UN experts voice concern over situation of religious minorities in Iran

The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, and the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Heiner Bielefeldt, called on the authorities to “ease the current climate of fear in which many churches operate, especially protestant evangelical houses of worship.” Mr. Shaheed welcomed the acquittal and subsequent release from prison earlier this month of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who spent three years in prison for charges that, in his view, do not qualify as offences in Iran’s current Penal Code. He said that while the Iranian judiciary is to be commended for its decision to release Mr. Nadarkhani, “questions remain as to why he spent three years in prison apparently for practicing his religion,” a right guaranteed in Iran’s Constitution and in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the country ratified in 1975. Born to Muslim parents, Mr. Nadarkhani converted to Christianity at the age of 19 and became a member of a Protestant church in Rasht, according to a news release issued by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). Mr. Nadarkhani was arrested in October 2009 on charges of apostasy. In September 2010, he was found guilty and sentenced to death on charges of apostasy and evangelism, following a trial in which the guarantees of due process of law had not been properly applied, according to Mr. Shaheed. The sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court, with the caveat that unless the accused renounced Christianity, he would be executed by hanging. In early September 2012, Iranian judicial authorities reduced Mr. Nadarkhani’s charge to ‘evangelizing Muslims,’ and his sentence to three years, which he was credited with having already served. Based on his own interviews and reports from various non-governmental organizations, Mr. Shaheed estimates that over 300 Christians have been arbitrarily arrested and detained throughout the country since June 2010, and that at least 41 individuals were detained for periods ranging from one month to over a year, sometimes without official charges. “Scores of other Christians appear to remain in detention for freely practicing their religion,” said the expert, noting that “churches continue to report undue pressure to report membership, in what appears to be an effort to pressure and sometimes even detain converts, despite articles 13, 14, and 26 of the Iranian Constitution which protect the rights of Christians and others.” Mr. Bielefeldt pointed out that Iran possesses the basic legal framework to guarantee Christians, as a group, the right to freedom of religion, and should ensure that this right is granted in practice. “The right to conversion in this context is an inseparable part of freedom of religion or belief as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,” he noted. Mr. Bielefeldt also called for the protection of other religious minorities such as the Baha’is, Yarsanis, Dervishes and other religions, faiths or beliefs not recognized by the Iranian Constitution. Independent experts, or special rapporteurs, are appointed by the Geneva-based Human Rights Council to examine and report back, in an unpaid capacity, on specific human rights themes. read more

Ban calls on Security Council to authorize intervention brigade for DR Congo

“The security situation remains fragile – and demands urgent actions,” Mr. Ban said as he briefed the Council. Referred to as the Intervention Brigade, the proposed force will have the ability to conduct, with or without the Congolese national army, offensive operations against all armed groups that threaten peace in the eastern part of DRC – a region that is prone to cycles of violence and consequent humanitarian suffering. It will be established within the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in DRC (MONUSCO) for an initial period of one year, as proposed by the Secretary-General in a special report submitted to the Council on the DRC and the Great Lakes region. “This enforcement capacity, which was initially called for by the regional actors, seeks to address the imminent threats to stability and will provide the most appropriate response to the active conflict environment in which MONUSCO has been operating for several years,” Mr. Ban told the Council. “The Intervention Brigade will be tasked with containing the expansion of both Congolese and foreign armed groups, neutralising these groups, and disarming them. This will provide much needed capacity to our peacekeeping operation.”The establishment of the brigade is designed to further support the political objectives of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the DRC and the region – the peace deal signed last month in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The UN will serve as a guarantor of the agreement, together with the African Union, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the International Conference on the Great Lakes region (ICGLR). “All of us understand that signing the Framework is a beginning, not an end,” said Mr. Ban, who will soon appoint a special envoy, who, together with the concerned stakeholders, will support the implementation of the agreement.Speaking to reporters after the meeting, the Secretary-General said the UN has done its utmost to broker an agreement that can finally break the horrendous cycles of violence. “The onus is now on the signatories to show strong, consistent and sustained leadership.”Nearly a million people were displaced in the province of North Kivu during the clashes between the fighters from the rebel M23 group and the Congolese national army (FARDC) late last year, bringing the total number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in eastern DRC to 2.6 million.While the fighting has stopped, insecurity prevails, and is growing in other areas of the DRC, Mr. Ban noted.“Perhaps some would dismiss the recent unrest in the eastern DRC as yet another cycle of violence in a long-plagued region of the world; but we have it within our hands to break that cycle and shape something different,” he stated. Also today, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) called for a further $70 million for its operations in 2013 to help thousands of displaced civilians in the Great Lakes region. The money is for people uprooted by conflict in North and South Kivu last year, as well as anticipated displacements this year. read more

Independent UN expert warns of significant human rights shortcomings in Myanmar

“While the process of reform is continuing in the right direction, there are significant human rights shortcomings that remain unaddressed, such as discrimination against the Rohingya in Rakhine state and the ongoing human rights violations in relation to the conflict in Kachin state,” said the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, Tomás Ojea Quintana.“Now is the time to address these shortcomings before they become further entrenched and destabilise the reform process.”Several waves of clashes between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims have left 115,000 people displaced in Rakhine state, while some 75,000 people have fled their homes in Kachin since fighting began in June 2011 between Government troops and the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO). The fighting intensified in September and December last year, before authorities in Myanmar announced a unilateral ceasefire in January.“The Government must establish the truth about what happened in Rakhine state during the two waves of communal violence last June and October, and hold those responsible for human rights violations to account,” Mr. Ojea Quintana said, offering his support to pursue further investigations.Mr. Ojea Quintana also urged the Government to ease the harsh restriction on freedom of movement for the 120,000 people who remain in camps for the internally displaced in Rakhine and to begin their relocation into integrated communities before the start of the rainy season, which will flood many camps.In Kachin, he welcomed the recent de-escalation of violence while highlighting the needs of those who have been displaced by the fighting. “I’m particularly concerned about the situation of the 40,000 displaced in non-Government controlled areas of Kachin state, and urged the Government to provide humanitarian organizations with regular access to these areas,” he said.In addition, the Special Rapporteur expressed concern over the rights of journalists in the country due to a draft law that threatens to undo recent progress. “This would be giving with one hand while taking away with the other.” He also noted that while people now can associate freely, protestors continue to be imprisoned and police officers are still using excessive force when managing demonstrators.Mr. Ojea Quintana acknowledged progress in other areas, such as the release of over 800 prisoners of conscience since May 2011, but called for the immediate release of the over 250 who remain behind bars. “I welcome the committee set up by the Government to identify remaining prisoners of conscience, and recommend that it be established as a permanent body to guard against future detentions for political reasons and to help ensure that the rights and freedoms of all those released are fully respected,” he said.Special rapporteurs are appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work. read more

Ban calls on private sectors in US China sector to help achieve

“US and Chinese companies can and must ensure that business activity is sustainable and responsible – that it upholds the highest standards of business ethics,” Mr. Ban said at the Hong Kong-US Business Council Dialogue in New York.“I am convinced that principles and profits can go hand-in-hand. Business success requires delivering long-term value – not just financially, but also socially, environmentally and ethically.”Mr. Ban underlined that Governments alone cannot tackle global development challenges but instead need partnerships with the private sector to make a significant impact. He added that the contribution from the private sector will be even more vital to mobilize the resources, technology and innovation required to achieve as the deadline for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) approaches and the post-2015 agenda is set in place.“Today, our challenge remains clear and urgent: cut greenhouse gas emissions; increase efficiency, rely more on clean energy and provide sustainable energy for all; and reach a global legal climate agreement by 2015,” Mr. Ban said.He commended US and Chinese companies that have committed to the principles set by the UN Global Compact, and urged them to ensure that they “uphold responsible practices in their strategies, in their supply chains, and in the communities where they operate. Their presence can make a tremendous difference.”Each company that signs on with the UN Global Compact agrees to embrace, support and enact, within their sphere of influence, a set of 10 principles in the areas of human rights, labour standards, the environment and anti-corruption.Mr. Ban pointed to China’s strong presence in Africa as “an enormous opportunity for growth on the continent,” and called on investors to use their collective influence to help spread commitment for sustainable change.In particular, he said tackling climate change must be a priority for the private sector, and encouraged US and Chinese companies to engage in the Caring for Climate initiative for business, through which companies can put forward innovations on energy efficiency, renewable energy and finance.“There should be no more denial, no more deferring action, no more avoiding the tough decisions, no more hoping that a technological silver bullet will save us,” Mr. Ban said. “The private sector will have a central role to play in unlocking clean energy investments.” read more

In Philippines Ban pledges solidarity with people of typhoonhit Tacloban

“I’m deeply saddened and humbled by what I have seen – the immense loss of life and total destruction,” said the UN chief during a press conference after touring the area.He said that while pleased by the community’s warm welcome, his heart was heavy; the tragic suffering of the people and the utter devastation left in the wake of the storm was “hard to describe.” Tacloban suffered the brunt of Typhoon Haiyan, which swept ashore in the Philippines on 8 November and has been called the strongest such storm to ever touch land. It left nearly 6,000 people dead and displaced millions, affecting close to 14 million people overall. “As Secretary-General of the United Nations, I’m here to convey my strongest solidarity and that of the United Nations and the international community,” Mr. Ban said, adding that while the people of Tacloban and other communities were dealt a terrible blow, “it can be overcome when we are united. I am here to bring that unity and solidarity to all of your people.” “My message to the Filipino people is: never despair. The United Nations is behind you. The world is behind you,” declared Mr. Ban. Noting that the United Nations was among the first to respond in the aftermath of the typhoon, he said the Organization had deployed high-ranking officials and hardworking staff who “have been working day and night with all of their people.”The Secretary-General appreciated and commended the “very courageous leadership” of Philippines President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III, his ministers and his team who have been courageously addressing the tragedy.Meanwhile, Mr. Ban said, the UN will continue to mobilize resources, including nearly $800 million over 12 months, announced last week as part of the Organization’s broader humanitarian response strategy for 2014. “This will be just to complement what your people, your Government, will do. We will try to provide life-saving support – water, sanitation, food, and shelter – and also a long-term development strategy,” he said, explaining that while the Government is responsible for resettlement, reintegration, and infrastructure, the UN and the Filipino authorities “will work [together] very closely”. Turning to a assess the broader implications, the Secretary-General said that at this time, it may be very difficult to attribute one single storm to the climate change phenomenon. Yet, the intensity, severity and magnitude of the destruction and frequency of natural disasters, extreme weather patterns, indicate clearly what international scientists have been saying: that it may be a man-made disaster because climate change has been caused by human beings. “Then, the solution must be found by human beings. That’s why I am here,” said the UN chief, noting that he discussed [this] at length with President Aquino this morning, how the UN and its Member States, including the Philippines, can work together to strengthen the world’s capacity to reduce disasters. While storms like Haiyan might not be prevented, “at least we can reduce and minimize the loss of life, the damage of our properties, valuable properties. That’s what I’m going to [sound the] alarm [to] the world again, send out strong messages to the world, and I’ll try to … have the world focus, on reconstruction and resettlement of your country and of your community.” He thanked Tacloban Mayor Alfred Romualdez and Leyte province Governor Dominico Petilla and all leaders, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and ministers in Tacloban for their hard work. He also commended the hard work of all the people now clearing debris. In addition, Mr. Ban said many international organizations are sending their helping hands to the area, with at least 180 international partners already there, and some 25 nations already proving engineering and military rescue teams. “I really appreciate their very noble generous support. This is what we need to do for humanity,” he added. The UN chief said that despite the devastation, he was heartened to see that the people of Tacloban are returning to their normal lives, businesses are coming back, “and people are working hard, people are united.”“You cannot do [this] alone. Maybe the United Nations cannot do [this] alone. We need support from all the Member States… your country and neighbouring countries and the world,” said Mr. Ban, pledging to keep the world focused on the recovery effort in the Philippines. read more

Burkina Faso UNAfrican Union mission encouraged by commitment to restore order

“The joint mission is encouraged by the commitment of the parties to resolving the crisis peacefully and in accordance with the national constitution,” said UN spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric, in a press briefing at UN Headquarters this afternoon.The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for West Africa, Mohammed Ibn Chambas, arrived in Ouagadougou on 31 October as part of a joint mission that also includes the President of the Commission of the Economic Community of West African States and the African Union Commissioner for Political Affairs.As part of its consultations, the spokesperson said, the joint mission met yesterday with the President of Ghana, John Dramani Mahama, in his capacity as the Chairman of ECOWAS Authority of Heads of States and Governments.The spokesperson also noted that Mr. Chambas briefed Togolese President Faure Gnassingbe in Lomé on the progress of the ongoing consultations.“All interlocutors concurred that the transitional process in Burkina Faso should be in line with constitutional provisions,” the spokesperson said. read more

In new report UN agency promotes agrocorridors as economic driver for developing

The programmes – also described as economic ‘agrocorridors’ by the UN agency – are designed to foster agriculture in developing countries, particularly in territories connected by lines of transportation such as highways, railroads, ports or canals, by integrating investments, policy frameworks and local institutions. “The key idea is not just to make transportation or irrigation infrastructure improvements but to provide a platform that enables and empowers authorities at local, national and regional levels to make more informed decisions about what they want to achieve,” said FAO agribusiness economist Eva Gálvez Nogales and author of the Making economic corridors work for the agricultural sector report. In a press release issued earlier today, the FAO explained that such corridors have traditionally been used to bolster physical connectivity to improve the functioning of markets, such as the linking of mines to ports. However, the agency added, the corridors can also be harnessed to smarter planning initiatives, aimed at enhancing agricultural opportunities, achieving explicit targets such as creating rural jobs, environmental goals and catalysing improved governance along value chains. The 200-page report itself analyses in detail six specific case studies, including three well-advanced corridor programmes in Central Asia, the Greater Mekong Subregion in Southeast Asia and Peru and three new projects still largely in the early implementation phase in Indonesia, Mozambique and Tanzania. In addition to boosting local economies and accessing untapped growth potential, so-called ‘agrocorridors’ can also be a boon for efforts aimed at protecting the environment, said Eugenia Serova, director of FAO’s Rural Infrastructure and Agro-Industries Division.“Corridors can in fact allow for better management of environment risks and practices such as unsuitable monocropping,” Ms. Serova continued. “The key is for inclusive coordination of stakeholder interests both in the planning and execution phase.” read more

Europes restrictive measures place added hardships on refugees and asylumseekers – UN

Refugees and migrants continue to cross parts of the Mediterranean in desperate attempts to make it to Europe. Credit: UN News CentreThe risks include lack of proper registration in line with EU and international standards, the selection of people on the basis of nationality and other criteria rather than protection needs, and the heightened likelihood of pushbacks and people being stranded in the open. Such practices also undermine the conclusions reached by the European Council last week recalling that to enter the EU without adequate travel documentation, people need to apply for asylum when reaching an EU country, UNHCR said. The practices have already resulted in a build-up of refugees and asylum-seekers and migrants in Greece and in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, where nearly 700 people, mostly Afghan nationals, have been barred from accessing admission into Serbia. In order to support a joint approach and to allay fears and potential chaos, States need to inform refugees and asylum-seekers of their procedures, including clear details on the criteria for access to admission, asylum or return, in line with applicable laws, the UN agency said. “Some States are shifting problems onward rather than trying to genuinely share responsibility and show solidarity with one another and with those in need of protection,” UNHCR said. “A comprehensive, coordinated strategy built on shared responsibility, solidarity and trust among all European States working together is the only way to approach the current emergency.” UNHCR added that it is making good progress in providing accommodation for 20,000 asylum-seekers in Greece, and will continue to provide support to States to help manage the situation humanely and in line with international standards. The agency also urges the creation and expansion of credible alternative pathways for refugees to reach safety in Europe and elsewhere in order to ensure that movements are manageable and safe, such as enhanced resettlement, humanitarian admission, family reunifications and student/work visas. In a press release, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said that the newest restrictive measures put in place by several European countries risk violating European Union (EU) law and undermine efforts for a comprehensive and coordinated approach to deal with the refugee and migrant crisis in Europe. On 17 February, Austria announced it would place a daily limit of 3,200 people to enter its territory and only accept 80 new asylum applications per day. Slovenia announced a similar cap to restrict movements across its borders. In addition, on 18 February, the heads of police services of Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia announced an agreement to jointly profile and register refugees and asylum-seekers at the border between the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Greece, as well as take a number of additional actions to manage the situation. “While coordinated action can help the management of the mixed migration movement, the statement has been interpreted differently by countries, resulting in increased protection risks for refugees and asylum-seekers, particularly those with specific needs, such as unaccompanied and separated children,” the UNHCR noted in its statement. read more

Pakistan Ban condemns appalling terrorist attack at hospital in Quetta

In a statement issued by his spokesperson, Mr. Ban urged the Government to do its utmost to ensure safety of the population and bring to justice the perpetrators of today’s attack.According to media reports, more than 50 people were killed earlier today Quetta, which is in the Baluchistan province of Pakistan, a when an explosion struck a hospital where dozens of lawyers had gathered to mourn the killing of a prominent colleague.“He extends his heartfelt condolences to the victims and their families, and wishes a speedy recovery to the injured,” said the statement, adding that the Secretary-General expresses his solidarity with the people and Government of Pakistan.

Sharp increase in money migrants send home lifts millions out of poverty

A dramatic up tic in the amount of money migrants send home to their families in developing countries is helping to lift millions out of poverty, according to a new report out today from the United Nations International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). The first-ever study, Sending Money Home: Contributing to the SDGs, One Family at a Time, highlights the role these funds – more than $445 billion in 2016 ¬– play in helping development countries attain the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). “About 40 per cent of remittances – $200 billion – are sent to rural areas where the majority of poor people live,” said Pedro de Vasconcelos, manager of IFAD’s Financing Facility for Remittances and lead author of the report, which notes that over the past decade, remittances have risen by 51 per cent – far greater than the 28 per cent increase in migration from these countries. “This money is spent on food, health care, better educational opportunities and improved housing and sanitation. Remittances are therefore critical to help developing countries achieve the Sustainable Development Goals,” underscored Mr. de Vasconcelos. Sending Money Home covers a 10-year trend in migration and remittance flows from 2007-2016. While the report shows that there have been increases in sending patterns most regions of the world, the sharp rise over the past decade is in large part due to Asia which has witnessed an 87 per cent increase in remittances.It is not about the money being sent home, it is about the impact on people’s lives IFAD chief Gilbert Houngbo Despite the decade-long trend, IFAD President Gilbert F. Houngbo noted the impact of remittances must first be viewed one family at a time. “It is not about the money being sent home, it is about the impact on people’s lives. The small amounts of $200 or $300 that each migrant sends home make up about 60 per cent of the family’s household income, and this makes an enormous difference in their lives and the communities in which they live,” said Mr. Houngbo. VIDEO: Speaking to UN News, IFAD chief Gilbert F. Houngbo says that remittances sent by migrant workers are a “win-win solution” as they benefit both host countries and the workers’ countries of origin. Credit: UN News Currently, about 200 million migrant workers support some 800 million family members globally. This year, and expected one-in-seven people globally will be involved in either sending or receiving more than $450 billion in remittances, according to the report. Migration flows and remittances are having large-scale impacts on the global economy and political landscape. Total migrant earnings are estimated at $3 trillion annually, approximately 85 per cent of which remains in the host countries. The money sent home averages less than one per cent of their host’s GDP. Taken together, these individual remittances account for more than three times the combined official development assistance (ODA) from all sources, and more than the total foreign direct investment to almost every low- and middle-income country. Transaction costs to send remittances currently exceed $30 billion annually, with fees particularly high to the poorest countries and remote rural areas. The report makes several recommendations for improving public policies and outlines proposals for partnerships with the private sector to reduce costs and create opportunities for migrants and their families to use their money more productively. “As populations in developed countries continue to age, the demand for migrant labour is expected to keep growing in the coming years,” pointed out Mr. de Vasconcelos. “However, remittances can help the families of migrants build a more secure future, making migration for young people more of a choice than a necessity,” he added. read more