Middle East Annan says release of Mitchell Commission report offers hope

Arriving at United Nations Headquarters in New York, Mr. Annan said he was “quite hopeful” about today’s release of the Mitchell Commission report — so named for the former United States Senator who had led the fact-finding mission. “I think there are elements in it which should allow the parties to step back and take steps for a ceasefire, confidence-building measures, and, eventually, return to the table.” “I hope this opportunity will not be wasted, and that they [the parties] will seize it as a moment to step back from the precipice and try and end the violence in the region,” the Secretary-General told the press in the wake of the worst clashes to hit the region in months. “It’s a real tragedy,” he added.The Secretary-General also said he expected widespread support for the report, including from the European Union and the United States. Noting that there had had been much activity behind the scenes, he expressed hope that “sooner or later — sooner rather than later — we are going to see some results after all these efforts.”Asked about the recent Arab Group decision to sever ties with Israel, Mr. Annan said that while “it is not going to make a settlement easier,” he was encouraged that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak had indicated that he would stay engaged as one of the two countries that had made peace with Israel. He also expressed hope that the other — Jordan — would also remain involved.The report of fact finding was requested by last year’s summit in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. Mr. Annan observed that the meeting’s participants “have stayed in touch throughout this crisis, trying to find a way of pushing the process forward.”For his part, the Secretary-General noted that he had been actively engaged in recent days. “I have been very busy on the phone with Washington, with leaders in the region and with my own people on the ground,” he said. “We will continue that effort.” read more

UN police arrest suspects in last years murder of Kosovo Albanian family

The arrests “resulted from investigations ongoing since the attack on 20 August 2001,” UNMIK Officer Paul Hamlin told reporters on Saturday, referring to the crime against the Hajra family which resulted in the deaths of Mr. Hajra, his wife and three of his four children. “We believe we have found those responsible,” he added.UNMIK police arrested eight men, including three members of the Kosovo Protection Corps. All those arrested are now in detention and will be processed through the judicial system, according to Mr. Hamlin, who said follow-on searches were continuing in a number of locations.

UN welcomes El Salvadors adoption of new legislation on status of refugees

“The passage of this legislation by the National Assembly is a very important step towards the institutionalization of refugee status determination in the region,” said agency spokesman Peter Kessler. “It is a clear sign of the will of El Salvador to fully comply with its commitment to refugee law and the human rights of asylum-seekers.”UNHCR has long been working with the Salvadoran Government to prepare the law, which is pending signature by the country’s President to take effect. The legislation establishes clear procedures for refugees to request asylum under international standards, and creates a commission for the determination of refugee status.During the late 1980s, UNHCR worked with El Salvador mainly on repatriating its own nationals – more than 32,000 since 1987 – and on protecting asylum-seekers arriving to the country. In recent years, the agency has focused on establishing local structures within El Salvador to deal with asylum-seekers and refugees arriving to the country from other parts of the world, particularly Colombians fleeing persecution. read more

Security Council condemns assassination attempt against Afghan President

The Council President, Ambassador Stefan Tafrov of Bulgaria, said in a press statement that the members also denounced the terrorist car bomb explosion in Kabul, which killed more than 15 Afghan citizens and injured many others. “The members of the Council, while recognizing that the necessary information is not yet fully available, support the Afghan authorities in the full investigation of these terrorists acts and their efforts to bring the perpetrators to justice,” Ambassador Tafrov said. They also stressed that such acts “challenge and obstruct the efforts of the Afghan authorities, with the assistance of the international community, to stabilize and return the country to normalcy,” he added. Earlier Friday, John Renninger, Director of the Asia and Pacific Division of the UN Department of Political Affairs, briefed the Council on the latest developments in Afghanistan during its closed-door consultations. read more

Workshop examines ways to respond to critics of UN

Speaking at the opening of the daylong workshop, Shashi Tharoor, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, said it was important to understand that the UN is always going to be subject to criticism in part because it is both a stage where its Member States can advance their national agendas and an actor, embodied by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in executing the policies made by those countries.”We all know the general public often fails to see that distinction. To most people ‘the UN’ is a shapeless aggregation, in which the sins of omission or commission of individual governments on the ‘stage’ are routinely blamed on the actor, the Organization,” he told those attending the workshop on “Defending the United Nations: What Every NGO Should Know.”Mr. Tharoor stressed that those who want the Organization to succeed need to learn about its success and to find ways to tell the world about them. “As your partners, I very much want to ask you to explain what the UN is, not just in terms of the things it aspires to, but in terms of the things it can do, and does do, to make the world a better place,” he said. “Let’s be realistic, but let’s not be defensive. We – collectively – have a proud record, and I believe we can stand on it.”One of the workshop speakers, Gillian Sorensen, Senior Adviser for the UN Foundation, said that in her travels around the United States, she noted “an enormous measure of interest, curiosity, readiness to learn and willingness to support the United Nations,” but also a large reservoir of ignorance and apathy.”Some of the criticisms [of the UN] have merit…but to my dismay there are a number of myth and misperceptions that persist, that live out there as if they are truth,” she said, citing a number of fabrications she’s heard about the Organization.Another panellist, Ambassador William Luers, President of the UN Association of the United States of America (UNA-USA), stressed the importance of proper communication. “You have to find a way to relate to your community, to your audience, to the people you’re talking to, [telling them] what does it mean to them,” he told the audience, which included numerous US-based NGOs. “Make sure you know what it is in their lives that could be changed dramatically if we left the UN, or has been changed constructively because the United States is a member of the UN.”Ambassador Kishore Mahbubani of Singapore, the last speaker of the morning session, said the United States has suffered from negative external perceptions in the last decade or so. “The best way to reattach America back to the world is to use the United Nations as the vehicle to show that indeed America works for global interests and not just for its own interests,” he said. “[If] you want to try and do something about changing the image of America in the world, or about changing attitudes towards America in the world, then I say, use the United Nations, it’s the best shortcut you can have.” read more

More governments tackle violence as a public health threat – UN agency

“A few years ago you could have counted on one hand the number of countries able to spell out the links between violence, public health, and prevention,” WHO Assistant Director-General for Non-Communicable Diseases and Mental Health, Catherine Le Galès-Camus said.“Today more than 70 countries have national violence prevention focal points and more than 50 have initiated policies and programmes focused on addressing the root causes of violence,” she added.At the global violence prevention conference in San Francisco, which is jointly sponsored by WHO and the California Wellness Foundation, experts will be assessing advances in the field of violence prevention.Examples of efforts to address the problem include Jamaica, where violence is the leading cause of death among young males, and the fifth leading cause of death among people, costing the country more than $700 million a year. In response, the Ministry of Health launched the Violence Prevention Alliance, a network of national and international agencies which share a public health approach to violence, WHO said.A UN World report on violence and health issued in 2002 said that suicide and homicide were the 5th and 6th leading causes of death in people aged 15 to 29 years in age, and more than 90 per cent of those were concentrated in low- and middle-income countries. That report was pivotal in changing the notion that violence is not just a phenomenon, it can also be prevented, and has led many countries to adopt violence prevention programmes, said WHO.“For many countries, accepting the notion that violence can be prevented has been nothing short of revolutionary,” said WHO’s Director of the Department of Injuries and Violence Prevention, Etienne Krug, adding: “This in fact may be the most important of all milestones achieved to date.”The tools to address the problem include parent training, home visitation services, reducing alcohol availability and access to firearms, helping high-risk adolescents to complete schooling, changing cultural norms that condone violence, and providing adequate emergency care, WHO said. read more

Mary Fisher named UNAIDS Special Representative

Mary Davis Fisher, a prominent US-based writer, artist and motivational speaker who travels around the world advocating for those who share her HIV-positive status, has been appointed as Special Representative for the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).“For more than a decade and a half, Mary has been an eloquent voice for compassion and action,” said UNAIDS Executive Director Dr. Peter Piot in a statement today. “I am confident that the warmth, talent and presence she brings will help UNAIDS send a powerful message that can open hearts, minds and doors of opportunity throughout the world.”About a year after she was diagnosed as HIV positive, Ms. Fisher delivered a landmark speech at the 1992 Republican National Convention, moving the audience in the hall and millions more around the world with her call for action against AIDS. Since then she has been internationally recognized as a chronicler of the global AIDS epidemic.“UNAIDS has worked tirelessly to help every pilgrim on the road to AIDS – and we with AIDS, around the world, are in the debt,” said Ms. Fisher in accepting her appointment as UNAIDS special envoy. “There is so much more to do – and thanks to medical sciences, there is so much more we can do to prevent babies and young people from becoming HIV positive.”Currently, nearly 40 million people are living with HIV/AIDS worldwide, according to UNAIDS, which estimates that every minute a child either dies of an AIDS-related illness or becomes infected with HIV.A former White House assistant and television producer, Ms. Fisher recently returned from a UNAIDS fact-finding trip to Zambia, where she focused on the impact of HIV/AIDS on women and girls. In 1992, Ms. Fisher founded the Family AIDS Network, which she closed down in 2000 in order to establish The Mary Fisher CARE (Clinical AIDS Research and Education) Fund. Based at the University of Alabama at Bingham, the Care Fund supports long-term, practical research to help people living with HIV, especially women, both in the United States and Africa. Ms. Fisher, who has authored five books, is also an active member of the leadership Council of the Global Coalition on Women and AIDS. read more

Violence increasing in TimorLeste UN refugee agency reports

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is voicing alarm about rising violence in Timor-Leste, where the agency today gave the Government 1,500 family-size tents, plastic sheeting and other relief items to help people affected by unrest earlier this year.“UNHCR is very concerned at the recent escalation of violence in Dili – in and around some displacement sites themselves – as well as within communities,” agency spokesman Ron Redmond told reporters in Geneva. “Burning and stoning of houses in the capital has increased in recent days, as the city has returned to a higher level of violence,” he said. “There appear to be attempts by some elements to polarize communities according to their place of origin.”An estimated 1,500 homes in Dili were destroyed or significantly damaged by arson during the unrest that began in April, according to UNHCR. Dozens were killed and some 155,000 forced to flee their homes after clashes broke out following the Government’s dismissal of about 600 soldiers who had gone on strike.While many people have returned to their homes in recent weeks, the displaced population remains large. According to current official estimates, there are 67,900 internally displaced persons in Dili while 78,000 people are staying primarily with host families outside the capital.According to UNHCR protection staff, in some camps, internally displaced persons (IDPs) live in fear of attacks and intimidation, and some of those who have returned to their homes are also fearful of night-time attacks. Mr. Redmond pointed to a “clear need for an ongoing strong and robust international security presence until national institutions can be rebuilt” in Timor-Leste, which the UN helped guide to independence from Indonesia in 2002.Last week the Security Council approved a resolution creating a new and expanded UN Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT). Its mandate includes improving security, providing economic assistance, and supporting next year’s presidential and parliamentary elections. The mission’s civilian component will include more than 1,600 police personnel and up to 34 military liaison and staff officers initially. read more