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CNSNEWS22

TUESDAY, JUNE 26, 2001

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Headquarters of United Nations.
New York

 

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Kofi Annan

Quote of the Day

"Let no one imagine that we can protect ourselves by building barriers between us and them. For in the ruthless world of AIDS, there is no us and them. "

Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in an address to the Special Session of the General Assembly on HIV/AIDS, New York, 25 June 2001.


                                                                    The United Nations (river view)"United Nations Photo #206341C by Eskinder Debebe" 

                             
PRESS CONFERENCES IN ROOM S-226

(Please note: This schedule is subject to change.)

Wednesday, 27 June 2001

TIME

S-226

CONFERENCE ROOM 2

11:00 a.m.

Dr. Astrid N. Heiberg, President of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies; Mr. Didier J. Cherpitel, Secretary-General of the International Federation of the Red Cross; Mr. Stuart Flavell, International Coordinator of GNP+

12:00 p.m.

United Nations Secretary-General, H.E. Mr. Kofi Annan [E/F]

1:00 p.m.   Dr. Peter Piot, Executive Director of UNAIDS, and co-sponsor agency heads
1:15 p.m. Chair of Round Table 4: H.E. Mr. Benjamin William Mkapa, President of Tanzania [E/F]



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CNS/U.N. NEWS BRIEFS

                          
     

UN special session on AIDS opens to spur massive response to epidemic
25 June – Aiming to mobilize a greatly intensified global response to the AIDS epidemic, the United Nations this morning opened a three-day General Assembly
special session devoted to tackling what nations have agreed constitutes a global emergency.

Marking the first time that the General Assembly has held a special session on a health issue, this historic gathering on HIV/AIDS is expected to culminate in the adoption of a declaration of commitment setting out a series of strategic targets and timetables to guide future efforts to fight the pandemic, which has already taken the lives of some 22 million people worldwide.

"The decision of the General Assembly, alarmed by the accelerating spread of the epidemic, to convene a special session as a matter of urgency, proves that the world is committed to intensify efforts to contain the epidemic and tackle the crisis," said the body's President, Harri Holkeri of Finland, in his opening statement. Calling the session a "landmark" event, he said, "With our concerted efforts, we will be able to turn the tide and contain the spread of AIDS."

Mr. Holkeri also reported that "despite great efforts, regrettably up until this moment no final agreement" had been reached on the draft declaration. He strongly appealed to negotiators to bring the drafting process to conclusion in the coming days so that the document could be adopted by the end of the session on 27 June.

 
Kofi Annan addressing special session.
In his address, Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who has made the struggle against AIDS his personal priority, pointed to growing attention to the pandemic. "AIDS can no longer do its deadly work in the dark," he said. "The world has started to wake up."

Mr. Annan, who has been working to bring together governments, the private sector, and civic groups in the fight against AIDS, said there was growing momentum to defeat the epidemic. "Never, since the nightmare began, has there been such a moment of common purpose," he said.

The Secretary-General cautioned, however, against making moral judgements or refusing to face unpleasant facts. "Let us remember that every person who is infected -- whatever the reason -- is a fellow human being, with human rights and human needs," he said, adding, "in the ruthless world of AIDS, there is no us and them."

At the same time, he stressed the need for magnifying current efforts, noting that spending on AIDS should rise to five times its present level. He added that his proposed Global AIDS and Health Fund - which would be open to donations from governments and private donors - aimed to be operational by the end of this year. "I will continue to work with all the stakeholders to ensure that we meet that goal," he pledged.

The Secretary-General reiterated the importance of reaching that goal in an op-ed article published today in The New York Times. "The world can surely find this amount," he wrote, referring to an estimated annual expenditure of $7 billion to $10 billion needed to achieve tangible results in the whole of the developing world.

"Some of the money will come from within the poorer countries most affected by AIDS, but I believe the public in the richer nations is also ready to contribute significantly," Mr. Annan wrote in the op-ed piece. "It is in these nations' self-interest as well as humanitarian interest to do so, since no country can be unaffected by a global disaster of this magnitude."

 

World leaders address UN special session on AIDS
25 June – As the United Nations
special session on AIDS got under way in New York this morning, the General Assembly - the UN's main legislative and deliberative body -- heard impassioned calls for action from heads of State and Government who addressed the Assembly's plenary meeting.

In the course of three plenary meetings running from morning through late evening, the Assembly was scheduled to hear over 70 speakers, including heads of State and government, health ministers and other high-level officials.

Omar Bongo, the President of Gabon, said drugs to treat AIDS must be made available to all, and the proposed Global AIDS and Health Fund must be made operational as soon as possible. "Small pox has disappeared, polio is vanishing; AIDS must also go," he said. If all acted in unity to combat the scourge, he said, "for once in history the word solidarity will have taken on its full meaning."

Offering the perspective of one of the countries most devastated by the disease, the President of Botswana, Festus Mogae, stressed that funds were needed for voluntary counselling and testing, assistance to AIDS support groups, scientific research for AIDS drugs and vaccines, improved access to drugs, and ensuring "that the fight against HIV/AIDS does not come at the cost of sustainable development and improved living standards for developing nations." Welcoming the proposed Fund, the President emphasized that its resources should be disbursed to countries worst-hit by the pandemic.

Denzil L. Douglas, the Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis, said it was regrettable that "institutions and private foundations that pledged to assist the countries in Africa did not appear to have recognized the seriousness of the situation in the Caribbean." He pointed out that there were 360,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in the region. "In the face of this phenomenon, Caribbean countries have been both steadfast and proactive," he said. However, like the countries in Africa, Caribbean States had little access to antiretroviral medicines to fight AIDS. The disease, he said, "should force us to accept that in the struggle to preserve the fabric of our humanity, we must work together to solve this problem."

Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade said that since the first appearance of AIDS in Senegal in 1986, the Government had been making serious efforts to fight the disease. As a result, the AIDS prevalence rate was only 2 per cent. At the same time, he pointed out that the exhorbitant cost of medicines to treat AIDS was "simply immoral and unacceptable." Calling on the special session to take decisive action, he said, "The time to act is now. Tomorrow it will be too late."

Ghana's President, John Agyekum Kufour, recalled that earlier this year at a summit meeting in Abuja, African governments had pledged to allocate at least 15 per cent of their annual budgets to improvements in the health sector to combat the pandemic. "Significant as this initiative is, it must be admitted that it will be inadequate without sustained and concerted international assistance directed at both prevention of the disease and mitigation of its impact," he said. Ghana supported the proposed Global AIDS and Health Fund, which he said should be administered by the UN "with all the urgency and dispatch the crisis commands."

Pascoal Manuel Mocumbi, the Prime Minister of Mozambique, underscored the gender dimensions of the pandemic. "HIV is transmitted through the most intimate and private human relationships, through sexual violence and commercial sex; it proliferates mostly because of women's poverty and inequality," he said, calling for special efforts to help those most vulnerable to the disease. On the proposed Global Fund, he emphasized that "no commitment we declare today will achieve the desired results if adequate resources are not provided consistently and sustained over time."

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo called attention to the devastating impact of AIDS in Africa. "The future of our continent is bleak, to say the least, and the prospect of extinction of the entire population of a continent looms larger and larger," he said. Africans were looking to the special session with hope, he added, urging participants to help people living with AIDS "to overcome the stigma of society, [so] they can join the crusade against further spread of the killer disease."

The President of Portugal, Jorge Sampaio, pointed out that although HIV strikes every region, culture and social group "it cannot be denied that it is most prevalent among those populations socially and economically less favoured." He said his Government was working to raise awareness among the Portuguese-speaking countries of Africa about the need to increase their efforts to combat AIDS. Portugal itself, "in the European context, has a relevant AIDS problem," he added. Noting that the contribution of religious leaders should be strengthened, he called for "a commitment that does not have to call into question the beliefs and moral values of each."

Daniel T. arap Moi, President of Kenya, underscored the devastation wrought by AIDS on Africa. "This is a time when the production of coffins is a growing industry because of this dreadful pestilence," he said. On the issue of patent protection for new anti-AIDS medicines, he said it would pose a choice between the human lives and the right of commercial interest. "Human life must surely come before anything else," he said." There will be no question of corporations or individuals making handsome profits at the expense of my people, the people of Africa or at the expense of the sick."

Rwandan President Paul Kagame, said his country was among the worst-hit by HIV/AIDS, with some 400,000 people - out of a total population of 8 million - estimated to be infected. The 1994 genocide, in which untold numbers of women and young girls were systematically raped, was partly to blame for the high prevalence rate. Despite its problems, Rwanda was working to respond to the epidemic, including by purchasing anti-retroviral drugs, and providing them to the public at subsidized rates. He said international efforts should focus on adopting a global strategy that is realistic, practical and effective, particularly in regard to resource mobilization.

The Prime Minister of the Bahamas, Hubert A. Ingraham, expressed strong support for the establishment of the Global Fund, while voicing concern that small developing countries which did not have UN agencies located in their territories might have trouble accessing the resources. "I wish also to sound a cautionary note that we not place all our eggs in one basket," he added. "While we recognize that the Fund must assist in drug acquisition, it is critically important that the urgency of the need for affordable anti-retroviral drugs required for the treatment of HIV/AIDS, and effective drugs for TB and malaria, not result in a disproportionate skew of the assets of the Fund to the supply of drugs."

Lesotho's Prime Minister, Pakalitha B. Mosisili, said HIV/AIDS had been declared a national disaster in his country. He described the Government's efforts to fight back, which included providing drugs for the treatment of opportunistic infections, adding that Lesotho would "soon reach a decision on the availability and accessibility of anti-retroviral therapy." At the same time, he stressed the country's need for support to strengthen its infrastructure and increase access to drugs.

Alpha Oumar Konare, the President of Mali, said together, AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis were having a devastating impact on Africa. The continent's leaders had confirmed their commitment to combat the scourge. For its part, Mali had launched a broad campaign to fight the disease. Both the Government and civil society were working together to address the problem at the local level. Stressing that no State must be left alone to confront the disease, he called for an international coalition against it.

Also today, the Assembly took a series of procedural votes before adopting, by 62 in favour to none against with 30 abstentions, an amendment adding the name of Karyn Kaplan of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission to the list of civil society actors who will participate in tomorrow's roundtable on "HIV/AIDS and human rights."

The other three roundtables scheduled for the current session will focus on "HIV/AIDS prevention and care," "Socio-economic impact of HIV/AIDS" and "International funding and cooperation."

 

Nearly 60 States plan to boost care and treatment for AIDS, UN agency says
25 June – Efforts to improve and speed up access to care for people living with HIV/AIDS are gaining new momentum, but support is still urgently needed to ensure widespread treatment, the key United Nations agency fighting the epidemic said today.

According to the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), 58 States have expressed interest in collaborating with the agency to gain access to lower-priced drugs to fight the disease. Access to these medicines is becoming possible in the context of a public-private partnership started last year by five major pharmaceutical companies - Boehringer Ingelheim, Bristol Myers Squibb, Glaxo Wellcome, Hoffman La Roche and Merck - and five UN agencies -- the World Health Organization (WHO), World Bank, UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and UNAIDS.

Speaking to reporters in New York, Rolf Krebs, the Chairman of Boehringer Ingelheim GMBH of Germany, underscored the critical role of the UN in the partnership. "Only the UN, at the request of countries, could see whether the conditions in the countries could be established for treatment with rather complicated drugs."

He said that some States were not ready to accept the lower-cost drugs because they did not have the infrastructure needed to distribute them - "not only logistical infrastructure but also medical infrastructure" such as the ability to test for HIV. Noting that the proposed Global AIDS and Health Fund would aim to redress that problem, he said, "We are very grateful for the support from Kofi Annan and also for his initiative now in setting up the Fund, and we hope very much that this Fund will be filled."

"One thing we don't have is time," he warned. "As soon as possible we have to start even if we have to start with a couple of thousand patients."

Drug costs, he noted, were still too high for the least developed countries, "so there is still some way to go." Unfortunately, it was not possible to lower the prices any further, as the prices were already very near cost, he added.

In a statement released today, UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot echoed this concern. "Significant price discounts are being achieved, but prices of HIV/AIDS drugs are still far beyond the reach of the majority of people who need them," he said.

While efforts are under way to ensure support for comprehensive care programmes in hard-hit countries, UNAIDS warned that access will remain uneven until countries are able to afford AIDS-related drugs and diagnostic equipment, strengthen their health systems with the necessary infrastructure and trained staff, and provide adequate voluntary counselling and testing services as well as psychosocial support.

Talks on draft declaration on AIDS wrap up as Islamic Group considers outcome
25 June – Talks on the draft declaration of commitment expected to be adopted by the General Assembly's
special session on HIV/AIDS have wrapped up, with Islamic States considering their response to the outcome, according to one of the chief negotiators.

"Essentially, the negotiations have concluded," said Ambassador Penny Wensley of Australia, following intensive talks which ran throughout the weekend and into the early morning hours of Monday. She said it was up to Member States to decide whether or not they were prepared to accept the draft.

Ambassador Wensley emphasized that all groups had accepted the draft reluctantly, noting that "when everybody is unhappy, then maybe you have a sense that you have found the middle ground."

"The group that is still considering their position is the Organization of Islamic States, because from the very beginning, it has been clear that they have profound concerns about language that may be, from their perspective, in conflict with their religious and cultural values," she said.

"We have tried throughout the process to be sensitive to this," she stressed. "I am hopeful that this group, like the other group, may decide that, even though they find some aspects of the language still very difficult to accept, that they may be able to do so."

"Frankly, it has been a very difficult negotiation," she said, adding that this had been anticipated. "We knew from the outset that we were having to deal with issues that raise profound sensitivities."

Contentious issues, she said, "revolved around HIV/AIDS and human rights, women's rights, and how to refer to and describe vulnerable groups."

"Whatever the final decision of the group that is still meeting on the text, I believe that we have made enormous progress," she said. The declaration represented a "quantum leap" in terms of the international community dealing with the complex range of issues associated with the pandemic and would constitute a "valuable blueprint for future action."

She said that while compromise had been necessary, the scale of the problem required forceful action. "All groups feel that they have stretched well outside their comfort zones but there is the sense that we're all in this together and this is a global crisis that requires a global response."

 

In show of remembrance of victims of epidemic, AIDS quilt unfurled at UN
25 June – Raising the curtain on the General Assembly's historic special session on HIV/AIDS, the AIDS memorial quilt was unfurled this morning at United Nations Headquarters in New York.

"The Quilt Movement is a wonderful example of the kind of response we need in facing up to HIV/AIDS," Secretary-General Kofi Annan told those attending the ceremony, which was held at around 8 a.m. He noted that what had begun almost 15 years ago as "one commemoration of a loved one who died of AIDS, has since grown to 50,000 quilts worldwide."

"As delegates from all over the world gather here today for the special session on HIV/AIDS, I hope this quilt will inspire them to join together, like the panels in this patchwork, in a movement of global solidarity against AIDS," Mr. Annan said, expressing his "profound gratitude" to all the members of the Memorial Quilt Movement, and to all the people whose lives it has commemorated.

The President of the General Assembly, Harri Holkeri of Finland, said the quilt would spur participants to action. "I am convinced that this symbolic gesture - the presence of memories of those who have lost their lives to HIV/AIDS - will strengthen our efforts and will to find a strong global commitment to fight against AIDS and to save lives," he said.

 

In show of solidarity, UN tower lit up with red AIDS ribbon
25 June – Providing a visual curtain-raiser to the United Nations
special session on HIV/AIDS, which opened this morning at UN Headquarters, over the past two nights the Secretariat Building stood out against the New York skyline emblazoned with a red ribbon - the symbol of solidarity in the fight against the epidemic.

The special lighting, which began on 23 June, aims to send a strong message of UN commitment to the battle against HIV/AIDS, while focusing attention on the special session.

The large AIDS ribbon was inscribed on the building by using red plastic film, which was temporarily attached to 550 designated windows on both the east and west sides of the Secretariat building. The materials were provided by Alkit Digital Imaging of New York City, which helped to make the project possible by offering concessionary prices to the UN.

The resulting image will be used on a special stamp issued early next year by the UN Postal Administration.

This historic project was undertaken by the UN Department of Public Information and the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), along with its seven co-sponsors, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), the UN International Drug Control Programme (UNDCP), the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Bank.

 

Annan urges action by "Group of Eight" on AIDS, poverty, environment
25 June – In advance of the annual summit meeting of the "Group of Eight" countries in Genoa, Italy, Secretary-General Kofi Annan has urged the G-8 leaders to make good on pledges they made during last year's United Nations Millennium Summit to fight AIDS, tackle poverty and preserve the natural environment.

"As you meet in Genoa, the eyes of the world will be upon you," Mr. Annan wrote in his letter to the Group, which was released today at UN Headquarters in New York. He recalled that the Summit had pledged to reverse the spread of AIDS and halve the proportion of people living in poverty by 2015, while sparing no effort in protecting the environment.

With HIV/AIDS taking on "terrifying proportions" in recent years, the Secretary-General expressed hope that the G-8 leaders would take the lead as donors during the General Assembly's special session on AIDS and "will make a sustained material contribution" to the campaign for global health, in part through the proposed Global AIDS and Health Fund, envisaged as a mechanism for raising an estimated $7 to $10 billion needed annually to provide prevention and care in low and middle-income countries.

HIV/AIDS affects both rich and poor, "but the poor are much more vulnerable to infection, and much less equipped to cope with the disease once infected," the Secretary-General noted. To achieve the broad objective of reducing poverty, he urged the G-8 countries to remove handicaps limiting the ability of developing countries to benefit from trade.

Concerning the environment, Mr. Annan strongly urged the G-8 leaders to give the issue priority, and to give "close personal attention" to preparations for next year's World Summit for Sustainable Development.

The Group of Eight is comprised of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United States, the United Kingdom and the Russian Federation.

Security Council calls on Ethiopia, Eritrea to agree on security zone
25 June – Security Council members today expressed concern over excessive deployment of Eritrean militia and policemen in the Temporary Security Zone (TSZ) separating Ethiopian and Eritrean forces, as well as the failure of Ethiopia and Eritrea to agree on the precise boundaries of the zone.

In a statement to the press, the President of the Security Council, Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury of Bangladesh, reiterated the Council's call on both parties to establish a direct corridor between Asmara and Addis Ababa. Council members urged the parties, particularly Eritrea, to ensure freedom of movement of the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE), and urged Eritrea to sign the status-of-forces agreement.

The Council members stressed that both countries should fulfil their financial obligations to the Boundary Commission's work, and encouraged them "to explore and pursue a range of confidence-building measures and to approach the peace process in a constructive manner."

The press statement was released after the Council had met in closed-door consultations to hear a briefing by a senior UN peacekeeping official on Secretary-General Kofi Annan's latest progress report on UNMEE.

OIC a key partner in Middle East peace bid, Annan tells Islamic forum
25 June – The Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) is an indispensable partner of the United Nations in its efforts to achieve a just and durable peace in the Middle East, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said today in a message to a meeting of OIC foreign ministers in Bamako, Mali.

In the message, which was to be delivered on his behalf by Ibrahima Fall, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Mr. Annan deplored the recent Middle East violence that resulted in the deaths of both Palestinians and Israelis. "I reaffirm the sacredness of all human life, whether Palestinian or Israeli," he said. "As I have said many times before, and repeated during my visit to the region eight days ago, violence and terror do not lead to peace."

The Secretary-General said progress towards peace in the Middle East would not come about unless it was made within a political process. "I welcome the fact that the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority have accepted the conclusions of the report by the fact-finding committee [led by former US Senator George Mitchell]. It is now time for the parties to implement the recommendations quickly and effectively, as an appropriate basis for a renewal of the peace process."

Touching upon the current crisis regarding Iraq, Mr. Annan said he shared the OIC's concern over the continuing suffering of the Iraqi people. "Like you, I hope the sanctions against this country will be lifted soon," he said. "That is why I'm urging Iraqi authorities to reconsider their position and to accept to cooperate with the international community. I am ready to continue the dialogue with the Iraqi Government which began in February to try to find a way out of the current impasse."

The Secretary-General also expressed his appreciation for the OIC's efforts to help the people of Afghanistan who, he said, have been "suffering for far too long" from the effects of a fratricidal war. He welcomed the OIC's call at its recent summit in Doha for all parties to the Afghan conflict to stop fighting and cooperate in setting up an inclusive government. However, peace will not be achieved in Afghanistan without help from neighbouring nations, Mr. Annan said, sending an urgent plea - particularly to Iran and Pakistan - for more collaboration on their part in bringing peace to the country.

In the message, the Secretary-General also called on OIC members to support the global fight against AIDS, stressing the importance of the General Assembly's special session on HIV/AIDS, currently being held in New York.

In wake of Peru earthquake, Annan says UN stands ready to aid relief efforts
25 June – Secretary-General Kofi Annan today said he was "deeply saddened" by the loss of life and destruction caused by the earthquake that struck southern Peru on Saturday, and extended his condolences to the Peruvian Government and the families of the victims.

A spokesman for Mr. Annan said in a statement that the Secretary-General was "gratified by the solidarity being shown by the international community in the response to this tragic event," and reiterated the UN's commitment to assist in the relief and rehabilitation efforts.

Meanwhile, the Washington-based Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said today it was working closely with the Peruvian authorities in response to the earthquake. PAHO disaster experts had arrived in Peru on Sunday and were supporting Ministry of Health and Civil Defence authorities in assessing needs, evaluating damages, and providing health services to the population.

According to PAHO, which serves as the regional office for the Americas of the World Health Organization (WHO), water was now distributed by tanker trucks in Moquegua, the most affected city, where the water and sewage systems had collapsed.

The Peruvian Ministry of Health's disaster programme was meeting today to draw up a list of necessary supplies and medicines, and with support from PAHO was sending experts in hospital equipment and infrastructure evaluation to Arequipa, Tacna and Moquegua, whose hospitals had been damaged by the earthquake.

According to PAHO, the earthquake left some 70 dead, 1,200 injured and about 10,000 homeless.

Reconstruction in war-torn Guinea-Bissau remains difficult - Annan
25 June – Efforts at healing and reconstructing war-ravaged Guinea-Bissau remain "difficult," Secretary-General Kofi Annan says in his latest report describing the United Nations peace-building efforts there, as well as the country's struggle with internal political conflict, lack of resources and rebel activity.

"Rebuilding societies torn apart by war, including narrowing differences among different segments of the population and moving towards genuine national reconciliation, is bound to take time," the Secretary-General writes in his latest report to the Security Council on the work of the UN Peace-building Support Office in Guinea-Bissau (UNOGBIS). "Such an undertaking is even more arduous in an environment such as Guinea-Bissau whose long history of armed struggle has left a legacy of weapons circulating widely in society, amidst rampant poverty."

Funds are needed, Mr. Annan says, to help restructure the armed forces, demobilize and reintegrate soldiers and ensure the smooth functioning of government institutions. As a result of a lack of resources for such efforts, essential institutions are unable to function as efficiently as possible, contributing to a climate of frustration and tension which, in turn, lowers productivity and discourages economic investment.

According to the report, which covers developments since mid-March, the activities of rebels of the separatist Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC) along the country's border with Senegal remained "the most serious security challenge" over the past three months. The rebel operations, including the planting of landmines, not only heightened insecurity but "virtually paralysed economic and social activities" in the area, and obstructed the restructuring of the armed forces.

The report stresses the importance of keeping the national interest above all other considerations, even as political differences among the various institutions of government reflect the pluralism of a country's democracy. Noting the recent prolonged stand-off between the executive and the legislature over the confirmation of the President's choice of Prime Minister and over the approval of the Government's budget, Mr. Annan says he is relieved that the impasse was overcome and that the leaders of the country have once again begun to focus on the national challenges at hand.

"If international support is to be effective on the ground, it needs to have, at all times, an effective and credible national partner leading the way," the Secretary-General says. The report also commends the efforts of President Kimba Yala and his Government to promote constructive and cooperative relations in the subregion and especially with Guinea-Bissau's immediate neighbours, noting that the improved relations will help advance cross-border trade and security.

 

UN human rights chief welcomes Belgrade's cooperation with war crimes tribunal
25 June – Calling it a major step forward in the fight against impunity, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson today welcomed the decree issued by the Government of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia opening the way for the transfer of former President Slobodan Milosevic to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (
ICTY).

"The decree is a recognition that the crimes the former President and others are accused of must come to trial," Mrs. Robinson said in a statement. "I hope the decree can be implemented promptly and that all persons indicted by the Tribunal and present in Yugoslav territory will be transferred to The Hague for trial."

The High Commissioner said human rights defenders around the world could take heart in the growing recognition that high office no longer guarantees protection for human rights violators.

"Two years ago, when the indictment was handed down, few dared to believe the former President would ever face trial," she said, adding that Yugoslavia's decision was a vindication of the daily struggle so many people carried on for human rights. "Today, we are one step closer to the day when we can tell any tyrant responsible for human rights abuses: You will be called to account. There is no place to hide."

 

Top UN relief official urges Taliban to improve working conditions for aid staff
25 June – Welcoming the release of four Afghan aid workers, a top United Nations relief official urged the Taliban, who had detained the staff, to improve "in real terms" the working environment for humanitarian personnel in Afghanistan.

A statement released in New York said that the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Kenzo Oshima, was relieved to learn that four Afghan women working with the UN World Food Programme (WFP) in Kabul had been released from custody on 23 June after a three-day detention by Taliban authorities.

"[Mr. Oshima] is concerned, however, about the increasing harassment and abuse of Afghan national staff of the UN and non-governmental community, and restrictions against programmes which attempt to help women as well as men," the statement said.

Noting that humanitarian aid currently reached well over 4 million people in Afghanistan, one of the world's worst crisis areas, the statement stressed that the recent pattern of harassment represented a general narrowing of space available for humanitarian agencies to operate effectively, and might limit the ability of aid agencies to continue helping Afghans in need.

Commitments for global immunization effort exceeds $600 million
25 June – The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (
GAVI) and the Vaccine Fund have approved a fourth round of funding awards, bringing the vaccine effort's total commitments over the next five years to more than $600 million for immunization programmes in 36 of the poorest countries in the developing world.

The GAVI board also welcomed Carol Bellamy, the Executive Director of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), as its new chair, and the United Kingdom, the UN Foundation and the Pasteur Institute as new board members. The decisions were made public at the fifth GAVI board meeting held in London last week.

"We're up and running," said Jacques-Francois Martin, president of the Vaccine Fund, which had been launched by GAVI partners with a five-year, $750 million contribution from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2000. "Just one year after we issued the first call for proposals we're delivering vaccines and saving lives."

Of the 25 countries that were approved in the first three rounds, 11 countries have already received their first instalment of financial support from the Vaccine Fund to strengthen their health infrastructures, while 5 have received shipments of vaccines. Working with newly developed, long-term purchasing agreements with manufacturers, GAVI and the Vaccine Fund have already committed to purchase more than 300 million doses of vaccines over the next three years.

"The power of GAVI is in the collaboration between partners," said Ms. Bellamy, who will take over as chair of the GAVI board on 1 July, following the two-year term of Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO). "When you have UN agencies, industrialized country donors, vaccine manufacturers, and developing country health officials all sitting around the same table, public health programmes can be much more effective."

 

East Timor: donor countries meet to raise funds for new defence force
25 June – The second international donor's conference of countries committed to assisting the newly formed East Timor Defence Force (ETDF) began today in Dili, under the chairmanship of the head of the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET).

The purpose of the two-day conference, is to present a progress report on the development of the ETDF and to request further assistance in structuring, developing and equipping the new force. The meeting, chaired by UNTAET chief Sergio Vieira de Mello, will focus on support for advisory services, training and logistics, and on equipment, material and financial donations.

In his opening remarks, ETDF Brigadier General Taur Matan Ruak said that the structural transformation of Falintil into the ETDF had been achieved. To the East Timorese who feared that the dissolution of Falintil would erase a symbol of East Timor's resistance, Taur Matan Ruak said, "Today, the population knows that history cannot be eliminated or re-written and that in this new political context ETDF [represents] one more step towards the building of the new nation of East Timor."

Taur Matan Ruak stressed that the ETDF would be a professional and non-partisan force that would submit itself to the democratically elected political power, and that it would not become involved in any future action of a police nature.

Last week, 247 ETDF inductees were the first graduates of a basic training course conducted in Aileu. In opening remarks at the beginning of today's conference, Mr. Vieira de Mello described the Aileu graduation as "a very emotional confirmation that things are moving forward and we are meeting our goals." The next basic training, for 348 inductees, is scheduled to begin in mid-July at the ETDF's new headquarters at Metinaro, near Dili, which will be inaugurated by the UNTAET chief tomorrow.

In other news, emergency shelters arrived in Lospalos yesterday for an estimated 44 families whose houses has been completely destroyed by the flooding that swept the area early last week, the National Emergency Operation Center (NEOC) said today. The families were living in a school and church in Lospalos town, in emergency shelters set up by UN specialized agencies and the peacekeeping force.








"A call to action" from UN Secretary-General in fight against HIV/AIDS

MRS. ARISTIDE TO ATTEND UN HIV/AIDS CONFERENCE

By Serge Beaulieu
UN Bureau Chief

United Nations, June 22, 2001 (CNS NEWS)
--
More than 15 African heads of state, prime ministers, and ministers will join other dignitaries at the UN for a three-day conference from Monday, June 25 to Wednesday, June 27. This conference was called as a matter of urgency to discuss the problem of human immunodeficiency virus in all its aspects.

The conference will call upon governments, with the assistance from UNAIDS and donors, to ensure that by 2005 at least 90 percent of the world’s population will have access to information, education, and services to reduce their vulnerability to this infection.

After 20 years, the world has suddenly become fully aware of this catastrophe that has been devastating the continent of Africa. Countries like Botswana, with more than 38 percent of its population infected, are on the verge of a major disaster. Other countries in line are Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia, Kenya, Malawi, and Djibouti.

A total of 36.1 million adults and children are estimated to be living with HIV. 

The Sub-Saharan Africa region alone is estimated at 25.3 million. 
South and Southeast Asia 5.8 million 
North America 920,000
The Caribbean 390,000 
Latin America 1.4 million
Western Europe has been calculated at 540,000
Eastern Europe and Central Asia 700,000
North Africa and the Middle East 400,000
East Asia and the Pacific 640,000
Australia and New Zealand 15,000

 

So far, no definite cure has been discovered, but some medicines have been found to alleviate the suffering and prolong the life of the patient.

One of the missions of the United Nations has been to encourage the pharmaceutical companies to lower the price of the vaccine in order to enable the African continent to use the drugs. So far, the pharmaceutical companies have decided to go along with this. Experiments have already started, particularly in Botswana, where the crisis is severe.

In the meantime, the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) is calling upon world leaders to make women’s roles central in the fight against HIV/AIDS. They claim there is a direct correlation between the low status of women, the violation of their human rights, and HIV transmission. 

Noellen Hayzer, executive director of UNIFEM, said, "This is not simply a matter of social justice. Gender inequality is fatal. The reason that AIDS has escalated into a pandemic is that inequality between women and men continues to be pervasive and persistent. Too often, women and girls cannot say no to unwanted and unprotected sex without fear of reprisal."

The statistics are alarming

Last year 1.3 million women died of AIDS. 
Nearly half of all new HIV infections occur in women.

UNIFEM calls for a guarantee of women’s equal access to prevention and treatment and that research be made gender sensitive. It even placed a call to make female and male condoms affordable and accessible to all.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, almost 1.8 million people live with HIV, including the 210,000 adults and children infected in the year 2000..

At 5 percent, Haiti has the highest HIV adult prevalence rate in the world outside Sub-Saharan Africa. The rate in five other Caribbean countries hovers around 2 percent of the adult population. It was perhaps for this reason that Haiti’s first lady, Mrs. Mildred Aristide, was chosen by the United Nations Development Program to be part of a panel to discuss the implications for poverty reduction and the impact of HIV/AIDS.

Points to be discussed: 

What can countries do to respond to the poverty creating impact of the epidemic?

How can essential public services be maintained when human resources are lost, public revenues reduced, and budgets diverted?

How can economic prosperity be achieved notwithstanding the impact of the epidemic?

Among the other panelists will be Mark Malloch Brown, Administrator of the UNDP; Rev. Gideon Byamugisha, Diocese of Namirembe, Rwanda; Ernest Yonly, Prime Minister and Minister of Economy and Finance, Burkina Faso; and Juan Somavia, Director-General of the International Labour Organization (ILO).

It will be the first diplomatic assignment for Haiti’s First Lady, who is a member of the bar in Washington, D.C., where she met Jean Bertrand Aristide while he was in exile. The couple was later married in Haiti.

All eyes will be on the performance of Haiti’s first lady.

* * * * * * * * * *

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States have 'strong desire' to reach accord at UN session on AIDS: Fréchette

20 June – The upcoming special session of the United Nations General Assembly on HIV/AIDS will be an important part of UN efforts to fight the epidemic and a major step in raising awareness about the disease, UN Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette said today.

"What we are looking at is an event that will produce not only a document but also will really help to continue to raise the profile of this issue internationally," Mrs. Fréchette told a news conference held at UN Headquarters in New York in advance of the three-day session that will begin next Monday, 25 June.

As for the concrete results of the session, the Deputy Secretary-General said that the expected formal outcome would be a declaration of commitments, which would provide for comprehensive strategies that Governments would sign on to and which would become the guiding policy framework for the UN and for the Member States.

As of today, some 24 heads of State and Government and six vice-presidents are expected to attend the session, which will include roundtables on four specific themes - prevention and care; AIDS and human rights; the social and economic dimensions of the epidemic; and funding.

One innovation during the round tables is that there will be civil society participation, unlike during the Millennium Summit "where only the leaders met among themselves," Ms. Fréchette said. A second new feature is that the proceedings of the round table discussions will be covered in a listening room, to which the press will be invited.

Asked about some culturally sensitive passages (dealing with homosexuality, prostitution, and other issues) that countries were discussing in the draft declaration, the Deputy Secretary-General said she believed governments wanted to find the right words in order to be able to produce a consensus document.

"The issues that remain on the table are sensitive issues," she said. "They relate to cultural issues that are, as we know, not always easy to handle. But my sense talking to delegations is that there is a very strong desire to come to an agreement, so that the session ends on full consensus on a good, strong declaration. I think that ways will have to be found to find words that take into account the cultural sensitivities without doing damage to the intent of the declaration."

Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury
Security Council urges full cooperation from Iraq on return of Kuwaiti properties
20 June – Members of the Security Council today called upon Iraq to return all items seized following its 1990 invasion of Kuwait and to cooperate fully with Secretary-General Kofi Annan's envoy in resolving all outstanding issues.

In a press statement, the current President of the 15-member body, Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury of Bangladesh, said that the Council shared the Secretary-General's concern at the lack of progress in resolving the Kuwaiti property issues, and agreed that it was a matter of priority that Kuwait's national archives be returned.

"Members of the Council expressed their unanimous support for the work of High-Level Coordinator on this important humanitarian issue and agreed with the Secretary-General's observations, in particular those concerning the complete impartiality of Ambassador [Yuli] Vorontsov in fulfilling his mandate under Security Council resolution 1284," the statement said. That resolution deals with the return of Kuwaiti properties from Iraq.

Briefing the press on a related matter, Ambassador Chowdhury said the Council, in its informal consultations, had discussed the request made by the Russian Federation for a public meeting on the agenda item "Situation of Iraq and Kuwait," and decided to schedule that meeting for 26 June.

Ambassador Chowdhury also said that the next day, on 27 June, the Council would hold a private meeting on the issue of the appointment of the Secretary-General.

Ethiopia/Eritrea: Annan reports progress, but says 'serious difficulties' remain
20 June – While noting some progress in the relations between Ethiopia and Eritrea and commending the two countries for their continued commitment to the peace process, Secretary-General Kofi Annan has warned of the remaining "serious difficulties" and stressed the need to move forward on unresolved matters.

"The establishment of the Temporary Security Zone is an encouraging development, which, despite the disagreements between the parties, marks a milestone in the implementation of the Agreement on Cessation of Hostilities," Mr. Annan writes in a report released today at UN Headquarters. "However, it is imperative that the parties resolve the outstanding issues, in particular those pertaining to the Temporary Security Zone, so as to ensure that it is clearly defined and effectively demilitarized."

The Secretary-General says he made that point in separate letters dated 1 June to Eritrea's President Isaias Afwerki and Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. Specifically, he called President Isaias' attention to the deployment by Eritrea of "an excessive number of militia and police" in the Zone, and noted that the status-of-forces agreement for UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) had not been signed. At the same time, Mr. Annan expressed concern to Prime Minister Meles over "the continued presence of Ethiopian troops in parts of the eastern sector" of the Zone. The Secretary-General also mentioned "the continuing restrictions imposed on UNMEE's freedom of movement."

Stressing the importance of the work of the Boundary Commission, mandated to delimit and demarcate the border between the two countries and resolve the dispute that originated the war, Mr. Annan calls on both Governments to cooperate with the Commission and meet their obligation to bear the related costs.

Mr. Annan cites among major concerns the humanitarian situation and the presence of landmines and unexploded ordnance -- two problems calling for a response from donor countries.

The Secretary-General also voices regret that "despite some softening of the hostile rhetoric in the media, neither Government has yet displayed publicly much openness to a normalization of relations." Political developments in both countries, he says, "should not distract them from their commitments to a peaceful settlement of their differences."

First ever World Refugee Day marked as UN urges to back institution of asylum
20 June – Observing the first ever World Refugee Day, the United Nations today highlighted the plight of people displaced by conflict and natural disaster and called for respect for the 1951 Geneva Convention, the bedrock of the international system for protecting refugees, which marks its 50th anniversary this year.

In a statement, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers hailed the new Day and urged decision makers to do more to preserve the institution of asylum and give financial backing for refugee programmes worldwide.

"Refugees are resourceful people, survivors - but they still need considerable help from the international community," he said. "Helping them and protecting them is a moral and legal obligation, rather than an optional act of charity."

In his message, Secretary-General Kofi Annan hailed the "extraordinary courage and contributions" of refugees, past and present. "Sadly, in an era of unprecedented prosperity for some, refugees are finding that the welcome mat has worn thin," he said. "Nations that once opened their doors to refugees now lock their doors, while poor countries that can least afford it assume an ever greater burden."

For his part, General Assembly President Harri Holkeri of Finland stressed that it was crucial for the mental and physical capacities of refugees to be maintained and rebuilt during the waiting period for granting asylum, which can sometimes last several months or even years.

Activities to mark the day were organized in many places around the world. In New York, UN organizers planned a ceremony at the Statue of Liberty and two exhibitions at nearby Ellis Island, where about 12 million immigrants were processed between 1892 and 1954. In Geneva, where UNHCR is based, Mr. Lubbers was scheduled to meet 50 refugee women from around the world who are to take part in a three-day conference to share their experience and ideas with the agency. In Pakistan, which hosts the most refugees (2 million), some 500 people attended a commemoration of World Refugee Day in Islamabad.

The decision to observe World Refugee Day was made by the UN General Assembly in December 2000.

Annan receives honorary law degree from Oxford University
20 June – On the third day of his visit to the United Kingdom, Secretary-General Kofi Annan today received an honorary law degree from Oxford University, which hailed him as "a far-sighted partisan of justice and a tireless advocate of peace."

This morning, the Secretary-General was given the cap and gown of a doctor of civil law before joining the procession from Balliol College to the ceremonial centre of the University, the Sheldonian Theatre - the site of Encaenia, or commencement.

"Mr. Annan is not a man to shirk problems which are either arduous or dangerous, and he is conspicuous also for his readiness, if something goes wrong, not to take refuge in the all-too-familiar pattern of bureaucratic obfuscation, of evading responsibility, and of leaving any criticism to be faced by subordinates," said Oxford's Public Orator, Jasper Griffin, as he introduced the Secretary-General during the ceremony.

Following the event, Mr. Annan attended a luncheon hosted by All Souls College at Oxford, after which he met briefly with some students of international affairs at St. Anthony's College. The College is headed by Marrack Goulding, the former UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs.

The Secretary-General returned to London late afternoon to prepare for a series of official meetings tomorrow, including with Prime Minister Tony Blair.

UN anti-AIDS effort enlists Coca-Cola to curb spread of epidemic in Africa
20 June – The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) today announced a partnership with The Coca-Cola Africa Foundation to bring new impetus to the battle against the virus.

Under the terms of the three-year agreement, the Foundation will co-ordinate the efforts of Coca-Cola Africa and its bottling partners across the continent to support AIDS education, prevention and treatment programmes, UNAIDS said in a statement issued in Geneva. The initiative is in line with the philosophy behind the International Partnership against AIDS in Africa.

"The Coca-Cola Africa Foundation brings substantial resources to the international battle against AIDS," said Peter Piot, UNAIDS Executive Director. "Coca-Cola Africa's special strength is its ability to bring its unrivalled marketing and logistics expertise to responses to the epidemic - from the community to the highest political level. We are excited about this partnership and what it means for the fight against AIDS."

UNAIDS brings together seven UN organizations to help the world prevent new HIV infections, care for those already infected and mitigate the epidemic's impact. The new partnership with Coca-Cola is the first major initiative for The Coca-Cola Africa Foundation, a private non-profit organization dedicated to implementing the company's philanthropic and corporate citizenship programmes in Africa.

"We are proud to be joining the UNAIDS team in the fight against AIDS," said Alexander B. Cummings, President of Coca-Cola Africa Group. "Coca-Cola is completely committed to the future of the African continent, its economy, people, communities and health. We will do all that we can to enable Africans to reach their full potential."

East Timor: National Council sets up truth commission to probe rights violations
20 June – The National Council of East Timor today unanimously passed an amended regulation on the establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission and in a related move asked the United Nations Transitional Administrator to set up a tribunal to prosecute perpetrators of serious human rights violations in the territory.

The Commission on Reception, Truth and Reconciliation will investigate the human rights violations that occurred in the territory between 1974 and 1999 and also create a community reconciliation body to facilitate agreements between local communities and the perpetrators of non-serious crimes and non-criminal acts committed over the same period. According to the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET), the regulation stipulates that there can be no further civil or criminal liability for those who comply with the conditions of the Commission.

After acting unanimously on the truth commission, National Council Member Aniceto Guterres proposed a regulation calling on the head of UNTAET, Sergio Vieira de Mello, to take steps to establish an International Tribunal to prosecute those responsible for committing serious human rights violations in the territory. That resolution was also passed unanimously.

The National Council then passed a series of amendments to the regulation that established East Timor's Defence Force in January. These include amendments inserting a preamble that recognizes the important role played by Falantil and prohibiting the defence force from political affiliation.

A proposal to include in the regulation the observation of principles of international human rights law that apply during armed conflict was also passed unanimously.

Prosecutor's visit to Belgrade postponed -- UN tribunal
20 June – The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) confirmed today that the planned visit by Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte to Belgrade had been postponed, and no new date has been yet set.

"This was not a cancellation. It was just postponed," Florence Hartmann, a spokesperson for the UN Tribunal, told the press in The Hague.

She noted that ICTY had not been involved with internal discussions under way in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia about cooperation with the Tribunal. When that process is finished, she said, the Tribunal would be informed and that point a new visit by the Prosecutor would be organized.

The visit was originally scheduled to take place on Friday, 22 June.

UN agency helps businesses sell goods and services to international community
20 June – A two-day series of seminars sponsored by the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) opened today in New York to explain how companies can do business with the world organization and to link suppliers to buyers in international organizations.

"The United Nations purchases goods and services valued at more than $3 billion annually, but many suppliers know little about how to penetrate this market," UNOPS said in a statement.

Procurement experts from the UN and other institutions are on hand at the seminars to offer guidance to suppliers in identifying sales opportunities, bidding on contracts, and understanding the intricacies of doing business with the international community.

"A lot of businesses know that the United Nations would be interested in their goods or services, but don't have a clue about whom to contact or where to look for opportunities," said Joseph Kelly of the UNOPS Division for Legal and Procurement Support. "Our business seminars are designed to eliminate the confusion and help buyers and sellers find each other."

The seminars are part of a larger event - the International Aid and Trade 2001 conference, which brings together top officials from governments, development banks, non-governmental organizations, the private sector and UN agencies to explore ways in which government procurement systems can bolster socio-economic progress in industrialized and developing countries.

UNOPS is the arm of the UN that provides project-management services in every field where the UN has a mandate - from landmine awareness to public sector reform, from informatics solutions to eradicating poverty. Upon request, UNOPS will manage development projects from start to finish or provide ad hoc services, including selecting and hiring project personnel, procuring goods, organizing training, managing financial resources and administering loans.

The International Aid & Trade 2001 conference, which is taking place at the Jacob Javits Convention Center, includes a trade show where more than 350 vendors are displaying their wares to procurement representatives from the UN, non-governmental organizations and international financial institutions.

UN food agency teams up with US university to help close digital divide
20 June – The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today launched a new initiative aimed at closing the digital divide between rich farmers in developed countries and poor rural communities in developing countries through the use of technologies that can increase food production.

The agreement signed today by the FAO and the Media Laboratory of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT Media Lab) provides for the UN agency's World Agricultural Information Centre (WAICENT) to serve as a platform for disseminating and supporting programmes initiated by the MIT Media Lab, such as "Digital Life," "Digital Nations," and "Things-that-Think."

The main objectives of the cooperation between the UN food agency and the MIT Media Lab are to work on field programmes together, to explore possible funding resources and to support joint development of tools, workshops and training courses. For the first time, farmers and rural communities in least developed areas will be able to use advanced information technologies for accessing email and the Web using pocket-sized, battery or solar energy-powered wireless communicators at a very low cost. They will have unlimited access, through Internet and other innovative technologies, to information of all kinds including educational material, agricultural advice, as well as information on food security, food safety, economic issues, nutrition, public health, among others.

Even illiterate farmers in remote and isolated areas will be able to collect and share information relevant to their day-to-day work: information and even training will be conveyed through voice and images provided by wireless communicating devices. For example, in Asia, women farmers are currently using wireless devices to exchange information on levels of irrigation water to improve food production, WAICENT manager Francisco Perez Trejo said.

Wireless technology developed by MIT Media Lab tends to level differences between rich and poor, because it works as well in remote regions as in modern cities, and is cheap enough to be spread everywhere, according to experts. One of the most distinctive features of the MIT Media Lab is that more than 90 per cent of its funding comes from private industry: it currently receives support from 170 corporations worldwide.

 

 

UN Security Council in session.

 

 

 

 

UN secretary general Kofi Annan speaks at a ceremony to mark the opening of the Geneva social summit (Keystone)