General Assembly adopts peacekeeping resolutions as it acts on 34 texts

Among the resolutions adopted yesterday afternoon were texts on peacekeeping missions in the Middle East, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sierra Leone, Kosovo and East Timor. Others included drafts on the programme budget for the biennium 2000-2001, human resources management and on the scale of assessments for the apportionment of United Nations expenses.The Assembly acted without a vote on all the resolutions except a text on the financing of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). By a recorded vote of 70 in favour, 3 against (Israel, Marshall Islands, United States) and 42 abstentions, it decided to retain paragraphs stating that Israel should pay the costs relating to a 1996 incident at UNIFIL’s Qana headquarters in Lebanon. The Assembly then adopted the resolution as a whole by another vote of 115 in favour, 3 against (Israel, Marshall Islands, United States) with no abstentions.Also adopted without a vote were two decisions, the first relating to the Secretary-General’s report on the Office of Internal Oversight Services, and the other deferring action on certain documents until the Assembly’s fifty-sixth session. read more

Annan congratulates former US President Carter on winning Nobel Peace Prize

“I’m delighted,” the Secretary-General said in Boston, responding to a reporter’s question on the award being given to President Carter. “He deserves it.”Last year, on the 100th anniversary of the Peace Prize, Mr. Annan and the United Nations were jointly honoured for “their work for a better organized and more peaceful world.”Mr. Annan was the second Secretary-General to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. The Organization’s second chief, Dag Hammarskjöld, was awarded the prize posthumously in 1961 for his action in strengthening the United Nations. read more

UN health agency meets with NGOs to push healthy diet in battle

NGOs play a key role in shifting and influencing consumer demand, as well as national and international political priorities, the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Gro Harlem Brundtland, told a roundtable meeting of agency officials and NGO representatives.It was the second such meeting since the WHO and the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) launched an experts’ report last month linking a healthy diet low in saturated fats, sugars and salt, and high in vegetables and fruits – coupled with regular exercise – to the battle against chronic illnesses such as cardiovascular diseases, several forms of cancer, diabetes, obesity, osteoporosis and dental disease.Last week, Ms. Brundtland held the first formal Roundtable meeting to enlist the support of senior executives from the food and associated industries. The agency is currently preparing a Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health to address the growing toll of death and disability from chronic diseases for presentation to the World Health Assembly in May 2004.Thanking the NGOs for the strong support they had already shown since WHO began developing the Strategy last year in response to countries’ concerns, Dr. Brundtland said the consultation, including an all-day discussion tomorrow between NGOs and WHO officials, was an important part of the strategy development process.She emphasized that food, in its complexity, was not like tobacco, nor was it similar to infant feeding, other key issues where WHO has worked closely with NGOs.”Our approach to food is different from that to tobacco,” she said. “Shifting the pattern of diet and physical activity behaviour across the global population demands a more nuanced and multifaceted approach. We intend to pursue a constructive dialogue with all parties to develop a strategy that reflects the interests of all stakeholders on this complex issue.”Cardiovascular disease, cancers, diabetes, respiratory disease, obesity and other non-communicable conditions now account for 59 per cent of the 56.5 million global deaths each year, and almost half, or 45.9 per cent, of the global burden of disease. The majority of chronic disease problems now occur in developing countries. Unhealthy diet, physical inactivity and tobacco use are among the leading causes. read more

New UNbacked peace commission in Afghanistan to help settle local disputes

The new panel, situated in Faryab Province, includes representatives of area authorities as well as the major factions – Jamiat and Jumbesh – and has already managed to settle a dispute between two of their respective local commanders, according to spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva. “It confirmed that there was no fighting in the area as had allegedly been reported but at the same time succeeded in calming down the situation between the two commanders which could have escalated into something bigger.” The dispute arose from tensions caused when two commanders were competing for territorial control. “The Commission met with both sides as well as village elders and managed to arbitrate an agreement on territory,” the spokesman reported. The new Commission will meet weekly to address, mediate and resolve issues that have the potential to degenerate into fighting. “These tensions are generally caused by local commanders who are vying for more power and to extend their territory, control and influence,” Mr. de Almeida e Silva explained. “Conflicts can also erupt over disputes ranging from ownership or theft of livestock to annexation of land, extortion and illegal taxation.” The spokesman also announced that key factional leaders – Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum of Jumbesh, Gen. Ustad Atta Mohammad of Jamiat and Gen. Sardar Saidi of Hizb-e-Wahdat – are leading a delegation of the Security Commission of the North to continue a voluntary disarmament process in Sholgara. “There will be three collection points for weapons where the three leaders will be positioned to collect arms from their respective factions,” Mr. de Almeida e Silva said. So far, the process has yielded 112 weapons, including light arms, mortars and heavy machine guns. The Commission also registered 169 small arms that were held by individuals for private purposes. read more

Kosovo UN envoy applauds Pristinas decision to attend Vienna talks

“I, along with the rest of the international community, applaud President Rugova’s decision, which is an act of a truly responsible leader,” said Harri Holkeri, the Special Representative of Secretary-General Kofi Annan for Kosovo and head of the UN Interim Administration Mission (UNMIK).Mr. Holkeri yesterday reacted to reported reluctance of the provisional institutions of self-government to go to the 14 October meeting with Belgrade officials, by urging Kosovo to attend.Also scheduled to attend are ranking diplomats from the so-called Contact Group – the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy and the Russian Federation – as well as NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson, European Union High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana and Chairman-in-Office Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). read more

Trade protectionism in rich countries hurts poor nations UN survey finds

Video of press briefing The report also recommends greater openness between developing countries, with South-South trade estimated to account for about 40 per cent of all trade in developing countries.But it warns that “openness and liberalization are not a panacea for poverty reduction,” stressing that economic policy-making has to be tailored to the individual circumstances of countries.The survey makes a link between economic policies geared to promoting growth and a reduction in poverty, although it adds that a mix of economic policies is best in fighting poverty.At the launch of the survey today, UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs José Antonio Ocampo said first-rate economic policies are needed if the world is to achieve the Millennium Development Goal of halving extreme poverty by 2015.”But the current era of low economic growth and difficulties in maintaining an open trade regime poses a threat to universally agreed goals on reducing world poverty,” he said.According to the survey, land redistribution and the liberalization of agricultural markets can also reduce poverty in rural areas, home to three out of every four people defined as living in absolute poverty.The report also observes that the maintenance of macroeconomic stability during times of growth ensures countries have greater manoeuvrability in economic crises, thus better protecting the poor.It contrasts the experience of many East Asian countries in the late 1990s, when they recovered relatively quickly from a financial crisis, to Latin America, where crises have become cyclical and governments are able to do little to help the poor during downturns. read more

UN refugee agency signs deal allowing Montagnards to return to Viet Nam

The United Nations refugee agency has signed an agreement with Viet Nam and Cambodia to allow a group of about 750 Montagnard refugees and asylum-seekers to either re-settle in a third country or return to their homeland in Viet Nam.Under the agreement, signed yesterday in Hanoi after two days of talks, the Government of Viet Nam promised to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) that any returnees will not be prosecuted, discriminated against or otherwise punished.Ethnic Montagnards, who come from the central highlands region of Viet Nam, have crossed over into neighbouring Cambodia since at least 2001, partly because of long-running land disputes with authorities in Viet Nam. They have been living in temporary, UNHCR-administered sites in Cambodia.The agreement means the Montagnards who want to re-settle in a third country will be given help to do so quickly, while any refugees or asylum-seekers who want to return voluntarily to Viet Nam will be repatriated.Anyone who currently does not want to re-settle in a third country or return to Viet Nam will have a month after their refugee status is determined to choose between the two options. If they still cannot decide, Cambodia, Viet Nam and UNHCR pledged to help them return to Viet Nam “in an orderly and safe fashion and in conformity with national and international laws,” according to the agreement.UNHCR Director of International protection Erika Feller stressed that the agreement covers only the 750 Montagnards living in Cambodia and does not automatically apply to any Montagnards who may flee Viet Nam in the future.“However, if it works the way we hope it will work, then this agreement will be a basis for the future,” she said. read more

Concerned at looting UN body calls for renewed protection of Iraqs heritage

Voicing concern over the continued pillaging of cultural objects in Iraq, a United Nations committee has called for continued efforts by international cultural and police organizations to stem the illicit trafficking of the war-torn country’s heritage.At its 13th session ending last week, the Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to its Countries of Origin or its Restitution in case of Illicit Appropriation urged Member States of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to adopt a model Export Certificate for Cultural Objects developed by the agency and the World Customs Organization to facilitate surveillance of such objects to curb illicit trafficking.The Committee, comprising 22 Member States, is responsible for seeking ways and means of facilitating bilateral negotiations for the restitution or return of cultural property to its countries of origin, and promoting such restitution. It addressed its call to UNESCO and its partners, the International Council of Museums (ICOM), the world police agency INTERPOL and the Italian Carabinieri police.UNESCO has shown great concern over Iraq’s priceless 7,000-year-old cultural heritage ever since widespread looting of museums and archaeological sites was reported during and shortly after the United States-led invasion in 2003. A coordinating body established under the joint auspices of the Iraqi authorities and UNESCO drew up a seven-point blueprint last May for the “immense and vital” challenge of conservation, rehabilitation, capacity building, training and coordination.The Committee also took note of the continuing cooperation between the British Museum and Greek museums over the issue of the Parthenon Marbles, and invited UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura to help organize more meetings between the United Kingdom and Greece, “with a view to resolving the question…taking in account at the same time the sensitivities of both sides.”It also invited Germany and Turkey “to continue comprehensive bilateral negotiations” over the Sphinx of Bogusköy, which is currently on display at the Berlin Museum.In his closing address to the Committee, Mr. Matsuura pointed out that the issues surrounding the return and restitution of cultural property are attracting greater attention than ever before. “In this context, UNESCO continues to be committed to promote its normative and safeguarding action,” he said. read more

UN food agency promotes green thumb for schools

A green thumb, especially among the young, can be a powerful tool to improve nutrition, and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today cast a spotlight on its TeleFood initiative supporting school garden projects in more than 40 countries.“School gardens can be a powerful tool to improve the quality of nutrition and education of children and their families in rural and urban areas in developing countries, if they are integrated with national agricultural, nutrition and education programmes,” FAO said in a news release.Since 1997, over 150 school garden microprojects have been supported by FAO’s TeleFood programme and larger technical cooperation projects are under way, including capacity-building for long-term national school garden programmes. School garden initiatives supported by FAO programmes range from emergency rehabilitation assistance in Mozambique and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), nutrition education in Rwanda and food security projects in Guatemala and Sierra Leone to a school garden project in Brazil in connection with that country’s Zero Hunger Programme.The main benefit of school gardens is that children learn how to grow healthy food and how to use it for better nutrition. This can best be done if the fresh garden produce – such as fruits and vegetables – supplements an existing school meal programme that provides the bulk of the diet. Beyond this, school gardens also serve environmental education and personal and social development by adding a practical dimension to these subjects. They may also reinforce basic academic skills like reading, writing, biology and arithmetic. FAO therefore encourages schools to create learning gardens of moderate size, which can be easily managed by students, teachers and parents, but which include a great variety of different nutritious vegetables and fruits, as well as occasionally some small-scale livestock like chickens, rabbits and fish. Production methods are deliberately kept simple so that they can be easily replicated by students and parents at their homes. read more