Articles for this Update were compiled by the City Bar's Committee on the United Nations.
UN launches $301 million appeal for typhoon-ravaged Philippines
The United Nations launched a 301 million USD flash appeal seeking humanitarian assistance, including food, clean water, shelter and basic medicines, for the more than 11 million people affected by Typhoon Haiyan (known as Yolanda in the Philippines, the country where it caused the most devastation). The appeal covers an initial period of 6 months. According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, at least 670,000 people have been displaced in evacuation centers, host communities or makeshift shelters. In its latest action plan update, the OCHA warned that “water supply and power are cut. Much of the food stocks and other goods are destroyed. Many health facilities are not functioning and medical supplies [are] quickly being exhausted.”
Another tropical storm is due to hit the Philippines later in the week, making the rapid deployment of humanitarian assistance absolutely critical.
Insecurity obstructs social, economic development in Latin America – UN report
The United Nations Development Programme published its annual regional report, Citizen Security with a Human Face: evidence and proposals for Latin America, noting that Latin America remains the most unequal and most insecure region in the world. The report details six main overlapping threats: street crime; violence and crime committed by and against youth; gender-based violence; corruption (the misappropriation of public property, whose provision is the responsibility of the state); violence committed by state actors and organized crime. It also stressed that “iron fist” policies do not work, as strong police and criminal repression in the region have often coincided with high crime rates. Insecurity also dampens economic performance; the report estimates that without the excess mortality due to homicide, the region’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) would have been 0.5 per cent higher, equivalent to a potential gain of more than $24 billion in 2009.
General Assembly elects 14 members to Human Rights Council
The General Assembly elected Algeria, China, Cuba, France, Maldives, Mexico, Morocco, Namibia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Vietnam, Russia, and United Kingdom to serve on the Human Rights Council for a period of three years starting January 1, 2014. The Council is composed of 47 members and has the ability to discuss all thematic human rights issues and situations requiring attention.
Membership is based on equitable geographic distribution - Africa and Asia have 13 seats each, Latin America and the Caribbean states have 8, Eastern Europe has 6, and Western Europe and other States have 7.
UN court rules for Cambodia in Preah Vihear temple dispute with Thailand
The United Nations International Court of Justice (ICJ) granted Cambodia sovereignty over the whole territory of the Preah Vihear temple, and ruled that Thailand is obligated to withdraw its military personnel from the area. The temple was occupied by Thailand after Cambodia’s independence but was awarded to Cambodia after an ICJ decision in the 1960s. Recent years have been marked by deadly clashes between the two counties. In addition to affirming Cambodia’s sovereignty over the promontory of Preah Vihear, the Court stressed that Cambodia and Thailand - which are both parties to the World Heritage Convention - must cooperate in the protection of the temple as a world heritage site.
Kenya, Somalia reach agreement with UN agency on dignified return of refugees
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, working with the governments of Kenya and Somalia, signed a framework agreement for the repatriation of Somali refugees to their homeland. Between 30,000 and 80,000 Somali refugees have spontaneously returned to south-central Somalia since January and some 470,000 Somali refugees are hosted in Kenya, largely in the Dadaab refugee camps complex in the north-east of the country. The agreement makes reference to three years as the benchmark time frame, but implementation will ultimately be based on the situation in Somalia. A Tripartite Commission will be established, per the agreement, to oversee the implementation of its provisions.
Repatriations will be undertaken in an incremental fashion, preserving the rights of refugees and ensuring that return takes place with safety and dignity, complying with international law.
Negotiators told ‘the world is ready’ for climate change deal, as UN conference opens in Warsaw
Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, spoke at the UN Conference on Climate Change in Warsaw, stressing the need for countries to reach a new agreement to cut climate-altering greenhouse gas emissions. This call to action was made particularly poignant and pressing in light of the devastation wrought by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. Noting that agencies, development banks, investors and subnational governments are collaborating on this effort, Ms. Figueres expressed the hope that a new universal climate change agreement is within our reach.
Over the course of two weeks, the 195 Parties to the UNFCCC, the parent treaty of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, will take up this thorny issue, hoping to create a treaty that will enter into force in 2020.
UN Security Council weighing how to enable Sudan’s polio campaign, says president
Liu Jieyi of China, President of the Security Council, discussed UN efforts to enable a delayed polio campaign to go forward in the Sudan. The vaccination campaign “cannot be carried out at this point,” concerning the UN body. Certain areas of the country are under the control of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), and the Government of Sudan has been unable to resolve differences with the SPLM-N over the technical plans for the campaign. The campaign aimed to vaccinate 165,000 children against polio, a disease which can cause total paralysis.
“Children are the future. So we do hope that the conditions will be there so that this polio vaccination campaign can go ahead immediately covering those children that need such a vaccination,” Mr. Liu said.
UN expert decries ‘unacceptable’ number of child victims of abuse in Benin
Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, Najat Maalla M’jid, urged the Government of Benin to make child protection a priority, expressing alarm at the high number of child victims of multiple forms of violence and abuse: infanticide of children considered to be ‘sorcerers’, female genital mutilations, abductions for placement in ‘voodoo convents’, forced marriages, corporal punishment and rapes. She conducted a 10-day mission in Benin, meeting with various State and local authorities, UN entities, the diplomatic community and civil society representatives. Despite a relatively complete legal framework protecting children in Benin, implementation is hampered by a lack of access to justice mechanisms, and by corruption and impunity.
In the interests of switching from a “project” mentality to a comprehensive child protection framework, Ms. Maalla M’jid recommended creating local protection mechanisms that are easily accessible to all children, with adequate human and financial resources supported by the international community.
Colombia: UN chief congratulates negotiating parties on peace agreement
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed an agreement between the Colombian Government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) which would allow the latter’s participation in national politics if peace talks in Havana reach a final deal to end the armed conflict. In particular, Mr. Ban also praised the commitment of the parties to implement the agreement while taking gender in account, ensuring the political participation of women.
The agreement, called the General Agreement for the End of the Conflict and Building a Stable and Lasting Peace, also calls for the FARC to disarm and form a political movement in order to put an end to the conflict which has killed some 600,000 people since the 1960s.
UN agency welcomes US ratification of treaty to tackle mercury pollution
The UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) welcomed the ratification by the United States of the Minamata Convention, which seeks to bring down emissions and releases of mercury, boost medical care, pinpoint populations at risk, and improve the training of health care professionals in identifying and treating mercury-related effects. The Convention, which was adopted on October 10th of this year in the Japanese city of Kumamoto, has been signed by 93 countries, and will come into force when 50 countries ratify it. The US is the first country to ratify the Convention. Achim Steiner, Executive Director of UNEP, stated: “I would like to thank the United States for this important act that assists in paving the way for a new era on international cooperation on mercury pollution and global efforts to lift a serious health and environmental threat from the lives of people everywhere.”
Mercury can have harmful effects on the nervous system, including impaired thyroid and liver function, irritability, tremors, disturbances to vision, memory loss and cardiovascular problems.
Topic In Focus
US loss of UNESCO Voting Rights
Effective November 8, 2013, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization suspended the United States’ voting rights within the organization, which tackles multiple issues, from press freedom to heritage preservation and HIV prevention. Israel was also stripped of voting rights on the same day. The organization referred to a rule in its constitution which rescinds voting rights of any member state that misses a two-year deadline to contribute funding. The US cut funding to the organization - 220 million USD over 3 years, representing 22 percent of the organization’s budget - under domestic legislation which triggers the halting of US contributions to any UN body that recognizes Palestinian statehood. The General Assembly had done just that in October 2011, when it voted to recognize Palestine as UNESCO’s 195th member.
The US withdrawal of funding has led to the defunding of several UNESCO initiatives. Critics, both within the US and abroad, criticize the US legislation as depriving the country of influence in international organizations. The Obama administration has vowed to find ways to restore the halted funding flows.