Briefing the press in Kinshasa, Kenzo Oshima, the Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said international and local non-governmental organizations were working in “extremely difficult conditions,” without access to the most vulnerable segment of the Congolese population because of geographical obstacles, poor infrastructure and lack of adequate security. “I have shared my concerns with Government officials, as well as representatives of the RCD [Congolese Rally for Democracy] and the FLC [Congolese Liberation Front] who all pledged to facilitate access to vulnerable people,” he told the press.Mr. Oshima also said he had obtained an agreement to put into place a mechanism of dialogue between the Government and humanitarian actors in the DRC. The Under Secretary-General welcomed the Government’s declaration on 24 March authorizing freedom of movement of goods and people in the territory as a “very positive step” – one made in the spirit of the Lusaka Accord.Meanwhile the head of the UN mission in the DRC (MONUC), Kamel Morjane, and Force Commander General Mountaga Diallo were in Goma yesterday to review with officials of the rebel RCD the difficulties delaying their verification exercise in Kalemie. The RCD leadership promised to lift all “technical and administrative” obstacles in order to let UN observers do their work in the best possible conditions, MONUC said. The two sides confirmed the arrival of 100 Moroccan troops as the first group of a contingent of 380 men to be deployed to Kisangani between 15 and 16 April. Mr. Morjane and General Diallo also plan to visit Jean-Pierre Bemba, leader of the Congolese Liberation Movement (MLC), to finalize the deployment of extra military observers in areas where the rebel group is expected to pull out.According to the UN Mission, the verification of the disengagement of government troops will start tomorrow in Kananga, one of the four Sector Headquarters. read more

“In the armed conflicts of recent years, children have featured centrally as targets of violence, and occasionally – even unwillingly – as perpetrators,” the Secretary-General writes. “A large number of children have been directly affected by armed conflict, many of them uprooted from their homes and communities, maimed, or killed. Others have been made orphans, abducted, abused and exploited.”Among his proposals, Mr. Annan suggests the inclusion by the Council of provisions for monitoring children’s rights within the mandates of peace missions. The report also calls for more attention to be paid to the impact of war on girls, an issue which the Secretary-General says is “particularly damaging for future generations.” Already disadvantaged in peacetime, girls undergo sexual abuse and enslavement during war, he says, urging that sexual violence against women and children continue to be prosecuted as a war crime. In addition, the report highlights the impact of HIV/AIDS on children in conflict situations and the role of truth commissions.As signs that progress is possible, the report points to recent developments such as Rwanda’s enactment of legislation that enables girls, including tens of thousands who became heads of households after the 1994 genocide, to inherit farms crucial to their survival, and Sierra Leone’s establishment of a National Commission for War-Affected Children. Humanitarian access in the Sudan has been improved, the text states, and Colombia has raised its age of recruitment into the armed forces to 18. According to the report, existing normative standards, including previous Security Council resolutions, have gone a long way in defining the parameters of acceptable conduct for parties to armed conflict as far as children and other civilians are concerned. Member States, the UN system and regional organisations have all been bound or solicited to take concrete steps to improve the protection of war-affected children.”As delegations gather under the auspices of the UN General Assembly Special Session on Children, I sincerely hope that Member States, the UN system, NGOs [non-governmental organizations], civil society and others will take decisive action to protect children and to actively dissuade, and seek to expose and sanction, those whose actions are beyond the pale,” the Secretary-General writes, referring to the General Assembly’s upcoming session on children, to be held in New York from 19 to 21 September. read more

Calling this outpouring “nothing short of amazing,” Eric Falt, the Director of the UN Information Centre in Islamabad, told reporters that “the United Nations here – but also elsewhere around the world – has been flooded with individual expressions of support for the humanitarian situation in the region,” apart from the backing it had received from many countries. Mr. Falt said that in addition to offers of financial contributions, “we are getting a lot of offers of help from people who feel moved by the situation and who are quite literally ready to jump in an airplane to come and help us.” He cited the example of a citizen of New Zealand who had reported that she felt “personally concerned with the plight of the people of Afghanistan.” Offering another such example, UN spokesperson Stephanie Bunker quoted from a letter received from a US citizen. “I am a survivor of the World Trade Center tragedy,” the letter said. “I worked after the event with the New York police to connect with families of my company’s missing people – we lost 225.” The writer went on to ask for information on how to get involved in the relief effort, saying, “This is a moment in my life where I have energy, spirit and will to help in any way I can.” Mr. Falt noted that non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were a good vehicle for individuals seeking to offer their time. He added that anyone wishing to pledge funds could do so by supporting the work of UN agencies working in the area or by contributing to the UN Afghan Emergency Trust Fund, which is administered by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Contributions can also be made through NETAID at its website, www.netaid.org. read more

In a statement issued in Beirut, Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Personal Representative in Southern Lebanon noted with concern that six Israeli air violations, consisting of a total of nine aircraft, took place across the withdrawal line – known as the Blue Line – on Sunday. “Such repetitive violations of the Blue Line and Lebanese airspace potentially aggravate an already tense situation,” said Staffan de Mistura, reiterating his call to the Israeli authorities “to cease these violations and fully respect the Blue Line.” The UN has drawn attention to air violations by Israeli military aircraft across the Blue Line on various occasions, including in recent reports to the Security Council. read more

About 155,000 tonnes of food assistance will be needed to ward off severe deficits that are anticipated for displaced populations in parts of southern Sudan, the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and the UN World Food Programme (WFP) said in a joint statement issued in Rome. Shortages are also expected in the western States of Darfur and Kordofan and Red Sea State, where dry spells and early cessation of rain have resulted in the third consecutive reduced crop. An FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission, which visited Sudan last fall, found that cereal production in 2001 was about 4.8 million tonnes, up 38 per cent from 2000 and 9 per cent above the average of the preceding five years. The agencies attributed the increase to Government encouragement and favourable weather in many regions. Although the availability of cereals in 2002 will be markedly improved, the Mission warned that the sharp fall in sorghum prices in major producing areas could result in financial ruin for farmers and substantial reductions in area planted next year. “Food aid requirements should be procured locally to the extent possible. Rapid intervention in moving grain from surplus to deficit accessible areas is vital to help vulnerable groups and to stabilize prices,” the UN agencies said. read more

India and China, which account for more than one third of the world’s tuberculosis (TB) cases, have achieved high rates of case-identification and cure by expanding the implementation of a strategy promoted by the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO).The progress in both countries will be among the topics discussed at the 4th World Congress on TB that opened today in Washington, D.C.According to two studies appearing in the WHO Bulletin, efforts to expand the Directly Observable Treatment System (DOTS) in both countries have been an effective strategy even in places where the technology and public health infrastructure have been inadequate.”These studies clearly show that even in huge countries with a heavy burden of TB it is possible – with strong political commitment, adequate financial resources and sound technology – to achieve very high levels of cure,” said Jong-Wook Lee, Director of WHO’s Stop-TB Programme.WHO and its partners have been leading the global effort against tuberculosis by expanding DOTS, which is now used in 148 countries, and has set two main targets for 2005: to identify 70 per cent of estimated new infectious TB cases, and to cure 85 per cent of cases identified.While the two studies highlight the effectiveness of DOTS, they also underline the difficulties of implementing it. In both countries, nearly half the population is not yet covered by the strategy and case identification rates remain below the global target.”This means that both programmes need to reach more TB patients in the areas they cover,” says Mario Raviglione, WHO’s head of TB Strategy and Operations. “For that, innovative approaches are needed, such as involving health workers in other settings in the care of TB patients, in hospitals in China, for instance, and private practices in India.” read more

In a statement issued late on Wednesday, Mr. Roed-Larsen expressed “great concern for Hizbollah’s totally unacceptable attack on an Israeli position across the Blue Line” on 21 January. “This attack is part of an unacceptable pattern of serious Blue Line violations,” he said, noting also that Israel’s response to the unprovoked attack constituted a violation of the Blue Line resulting in one Lebanese civilian fatality and injury to another.Mr. Roed-Larsen called on the Lebanese Government to make every effort to take more steps for the return of its effective authority throughout southern Lebanon, as called for in Security Council resolutions.The Special Coordinator urged all parties to exercise maximum restraint “in order to avoid a dangerous cycle of attacks and counter-attacks, particularly at this difficult and unpredictable time in the region.” read more

In a statement to the press, Council President Ambassador Adolfo Aguilar Zinser of Mexico said members welcomed the report submitted by a Panel of Experts on the violations of the embargo, which have continued despite peace agreements between the warring factions. The report issued to the Council at the end of last month by the three-person Panel says most factions have continued to fight and import or receive weapons. In addition, the report also states that the arms market in the country is not supplied by local elements only, but also external sources. Council Members expressed their deep concern about this continued flow of weapons and military equipment from sources outside Somalia and called on all Member States to support and cooperate with the Panel in the implementation of its mandate, which was last week extended for another six months. The Panel is, “mandated to collect independent information on violations of the arms embargo in Somalia and to provide recommendations on possible practical steps and measures for its effective implementation,” Ambassador Zinser said. Members also reaffirmed the importance of the sovereignty, territorial integrity, political independence and unity of Somalia, the Council President said. They expressed their intention to continue the discussion on the arms embargo implementation. read more

In Gaza as a whole, “Israeli demolitions have left almost 12,700 homeless,” but funding shortages and difficulties sourcing land and transporting building materials meant that UNRWA has only been able to open only 228 replacement shelters, with another 250 in the pipeline, UNRWA said in a news release.”The Agency estimates that it will cost over $46 million to re-house all the Palestinian refugees who have lost their homes to date – and every day more become homeless,” it said.More than 60 per cent of the refugees are living on $2 a day, or less, while chronic and acute malnutrition among children reached 25 per cent in some areas. UNWRA is feeding more than 1 million refugees in Gaza and the West Bank, but the Agency has had to halve its food distribution.In the first half of 2002, cash assistance to the very poorest people was cut to $950,000 from $3.4 million in the Gaza Strip and to $2,600 from $3.3 million in the West Bank, the Agency said.”This has meant that the large number of destitute families were not given assistance for basic needs, such as fuel for cooking, or replacement household items for those families whose shelters were destroyed,” UNRWA said. read more

Voluntary contributions are particularly important for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) as they account for over two thirds of its total budget, the agency said in a news release in Geneva. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has requested more regular budget funding from the General Assembly for the 2004-2005 period and the OHCHR will also get $27.1 million from the UN budget next year.Introducing Annual Appeal 2004, to be launched officially on Monday at a meeting of UN Member States in Geneva, acting OHCHR head Bertrand Ramcharan, said it comes during one of the most difficult periods in the agency’s short history.”Our challenge, has been to maintain momentum in a time of crisis and to honour Sergio’s memory by sustaining progress in a time of transition,” Mr. Ramcharan said in reference to former Human Rights High Commissioner Sergio Vieira de Mello, who was killed in a terrorist attack in Baghdad in August.The agency must continue “his efforts to strengthen the institution, to give it a sharper focus and clearer priorities, to streamline and rationalize its structures, to improve its field policies, and to improve its internal management,” he added. “These reforms serve our overall goal of promoting an integrated human rights programme that brings together several critical components into a coherent whole.”The appeal covers the areas of support to UN human rights organs, including the Commission on Human Rights and the bodies that monitor how human rights treaties are implemented, programmes at the regional and country levels, response to new human rights challenges and the strengthening of OHCHR’s capacity, including information technology and staff security. read more

“It is the role of the United Nations to bring to the conscience of the international community the pervasive violations of human rights that are taking place in the world and to call for a mobilization of conscience against such gross violations,” Acting High Commissioner for Human Rights Bertrand Ramcharan told the Commission on Human Rights working group against racism.The working group is meeting in Geneva to follow up on the decisions taken at the anti-racism conference in Durban, South Africa, in 2001.Mr. Ramcharan also called for galvanized efforts to respond to today’s atmosphere of fast-paced globalization and turbulence when poverty is rampant, millions of children do not have access to schooling and “the Internet is used to bring people together, but also to spread hatred, prejudice and discrimination.”Promoting and protecting human rights can help to reduce poverty, he said, adding, “Advancing the principle of equality and non-discrimination is of fundamental importance.”In a separate message to the ninth meeting of the Board of Trustees on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, also in Geneva, Mr. Ramcharan called for “new approaches and new strategies” for countering grievous violations of the human rights of hundreds of thousands of children and young women, which range from child labour to sexual exploitation and trafficking.”Contemporary forms of slavery are among the foremost issues of conscience demanding our attention in today’s world and we need to think afresh how we might mobilize international outrage against such practices,” he said, voicing hope that the Commission would consider designating a special rapporteur against trafficking in human beings. read more

“Expanding and improving education can be one of the most effective ways to reduce poverty, hunger and malnutrition,” Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) expert Lavinia Gasperini said today. “Malnutrition rates decline with increased literacy, especially female literacy.” Research shows that a farmer with four years of elementary education is almost 9 per cent more productive than a farmer with no education. When materials such as fertilizers, new seeds or farm machinery are available, the productivity increase rises to 13 per cent. The campaign will be launched at a three-day regional workshop on “Food Security and Education for Rural People” starting tomorrow in Santiago de Chile. Organized by FAO and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the workshop also involves the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation in Agriculture, the World Bank and the Italian Development Cooperation. The campaign is part of the global education for rural people partnership initiative, led by FAO in collaboration with UNESCO and more than 100 non-governmental organizations (NGOs), universities and other partners. It is a follow-up to the 2002 Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development. Globally, 1 billion people are illiterate, about 130 million of them children. Most live in less developed regions where the majority of the 840 million of undernourished people are also concentrated. In Guatemala, for example, the country with the highest percentage of rural population in the region, adults in cities had an average of six and a half years of schooling in 1998, while the same age group in rural areas had under two years of school attendance. read more

The UN International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and Information for Development Program (infoDev), which works to promote effective use of ICT as tools for poverty reduction and sustainable development, launched the new web-based Regulation Toolkit, designed to help address complex regulatory challenges emerging as the ICT industry evolves. The remaining phases are scheduled to come online between now and 2006.An update and expansion of infoDev’s influential 2000 print publication “Telecom Regulators’ Handbook,” the new online toolkit is aimed at national and regional regulatory agencies, policy-makers, and others with an active interest in ICT regulation. Nearly 140 countries worldwide now have a national regulatory authority, with the vast majority having been put in place during the last 10 years.“Today’s regulators and policy makers – especially those in the developing world – are seeking practical advice and concrete best practice guidelines to help grow their national ICT markets,” said Hamadoun Touré, Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT). “The new ICT Regulation Toolkit responds to this demand by providing a first-class product on policy and regulation.”Conceived as a permanently evolving resource, the toolkit consists of a series of modules on key regulatory issues in the rapidly converging ICT sector. Users will be able to gain access to reference documents containing information on best practice and industry precedents. The Toolkit will be regularly updated to ensure that it incorporates the very latest information on regulatory strategies, best practice and country case studies.The first module, which went live today, covers authorization of telecommunication services. It addresses such issues as different authorization approaches and practices, and also highlights recent trends toward lighter authorization and licensing practices that reduce barriers to market entry.The subsequent modules will cover legal and institutional aspects of regulation; interconnection; price regulation and competition; new technologies and their impact on regulation and radio spectrum management. read more

Congratulating the Palestinian people for their recent election, the Council President for February, Ambassador John Bolton of the United States, read out a statement on behalf of the members welcoming President Abbas’ affirmation that the Palestinian Authority remains committed to the Road Map outline peace plan, previous agreements and obligations between the parties, and a negotiated two-State solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.Noting the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people, the statement reaffirmed the Council’s continuing interest in the fiscal stability of the caretaker government, “consistent with clear reform and austerity benchmarks,” Mr. Bolton said.“The Security Council notes that major donors have indicated that they will review future assistance to a new Palestinian Authority government against that government’s commitment to the principles of non-violence, recognition of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations,” he added.Both parties were reminded of their obligations “including on movement and access.” The Council called on them to avoid unilateral actions which prejudice final status issues.“The Security Council underlines the need for the Palestinian Authority to prevent terrorist attacks and dismantle the infrastructure of terror,” Mr. Bolton said, reiterating the Council’s view that “settlement activity must stop” and its concern about the route of the separation barrier.“The Security Council reaffirms its profound attachment to the vision of two democratic States, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security,” he said. read more

“The Secretary-General very much condemns this attack, this murder of this journalist,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters in New York. “He has spoken out in the past for the need for protection for journalists who bravely do their work in difficult circumstances and we very much hope that the perpetrators of this crime will be found.” In a press statement, Ms. Arbour described Ms. Politkovskaya’s death “as a tremendous loss for the Russian Federation and for all who struggle for human rights around the world.” She said the journalist will be remembered for her force of character, her dedication and her fearless pursuit of justice on behalf of victims of human rights violations in Chechnya and elsewhere. Noting reports that Russia’s top prosecutor has taken charge of the investigation into the murder, the High Commissioner said a thorough probe conducted in accordance with internationally recognized standards of due process “will send a clear message against impunity and for the protection of human rights defenders in Russia.” read more

The United Nations-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone announced today that it has appointed an experienced lawyer from the United States as its next Chief Prosecutor.Stephen Rapp, 57, has been serving as Chief of Prosecutions at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) since May last year, supervising the prosecution of those accused of the worst crimes during the 1994 Rwandan genocide.Before joining the ICTR, Mr. Rapp worked as a US Attorney in the state of Iowa for almost eight years, and also spent time as an elected member of the Iowa Legislature and as a lawyer with the US Senate Judiciary Committee.Mr. Rapp succeeds Desmond de Silva, who completed his term at the Special Court in June. Deputy Prosecutor Christopher Staker has served as Acting Prosecutor since Mr. de Silva’s departure.Mr. Rapp’s appointment, which is effective from 1 January, lasts for three years or a shorter period if the Special Court completes its programme of work before then.The Special Court, an independent tribunal established jointly by the UN and Sierra Leone, is tasked with bringing to justice those responsible for atrocities committed after 30 November 1996, during the country’s brutal civil war.So far 11 people have been indicted on various charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and other serious violations of international humanitarian law.The Special Court has jurisdiction over the case against the notorious former Liberian President Charles Taylor, whose trial will be held in The Hague. read more