Articles for this Update were compiled by the City Bar's Committee on the United Nations.
‘Outraged’ by rising death toll in Syria, General Assembly demands halt to all violence
The UN General Assembly today adopted a resolution expressing grave concern at the continuing escalation of violence in Syria, and calling for rapid progress on a political transition. Adopted by a vote of 107 in favor to 12 against, with 59 abstentions, this resolution marks the fifth on the situation in Syria since 2011, the year when fighting commenced between the Government’s forces and rebels. The current resolution requests the international community to provide financial support to host countries providing humanitarian assistance, and asks the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons (IDPs) to submit a report to the Assembly within 90 days “on the very dire situation” of IDPs in the country.
Health gap between countries is narrowing, but challenges remain – UN report
The UN World Health Organization published its report, World Health Statistics 2013, comparingprogress made by countries with the best health status and those with least-favorable health status over the past two decades. The report finds that the health gap between poor and rich countries has narrowed significantly over the past two decades. For example, considerable progress has been made in the areas of reducing child and maternal deaths, improving nutrition, and reducing deaths and illness from HIV infections, tuberculosis and malaria. Nevertheless, challenges remain to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. In particular, the current rates of progress will not be sufficient to reach the global target of a two-thirds reduction in 1990 levels of child mortality by 2015.
Consensus forming on ‘golden thread of development,’ says co-chair of UN panel on post-2015 agenda
Co-Chair of the High Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, British Prime Minister David Cameron, gave a statement before journalists at UN Headquarters in New York highlighting the consensus reached after discussion. Cameron noted that “agreement is emerging to include goals that go to the heart of [the] golden thread of development [comprising rule of law, good governance and governmental accountability], that links open economies and open societies, fair and accountable institutions, equal economic and political opportunities for women, open and fair rules to boost enterprises and growth.” The panel, which wrapped up discussions with this public statement, will present its report on 30 May to the Secretary-General.
UN agency welcomes new safety agreement between garment industry and Bangladeshi workers
The International Labour Organization lauded the newly formed Accord on Building and Fire Safety, signed by international fashion brands and retailers, and trade unions. Companies such as Zara and H&M will develop and agree on an implementation plan to monitor their textile production in Bangladesh within 45 days of signing. Hundreds of people were killed and injured when Rana Plaza, a ready-made garment factory, collapsed in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
The Accord seeks to ensure “a safe and sustainable Bangladeshi ReadyMade Garment industry in which no worker needs to fear fires, building collapses, or other accidents that could be prevented with reasonable health and safety measures.”
Accord on Building and Fire Safety: http://www.uniglobalunion.org/Apps/UNINews.nsf/
Independent UN expert stresses need to improve human rights situation in Eritrea
Sheila Keetharuth, the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Eritrea, warned of Eritrea’s “current culture of rights denial” after a 10-day mission to Ethiopia and Djibouti to collect first-hand information directly from Eritrean refugees on the human rights situation in their country. Her report chronicles various abuses of human rights, including: conscription, lack of educational opportunities, indefinite national service, arbitrary arrest and incommunicado detention in inhumane conditions, widespread torture, and persecution on religious grounds.
Since the beginning of the year, close to 4,000 Eritrean refugees have fled to Ethiopia, bringing the number of those living in the three refugee camps in the Tigray region to over 50,000.
Guatemala: UN Rights Chief welcomes ‘historic’ genocide conviction of former military leader
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, welcomed the conviction of José Efraín Ríos Montt, Guatemala’s former de facto head of State, sentencing him to 80 years in prison for genocide and crimes against humanity. The conviction was based on his role in the killing of 1,771 people between 1982 and 1983. Additionally, the sentence was based on his role in the forced displacement, starvation, torture, and systematic rape and sexual assault of Guatemala’s Mayan Ixil communities.
Ms. Pillay asserted that “this historic verdict shows that no one is above the law, and that Guatemala’s institutions have the strength and solidity to carry this through – provided there is the will to do so.”
UN Member States appraise Global Action Plan to combat human trafficking
General Assembly President Vuk Jeremic opened two days of high-level meetings on improving the coordination of efforts against trafficking in persons. At the meetings, countries will evaluate progress made on the UN Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons. This plan was adopted in 2010 and contains four pillars, namely: preventing trafficking, prosecuting offenders, protecting victims and forming partnerships to fight trafficking. The plan also set up the UN Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children; President Jeremic urged States and private parties to step up contributions to the fund.
It is estimated that 21 million men, women and children are victims of human trafficking and forced labor. In addition, a 2012 report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, surveying 132 countries, found that nearly one-third of all victims of human trafficking officially detected around the world between 2007 and 2010 were children.
Security Council strongly condemns deadly attacks near Turkish-Syrian border
The Security Council issued a press statement strongly condemning car bomb attacks that killed at least 46 people and injured dozens of others near a Syrian refugee base in the southeastern town of Reyhanli, in Turkey's Hatay province. The Council expressed condolences to the families of those killed in the 11 May attack and to the Government and people of Turkey.
According to media reports, Turkish authorities have detained at least nine people in connection with the attacks.
New UN study highlights huge potential for generating clean energy in Africa
A study by the UN Environment Programme and the European Patent Office, entitled Patents and Clean Energy Technologies in Africa, stresses that Africa has major untapped potential for clean energy - through hydroelectric power from its seven major river systems, solar, wind and geothermal power. The report points to intellectual property and patenting in particular as a significant factor limiting the transfer of new clean technologies to developing countries, preventing these countries from meeting new emission limits for CO2 and other greenhouse gases.
The report makes a number of recommendations, including the development of international policies to promote clean energy technology in Africa without having to consider significant issues relating to patent rights.
At UN conference, countries boost protection against hazardous chemicals and waste
The UN Environment Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organization held a conference in Geneva dealing with three UN conventions – the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm treaties – that regulate chemicals and hazardous waste. Representatives of over 170 countries met in order to: strengthen capacity building and technical assistance for countries by investing savings into an enhanced technical assistance program, adopt a framework for the environmentally sound management of hazardous wastes, deepen cooperation and collaboration as part of a broader effort to raise the profile of chemicals and waste issues, promote green growth, and alleviate poverty.
UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said the meeting was “a unique historic event coming at a time of unprecedented change and progress in the arena of global environmental governance.”
Topic In Focus
The United Nations Alliance of Civilizations
The Alliance of Civilizations, created in 2005 under UN auspices at the initiative of the Spanish and Turkish governments, seeks to establish a forum where civil society, governments and the private sector learn from each other and “stand up for tolerance and inclusivity and against extremism and polarization.” One of its initiatives has been the training of hundreds of journalists in different regions around the world on how to report on culturally divisive issues. In the wake of the release of an anti-Islam video that led to protests in several countries in late 2012, the Alliance unveiled a Social Media campaign called “Represent Yourself,” which sought to highlight voices of moderation and engaged with 3 million people in a few days.
Speaking at a May 13, 2013 meeting of the Group of Friends of the Alliance of Civilizations, Secretary-General Ban-ki Moon praised the work of the Alliance as “a globally recognized initiative that now attracts thousands to its annual meetings, engages millions around the world through its social media campaigns, and directly benefits young people by empowering them through youth-led projects.”
The Secretariat of the Alliance of Civilizations is located in New York.