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

U.N. Rights Panel Cites Evidence of War Crimes by Both Sides in Syria

A four-person United Nations panel presented detailed evidence of what it views as crimes against humanity and war crimes committed by both pro-government forces and rebels in Syria. The panel reports that during the two and a half year conflict both sides have committed murder, rape, torture and indiscriminate attacks on civilians without regard to punishment. The report held both sides accountable, but eight of the mass killings were attributed to the government side and one to rebels. The report noted that “Massacres and other unlawful killings are perpetrated with impunity. The perpetrators of these violations and crimes, on all sides, act in defiance of international law. Referral to justice is imperative”.

The panel, a Commission of Inquiry, will present its report to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on September 16, 2013.

Full story: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/12/world/middleeast/united-nations-panel-cites-evidence-of-war-crimes-in-syria.html?_r=0

Number of international migrants rises above 232 million, UN reports

The United Nations reported that more people are living abroad than any time in history. Asia saw the largest increase of international migrants over the past decade and the United States remained the favorite destination. The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN-DESA) reports that 232 million people, or 3.2 per cent of the world’s population, lives abroad, compared 154 million in 1990. This was fuelled by demand for labor in oil-producing countries of Western Asia and in South-Eastern Asian countries with rapidly growing economies, such as Malaysia and Thailand.

The figures are released ahead of a high-level global summit on migration and development to be held by the General Assembly in New York on October 3 rd and 4 th, which will aim to identify measures to enhance the benefits of international migration for migrants and countries alike, while reducing its negative impacts.

Full story: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=45819


UN expert urges US authorities to focus on child's rights in Cherokee custody case

An independent expert urged United States authorities at all levels to take every necessary measure to ensure the human rights and safety of Veronica, a three year-old Cherokee girl at the center of a contentious custody dispute. The girl’s biological father is a member of the Cherokee Nation. The girl’s birth mother, who is not Native American, put Veronica up for adoption while still pregnant. Veronica was adopted by a South Carolina couple and authorities there have demanded the father release custody of her. The Oklahoma State Supreme Court has granted a temporary stay allowing the father to keep custody of her. James Anaya, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous people noted that “Veronica’s human rights as a child and as member of the Cherokee Nation, an indigenous people, should be fully and adequately considered in the proceedings that will determine her upbringing.”

The Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 partially ameliorated past practices of forced removal of Indian children, but the issue is still an ongoing concern.

Full story: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=45810

UN General Assembly President says courage needed to reform global credit rating system

General Assembly President Vuk Jeremic called on the United Nations to play a key role in the development of a reliable and objective international credit rating system. At the General Assembly’s first-ever meeting on the global credit rating system, Jeremic urged the assembly to be courageous in devising meaningful reform. In the wake of the world economic crisis and as the role of credit rating agencies (CRAs) has expanded, concerns have been raised as to their potential negative impacts on financial stability. Critics have noted that the CRAs, for example, failed to adequately assess the Asian financial crisis of the 1990’s.

While noting that CRAs are vulnerable to mistakes as each economic cycle is unique, Jeremic noted that “the status quo is hardly sustainable. It is incumbent for us to consider how one can improve the way CRAs operate.”

Full story: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=45811

New UN report reflects voices of more than 1 million people on development issues

A million voices were heard in a United Nations report reflecting priorities regarding development issues. National consultations, thematic dialogue and a global online survey were utilized to assist Member States in shaping the post-2015 sustainability agenda. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) expire in 2015. The report, A Million Voices: The World We Want, is a global initiative to assist member states in drafting a successor the MDGs and defining the post-2015 development agenda. The strongest messages from people across the world were a desire to play a role in changing the world, the need to tackle inequality within and among countries, and growing anger at injustice.

Helen Clark, Administrator of the UN Development Programme, emphasized “the people who participated in the global conversation conveyed the sense that the world as it is, is not fair to many and they want the post-2015 agenda to address and change that.”

Full story: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=45805

Report: http://www.worldwewant2015.org/millionvoices

Sustainable development the 'overriding challenge' of 21st century — UN top official

Highlighting the importance of sustainable development, the President of the General Assembly, Vuk Jeremic, stressed that “achieving sustainable development is the overriding challenge of the 21st century.” A paper presented by Jeremic’s High-Level Advisory Panel, and led by economist Jeffrey Sachs, entitled ‘The United Nations in the Age of Sustainable Development’, considers how countries can tackle global issues and overcome interconnected crises through cooperation. Mr. Jeremic noted that all nations “perhaps for the first time in history, we can truly say ‘we are in this together.’”

Full story: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=45801

Information technologies play central role in advancing social good, Ban tells Youth Forum

At the BYND 2015 Global Youth Summit, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stressed the importance of information communication technologies (ICTs), especially among young people, in combating poverty and advancing development. The Summit is designed to engage young people in the shaping of the post-2015 development agenda. Mr. Ban stated that “young people, perhaps more than anyone, understand how ICTs can help make a difference in people’s lives” and that ICTs are increasingly important to the work of the UN. More than 1 million people from all around the world, half of whom were under 30, participated in a global conversation to provide guidance on a to-be released report called ‘A Million Voices: the World We Want. The report will inform General Assembly’s deliberations on the post-2015 world.

Full story: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=45799

On International Day, UN spotlights literacy as foundation for a more sustainable future

On World Literacy Day, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon emphasized the importance of literacy for a more just, sustainable and inclusive world. Most of the world’s illiterate adults live in South and West Asia and Sub Saharan Africa, according to the UN Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Institute for Statistics. Illiteracy also persists in developed countries. Worldwide, there are more than 773 million young people and adults who cannot read. Two-thirds of them are women. This year’s theme of the day is “Literacies for the 21 st Century”. UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova noted the heightened importance of literacy in increasingly connected societies.

Full Story: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=45795

UN envoy strongly condemns terrorist attack in Somali capital

The top United Nations envoy in Somalia, Nicholas Kay, deplored a terrorist attack in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, which resulted in numerous casualties. According to news reports, a suicide bomber and an explosives-laden vehicle detonated at the site of a restaurant popular with government workers and journalists. As many as 15 people were killed. UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM), headed by Mr. Kay, which began operations last month, is tasked by the Council with supporting the troubled nation as it seeks to build on hard-won gains achieved last year and emerge from over twenty years of conflict.

Full story: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=45793

Landmark UN Labor treaty extends rights for domestic workers worldwide

Effective today, the Domestic Workers Convention (Convention 189) will be legally binding on signatory countries. The United Nations treaty enhances the social and labor rights of 53 million domestic workers worldwide. Adopted in 2011 by the International Labour Organization (ILO), it is the first United Nations treaty of its kind. Domestic workers are particularly vulnerable to exploitation, human rights abuses, and low wages and often lack any legal redress. According to a January ILO study, only 10 percent of domestic worker were covered by general labour legislation equivalent to other workers. The Domestic Workers Convention seeks to address these issues.

In addition to the eight ILO member states, additional countries have introduced laws or legislation improving domestic workers’ social and labour rights. Manuela Toei, Director of the ILO’s Working Conditions and Equality Department, stressed that “the momentum sparked by the ILO Convention on domestic workers is growing. The Convention and Recommendation have effectively started to play their role as catalysts for change.”

Full story: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=45777

Topic In Focus

Syria: U.N. Leader Admits Failure to Halt Syrian Atrocities

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated that the U.N. was responsible for a “collective failure” to halt two and a half years of atrocities in Syria. The remarks come on the heels of strong evidence that chemical weapons were used by government-allied forces on August 21 in Syria, causing mass casualties. Evidence of the chemical weapons use is currently being analyzed by a U.N. team and laboratories in Europe. At the same time, the Secretary-General welcomed President Obama’s decision to delay military intervention after Russia proposed a resolution to place Syria’s chemical munitions under international control. The five permanent members of the Security Council have begun “serious international discussions” that could lead to a Security Council agreement to secure and destroy Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile.

Mr. Ban’s remarks were made in light of the United Nations’ principle of “responsibility to protect”, adopted in 2005. The principle asserts that the U.N. is obligated to prevent mass atrocities. Mr. Ban noted that “atrocities continue to be committed” and “our collective failure to prevent atrocity crimes in Syria over the past two and a half years will remain a heavy burden on the standing of the United Nations and its member states.” While recent chemical weapons use has garnered the most attention, the conflict is now in its 30th month. Mr. Ban emphasized that “the responsibility to protect seeks not only to protect populations at the eleventh hour but, first and foremost, to prevent crises from erupting at all.” Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson stated that all member states have an obligation to take decisive steps to fulfill their human rights obligations and strive to build a spirit of international cooperation. As Mr. Eliasson noted “We pay an enormous price for waiting for conflicts to get worse.”

Full story: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/12/world/middleeast/un-guilty-of-collective-failure-in-syria-leader-says.html?ref=world&_r=0




The New York City Bar Association’s Committee on the United Nations is a dedicated supporter of human rights and a keen monitor of developments in international law, legal issues, and norms. This year the UN Committee will be involved in projects related to governance in the post-2015 development agenda, freedom of expression, and rule of law and judicial independence; will be hosting events with high level representatives of the UN; will prepare weekly digests of significant developments within the UN system; and will welcome guest speakers at our monthly meetings, among other activities. For more information about the Committee and its activities, please contact its chair, Ulysses Smith, at ulysses.smith@linklaters.com.

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