Articles for this Update were compiled by the City Bar's Committee on the United Nations.
UN inspectors begin mission to disable Syria’s chemical production facilities
Chemical weapons inspectors from the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) began its work overseeing the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons production facilities in Damascus. The joint team is tasked with the operation of eliminating Syria’s chemical weapons program by mid-2014. Discussions regarding long-term planning, including the size of the stockpiles and potential health and environmental hazards, are ongoing.
On International Day, Ban calls on world’s citizens to practice non-violence everyday
The International Day of Non-Violence, established by the UN General Assembly and observed annually since 2007, marks the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi, the leader of Indian’s independence movement, who advocated a philosophy of non-violence.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged individuals worldwide to stand up for peace and justice, noting that non-violence is not passive and “requires resolve to stand against injustice, discrimination and brutality and to demand respect for diversity and fundamental human rights.”
Vienna+20: A new vision for human rights
Coinciding with the 68th session of the UN General Assembly, world leaders, UN officials and human rights chiefs met at the “Vienna+20” – an event commemorating the 20th anniversary of the World Conference on Human Rights – to discuss human rights progress over the past 20 years and offer suggestions for further progress. Twenty years ago, during the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna, the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (VDPA) was adopted, establishing the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
UN Human Rights Chief, Navi Pillay, noted that while a strong human rights normative framework is in place, there is a need for greater implementation. “In almost every area – from development to conflict, we see evidence that UN action on human rights is falling short,” Ms. Pillay stressed.
Time now to find common ground on new development agenda – Assembly President
Following a week of debate during the General Assembly session, General Assembly President John Ashe stated that UN Member States must “find the common ground as a basis for moving with decisive action.” The theme of the Assembly’s 2013 General Debate, entitled “The Post-2015 Development Agenda: Setting the Stage!”, served as a forum for world leaders and UN officials to discuss the world’s development strategy for the period after the deadline of the Millennium Development Goals in 2015.
Acknowledging criticism regarding rhetoric without action, Mr. Ashe highlighted the importance of the General Assembly sessions, stating that the debates nonetheless “serve an important purpose; they help us to mark where we are as a global community, and they provide guidelines for where we need to go; they serve as a useful point of peer review and general accountability.”
Construction of massive steel plant in India must be halted immediately
United Nations experts urged Indian authorities to halt immediately the construction of a massive steel plant by the multinational corporation POSCO, warning that the continued construction threatens to displace more than 22,000 people in the Jagatsinghpur District in the eastern state of Odisha (formerly known as Orissa).
The experts voiced concerns over allegations of human rights abuses and potential negative human rights impacts linked to the project, including forced eviction and lack of access to water and sanitation, and urged POSCO to ensure meaningful consultations with individuals in the region.
UN experts urge Spain to do more to ensure justice for relatives of
Members of the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances urged the Spanish Government to expedite its response to thousands of cases of enforced disappearances committed during its civil war and dictatorship decades ago.
The Working Group, established in 1980 to assist families determine the fate and whereabouts of disappeared relatives, serves as a liaison between the families and governments and ensures that individual cases are investigated. The Group will present a report on its latest findings to the Human Rights Counsel in 2014, noting that the Spanish Government thus far has taken limited measures in seeking truth, justice and reparation.
UN urges global response to scientific evidence that climate change is human-induced
Following new findings by a scientific panel, the UN-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report stating that it is “extremely likely” that humans have been the dominant cause of global warming since 1950. Subsequent to the release of the report,
In its report, the IPCC explains that continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause increased warming and changes in all components of the climate system. To combat climate change, substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions are required.
Prosecutor welcomes UN-backed court’s decision to uphold Charles Taylor conviction
An Appeals Chamber of the United Nations-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) upheld the conviction and sentence of Charles Taylor, former President of Liberia and the first former head of State to be convicted for war crimes by an international criminal tribunal since Nuremberg. Mr. Taylor, convicted in April 2012 on 11 counts for crimes committed during Sierra Leone’s decade-long civil war, was sentenced to 50 years in prison.
The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Leila Zerroughi, welcomed the judgment noting its importance for the international community. “This verdict is a milestone for the accountability of those who use child soldiers, and another warning to warlords and military commanders that child recruitment will not go unpunished,” she stated.
At historic meeting, UN officials urge renewed efforts to rid world of nuclear threat
During the first-ever high-level General Assembly meeting devoted to the issue of nuclear disarmament, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Member States to take continued steps to rid the world of nuclear weapons. He urged nuclear-weapon States to increase their efforts to move towards disarmament by cooperating with the international community and acceding to the UN-backed Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT).
President of the General Assembly, John Ashe, noted that while the General Assembly remains committed to nuclear disarmament through resolutions, treaties and initiatives, meaningful progress has yet to be achieved. He called upon Member States to strengthen their commitment to achieving disarmament.
Topic In Focus
Western Sahara: Update
In October, the Security Council expects to receive a briefing regarding consultations on the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) from Wolfgang Weisbrod-Weber, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and head of MINURSO, and Christopher Ross, the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for Western Sahara.
The Council will consider the nature of its role in encouraging progress in the negotiating process, and specifically Ross’s bilateral discussions with each party. The Council will also consider the instability in the Sahel region and ways to ensure that the instability does not contribute to the radicalization of individuals in refugee camps. At the conclusion of the briefing, the Security Council will either decline to take any action or adopt a statement expressing support for the mediation efforts by Ross.
MINURSO’s mandate expires on April 30, 2014.
For several years, the Association has been on record as supporting the expansion of the mandate of MINURSO to monitor or report on human rights violations both in the territory of Western Sahara occupied by Morocco and the refugee camps at Tindouf governed by the Polisario. Members of the City Bar’s United Nations Committee have actively followed events regarding Western Sahara. For further information on the Committee’s involvement:
UN Committee Report on The Legal Issues Involved in the Western Sahara Dispute:
Letter from Association President to UN Secretary-General: http://www2.nycbar.org/pdf/report/uploads/20072466-LetteronmandateofUNMission
Comments of former UN Committee Chair before the Special Political and Decolonization Committee of the UN General Assembly: http://www2.nycbar.org/pdf/report/uploads/