Thursday, 10 September 2009


Continuing piracy-related incidents off Somalia and their increasing sophistication illustrates the weaknesses of an entirely sea-based approach to combating the scourge, a senior United Nations official said today.

João Honwana, Director of the Africa I Division of the Department of Political Affairs (DPA), told a meeting of the Contact Group on piracy off the coast of Somalia – held at UN Headquarters – that the situation showed the need for the international community to deal with the issue of piracy in a comprehensive, cohesive and broad-based manner.

"The international community's engagement at sea remains necessary and has demonstrated its deterrent value," he said. "But the continued increase in the [number of incidents]… underscores the limits of an exclusively sea-based approach."

Mr. Honwana said the UN has been strengthening the capacities of individual Member States to ensure that suspected pirates are prosecuted through harmonizing national laws with the international legal regime.

The UN, through its Office of Legal Affairs (OLA) and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (<"">UNODC), is also assisting with efforts to encourage more States to share the burden of prosecuting and imprisoning pirates, which has largely fallen to Kenya.

UNODC has helped countries review their counter-piracy laws, provided training for prosecutors, developed court facilities in the Kenyan port city of Mombasa, delivered witnesses to trial and improved prison conditions and reduced overcrowding.

Mr. Honwana said the UN would also continue to provide technical support to authorities across Somalia.

"UNODC and <"">UNDP [the UN Development Programme] are working on the improvement of prison conditions in Puntland and Somaliland to allow the transfer of convicted pirates back to Somalia, and in the longer term, increase the capacity of Somalia's basic legal and institutional structures.

"In this regard, international support towards rebuilding Somali institutions is crucial to combat piracy, while also creating livelihood opportunities for the local communities."

Mr. Honwana reiterated the UN's request to the Contact Group to set up a new working group focused on land-based initiatives to tackle the root causes of piracy, while an international trust fund is also being created to channel resources to projects and activities that deal with piracy.

Yesterday, dozens of countries signed up at UN Headquarters to a declaration that commits them to taking greater steps to prevent or delay further pirate attacks. The so-called New York Declaration, which is non-binding, calls on signatories to make widely known "best management practices" for ships and other vessels to protect themselves against possible attacks on pirates.

The declaration was first proposed in May by four of the countries with the world's largest ship registries – Panama, the Bahamas, Liberia and the Marshall Islands. Yesterday's signatories included the United States, China, France and the United Kingdom.


The main United Nations agency caring for Palestinian refugees today called on Israel to lift its blockade of Gaza to allow in educational materials for schools, stressing that these can serve as a major weapon in promoting tolerance and peace.

"There is a long history of <"">UNRWA experiencing obstacles with the Israeli authorities in getting educational materials such as paper and books into Gaza," spokesman Christopher Gunness said, referring to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.

"This is particularly hard to understand as UNRWA's education programmes, particularly subjects such as human rights and the Universal Declaration [of Human Rights], are underpinned by universal values which are informed by toleration and the need to resolve conflict peacefully.

"It is in the interests of everyone who believes in peace that the blockade of Gaza should be lifted especially for educational materials," he added.

Mr. Gunness also noted that the agency has still been unable to get building materials into Gaza, which means that 60,000 structures, including schools, which were damaged or destroyed during the conflict earlier this year, remain in a state of disrepair.

Earlier this week, UNRWA reported that the two-year-long Israeli blockade of Gaza continued to cause severe deprivation to its population of some 1.5 million, with unprecedented unemployment rates soaring to around 40 per cent.

Israel imposed the blockade after Hamas, which does not recognize Israel's right to exist, seized control of Gaza from the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority.


Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today expressed the continued support of the United Nations for the work of the International Criminal Court (<"">ICC), which he said has become the "centrepiece" of the global criminal justice system since it came into existence only several years ago.

"The establishment of the International Criminal Court was a landmark in the efforts of the international community to enforce the applicability of international humanitarian law, and to advance the cause of justice and the rule of law on a universal scale," Mr. Ban said in a <"">message to the Consultative Conference on International Criminal Justice.

The ICC is an independent, permanent court that investigates and prosecutes people accused of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, and is based on a treaty known as the Rome Statue. To date, 100 States are party to the Statute, which has nearly 140 signatories.

The efforts by the UN to further the causes of peace, development and human rights are closely connected to the work of the ICC, Mr. Ban noted, adding that the world body stands ready to do all that is needed to "facilitate the Court's noble and important mission."

In the message, delivered by UN Legal Counsel Patricia O'Brien, the Secretary-General pointed out the increased support for the idea that justice must be an essential part of post-conflict strategies to ensure a sustainable peace.

This could take the form of international accountability mechanisms, boosting national accountability methods, and setting up possible non-judicial forums such as Truth and Reconciliation Commissions, he said.

Since the Rome Statue entered into force in 2002, Mr. Ban said, "the activities of the Court and its Prosecutor have had a discernible effect on potential perpetrators of international crimes."

Currently, four situations – the Central African Republic (CAR), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Uganda and the Darfur region of Sudan – are under investigation by the ICC Prosecutor.


Urgent funding is needed to help combat an acute hunger crisis that is ravaging much of Guatemala, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has warned.

The agency cautioned that money only exists to provide food aid to some tens of thousands of families in Guatemala until the end of September, including the provision of a fortified food to 100,000 children under the age of three and 50,000 pregnant-lactating women.

More than 90 children suffering from severe acute malnutrition were admitted to the national hospital of Jalapa in August – three times higher than the same month last year – and out of the 117 children rushed to the hospital between January and July, 17 have died, WFP noted in a situation report issued last week.

In its immediate response to the food crisis in Guatemala's so-called "dry corridor," <"">WFP has committed 20 tons of High Energy Biscuits (HEB) and 200 tons of other food supplies, including corn soy blended food, black beans and corn to complement Government rations assisting 75,000 families living in the most affected areas.

WFP will also expand a food-for-work scheme to support another 93,000 families affected by damage to the upcoming harvest and who will need assistance for around six months.

The Government has also made $7.5 million available to complete the first phase of its National Contingency Plan while calling on donors to make further donations in response to the crisis, according to WFP.

However, food shortages are likely to worsen, with a 60 to 80 per cent loss of crops expected in the upcoming harvest in some of Guatemala's provinces, which would put even more households at very high risk of becoming food insecure.

WFP noted that the annual food shortages caused by droughts in the six provinces of the "dry corridor" – Jutiapa, Santa Rosa, Zacapa, Chiquimula, El Progreso and Baja Verapaz – has been intensified by previous crop losses, low food stocks, combined with declining remittances, exports, tourism and foreign investment and rising unemployment due to the global recession.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (<"">OCHA) announced today that the country team plans to issue a flash appeal in the coming days to respond to the current humanitarian crisis in the Central American country.


An estimated 48,000 people uprooted by severe flooding in Burkina Faso are sheltering in temporary accommodation such as schools, churches and public buildings while another 40,000 are living with host families, the United Nations reported today.

A UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (<"">UNDAC) team that went to Burkina Faso in the wake of the recent flooding also found that facilities in many of the buildings in which people are taking shelter, especially sanitation, are under strain.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (<"">OCHA) said that a flash appeal is being finalized for the emergency in Burkina Faso, which is among the countries hardest hit by the deadly floods across West Africa that have affected 600,000 people in the region, claimed nearly 160 lives and destroyed crops and infrastructure.

There has been damage in Burkina Faso to the Central University Hospital, bridges, dams, roads, schools and agricultural land. The areas most affected are the capital, Ouagadougou, and surrounding region.

A survey conducted last week by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (<"">FAO) identified the need to support the many small farmers affected by the floods with technical and livelihood support.

UN humanitarian agencies and their partners are providing emergency relief, including food, medical supplies, shelter material, hygiene kits and disinfection materials to those affected.

Floods caused by torrential rainfall in West Africa have also affected Sierra Leone Senegal, Ghana, Niger and Sierra Leone.


A shortfall of around $20 million in educational funding is hampering efforts to get Pakistani children back to school in the aftermath of the mass exodus in the north-west of the country during the recent conflict in the area, the United Nations humanitarian arm announced today.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (<"">OCHA) reported that only 17 per cent of all activities covering the educational needs of children affected by the conflict in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) are currently funded.

Many children who have returned to the region have found that some 550 of their former schools have been damaged or destroyed, including 147 girls' schools.

With the recent start of the new school year, a group of UN agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), led by the UN Children's Fund (<"">UNICEF) – is working to help provide access to education for all children affected by the emergency.

OCHA has reported in recent weeks that around 1.6 million of the more than 2 million people who fled the military offensive against militants in NWFP have now returned to their homes, stressing that there is an urgent need to provide school supplies and school tents for the new academic year until pre-fabricated shelters arrive for more than 500 schools in Swat and Buner districts. UNICEF has already dispatched 100 school tents to the two districts, enabling a number of returning children to start the year.

The children's agency has also prioritized the repair and rehabilitation of 3,565 primary schools damaged from hosting internally displaced persons (IDPs) – estimated to benefit over half a million children – with nearly 1,000 schools already refurbished and the work on another 900 under way.

In addition, an 18-month 'Welcome to School' initiative, designed to get around 532,000 children into school and keep them there, is slated for Swat, Buner, Lower Dir and Malakand districts.

The scheme will create temporary learning spaces in tents, makeshift shelters, rented buildings or through "second shift" arrangements in nearby schools. Agencies working in education will also provide education supplies to all schools in conflict-affected districts and work to get all children in school, including those who have never attended schools, especially girls.


Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders today discussed issues related to the election of the president and vice president of a united republic as they continued United Nations-backed talks on unifying the Mediterranean island.

Both sides put forward new "bridging proposals," Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's Special Adviser on Cyprus Alexander Downer told journalists following the talks between Greek Cypriot leader Dimitris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat in Nicosia.

But he declined to give any details. "I think you will understand and respect the fact that these sorts of negotiations work best if the leaders are able to discuss these things with a degree of privacy," he said, noting that the discussions on the proposals, which followed earlier disagreement on the issue, will continue next week.

"We are pleased with the way it's progressing," he added.

UN peacekeepers have been deployed since 1964 to prevent inter-communal fighting on the island. In May last year, Mr. Christofias and Mr. Talat committed themselves to working towards "a bicommunal, bizonal federation with political equality, as defined by relevant Security Council resolutions."

The partnership would comprise a Federal Government with a single international personality, along with a Turkish Cypriot Constituent State and a Greek Cypriot Constituent State, which would be of equal status.

After today's talks the two leaders attended a reception for Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot artists whose works, produced with UN backing, adorn the walls of the world body's premises in Nicosia, including the room where the two leaders met.


Today marks the 40th anniversary of an African refugee convention, which the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (<"">UNCHR) hails as "groundbreaking" for having paved the way for millions on the continent to receive protection and assistance.

Under the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, a refugee was defined as a person having "a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion."

The 1969 Refugee Convention of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), the precursor to the African Union (<"">AU), expanded that definition to include "every person who, owing to external aggression, occupation, foreign domination or events seriously disturbing public order."

The pact's "importance and vitality remain undiminished today," UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic <"">said.

In Africa today, there are nearly 2.7 million refugees and asylum-seekers. There are a further 6.3 million uprooted within their own countries, with the continent home to almost half of all of the world's internally displaced persons (IDPs).

George Okoth-Obbo, UNHCR's Africa Bureau Director, <"">acknowledged that there have been and continued to be failures, due to derelict State behaviour and other reasons, to protect the rights enshrined in the pact, but stressed these "cannot be put at the door of the 1969 Convention itself."

He noted that the Convention does not protect those forced to flee their homes internally by conflict or other factors, along with the emerging threat of climate change.

To this end, the AU is holding a special summit next month in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, to adopt a regional convention on internal displacement.

That agreement will be the first of its kind in the world, Mr. Okoth-Obbo noted. "It is critical that the convention elaborates the primary obligations of States, ranging from the responsibility to prevent displacement itself to responses which should be activated when and where displacement takes place."


The United Nations nuclear watchdog has safely removed powerful radioactive sources out of Lebanon, including Cobalt-60, a single source of which is enough to kill a person within minutes if directly exposed.

The mission was completed on 30 August, after a plane carrying the high-activity cargo safely touched down in Russia, where the sources are now securely and safely stored, the International Atomic Energy Agency (<"">IAEA) said in a <"">news release.

"Given the political situation in the Middle East and particularly in Lebanon we saw this source as vulnerable to malicious acts. If it was stolen it could cause a lot of damage to people," said Robin Heard, an IAEA radioactive source specialist who oversaw the mission.

The cargo included 36 Cobalt-60 sources which were from an irradiator that was once used for an agricultural project some 10 years ago. The project ended and the staff that knew how to properly look after the irradiation had left the organization.

Then in 2006, the Council of the European Union provided nearly 4 million Euros to the IAEA's Nuclear Security Fund to secure high activity sources, like these, in the Middle East.

The mission involved extracting the sources from the irradiator and moving them to special transport containers. They were then flown to Russia on a plane hired specifically for the job.

Mr. Heard said the challenges to this particular project were all security related.

"Just after we went on our first fact finding mission to Lebanon in 2006, the Israelis bombed the airport, so there was no way we could fly the sources out at that time. So there was a long delay while we waited for things to normalise in Lebanon," he said.


The number of children dying before their fifth birthday has decreased steadily over the past few years and fell to under 9 million in 2008, thanks in part to greater use of health interventions such as vaccinations and insecticide-treated bednets to prevent malaria, the United Nations Children's Fund (<"">UNICEF) <"">said today.

Newly released data compiled by demographers and health experts from UNICEF, the World Health Organization (<"">WHO), the World Bank and the UN Population Division shows a 28 per cent decline in the under-five mortality rate, from 90 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1990, to 65 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2008.

The absolute number of child deaths in 2008 declined to an estimated 8.8 million from 12.5 million in 1990, the base line year for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – the eight anti-poverty targets with a 2015 deadline that includes reducing under-five mortality by two-thirds by that time.

UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman noted that compared to 1990, some 10,000 fewer children are dying every day.

"While progress is being made, it is unacceptable that each year 8.8 million children die before their fifth birthday," she added.

Public health experts attribute the continuing drop to greater use of health interventions such as immunizations, the use of insecticide-treated bednets to prevent malaria and vitamin A supplementation.

UNICEF noted that progress has been seen in every part of the world, and even in some of the least-developed countries, such as Malawi, one of ten high under-five mortality countries that is now on track to meet the related MDG.

In addition, impressive gains have been made in countries that are not fully on track to meet that MDG, including in Niger, Mozambique and Ethiopia which have all reduced under-five mortality by more than 100 per 1,000 live births since 1990.

At the same time, UNICEF stated that while progress has been made in many countries, the global rate of improvement is still insufficient to reach the MDG, and Africa and Asia combined still account for 93 per cent of all under-five deaths that occur each year in the developing world.

"A handful of countries with large populations bear a disproportionate burden of under-five deaths, with 40 per cent of the world's under-five deaths occurring in just three countries: India, Nigeria, and the Democratic Republic of Congo," said Ms. Veneman.

"Unless mortality in these countries can be significantly reduced, the MDG targets will not be met," she cautioned, adding that this will require a strong sense of urgency with targeted resources for greater progress.


Haiti has "a remarkable opportunity" to overcome decades of misrule and neglect, but major hurdles remain and the international community must step up its support to ensure the Caribbean country can consolidate its gains, the United Nations Special Envoy and former United States president Bill Clinton said today.

Addressing an <"">open debate of the Security Council, Mr. Clinton said the outlook for Haiti was positive, with a Government committed to building a modern State, large pledges of aid from donors, a diaspora willing to help and goodwill from the international community.

"I am convinced that Haiti has a remarkable opportunity to escape its past," he said, noting that throughout the region, "there is a deep, wide sense that we can and should support" the country, considered the poorest in the Western Hemisphere.

"Haiti can succeed, but not without your help," he stressed, urging those donors that have made aid pledges to now fund them. Only $21 million has so far been disbursed of the $700 million pledged.

He added that any measures that could help expedite the distribution of aid would have a positive impact on the daily lives of Haitians.

Mr. Clinton said he would soon undertake a trade mission to Haiti to try to attract investment and project a more positive image of the country, and noted that the country had especially "enormous untapped potential for wind and solar energy" programmes.

Later, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's Special Representative Hédi Annabi told the Council debate that some advances have been made in extending State authority with aid of the UN mission in the country, known as <"">MINUSTAH, and the international community in fields ranging from increased customs revenue, enhanced local management of resources and other capacity-building initiatives.

"However, all of these initiatives combined represent a fraction of what is required to enable the State to deliver basic services to the population, as is critical for lasting stability," he warned. "Real progress in this area will depend upon on the political will of the Haitian leadership, and on strong and coordinated support from bilateral partners."

Mr. Annabi cited the continuing efforts by President René Préval and Prime Minister Michèle Duvivier Pierre-Louis to foster constructive and inclusive discussions on the country's future as well as improved collaboration between the executive and legislative branches.

"At a time when Haiti faces difficult choices, but also enjoys a valuable opportunity to advance, these positive trends must be strengthened," he said. "It is critical that all branches of Government enhance collaboration, avoid inflammatory language, and jointly assume responsibility for hard decisions."

Turning to security, he noted continued progress in addressing threats in rural and urban areas, and further development of Haiti's own security capabilities with MINUSTAH's help, including the enhancement and enlargement of Haiti's own police force, now numbering nearly 10,000 officers.

"However, at the same time, we must not lower our guard prematurely, before these advances have been consolidated," he cautioned. "Haiti continues to face serious threats, including a potential for resumed activity by gangs, criminals and other armed groups; corruption and violence associated with illegal trafficking; and the risk of civil unrest.

"All of these threats may be manipulated to achieve personal or political objectives, including in the context of forthcoming electoral processes. Potential spoilers are likely to exploit any indication of weakness or disengagement."

He also called for speeding up the recruitment of properly trained magistrates to strengthen the rule of law and protect human rights, areas in which he noted that continued Haitian leadership and sustained international support are indispensable.

At the same time, it is vital that further efforts be made to lay the foundations for long-term socio-economic development based around the revival of private-sector activity. "Today, we see a window of opportunity. Haiti's inherent advantages as an area for investment have been highlighted repeatedly over the past year," Mr. Annabi concluded.

"Over the past two years, events on the ground have highlighted that stability is built slowly and that setbacks are to be expected. But they have also shown that if we persevere and 'stay the course,' we can advance."

Ms. Pierre-Louis told the Council debate, which also heard from dozens of other speakers, that her country was undergoing a sea change with the help of MINUSTAH.

She stressed that it was up to Haitians, backed by the international community, to work towards a path of equitable and sustainable development.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009


The Israeli Government's recent approval of additional settlement construction in the occupied Palestinian territory has sparked Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's deep concern, with the United Nations chief reiterating his call for an end to all settlement activity.

The illegal building is contrary to both international law and the so-called Roadmap plan for Israel and Palestine to live side by side in peace, Mr. Ban said in a <"">statement issued today by his spokesperson.

He "urges Israel to respond positively to the important efforts under way to create the conditions for effective Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and reiterates his call on Israel to stop all settlement activity, including natural growth, and dismantle all outposts erected since March 2001 in the occupied Palestinian territory," it added.

In a move widely condemned by UN officials, Israel last month forced dozens of people registered with the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (<"">UNRWA) from their home in the Arab neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem.

Israeli settlers moved into the empty homes, with the evicted families' belongings loaded on to trucks and dumped at the edge of a busy Jerusalem road.

According to Robert Serry, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, the evictions flout the united calls by the international community, including those by the diplomatic Quartet comprising the UN, the United States, the European Union and Russia.


Facing possible shortfalls in funding due to the global economic crisis, the United Nations Development Programme (<"">UNDP) today called on donors to "continue, and ideally boost, their current commitments" to help the agency pull the world's developing countries out of poverty.

"I am concerned that we may not meet our income targets for 2009 and 2010, and that we will face a continuing imbalance between contributions to regular and other resources," UNDP Administrator Helen Clark said, calling on the Group of Eight (G8) leading industrialized countries to fulfil their oft-stated pledge to commit 0.7 per cent of their gross national income to official development assistance (ODA).

She stressed that the Millennium Development Goals (<"">MDGs), the UN-endorsed targets which seek to mitigate a host of social ills ranging from poverty and hunger to maternal and infant mortality to lack of access to health and education, all by 2015, remain at the core of UNDP's Strategic Plan.

"With 2015 now barely six years away, we need an enormous focus on the MDGs," she told a session of the Executive Board of UNDP and the UN Population Fund (<"">UNFPA). "Nowhere is that more important than in Africa, especially in these challenging times when African nations and their peoples have been hit hard by the economic crisis.

"As is well known, no country in sub-Saharan Africa was on track to achieve all the MDGs before the crisis. It would be a double blow if the global recession acted to reverse hard won progress towards the MDGs."

Many developing countries, facing reduced domestic revenue this year, need support to maintain budgets for basic services like health and education, vital ingredients in meeting the MDGs, Ms. Clark said.

"If children are pulled out of school because of the effects of the crisis on their families and their countries' budgets, they may never get a second chance in education. If children have poor nutrition because of the crisis, the long-term effects on their cognitive skills and productive potential are serious," she added.

"Profound economic crisis in vulnerable countries then may extend into a humanitarian crisis, and at worst precipitate instability and conflict. The consequences may take years or even decades to remedy, ultimately at a much greater cost to the international community than timely support right now."

Without secure and predictable funding, UNDP cannot plan ahead and be fully effective in helping countries reach their development goals, Ms. Clark said.

"We will, however, spare no effort to meet our resource projections. We do deeply appreciate the ongoing support of our donors, and urge them to continue, and ideally boost, their current commitments. We can also consider how our donor pool could be expanded," she added.


Some 1,000 participants kicked off a United Nations-backed conference in Manila today focusing on the transition of Asian economies to a more resource-efficient and low-carbon pattern of industrial development.

The gathering is hosted by the Government of the Philippines in cooperation with the UN Industrial Development Organization (<"[tt_news]=391&tx_ttnews[backPid]=7838&cHash=378e1d8552">UNIDO), the UN Environment Programme (<"">UNEP) and the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (<"">ESCAP).

"This conference should shed new light on how economies in Asia can achieve a smooth and speedy transition to a resource-efficient and low-carbon pattern of industrial development… and in the process, help create new jobs, build the industries of the 21st century, maintain the momentum of growth and protect our planet," said UNIDO Director-General Kandeh K. Yumkella.

He noted that UNIDO and UNEP were jointly contributing to improving resource efficiency in the region through cleaner production centres in Cambodia, China, India, Laos, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Republic of Korea and Viet Nam.

Participants at the gathering noted that while there have been significant gains in resource efficiency in Asia over the last few years, much more needs to be done, especially since resource use in the region continues to increase with economic growth.

The three-day event is expected to endorse a ministerial declaration and plan of action that will outline the steps needed to reduce the resource intensity and greenhouse gas emissions of industries in Asia and track progress towards a low-carbon industrial future.

UNIDO is among the UN agencies that have been calling for greater investment and robust government policies to allow a shift towards a low-carbon, environmentally friendly economy with "green industry" at its core.

Meanwhile, in the Republic of Korea, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs Sha Zukang today noted the importance of supporting developing countries' active participation in green growth.

"Developing countries need to continue growing strongly to lift their people out of poverty and, at the same time, to redirect growth along a greener path," he told participants at the Green Korea 2009 Conference in Seoul.

He said that to make this happen, large investments will be needed in the next few decades – financed in no small part by developed countries – in energy efficiency, renewable energy technologies and infrastructure, and public transport.

The gathering, co-organized by the UN, the Presidential Committee on Green Growth and the National Research Council for Economics, Humanities and Social Sciences, will explore how cooperation between government and industry can help translate low-carbon growth into reality.


Former United States First Lady Laura Bush has added her voice to a chorus of United Nations officials underscoring the importance of bolstering global efforts to increase the number of people who can read and write around the world.

"Literacy is at the core of sustainable solutions to the world's greatest challenges," stressed Ms. Bush, who is an Honorary Ambassador for the UN Literacy Decade (2003-2012).

"It provides the foundation for freedom and sustainable economic development," Ms. Bush told a UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (<"">UNESCO) gathering celebrating the International Day for Literacy at the agency's headquarters in Paris on 8 September.

UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura noted that while the "empowering role of literacy and its significance for development have been recognized worldwide, there are still 776 million illiterate adults in the world and 75 million children out of school whose rights and needs remain unfulfilled."

In his message marking the Day, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said that in a "world of enormous wealth, in a world in which education and knowledge are the necessary passports to a better life, the scale of illiteracy is truly staggering."

A UNESCO report released last year noted that some 75 per cent of illiterate adults worldwide live in only 15 countries – including Bangladesh, Brazil, China, India and Nigeria. And in some sub-Saharan African countries, the number of non-literate adults has increased in recent years by approximately 30 million.

Under such circumstances, three quarters of the 127 countries for which projections were calculated will miss the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of halving adult illiteracy rates by 2015.

In line with the UN Literacy Decade calendar, International Literacy Day put the spotlight this year on the empowering role of literacy and its importance for participation, citizenship and development.

The presentation of the 2009 UNESCO Literacy Prizes followed the opening when representatives of innovative educational projects based in India and Burkina Faso received the awards. Projects in Afghanistan and the Philippines were honoured with the awards of the UNESCO Confucius Prize for Literacy, with a programme in Bhutan receiving an honourable mention.


Male circumcision is a cost-effective means to prevent the spread of HIV, according to a new United Nations-backed report, which found that one HIV infection could be averted for every five to 15 procedures performed on heterosexual men.

Using a 10-year time horizon, the study put the cost of averting one HIV infection in high HIV prevalence areas between $150 and $900.

Published in the open access journal <i>PLoS Medicine</i>, it is based on findings in meetings convened by the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (<"">UNAIDS), the World Health Organization (<"">WHO) and the South African Centre for Epidemiological Modelling and Analysis (SACEMA).

First-line treatment costs typically exceed $7,000 over a lifetime, and double that if second-line therapies are used, the report said.

With each circumcision procedure costing between $30 and $60, with neonatal circumcision costing only one-third that amount, "circumcising sexually active males of any age is likely to be cost saving," it stressed.

However, the new publication pointed out that male circumcision may have only a minimal impact on curbing HIV transmission among men who have sex with men.

Additionally, despite studies confirming that circumcision could decrease female-to-male HIV transmission by 60 per cent, the procedure does not directly protect women from the virus, the report said.


Kenya launched an appeal for $81 million to fund efforts halting the degradation of its Mau Forests Complex, the United Nations Environment Programme (<"">UNEP) announced today.

In addition to being the single most important source of water for direct consumption in the Rift Valley and western Kenya, the Mau complex helps to control river flows, mitigate flooding, reduce soil erosion, maintain biodiversity, sequester carbon and regulate the microclimate in Kenya and the region.

"The Mau Complex is of critical importance for sustaining current and future ecological, social and economic development in Kenya," UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner told a one-day UN Partners Forum in Nairobi, which hosted today's launch.

Kenya is seeking $81 million over the next three years to implement some of the key rehabilitation interventions to protect the forest.

In the last 20 years the forest has lost around 107,000 hectares – approximately 25 per cent – of its cover due to irregular and unplanned settlements, illegal logging and charcoal burning, the change of land use from forest to unsustainable agriculture and change in ownership from public to private, UNEP said in a news release.

"The rehabilitation of the ecosystem will require substantial resources and political goodwill," stressed Mr. Steiner. "UNEP is privileged to work in partnership with the Government of Kenya towards the implementation of this vital project."

A recent report released by the Kenyan Government warned of serious consequences to the country's socio-economic health and internal security and even the likelihood of conflict emerging if the forest is allowed to continue on the path of deterioration.

The appeal for the rehabilitation of the Mau complex, the largest closed-canopy forest ecosystem in Kenya covering over 400,000 hectares, comes amid widespread drought in Kenya which has led to water and electricity rationing across the country.


The head of the United Nations mission in Iraq has welcomed what he described as growing confidence in the electoral process there, and given his backing to the voter registration process, in preparation for parliamentary polls early next year.

"The importance of next January's elections for the future of Iraq cannot be overstated," said Ad Melkert, who is also the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Iraq, according to a <"">press release issued by the mission known as (<"">UNAMI) today.

"The number of people taking part in the registration update is an indicator of the growing confidence in the electoral process and the will of the Iraqi people to rebuild their country."

During the first two weeks of the updating exercise, more than 250,000 Iraqis have visited the 1082 centres with minimal security problems, Mr. Melkert said. He congratulated Iraq's Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) for its successful management of the process.

Mr. Melkert was speaking during a recent visit to a registration centre at Omar Mukhtar Secondary School in the Salhiya area of Baghdad, where he witnessed registration updating first-hand.


The scourge of violence against women has worsened as a result of the global financial downturn over the past year, Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro said today as she urged some of the world's richest countries to lead the way in turning the many international pledges to support women and girls into concrete results.

In a keynote address in Rome to a ministerial-level conference on violence against women, being held under the auspices of the Italian presidency of the Group of Eight (G8), Ms. Migiro said there is evidence that women and girls are exposed to a greater risk of violence during times of hardship.

"We have seen rising levels of despair and frustration in families and communities around the world, exacerbating violence against women," she said.

"In a recent survey of more than 630 domestic violence shelters in the United States, 75 per cent reported an increase in women seeking help for abuse since September 2008, coinciding with a major downturn in the US economy. We must remain especially vigilant through these tough times."

Ms. Migiro detailed to the conference some of the steps taken by the UN to end violence against women and girls, including Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's UNiTE campaign, which calls on world leaders to launch national campaigns aimed at preventing and eliminating violence against women and girls in all parts of the world.

She noted that the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, which is nearing the thirtieth anniversary of its adoption, and several landmark Security Council resolutions on women, peace and security indicated that the international community has taken "significant" steps towards protecting women from violence.

However, "we still have a long road to walk before the full meaning of these international agreements is fully transformed from words on paper to reality on the ground."

Ms. Migiro urged participants at today's conference to put into practice two earlier recommendations calling on G8 members to enhance the rights of women.

The first calls on G8 members to back programmes that promote women's rights and make information about sexual and reproductive health widely accessible, while the second calls for support for peacekeeping and peacebuilding operations worldwide so as to emphasize security, the protection of civilians and action against sexual and gender-based violence.

"Ending violence against women will not be easy. It will require sustained dedication and collaboration," she said.

While in Rome Ms. Migiro is scheduled to meet with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican and to hold bilateral discussions with Italy's Foreign Minister Franco Frattini and its Equal Opportunities Minister Mara Carfagna.

She is also expected to meet with staff from the UN's Rome-based agencies, including the Food and Agriculture Organization (<"">FAO), the World Food Programme (<"">WFP) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (<"">IFAD).


With two new United Nations reports detailing human rights abuses – including possible war crimes – carried out by both Government forces and rebels in the volatile far east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the world body's top rights official today stressed the urgent need for reforming the country's security and judicial systems.

Fundamental improvements in these sectors "are of paramount importance if both the authorities and the international community are serious about bringing lasting peace to eastern DRC," High Commissioner Navi Pillay said.

The new publications are a joint effort of the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC (<"">MONUC) and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (<"">OHCHR), and cover the period in late 2008 when heavy fighting engulfed North and South Kivu provinces.

One <"">report focuses on the actions of Government troops, known by the acronym FARDC, some of whom took part in 12 arbitrary killings, as well as looting and sexual violence, of the very people they were supposed to protect in the North Kivu provincial capital, Goma, and surrounding areas as they fled advancing forces from the mainly Tutsi rebel group known as the National Congress for People's Defence (CNDP).

"As human rights violations by the FARDC are so significant, failure at the political and operational levels to act to remedy the situation in and of itself constitutes a serious human rights violation," the publication said.

The Government must take immediate and strong action on the violations committed by the Congolese armed forces, it emphasized. "Without profound change in the FARDC, the international community may be perceived as contributing to human rights violations as opposed to effectively supporting the desired change and this perception might affect its support to FARDC."

Despite some positive changes in FARDC's command structures in the wake of the Goma rampage, soldiers who committed these crimes remain in the area, according to local people.

The High Commissioner characterized the judicial response to the violations by the FARDC as "wholly insufficient."

She added that "that has, unfortunately, generally been the case since the [civil] war officially ended in 2002, and is one of the reasons why progress on the human rights front since then has been so deeply unsatisfactory."

The other <"">report highlights the rights violations committed by the CNDP, including at least 67 cases of arbitrary executions, during the 5 November 2008 killings in Kiwanja, North Kivu.

Following intense fighting between the CNDP and the Mayi Mayi militia, the CNDP carried out reprisal killings of villagers, mostly young men suspected of being members or collaborators of the Mayi Mayi.

"The fact that killings took place simultaneously in several different areas of Kiwanja and that they were preceded, days before the events, by public warnings by CNDP authorities that in case of a Mayi Mayi attack, the population would be held responsible may suggest that, at least to a certain extent, the 'opération ratissage' was retaliatory in nature and ordered and condoned by the command of the CNDP," the report found.

It also noted that in the aftermath of the attacks, MONUC was strongly criticized for not having protected civilians.

Not only is additional training of military personnel in peacekeeping operations necessary, the report said, but also, "the formulation of clearer criteria for exactly when peacekeepers are to intervene in order to protect civilians must take into account both the need for peacekeepers to possess knowledge of the dangers faced by civilians in a given situation, and the capacity of peacekeepers to make a positive difference in that situation."

Ms. Pillay pointed out that the CNDP's actions could amount to war crimes or crimes against humanity and "are part of a self-perpetuating pattern of brutality in eastern DRC which continues to go largely unpunished.

"I am deeply concerned that members of the CNDP who may be implicated in these crimes – especially Bosco Ntaganda, against whom there was already an International Criminal Court arrest warrant – are either still at large, or have even been absorbed into the FARDC."

Laurent Nkunda, who led the CNDP at the time of the Kiwanja attacks, was taken into custody this January.

The High Commissioner voiced hope that the announcement of a zero-tolerance policy on sexual violence by the Government will be followed by "concrete and immediate action to hold perpetrators accountable, particularly since sexual violence continues to take place on a daily basis."