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United Nations Daily Highlights, 98-02-04
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From: The United Nations Home Page at <http://www.un.org> - email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Wednesday, 4 February 1998
This daily news round-up is prepared by the Central News Section of the Department of Public Information. The latest update is posted at approximately 6:00 PM New York time.
The United Nations Secretary-General's Special Representative for Western Sahara has reported progress in the implementation of the peace plan for the territory.
Charles Dunbar told reporters in New York on Wednesday that a substantial number of people had been identified in preparation for the holding of a referendum on Western Sahara. According to Mr. Dunbar, 60,000 out of about 75,000 people who were convoked have been identified as being "eligible or ineligible" to participate in the referendum.
The Secretary-General's Special Representative recalled that the process had broken down in late 1995 as Morocco and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (POLISARIO Front) could not agree on the identification of certain groups of people. "And agreement now has been reached that there should be a referendum within a year", he noted, following the efforts of former United States Secretary of State, James Baker III.
The Special Representative, assisted by the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), is facilitating the holding of the referendum to enable the people of Western Sahara to choose between independence and integration with Morocco.
The United Nations on Wednesday appealed for $157 million to ensure the continuation of humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan, a war- afflicted country that has the highest rates of infant, childhood and maternal mortality in Asia.
The money would be disbursed based on a common assistance strategy
for Afghanistan developed by the United Nations, non-governmental organizations and donor governments, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). The strategy is aimed at forging closer links between peacemaking efforts and relief and development activities based on such principles as non-discrimination against women and observance of other international human rights norms.
The appeal for Afghanistan will address priority needs in the areas of food security and food aid, support for the voluntary repatriation of refugees, primary health-care services, rural and urban rehabilitation, mine action, and drug control.
The people of Afghanistan are now facing their nineteenth winter at war. Half the population in the capital of Kabul alone are dependent on the United Nations and its partners for food, medicines and basic services. Conditions in Kabul and Mazar-I-Sharif, as well as the areas of Bamiyan and Badakhshan, deteriorated in 1997, with a concomitant increase in the need for urgent humanitarian assistance. The presence of some 10 million landmines pose a continued obstacle to the livelihoods of many in Afghanistan, and an impediment to the return of Afghan refugees.
The United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday heard a solemn appeal by its President for the observance of the Olympic Truce during the forthcoming Olympic Winter Games.
Assembly President Hennadiy Udovenko of Ukraine appealed to all States to demonstrate their commitment to fraternity and understanding among peoples by observing the Olympic Truce during the Games, which will be held in Nagano, Japan, from 7 to 22 February.
The President of the General Assembly said that the forthcoming Nagano Games, which will be the last Olympic Winter Games of the century, should become a symbolic link to the next millennium. He added that the Games should be "an important relay point in humanity's quest for a world free of hatred and war, a world where ideals of peace, goodwill and mutual respect form the basis of relations among countries".
He urged all those who are now "engaged in armed struggle -- for whatever reasons and wherever it might be -- to suspend hostilities in keeping with the observance".
The idea of the Olympic Truce dates back to an ancient Greek tradition called ekecheria, which requires that all hostilities cease during the Games.
Echoing the appeal for the observance of the Olympic Truce, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said that the Olympic ideals resembled those of the United Nations in seeking peace and understanding among nations and peoples. "The flying of the United Nations flag at all Olympic events is a visible reminder of the purpose shared between the United Nations and the International Olympic Committee", the United Nations leader said.
He added that the overwhelming reaffirmation of the Olympic Truce by the fifty-second session of the General Assembly recommitted Member States to taking fresh steps towards the promotion of human rights, constructive dialogue and the search for durable and just solutions to contemporary problems.
The United Nations children's agency on Wednesday dispatched emergency medical supplies to a cholera-stricken town in the Republic of Congo.
According to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), as of 27 January, 445 cases of cholera had been reported and 10 new cases were reported every day in Pointe Noire. UNICEF added that the disease had killed 83 people, including children.
Supplies sent by UNICEF to assist in combatting the disease included ringer lactate solution and oral rehydration salts. The supplies, sufficient to treat about 100 patients, were being provided to regional health authorities in Pointe Noire. The agency said that additional supplies will be sent from Brazzaville in the coming days. UNICEF is also organizing activities to raise the local population's awareness of ways to prevent the spread of the disease including, through proper hygiene and safe water practices.
An already deteriorating health situation in the Republic of Congo has been aggravated by last year's five-month civil war which displaced many people from Brazzaville and caused overcrowding in Pointe Noire.
UNICEF said the capacity of United Nations agencies to address the humanitarian needs in war-affected areas of the country was being hindered by insufficient donor response to a United Nations inter-agency appeal. As of the end of January, UNICEF had received only 22 per cent of the funds it had requested.
The United Nations Children's Fund is calling for support for efforts to raise the minimum age at which children can be recruited into the armed forces.
The issue is being dealt with by a working group in Geneva which is charged with drafting an optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child that would raise the age of conscription to 18.
"We must acknowledge that the efforts we have deployed so far have been insufficient to spare children from the scourge of war," UNICEF's Deputy Regional Director for Europe, Bilge Ogn, told participants. "By adopting this optional protocol, we are preventing history from being repeated."
Ms. Ogn called attention to some of the most egregious examples of child soldiers prevailing in the world today, including Sierra Leone, where she said an estimated 4,500 children were forced to fight and commit atrocities. "Can we forget the appalling situation of the abducted children by the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda possibly reaching, according to recent calculations, a total number of as many as six to ten thousand?" she asked. Those Ugandan children, she said, were forced to take part in armed attacks, often in their own villages and communities. Boys were made to carry arms and equipment during long treks back and forth to Sudan, and girls were sexually abused and given as wives, according to the UNICEF representative.
"Indifference cannot be the solution -- it is morally wrong, ethically unacceptable, and denies the ability to make a difference," she said.
In addition to advocating the adoption of an optional protocol, UNICEF is calling for all peace agreements to contain provisions on the demobilization of child soldiers.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has said that despite some achievements in the area of human rights, women still faced serious inequalities both in law and practice.
Addressing the current session of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women in New York on Wednesday, Mary Robinson said that the inequalities for women were prevalent in "virtually all societies and spheres of activity".
Ms. Robinson said that women constituted the majority of people living in poverty. They represented the majority of the world's illiterate, they worked more hours than men, their work remained mostly undervalued and their participation in economic and political decision- making remained very limited, she added.
The High Commissioner for Human Rights said she intended to make the struggle against such widespread discrimination a priority of her Office, which would take concrete initiatives to integrate women's human rights into the broader framework of human rights.
She said that during the commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights this year the emphasis would be on human rights as a core value in the work of the whole United Nations system.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said that she was saddened by the execution of Karla Faye Tucker for murder she committed 15 years ago in the United States.
In a statement issued in Geneva on Wednesday, Mary Robinson noted that it was the first execution of a woman in the state of Texas since 1863 and the first in the United States since 1984.
Ms. Robinson expressed concern over the increasing use of the death penalty in the United States and in a number of other countries. She said that the death penalty ran counter to the international community's expressed desire for the abolition of capital punishment.
She recalled that as far back as 1971, the United Nations General Assembly had called on States to progressively restrict the use of the death penalty with a view to its abolition. Last year, Ms. Robinson added, the Commission on Human Rights had called on States which have not yet abolished the death penalty to consider suspending executions and to eventually abolish the death penalty.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as well as the American and European Conventions on Human Rights had additional protocols providing for the abolition of capital punishment. Her views on the death penalty, she added, were reflected in the opening declaration of the Second Protocol to the International Covenant, which states that the "abolition of the death penalty contributes to enhancement of human dignity and progressive development of human rights."
"I have full sympathy for the families of the victims of murder and other crimes but I do not accept that one death justifies another", the Human Rights Commissioner concluded in her statement.
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