On World Environment Day UN launches global effort to assess ecosystems

Speaking at the launch of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment at UN Headquarters in New York, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said that the project was designed to bring the world’s best science to bear on the pressing choices the international community faced in managing the global environment. The Assessment – also launched today in Beijing, Havana, London, Tokyo and Turin – is a four-year $21 million effort that involves 1,500 scientists and brings together governments, non-governmental organizations, foundations, academic institutions and the private sector.”It will fill important knowledge gaps, enabling policy-makers to make better, more informed decisions,” Mr. Annan said. “Most of all, the Assessment promises to help us improve the lives and livelihoods of the poor, and make considerable gains in our efforts to find and equitable and sustainable balance between environment and development.”This year, the theme of World Environment Day is “Connect with the World Wide Web of Life,” which, observance organizers say, is a reminder that the Earth – with its complex, interlocking systems – is the foundation of our lives. “As our world views are continually challenged by new information, and as we become more aware of the consequences of our collective actions, it becomes harder for us to ignore the quality of our surrounding environment,” said Klaus Toepfer, the Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).For his part, General Assembly President Harri Holkeri highlighted the fact that this year’s Day coincided with the Assembly’s special session to review the Habitat Agenda adopted five years ago at the second UN Human Settlements conference in Istanbul. “This coincidence underscores the interdependence of our human habitat with the environment and its living and non-living resources.” The head of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), Mark Malloch Brown, said in a message that a dynamic use of information technologies would prove critical in meeting the challenges of better engaging public dialogue on “win-win” opportunities in natural resource management, involving local communities in managing ecosystems, and filling critical information gaps on how best to do so. World Environment Day aims to involve the public in a wide range of activities, such as street rallies, bicycle parades, green concerts, as well as recycling and clean-up campaigns. As part of today’s observance, UNEP presented its prestigious Global 500 Awards in Turin, Italy, to 18 individuals and organizations that have made outstanding contributions to environmental protection. The agency also launched a new web-portal “FOOD” to help developing countries phase out a toxic and ozone depleting pesticide – methyl bromide. read more

Annan urges Iraq to cooperate with his envoy on Kuwaiti missing persons

In a report to the Security Council released today, the Secretary-General says that over the past four months, Iraq has “continued its approach of non-cooperation with the High-level Coordinator” on the issue, Ambassador Yuli M. Vorontsov.”Once again, I strongly urge the Iraqi leadership to reconsider its current policy regarding the Coordinator,” Mr. Annan writes. “As I have stated on a number of occasions, he can only achieve what he is mandated to accomplish if Iraq changes its position.”The Secretary-General rejects the “groundless and inaccurate claims” put forward by Iraq on the matter, most recently by the country’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Naji Sabri, in a statement annexed to a letter sent to Mr. Annan on 20 August. Among other charges, Mr. Sabri states that the Secretary-General’s previous report on the issue constituted “final proof of selectivity, double standards and deliberate distortions of the facts.” The Foreign Minister also refers to the “tendentious political nature of the mission of the so-called Coordinator.” In response, Mr. Annan writes in his current report that “such claims are counterproductive for the resolution of long-standing humanitarian issues.” Iraq should, he adds, “abandon its stance of declaring no knowledge of the whereabouts and fate of the Kuwaiti and third-country nationals who were arrested and deported more than 11 years ago.” For his part, Mr. Vorontsov remains ready to meet with Iraqi officials at any time and any place, according to the report. “It is my strong conviction that a dialogue between the Government of Iraq and Ambassador Vorontsov would bring positive results in the search for a solution to the humanitarian issues with which he has been entrusted,” the Secretary-General says. read more

Former top Yugoslav army officer transferred from Serbia to UN war crimes

A former top officer in the Yugoslav army, wanted for allegedly leading a campaign of “terror and violence” in 1999 in Kosovo, was transferred today from Serbia to the detention unit of the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague.An indictment by the ICTY issued last October accuses General Dragoljub Ojdanic, who held the post of Chief of General Staff, of leading Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and Serb forces in targeting a substantial portion of Kosovo Albanian civilians for expulsion from the province in an effort to ensure continued Serbian control. The alleged acts occurred between 1 January and 20 June 1999.According to the indictment, approximately 800,000 Kosovo Albanian civilians were expelled from the province by their forced removal and subsequent looting and destruction of their homes, or by the shelling of villages.Surviving residents were sent to the borders of neighbouring countries and en route many were killed, abused or had their possessions and identification papers stolen, according to the charges. Specific massacres were also allegedly committed by Serb forces in a series of places listed in the indictment.Three other suspects, Milan Milutinovic, Nikola Sainovic and Vlajko Stojiljkovic, are also named in the indictment against Gen. Ojdanic, who is charged with one count of violations of the laws or customs of war and four counts of crimes against humanity. read more

UN protests latest Israeli military assault on one of its schools in

The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) said yesterday the Israeli military attacked the Ezbet Preparatory Boys’ School despite a visible UN flag and symbol on the premises.A bulldozer demolished the entire front wall, gate and playground outbuilding, UNRWA said, adding that most of the windows in the front of school were broken and some classrooms were damaged during the assault that occurred under Israeli control.”There have been repeated military violations of the sanctity of UNRWA schools during the last 30 months, on the majority of occasions by Israeli forces,” the Agency said, noting that this latest assault comes just one week after a 12-year old pupil sitting in an UNRWA school in Khan Younis, Gaza, was hit in the head by a bullet fired from an Israeli position. The child has since died. read more

Independence of media stressed as UN observes World Press Freedom Day

Eminent writers and reporters gathered at United Nations Headquarters in New York today to observe World Press Freedom Day, which Secretary-General Kofi Annan said provided an opportunity for everyone to reaffirm their commitment to the independence of the media and ensure that journalists are able to do their vital work in safety and without fear.”World Press Freedom Day is first and foremost a day on which we remember and pay tribute to journalists who have been killed in the line of duty, or whose reporting has led to their imprisonment or detention,” Mr. Annan said in remarks kicking off a day devoted to discussions on the role and responsibilities of the world media in covering global issues.Drawing on “painful and disturbing” statistics, he said that 36 journalists had been killed in 2003, 17 killed in the first three months of this year alone, and 136 had been jailed by the end of last year. Some of those journalists were deliberately targeted because of what they were reporting or because of their affiliation with a news organization, he added.A sombre highlight of the programme was a screening of director Jonathan Demme’s film “The Agronomist,” which tells the story of Haitian journalist Jean Dominique who ran the country’s first independent radio station, Radio Haiti-Inter, and became a national hero championing the cause of the poor and powerless. Mr. Dominique’s fight for democracy was cut short when he was assassinated in 2000.Mr. Annan said that although journalists have been resolute in the face of hostility and danger, “the continuing threat to their personal and professional integrity must concern all of us who rely on the media as an agent of free expression, as a defender of human rights, as an instrument of development, and as a means of rousing the world’s conscience.”This year, World Press Freedom Day is also focusing on the “very contentious issue of what gets reported and what doesn’t,” Mr. Annan said. “Just as it should not take the collapse of a state for the international community to act, so it should not take a full-fledged crisis to attract the media spotlight. We should not, by our action or inaction, by what we report or do not, send a message – especially to those countries and people in need who struggle along in good faith – that only widespread bloodshed or total dysfunction will get them attention and help.”In that context, Shashi Tharoor, Under Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, moderated a panel discussion on “Reporting and Under-reporting: Who Decides?” with participants representing the media, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the United Nations.The panel follows last Friday’s release of a list of “Ten Stories the World Should Know More About,” that are, as Mr. Tharoor said last week, “compelling stories that, at this point in time, we believe are in need of more media attention.”Along with conflict situations, the list draws attention to the threat of over-fishing, to the plight of AIDS orphans and to a treaty now in the works to promote the rights of persons with disabilities, who now number roughly one out of every ten people on earth.Opening the daylong programme, Ambassador Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury of Bangladesh, Chairman of the UN Committee on Information, said the world should celebrate freedom of the press because first, it reminded Member States that democracy and development suffered when journalists were too severely constrained. Second, its observation bettered the international community since press freedom was linked to many other equally important rights. And finally, it kept alive the idea that there was still “a long way to go” before press freedom was ensured throughout the world.Meanwhile, the Acting High Commissioner for Human Rights, Bertrand Ramcharan, issued a statement in Geneva stressing that freedom of expression was fundamental for the promotion and protection of all human rights. “The extent to which this freedom is respected or violated is like a barometer, indicating how well countries abide by their human rights obligations in general,” he said.”On this World Press Freedom Day,” he said, “we must not only remember those who have fallen and been targeted for doing their job. We must also ensure that although they have been silenced, millions of other voices, dissonant and dissenting as they may be, will continue to be heard to denounce, inform, report, and educate freely.” Video of the event [2hrs]Listen to UN Radio report read more

Strict new UNsponsored maritime antiterrorism measures come into force

The measures, which require detailed security plans for ships and ports as well as such steps as regular and intensive individual or joint patrolling in vulnerable sea areas and the exchange of real-time intelligence, were developed and adopted by the UN International Maritime Organization (IMO) in response to the 11 September 2001, terrorist attacks against the United States.”IMO has repeatedly urged governments and the industry to take steps to increase awareness of the potential dangers and to encourage ships’ crews to be vigilant and alert to any security threat they may encounter,” the agency’s chief, Efthimios E. Mitropoulos, said of the new International Ship and Port Facility Security Code (ISPS Code).”Great emphasis has been placed on the entry-into-force date, but the real challenge is to ensure that, now that date has passed, we do not allow ourselves to relax and adopt any complacent attitude,” he added.The measures, adopted in December 2002 by a Conference on Maritime Security, represent the first-ever internationally agreed regulatory framework addressing the crucial issue of maritime security, but IMO stressed that they should not be seen in isolation but as part of the wider UN battle against terrorism.”In effect we are talking about establishing an entirely new culture amongst those involved in the day-to-day running of the shipping and port industry,” IMO said in a release on the ISPS Code, which requires governments to gather and assess information with respect to security threats and exchange such data with other governments. Shipboard and port facility personnel must be aware of security threats and report concerns to the appropriate authorities, while governments need to communicate security related information to ships and port facilities.The measures take the form of amendments to the 1974 Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Convention, which has 148 contracting governments and applies to 98.4 per cent of the world’s merchant ships by gross tonnage.Security experts have identified a number of terrorist scenarios regarding loaded oil tankers, including their being hijacked and grounded at environmentally sensitive areas to cause pollution, being run aground in narrow channels to block navigation, and being used as potential incendiary devices near ports and large anchorage areas. read more

14 elected to UN war crimes tribunal for former Yugoslavia

Among the 13 judges on the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) winning re-election last Friday were the court’s President, Theodor Meron of the United States, and its Vice-President, Fausto Pocar of Italy. Presiding Judges Patrick Lipton Robinson of Jamaica, Carmel A. Agius of Malta and Liu Daqun of China were also given new four-year terms, which will begin on 17 November 2005 and expire in 2009. The other re-elected judges were Jean-Claude Antonetti of France, Iain Bonomy of the United Kingdom, O-gon Kwon of the Republic of Korea, Alphonsus Martinus Maria Orie of the Netherlands, Kevin Horace Parker of Australia, Wolfgang Schomburg of Germany, Mohamed Shahabuddeen of Guyana and Christine Van den Wyngaert of Belgium, who had been serving as an ad litem judge. Bakone Melema Moloto of South Africa was the only new judge elected to the UN court. The Tribunal was established by the Security Council in early 1993 to prosecute those responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law committed in the territory of the former Yugoslavia since 1991. It was the first world court established by the UN for the prosecution of war crimes. read more

Thousands hit by Madagascar cyclone receive emergency UN food

“Everyone who has been affected by these two terrible storms will receive relief food,” WFP Deputy Country Director Gianluca Ferrera said. “We will have a better picture of what’s needed in a day or two but in the meantime, food will be distributed to those who have been most critically affected by the flooding.”At least 17 people were killed and 139 others are still reported missing after the two storms struck the province of Tulear. More than 11,000 people were made homeless. WFP plans to initially assist nearly 5,300 of the worst-affected while assessments are conducted to determine the extent of the damage. “Initial indications are that the damage caused from these storms has not been as extensive as that caused by previous cyclones,” Mr. Ferrera noted. “That being said, many people will need help to start rebuilding their lives and repair their homes, and food aid will most certainly play an important role in enabling them to do this.” Last year Madagascar was hit by one of the country’s worst storms when Cyclone Gafilo battered the northeast coast before crossing the large Indian Ocean island off southern Africa and wreaking devastation in the south. Gafilo killed 241 people and followed directly on the heels of another cyclone that killed 29 people. read more

Judicial reform needed for women in postconflict areas UN report says

The report, “Peace Needs Women and Women Need Justice,” has been submitted to the Security Council. It is based on a three-day conference on “best practices” sponsored by UNIFEM and the Stockholm-based International Legal Assistance Consortium (ILAC) last September.The vulnerabilities of women are dramatically increased during conflict and, more than that, their rights are seriously violated, or largely ignored, it says.These concerns have already been discussed and reported, it says. What is needed now is “the establishment of a high-level mechanism to determine what issues and recommendations raised at the conference require follow-up action by the UN system as a whole, as well as by Member States, regional organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other relevant actors.”Joint action could be undertaken by the Security Council, the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) to spearhead or support the establishment of that mechanism, which could then address the need for a “dedicated structure” in the UN to coordinate assistance for justice systems, with an agreed methodology.Conference participants included women from such areas of pre-independence or continuing conflict as Afghanistan, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Haiti, Iraq, Kosovo, Liberia, Namibia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Africa and Timor-Leste. read more

UN tsunami envoy brings words of encouragement to humanitarian workers

“Everywhere I go in the world, they say thank you to people like you for what you are doing,” Deputy Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery Erskine Bowles declared. “I bring that message.”Mr. Bowles, a top aide of former United States President Bill Clinton who was named deputy envoy after Mr. Clinton was temporarily sidelined as Special Envoy by surgery, said he wanted the relief and reconstruction community in Sri Lanka to know that the former president “sees his role as helping you, and he wants to keep the sense of urgency that you have shown and to make sure you get the resources you need.”Mr. Clinton’s objective and his own, he said, “is to keep the money coming in during the three- to five-year recovery stage,” and to make sure that countries honoured the pledges they have already made.Some 90 per cent of the $977 million flash appeal launched by the United Nations to cover the first six months of relief for the disaster, which killed more than 200,000 people and devastated large swathes of coast in a dozen Indian Ocean countries, is already covered, with more than $500 million paid up and the rest firmly committed. But much, much more is needed for long-term reconstruction.Mr. Bowles, who also visited Indonesia and the Maldives, said he would write a full report for Mr. Clinton immediately on his return to New York, and the two would then meet with the heads of UN agencies and international non-government organizations (NGOs).”The UN is at a point of risk right now and we all need to work together,” he added, citing some of the political pressures and attacks currently challenging the world body. Regarding the relief and recovery efforts in Sri Lanka, he stressed the need for “real transparency and accountability.” read more