 Sudanese refugees from the conflict in Darfur, Sudan, more than 180,000 IDPs and a further 700,000 individuals among host communities in need of food, water and health care.

Northern CAR has also been affected by a spill-over from Darfur as well as by displacement resulting from other armed conflicts.

In September 2007, the Security Council approved the establishment in Chad and CAR, in concert with the European Union (EU), of a UN-mandated, multidimensional presence, including European Union (EU) military forces, to help protect civilians and facilitate humanitarian aid to thousands of people uprooted due to insecurity in the two countries and neighbouring Sudan.

Number of confirmed influenza A(H1N1) cases rises to nearly 6,500 – UN agency

14 May - The United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) said today that nearly 6,500 laboratory-confirmed cases of the influenza A(H1N1) infection have been reported by 33 countries, adding that the death toll has increased to 65.

Dr. Keiji Fukuda, acting WHO Assistant Director-General for Health Security and Environment, noted that as has been true from the beginning of the outbreak, the majority of cases have been reported from North America.

The United States has reported the most number of cases with 3,352, while Mexico has reported 2,446 cases and Canada 389 cases.

“We continue to be at the pandemic alert Phase 5,” Dr. Fukuda told a news conference in Geneva. “We continue to be looking for evidence of whether we have moved into Phase 6 but so far that has not occurred.”

Phase 5 on WHO's six-point warning scale means that sustained human-to-human transmission of the new flu strain on a community level is restricted to one of the agency's geographic regions, in this case North America.

Dr. Fukuda noted that there is an “unprecedented” amount of information on what is unfolding. “There's more information available about the epidemiology, about the virus than has ever been true I think for a global outbreak like this.”

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