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UN mediator suspends intra-Syrian talks for three weeks

Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura updates the press on the Intra-Syrian Geneva Talks. UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré (file)

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3 February 2016 – Just two days after declaring the official start of delayed intra-Syrian talks in Geneva to end five years of bloody warfare, the United Nations mediator suspended them for three weeks today following differences between Government and opposition delegations on the priority of humanitarian issues.

“I have been asking even before issuing the invitations that there is an immediate implementation of a humanitarian initiative, even before the talks start,” UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura told journalists, citing such issues as lifting sieges and providing access for humanitarian aid to all the places which are at the moment unreachable.

The UN cannot allow simple procedural matters to actually become more important than actually the results of humanitarian situation of the Syrian people who have been waiting for us to deliver this time, not a conference, but something concrete for them.

“I was told and reassured that they were going to take place during the talks. Well, I have been hearing from the Government that they had some procedural issues before talking about humanitarian side. I have been hearing from the opposition that they are urgently feeling the need for the Syrian people.”

He stressed that the suspension was only “a temporary pause” and not the end or failure of the talks, noting that both sides insist they are interested in having the political process begin. He set 25 February for the next session.

Mr. de Mistura has made clear from the start that he is under no illusions about the difficulties in ending a war that has killed over 250,000 people, sent over 4 million fleeing the country, displaced 6.5 million internally, and put 13.5 million people inside the country in urgent need of humanitarian aid.

“There will be a lot of posturing, we know that, a lot of walk-outs and walk-ins because a bomb has fallen or because someone has done an attack, and you will see that happening,” he said last week.

Today he was asked how he felt. “I’m not frustrated, I’m not disappointed, I have been long enough with the UN to know that when you have a five-years war and have had so many difficult moments, you have to be determined but also realistic,” he replied.

“When you see things going in a certain direction, you take – we are the convener, we manage the conference, we decide when the conference producing results or not and if they don’t produce results we need to go deeper, that’s what we are doing,” he said, dismissing the idea of holding talks just for the sake of holding talks.

“The UN cannot allow simple procedural matters to actually become more important than actually the results of humanitarian situation of the Syrian people who have been waiting for us to deliver this time, not a conference, but something concrete for them.”

He was asked if the military escalation by the Syrian government and the Russian bombardment have “basically bombed your talks.”

“I’m not referring to military activities, I’m saying to an impossibility through military activities and other reasons for the fact that the humanitarian signals which are meant to be sent to the Syrian people – for instance lifting of the sieges, for instance the access for all the places which are at the moment unreachable – should be seen,” he said.

“The whole matter is, again, are we here to have another Geneva conference without any result for the Syrian people, or are we serious about what we have been saying, that while we are having a conference, talking about the future, and political future of Syria, and the new constitution, and the new elections, the Syrian people will see and expect me and they expect all of us to produce something while we are talking.

“Since I am not seeing that, I have to be honest and say with myself, it is time now to have a pause only a pause and give time for this to happen.”

Mr. de Mistura declared the official start of the talks on Monday after meeting for two hours with the opposition High Negotiations Committee (HNC) at the UN’s official Geneva headquarters in the Palais des Nations. He met Government representatives yesterday.

The talks between the sides are not face-to-face but indirect, involving ‘close proximity diplomacy,’ with the UN envoy shuttling between them in different rooms.

Both Government and opposition are reported to have denied that the talks have officially started but Mr. de Mistura said today: “They are talks, and the talks have started, you can call them as you want, but they were talks, but there is more work, more work, to be done.

“Not only by us, we have done our part. but by the stakeholders, who have been telling us ‘go and start this initiative,’ while in fact they, the Security Council and the ISSG, are now expected to address some of the issues pending, one in particular, what are these talks going to make as a difference to the Syrian people.”

The ISSG – the International Syria Support Group comprising the Arab League, the European Union, the United Nations, and 17 countries including the United States and Russia – laid the groundwork for the Geneva talks at a meeting in November.

UN emergency fund allocates $8 million to assist vulnerable women and children in DPR Korea

At a clinic In Nampo City, DPRK, children wait to receive nutritional supplementation on Child Health Day, in November 2014 (file). UNICEF/UNI180565/Basurmanova

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3 February 2016 – United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has released eight million dollars from the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) for severely underfunded aid operations in the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea (DPRK), to enable life-saving assistance for more than 2.2 million people most vulnerable and at risk of malnutrition.

The DPRK was one of nine countries to receive such grants within the overall $100 million allocation to underfunded emergencies.

“The commitment and support of the international community is vital. Protracted and serious needs must be addressed” said United Nations Resident Coordinator for the DPRK, Mr. Tapan Mishra, in a press release.

“Humanitarian needs must be kept separate from political issues to ensure minimum living conditions for the most vulnerable people,” he added.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), undernutrition is a fundamental cause of maternal and child death and disease. In DPRK, chronic malnutrition or stunting among children less than five years of age is at 27.9 per cent, while four per cent of children under-five are acutely malnourished, or wasting. Around 70 per cent of the population—18 million people—are considered food insecure.

In addition, food production in the country is hampered by a lack of agricultural inputs and is highly vulnerable to shocks, particularly natural disasters. Due to drought in 2015, 11 per cent of the main harvest was lost.

Meanwhile, health service delivery, including reproductive health, remains inadequate, with many areas of the country not equipped with the facilities, equipment or medicines to meet people’s basic health needs. Children under five and low-birth-weight newborns are vulnerable to life-threatening diseases, such as pneumonia and diarrhea if they do not receive proper treatment or basic food, vitamins and micronutrients.

OCHA underlined that CERF funds will be used to sustain critical life-saving interventions aimed at improving the nutrition situation in the country through reduction of maternal and under-five child mortality and morbidity. More than 2.2 million people are expected to benefit from assistance provided by the funds, including 1.8 million children under five and 350,000 pregnant and lactating women.

The United Nations also stressed it will continue to work towards addressing the structural causes of vulnerabilities and chronic malnutrition through its interventions agreed with the DPRK Government.

Citing ‘new agenda for humanity,’ UN deputy chief urges bold action on humanitarian funding

Near the town of Gevgelija, former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, a young Syrian girl holds the hand of an adult waiting to board a train to the Serbian border. Photo: UNICEF/Tomislav Georgiev

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3 February 2016 – Maintaining the United Nations momentum towards the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit – set for 23 and 24 May in Istanbul, Turkey – Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson today urged bold action to alleviate the suffering of 125 million people who depend on the international community to survive.

“We now need a mobilization to live up to the humanitarian imperative and to help the millions of men, women and children in desperate need around the world,” he told a briefing on the report of the High-Level Panel on Humanitarian Financing, which is entitled Too Important to Fail – Addressing the Humanitarian Financing Gap.

Since the report was commissioned, “the conditions on the ground have become even more dire,” said Mr. Eliasson, adding that this has in turn made the convening in May of the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit that much more important.

In Central America, Africa, Asia and the Pacific, millions of people are food insecure, often caused by drought, sometimes related to the effects of El Niño. Millions more are at risk of more extreme weather events, he said.

“Apart from these natural disasters, the world is trying to with a number of atrocious man-made catastrophes. The suffering is enormous and international humanitarian law is being disregarded to a shocking degree,” Mr. Eliasson.

Indeed, the conflict in Syria has generated the worst contemporary humanitarian crisis, Mr. Eliasson continued, noting that in recent weeks, the world had been shocked by the images of the suffering endured during the siege of Madaya. “Tragically, there are hundreds of Madayas throughout the country. Humanitarian conditions in besieged and hard-to-reach areas are insufferable and with time without relief, getting even worse,” he said.

“The resulting tensions in neighbouring countries are enormous,” he continued. “Refugee flows are spectacular and shocking. The social and political consequences may become uncontrollable,” he said, and these events and conditions are an affront to our common humanity and the fundamental principles of international humanitarian law.”

In this context, he stressed the importance of international humanitarian conference on Syria to be co-chaired tomorrow in London, by the Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, the United Kingdom, Germany, Kuwait and Norway.

“We have seen the power of global solidarity with the recent adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals. We must fulfill our promise to leave no one behind, acting boldly in for the 125 million people who now depend on the international community for their survival, “he said.

Mr. Eliasson went on to say that the World Humanitarian Summit will be the international community’s opportunity to unite in the name of common humanity – and to take a stand against the horrific levels of suffering and misery that we witness in the world today.

“We must now stand in solidarity with the most vulnerable people of the world – and we must be committed to represent their interests at the Summit in Istanbul in May,” he said.

At Cambridge, Ban says universality of human rights is key to preventing crises of 21st century

Secretary-General Ban (right) receives an honorary Doctor of Law degree from the University of Cambridge for his humanitarian work, support for women’s rights and achievements in pursuit of global peace and security. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

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3 February 2016 – Warning of “a strong sense that that we are off track and in a deep mess,” United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today called on the world to move from a pattern of reaction to crises to a culture of prevention, with a heightened focus on the universality of human rights in tackling the “mega-crises” of the 21st century.

“Asserting one’s own rights is only one part of the battle. Recognizing the human rights of others is the true – and harder – test of commitment. Yet today, in many places and in many respects, the human rights compact is under assault or has broken down completely,” hesaid in an address at Cambridge University, England, on receiving an honorary doctorate.

“We see this in the deliberate starvation of besieged populations in Syria; and in the enslavement of women and girls by Da’esh [an alternative name for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL], Boko Haram and other violent extremists.

“We see it in many places where governments are retaliating against human rights defenders and restricting media freedoms. We may also be seeing it in the world’s response to the refugee crisis,” he said.

Commending the countries and citizens who have opened their arms and doors in solidarity, Mr. Ban stressed that too many Syrians and others fleeing “appalling violence” are being victimized several times over: at home, where life is impossible; by smugglers and by other perils of their journeys; and by harsh treatment upon arrival in places where they hope to find asylum.

“As we address the wider challenge of large-scale displacement, I appeal for shared responsibility and compassion,” he said.

“Razor-wire fences, the confiscation of assets, and the vilification of people seeking safety all summon up ghosts of past crises – the lessons of which we are meant to have learned already,” he added, citing some of the hurdles the refugees and migrants have faced in Europe and calling for a strong show of solidarity at tomorrow’s humanitarian conference in London.

“We need to get Syrian children back in school – we have 2 million Syrian children out of school at this time – and get our aid convoys through to people in dire need. We have at least 400,000 people stranded in besieged villages, at least 15 besieged villages. It is very difficult for us, very dangerous,” he noted.

Referring to criticism of UN efforts in Syria which have managed to reach only a fraction of those in need – less than five per cent – Mr. Ban noted that half the area is controlled by Da’esh and only two per cent by the Government and he underscored the responsibility of the Syrian Government and the need “to fight against the ways of Da’esh.”

Citing the three pillars of the UN Charter – peace and security, development, and human rights – he highlighted the primacy of the third pillar.

“Among the three pillars, the human rights pillar should be given the highest priority, highest priority,” he declared, noting that the international community did not do enough to prevent the horrors of Cambodia, Rwanda, and Srebrenica in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

“Since 2013, we have pursued a new effort to ensure that we act early to identify, and speak out about, violations of human rights. We know that exclusion based on ethnic, religious or other potential dividing lines is especially combustible. Under the ‘Human Rights up Front,’ which I initiated just two years ago, we aim to act on these clear warning signs before they escalate.”

He dismissed assertions that discussion of a country’s rights violations breach the UN Charter by interfering in a country’s domestic affairs.

“Sovereignty was never meant to be a barrier behind which a government can freely abuse its own citizens,” he stressed. “Sovereignty remains part of the bedrock of international order. But the less sovereignty is viewed as a wall or a shield, the better our prospects will be for protecting people and solving our shared problems.

“Impunity only breeds even more violence. Indifference only makes our world far less secure. Inaction remains the greatest threat. We have to get away from this impunity, indifference, and inaction.

“It is time to do more to stop the brazen and brutal erosion of respect for human rights and international humanitarian law in the world’s conflict areas. It is time to strengthen the way we prepare for and respond to the mega-crises of the 21st century,” said the Secretary-General.

Source: United Nations

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Karl William

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United Nations Section

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Robert Williams

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