15 years after Chernobyl more help needed for disaster victims UN

“The legacy of Chernobyl will be with us, and with our descendants, for generations to come,” the Secretary-General said in a statement. “I appeal to Member States, non-governmental organizations and private individuals, to join with me in a pledge never to forget Chernobyl. Together, we must extend a helping hand to our fellow human beings, and show that we are not indifferent to their plight.” The nuclear disaster occurred on 26 April 1986 when two explosions destroyed a reactor at a power plant not far from the Ukrainian capital, contaminating an area of over 160,000 square kilometres with the release of 50 million units of radiation.The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a statement today that the full humanitarian impact of the disaster is not yet known to this day, and that it may be years until many medical manifestations appear. The greatest constraint to the efforts in dealing with the crisis has been the lack of adequate funding, with Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine shouldering most of the financial burden of helping their populations. According to OCHA chief Kenzo Oshima, who is also UN Coordinator for International Cooperation on Chernobyl, those three countries should not bear the sole responsibility for dealing with the crisis.At a joint press conference at UN Headquarters in New York, Mr. Oshima said that the international community could and should provide tangible aid to the affected people in Belarus, Ukraine and the Russian Federation. The need for international assistance was also emphasized by the three countries’ Ambassadors to the UN — Sergei Ling of Belarus, Valeriy Kuchinsky of Ukraine and Sergey Lavrov of Russia, who also took part in the press conference. Meanwhile in Vienna, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) issued a statement calling the Chernobyl accident “a tragic but important turning point” in the Agency’s work. “It prompted us to focus unprecedented energies and resources to assist the affected people and help ensure that such a serious accident would never happen again,” said IAEA Director General, Mohammed ElBaradei.To deal with the aftermath of the disaster, the UN set up a 19-member Inter-Agency Task Force on Chernobyl, which, together with non-governmental organizations, provides health care to people affected by radiation, psychosocial rehabilitation, job creation for resettled families, the study of radiation’s environmental impact, waste disposal and decontamination, as well as technical support for improved nuclear safety. read more

Using new supply route UN rushes relief aid to warweary Afghans

Furnished by the UN World Food Programme (WFP), the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the shipments included wheat, winter clothes and water containers, passing over what promises to be a key supply route, according to Stephanie Bunker, spokesperson for the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Afghanistan.“The Termez River crossing is expected to become a major corridor for shipment of humanitarian assistance into northern Afghanistan, where an estimated 3 million people face hunger, displacement and a bitter winter,” she told reporters in Islamabad.For his part, the UN Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for Afghanistan, Michael Sackett, pledged to continue providing relief to millions of vulnerable civilians in the region. “We are fully ready to start bringing in this assistance from Termez as soon as we are satisfied of the required security guarantees for UN staff, both national and international, and of our relief convoys and their distribution to the identified needy population in Northern Afghanistan,” he said. Meanwhile, the security situation in Mazar-i-Sharif has been marked by reports of tension among various Northern Alliance troops, according to Ms. Bunker. “There are still reports of bodies in the streets, although it is not clear whether they are civilians or military,” she said. “UN vehicles have been seen on the streets, driven by Northern Alliance commanders.”According to UNHCR spokesman Yusuf Hassan, the agency’s office in Mazar-i-Sharif was totally looted. “Everything that could be carted away has been taken,” he said. “Looters have returned to remove the window frames.”In Kabul, a mob ransacked a warehouse used by UNHCR, reportedly taking away 1,400 tents and unknown quantities of quilts intended for internally displaced people and returnees.The agency, which is gearing up to fully resume its activities inside Afghanistan, plans to immediately deploy extra emergency staff and re-open its offices in the country, he said. “We hope to expand our programme in order to deliver the maximum assistance, as more areas become accessible.”WFP also plans to step up its relief efforts. In Kabul, agency telephone lines were being re-established and premises secured. “Access to the Panjsheer Valley should be open from Kabul in a few days,” said WFP spokesperson Lindsey Davies, noting that this would enable the agency to move food much more easily into the north. Meanwhile, a spokesman for UNICEF said Taliban soldiers had raided the agency’s sub-office in the Afghan capital yesterday. Chulho Hyun said they “beat three local guards, broke down the office door and took three hand-held radios.” read more

Rwanda UN tribunal proposes investigation into charges witnesses mistreated

A letter sent earlier this month by a senior official of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) to the Minister of Justice and Institutional Relations proposes that a committee comprising two persons appointed by the Government and two others appointed by the Tribunal look into the allegations, which were echoed recently by certain non-governmental organizations and Rwandan authorities in public statements.The proposal by ICTR Registrar Adama Dieng said it was absolutely vital to work together to verify the validity of the allegations openly and fairly in view of the nature of the claims and the need for the Tribunal to ensure the welfare of witnesses called to testify in Arusha, Tanzania, where the court is based.According to the proposal, the Committee will be asked to draw up a plan to verify the charges; examine the content and truth of each allegation; and go where necessary or hear any witness whose statement will have been submitted to the authorities of the Rwandan Ministry of Justice. The panel will also gather all material or other evidence relating to the allegations; and produce a detailed report, which will be made public within one month of its submission.Mr. Dieng’s letter, dated 4 March, said that the allegations a priori discredit and cast doubt on the impartial efforts made by the relevant sections of the Tribunal to adequately look after the witnesses so that they are neither denied their rights nor subjected to any physical harm, and to create a propitious atmosphere to ensure that their presence in Arusha to testify does not occasion further trauma.If agreed to, the Committee will begin meeting from 1 April and have two weeks to submit its report to the Minister of Justice, Jean de Dieu Mucyo, and the Tribunal Registrar. The Committee may sit for one week in Kigali and four days in Arusha. read more

As new quake rocks Afghan villages UN sends team to assess damage

The epicentre of the quake – which was estimated to have a magnitude of 5.8 on the Richter Scale – was in Dawabi and Khojakheder, two villages located in the Hindu Kush Mountains in northern Afghanistan. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Afghanistan confirmed that 27 people died in the earthquake, while an additional 120 were injured. Responding to the disaster, a UN World Food Programme (WFP) helicopter travelled to the affected villages, carrying an emergency assessment team comprised of staff from WFP and other UN agencies. Meanwhile, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Ruud Lubbers, today departed for an eight-day official trip to the region, according to agency spokesman Ron Redmond. During his visit to Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, the High Commissioner “will be emphasising the importance of ensuring that the growing number of Afghans going home be given the longer-term support they need to make their return sustainable,” Mr. Redmond told the press in Geneva.The spokesman welcomed the continuing cross-border returns, calling them “a vote of confidence by Afghanistan’s war-weary refugee population.” He voiced hope that the situation inside the country would continue to stabilize and that donors’ support for the Government’s rehabilitation and development efforts would remain strong. read more

DR of Congo Security Council hears of gross violations of human rights

Video of Security Council meeting The Under Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, updated the Council on the persistent instability in the northeastern part of the country and steps taken by the UN Organization Mission in the DRC (MONUC) to achieve a peaceful resolution to the conflict.MONUC has been working hard in the past weeks to defuse tensions among various factions and recommend peace-building mechanisms, Mr. Guéhenno said. He noted that the Mission was deeply concerned by the claims of the leader of the Union des Patriotes Congolais (UPC), Thomas Lubanga, that he has sole legitimate right to control the entire Ituri region.”If there is no end to the present culture of impunity in the DRC, the progress we seek on the political front may be hard to achieve,” Mr. Guéhenno said, adding that thousands of people were displaced and suffered human rights abuses.In echoing the view of Mr. Guéhenno, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Sergio Vieira de Mello, told the Council in his briefing that the human rights situation has “deteriorated significantly.” He said that information gathered “reveals that prosecution on ethnic and tribal grounds, extortion of property, rape and other forms of sexual violence against women, extra-judicial executions, and the forced recruitment of children are being committed.”In view of these “gross violations of human rights” Mr. Vieira de Mello recommended that there was an “imperative need” to continue to monitor closely and report on the human rights situation in the DRC. He said consideration should be given to the establishment of an international commission of inquiry to look into such violations.”The Council may wish to demand again that the belligerents and their foreign supporters put an immediate end to human rights violations and to the culture of impunity, and that those responsible for such crimes be immediately arrested – including those who continue to exercise military command functions – and eventually brought to justice,” the High Commissioner said. read more

Annan asks Security Council for greater clarity on UN role in Iraq

Addressing the Security Council today, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan outlined plans for reconstituting the world body’s work in Iraq while appealing for clear guidance on what role it is being asked to fulfil.Speaking just three days following the capture of Saddam Hussein, Mr. Annan said this development provides “an opportunity for a new beginning in the vital task of helping Iraqi’s take control of their destiny” by creating a secure and stable country.He stressed the urgency of restoring sovereignty to the Iraqis, and pledged the UN’s active engagement in this endeavour.But he also acknowledged the limits imposed by prevailing insecurity in the country. “Our on-the-ground engagement in important political and human rights work has suffered tremendously as a result of the 19 August bombing, which decimated the Office of the Special Representative, the core part of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq.”Special Representative Sergio Vieira de Mello was among the 22 victims of that attack. Earlier this month, the Secretary-General named a veteran UN humanitarian aid official, Ross Mountain, as Acting Special Representative.In his address to the Council today, Mr. Annan said the new envoy would head efforts to establish a core of UNAMI based outside the country while planning for the missions “eventual and incremental return to Iraq as soon as circumstances permit.”Until then, the Secretary-General said much can be done from outside the country, and pledged his personal involvement in this effort. “I myself remain in close contact with heads of State and government, foreign ministers and ambassadors trying to help forge international consensus on the way forward.”Mr. Annan called on Council members to provide “much greater clarity on what is expected of the UN by Iraqis and by the coalition in terms of assistance to the political transition.” He stressed that the UN was not standing aloof from the process. “The stakes are too high for the international community to just watch from the sidelines.”In appealing for clarity, the Secretary-General explained the responsibility he must bear in taking decisions on Iraq. “I need to weigh the degree of risk that the UN is being asked to accept against the substance of the role we are being asked to fulfil.” He called for the Council to specifically answer those questions.Above all, Mr. Annan pointed to the need for a credible and inclusive political transition as the best hope for stability and an end to violence in the war-ravaged nation. Towards this end, he appealed for international support to the Iraqi people who have endured so much. “They are now living through a process that will define the future of their country,” he said. “For their sake, and for the memory of those who have given their lives to help the people of Iraq, the process must succeed.”Speaking to reporters afterwards, the Secretary-General stressed again that the global community must come together in support of efforts to help Iraq.”I think it is clear that if we are going to be able to stabilize Iraq, we all need to work together and we need to rebuild international consensus,” he said, responding to press questions.Asked about Washington’s stance, Mr. Annan said it was his sense that the United States would like to see the international community come together to work to stabilize Iraq, help build a normal society, and foster a country which would be at peace with itself and with its neighbours. “I think there is an openness there.”To a question about the implications Saddam Hussein’s capture, Mr. Annan said the answer would hinge on how the world reacts. “There may be a new opportunity here, but it depends on how it is exploited by all concerned – to mend fences, heal wounds and move forward,” he said. Video of Annan’s address to the Council Listen to UN Radio report read more

Afghanistan UN official voices outrage at suicide attacks on international forces

The Acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Jean Arnault, released a statement resolutely condemning the attacks of yesterday and today and voicing solidarity with the families and friends of the ISAF and Afghan victims. “The attackers aimed at ISAF, but they also, no doubt, hoped to undermine the momentum that the peace process in Afghanistan has gathered in the wake of the adoption of the new Constitution,” he said. “We are certain that they will not succeed and that the overwhelming majority of Afghans will see in these attacks new reasons to reject violence and to stay the course towards the restoration of a lasting peace.”Mr. Arnault also reaffirmed that the UN “will not be deterred from assisting the country in achieving this long overdue goal.” read more

UN West Africa office calls for more regional respect for constitutional authority

Sovereignty and responsibility are becoming the two faces of the same coin, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and head of the UN Office in West Africa (UNOWA), said at the opening of a two-day roundtable on “Sovereignty and Transition in West Africa,” in Dakar, Senegal.The conference is sponsored by UNOWA and Wilton Park, a leading centre and organizer of policy discussions in the United Kingdom, and is looking at such issues as the underlying factors preventing peaceful transitions of power, preventive diplomacy and the role of the international community and its assistance to the region.Mr. Ould-Abdallah used the recent example in Togo of President Gnassingbe Eyadema’s son briefly taking power, with military help, on his father’s death, but stepping aside under international pressure.In the absence of unconditional sovereignty, Mr. Ould-Abdallah asked, “what meaning does one give today to the concept of non-intervention in a situation like that of Togo where the crisis risks inflicting incomparable suffering on the Togolese people and having the serious consequences for the all of the neighbouring countries?”The Togolese Government, however, did not fully observe the constitution, under which the Speaker of Parliament was to become interim President on the death of the President and to organize presidential elections within 60 days. Abass Bonfoh was installed as Interim President instead of Speaker Ouattara Natchaba.Mr. Ould-Abdallah wondered, too, how to help the suffering population of Sudan while guarding against intruding on the internal affairs of that east African country.He said the recent report of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change recalled that the head of government of each country was obliged to protect its population, but said that that responsibility had to be assumed by the international community whenever Governments could not or would not guarantee such protection.Around the world over the last few years, “considerations of ethical order are gradually superseding political and economic imperatives and interests” because of the international failure to avert terrible recent tragedies, he said.Among the questions the conference might answer was how to encourage certain Heads of State to avoid manipulating national constitutions and elections so as to hold on to power for life, Mr. Ould-Abdallah said.He wondered whether guaranteeing pensions to former leaders, giving them “constructive impunity” within their countries, or making them senators for life would lead to good governance and strengthened sovereignty.He also posed the question of what should be done when a democratically elected Government ignored its own constitution, violated human life and dignity and imperilled peace and security, not only in its country but in a whole region. read more

At UN World Urban Forum a tale of two cities with common

It was a tale of two cities – one battered into rubble by war, the other at the cutting edge of technology – as the United Nations World Urban Forum reached the half-way mark of its weeklong session aimed at averting poverty and despair among a global population that is expected to double to 4 billion people in the next 30 years.Yet despite the vast gulf between Kabul, Afghanistan, and Vancouver, Canada, host city of this third Forum, a plenary meeting moderated by the Vice-President and Network Head for Infrastructure at the World Bank, Katherine Sierra, showed there are common ways of facing challenges, though it will demand public-private sector partnerships as well as the backing of the cities’ residents.“These 2 billion new urban inhabitants will require the equivalent of planning, financing, and servicing facilities for a new city of 1 million people every week for the next 30 years,” Ms. Sierra said.“However these will not be nicely planned, new cities at all, but rather, without smart interventions, the unplanned and unrecorded expansion of existing slum settlements – poorly located with new ghettoes, often on the urban periphery. Poverty will deepen, and despair will grow,” she told the Forum, sponsored by UN-HABITAT, the world body’s Human Settlements Programme.Afghanistan’s Minister of Urban Development Mohammad Yusuf Pashtun said that after 25 years of war, its cities had been destroyed, many of them literally flattened on a scale unimaginable to people outside the country. But the urban crisis, he added, should also be seen by Afghanistan’s political and business partners as an opportunity for national and international investment, a reservoir of cheap skilled and unskilled labour, with cheap local construction materials, a place where new partnerships would generate job opportunities for millions of people.Pat Jacobsen, Chief Executive Officer of Translink, Canada, explained how Vancouver used partnerships to fund its transport infrastructure as a modern Pacific gateway city, an example being the new $5-million rail service linking the city with neighbouring Seattle in the United States. Partnerships were being used to help find the funding. In the 1960s and 1970s Vancouver funded its public transport system mainly from the public sector, but today, over 70 per cent of funding comes in user fees and fuel taxes. Ms. Jacobsen said 1.2 billion Canadian dollars of private sector capital had been used to build new infrastructure. A main problem is the fact that public officials are not used to working with the private sector, and both sides have different perceptions of each other, she said.But the benefits of these new partnerships have paid off enormously and their biggest supporters are their stakeholders – the users of the public transport system, she added. read more

Visiting UN Force in southern Lebanon Annan urges all sides to respect

Mr. Annan travelled to the south after meeting yesterday with Lebanese leaders in Beirut and on arriving at the base of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) at Naqoura, he was briefed on the latest situation by Force Commander Major-General Alain Pellegrini and other senior staff.“Both parties have to respect the ceasefire…Parties with complaints on the ground, they should come to General Pellegrini, not take matters into their own hands…It’s a bit like having a football match where one of the teams also attempts to play the referee. You cannot be a team in a football match and the referee at the same time,” he told reporters.The Secretary-General also took part in a wreath laying ceremony to honour almost 300 UNIFIL staff who have been killed since the mission was set up in 1978, after which he visited several UN positions on the so-called Blue Line that separates Lebanon and Israel.“This has been a great opportunity for me to come to Naqoura to thank the women and men of UNIFIL under the leadership of Major-General Alain Pellegrini for the wonderful work they have done,” Mr. Annan said.“Since the UN came here, we have lost almost 300 people in the service of peace. During this recent crisis, General Pellegrini and his men were remarkable. They could all have asked us to be redeployed and to get them out of harms way but they knew that the time will come when they will be needed to help the civilian population.”Mr. Annan headed next to Israel for the next stage of his shuttle diplomacy to bolster the Security Council resolution that ended the 34 days of fighting between Hizbollah and Israel on 14 August.After meeting Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora yesterday, Mr Annan urged Israel to immediately lift the blockade of Lebanon and also renewed his call for Hizbollah to free two Israeli soldiers, whose capture on 12 July triggered the fighting. read more