Articles for this Update were compiled by the City Bar's Committee on the United Nations.

Almost 80,000 South Sudanese flee to neighboring countries as fighting generates more displacement

United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) reports that 78,000 people have fled South Sudan since mid-December. Refugees have streamed primarily into Uganda and to a lesser extent Ethiopia and Kenya. Some have even escaped to the also volatile Sudan. Most of these refugees are women and children, with men dropping their families at the border and returning back to the country. South Sudan has suffered from internal conflict since becoming an independent state in 2011. The violence shows no sign of subsiding and internal reports have noted killings and house burnings. Internal displacement figures are now at 355,000, up from 200,000 last week. The added displacement is being fuelled by the fighting itself as well as by fear of it, combined with deteriorating living conditions, including a lack of food and water in some markets. Despite these obstacles, UNHCR continues to provide assistance to 230,000 refugees in 10 camps in South Sudan.

Full story: http://www.unhcr.org/52d516da6.html

In show of solidarity, Ban, senior UN officials visit Syrian refugees in Northern Iraq

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visited the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq where the Kurdistan Regional Government is hosting 220,000 Syrian refugees. The refugees, part of the 8 million total, have fled the civil war in Syria, which began in March 2011. Nearly 100,000 Syrians have been killed in the fighting. Mr. Ban is in the region to chair a humanitarian pledging conference for Syria, hosted by Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah in Kuwait City. The conference has set a fundraising goal of $6.5 billion through 2014 for displaced Syrians and those seeking refuge in neighboring countries, including Iraq. Of that amount, $542 million will be applied in humanitarian action in Kurdistan and in support to the local communities. Mr. Ban called the scene of the refugees “heartbreaking”, but commended the Kurdistan Regional Government for its tremendous humanitarian efforts.

Full story: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=46925

Key UN body can now hear complaints from children whose rights have been violated

The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on a Communications Procedure, a new legal instrument that enables children or their representatives to file a complaint with the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, will enter into effect in April. Costa Rica was the tenth required country to ratify the instrument, bringing it into force. The Convention is a set of non-negotiable standards and obligations, providing protection and support for the rights of children. Its three Optional Protocols deal, with protecting children from trafficking, prostitution and child pornography; prohibiting their recruitment in armed conflict; and allowing them to file complaints with the UN if their rights are violated. The Optional Protocol is intended to protect those most vulnerable to abuse, those at the margins of society, such as children with disabilities and minorities. Kirsten Sandberg, Chairperson of the Geneva-based Committee on the Rights of the Child, which monitors implementation of the treaty and its protocols, called the Optional Protocol “a major step forward,” but noted that Governments have the primary responsibility to address child rights violations.

Full story: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=46922

UN human rights chief denounces ‘draconian’ anti-homosexuality law in Nigeria

Nigeria’s Senate approved the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Bill in December, and President Goodluck Jonathan signed the Act into law earlier this month. The Act includes a provision for a 14-year prison term for anyone who enters into a same-sex union, and a 10-year prison term for anyone who “administers, witnesses, abets or aids” a same sex marriage or civil union ceremony. The law states that “a person or group of persons who ... supports the registration, operation and sustenance of gay clubs, societies, organizations, processions or meetings in Nigeria commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a term of 10 years imprisonment.”

Consensual same sex relationships are already criminalized in Nigeria. The country also has the second worst HIV epidemic in the world, at the 3.4 million infected persons. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, stressed that “this draconian new law makes an already bad situation much worse. It purports to ban same-sex marriage ceremonies but in reality does much more. It turns anyone who takes part in, witnesses or helps organize a same sex marriage into a criminal. It punishes people for displaying any affection in public towards someone of the same sex.”

Full story: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=46923

Lampedusa sea disaster survivors released after UN condemns ‘detention’

In October, tragically more than 300 Eritreans died when the boat carrying them from Libya caught fire and sank off the coast of the small Italian island of Lampedusa. This Mediterranean island has become one of the main entry points for African migrants. Survivors were taken to the island’s center for first assistance (CPA), a basic and often hugely overstretched reception center where new arrivals are supposed to spend two days. They have resided in sub-standard housing conditions since early October. The UNHCR has called the 100-day stay on the island for the Eritrean survivors “unacceptable”. Authorities are concerned that if survivors are dispersed, they may go missing and with them valuable testimony to aid investigators. The UNHCR has written the authorities condemning the length of the stay and demanding that the situation never happen again.

Full story: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jan/13/lampedusa-sea-disaster-survivors-released-un-italy

Central African Republic: new transitional leader could help restore hope, UN official says

The United Nations is hopeful that a new, respected head of state can help the Central African Republic’s transition and restore hope. The current conflict erupted one year ago when attacks by mainly Muslim Seleka groups forced the president to flee.

In recent weeks, battles between Muslims and Christians have killed thousands. The president and prime minister have since stepped down. There is hope however, that calm can be restored and reconciliation between Christians and Muslims can begin. “The profile of the new head of state of the transition could help restore hope,” said UN Special Representative, Babacar Gaye. The capital, Bangui, is reportedly relatively calm, however, 100,000 people continue to gather around the national airport. One in five people in the country are believed to be displaced and nearly half of the population, an estimated 2.2 million people, are estimated desperately need humanitarian aid.

Full story: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=46920

‘World must do more’ to aid besieged communities in Syria, urges top UN Relief official

United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos highlighted the desperate plight affecting more than 9 million Syrians affected by the country’s civil war. Many are cut off in remote areas impacted by fighting between rebels and government forces. In conjunction with her visit to Damascus, she implored: “The world must do more for all the people who are displaced. Many families are living in abandoned buildings, schools or in makeshift shelters, without enough food, clean water or medicine. We must help them to get through this very cold winter.” Some areas have been so hard hit that reports of starvation are becoming known. She also held meetings with the Syrian government to discuss strategies to reduce the impact of violence and displacement on the civilian population. She praised international aid agencies and the Syrian Red Crescent for their efforts on behalf of Syria’s people.

Full story: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=46913

Towbacks may breach international law, UN refugee agency cautions Abbott

The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is seeking an explanation from the Australian government over reports a number of asylum-seeker boats had been returned to Indonesian waters. Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his immigration minister have kept border protection operations and policies extremely secret, likening border protection to a war against smugglers. Baloch noted that the allegations were disconcerting and “could place Australia in breach of its obligations under the refugee convention and international law. If people who are in need for international protection seek a country's safety then they must be allowed to go through a process which helps to determine if these people are in need.” The Australian government reiterated that it is in compliance with all domestic law and all of its international obligations. The Indonesian government has gone on the record calling the pushback policy “unhelpful”.

Full story: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jan/11/towbacks-may-breach-international-law-un-refugee-agency-cautions-abbott?INTCMP=ILCNETTXT3487

UNHCR is concerned at new Amendment to Israel's Law on the Prevention of Infiltration

Israel hosts approximately 53,000 refugees and asylum-seekers, the majority is from Eritrea (36,000) and Sudan (14,000). Asylum seekers have been provided with a form of temporary protection until now. UNHCR has raised concerns this week with the Government of Israel over a recent Amendment to Israel’s Anti-infiltration law that was passed by the parliament in December and further limits the rights of asylum-seekers.

UNHCR is concerned that one of the provisions of the new Amendment requires asylum-seekers to reside in the “open residence facility” located in the desert with serious restrictions on freedom of movement with mandatory residence, a three-times-per-day reporting requirement and other discipline measures. Since the facility is housing people who cannot be returned to their home country, the organization is concerned that without release grounds, this facility could, in effect, result in indefinite detention. Under the latest Amendment, new asylum-seekers arriving in an irregular manner will automatically be detained for at least one year, as will people whose conditional release visas have expired. UNHCR acknowledges the challenges faced by Israel in managing the reception of migrants and asylum-seekers but cites,the importance of treating asylum seekers in accordance with international refugee and human rights law.

Full story: http://www.unhcr.org/52cfe2a09.html

Topic In Focus

The Rwandan Genocide - 20 Years Later

“We must never forget the collective failure to prevent the Rwandan genocide,” Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson told participants at an event at UN Headquarters in New York called “Understanding early warning of mass atrocities twenty years after the genocide in Rwanda.” Over the course of 100 days beginning on April 7, 1994 in Rwanda, more than 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were massacred by Hutu militants. The instant cause of the Rwandan genocide was the shooting down of a plane carrying President Juvenal Habyarimana on April 6, 1994. As is the case with most wars, the single incident was not the only overarching reason for the war. Over the next three months, Hutu militia groups murdered at least half a million members of the Tutsi minority, along with tens of thousands of “moderate” Hutus. These massacres took place against the backdrop of a war that pitted the Hutu-dominated regime against Tutsi-led insurgents who had invaded Rwanda from neighboring Uganda.

Retired Canadian Lt. Gen. Roméo Dallaire, the head of the UN peacekeeping force in Rwanda at the time, was present at the event and lauded for his efforts in attempting to prevent the genocide. He is the individual who sent a coded fax to his UN superiors in New York warning against potential “anti-Tutsi” extermination prior to these 100 days, which was not heeded. Some accuse the Western governments and the United Nations of not doing nearly enough to prevent the massacres. While there was some warning of a coming massacre, General Dallaire, who relied on a single informant, has told the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda that he acted on “instinct” when he sent a fax to New York warning of the potential massacre.

Mr. Eliasson stressed the importance of the role civil society in preventing atrocities, improvements within the UN, including the “responsibility to protect” concept endorsed in 2005.“As a result, the United Nations and the international system are now better prepared to anticipate, prevent and, I would strongly hope, respond to crises,” he said.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has implemented a “Rights up Front” Action Plan to prevent large-scale atrocities and human rights violations. By acknowledging the lessons learned from the Rwandan genocide, the United Nations can assist the world’s nations to recognize warning signs of large scale atrocities and prevent them.

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