Sep 23, 2010

First head of UN Women hopes to be “strong champion” of gender equality

The first head of the new United Nations super-agency on female empowerment "UN Women" voiced hope talking to the journalists on Wednesday that the body will be a “strong champion” of gender equality and hasten existing UN efforts to advance the cause of women and girls.

The UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women was established on 2 July 2010 by an unanimous vote of the General Assembly to oversee all of the world body’s programmes aimed at promoting women’s rights and their full participation in global affairs.

Known as UN Women, it will help Member States implement standards, provide technical and financial support to countries which request it, and forge partnerships with civil society. Within the UN, it will hold the world body accountable for its own commitments on gender equality.

Michelle Bachelet, former Chilean president and head of UN Women, told reporters in New York on 22nd September 2010 that the body’s creation is “clearly a huge opportunity to significantly accelerate all the efforts that the UN system has made in order to achieve better conditions for women.”

She pointed out that while the UN has made great advances in promoting gender equality, it faces serious challenges, including inadequate funding, as well as fragmentation “with no single recognized driver to direct UN activities.”

UN Women is the merger of the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), the Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW), the Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues, and the UN International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (UN-INSTRAW).

“We now need to move forward or otherwise UN priorities such as addressing the high level of violence and discrimination faced by women and girls” will not succeed, Ms. Bachelet warned.

Other areas she said she will focus on are reducing maternal mortality by 2015, one of the targets of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today began a massive drive to save the lives of over 16 million women and children, with more than $40 billion already committed to scale up health services worldwide.

The UN Women chief also spotlighted how women are the ones who have lost more opportunities as a result of the global recession.

She cited figures from the UN International Labour Organization (ILO) that nearly 19 million more women have become unemployed as a result of the downturn.

“Even when women are employed, they still have very low incomes, low wages and also they have very little access to credit,” Ms. Bachelet said.

For UN Women to “make an important difference,” Member States must step up their financial commitments, she stressed.

The body’s starting budget of $500 million – twice the current combined resources of the four agencies it comprises – is “at least the minimum that is annually needed,” Ms. Bachelet said, urging countries to back their political commitment with the funding necessary.

“I look forward… to [making] UN Women the strong champion for women’s rights and equal opportunity for all women and girls as women and girls deserve.”

Rescue package needed to face loss of biodiversity, Ban Ki-moon says

A rescue package similar to that introduced after the global financial crisis is urgently needed to halt the worldwide loss of biodiversity, which is resulting in a heavy human cost, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stressed talking at a high level UN meeting on Wednesday.

“We are bankrupting our natural economy,” he told a high-level General Assembly event on biodiversity, held at United Nations Headquarters in New York.

According to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), ecosystems – and the biodiversity that underpins them – generate services worth trillions of dollars, supporting livelihoods around the world.

Characterizing ecosystems as “our natural capital,” Mr. Ban stressed that a loss of biodiversity can lead to the failure of crops, a drop in profits, a deepening of poverty and economic decline.

“Allowing [our natural infrastructure] to decline is like throwing money out of the window,” he said.

According to the UN, the world will not meet the 2010 target to slow the decline in biodiversity, part of the eight globally-agreed Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Nearly 17,000 plant and animal species are currently at risk of extinction, while the number of species under threat of being wiped out is also growing by the day.

Although investment to reverse biodiversity decline has increased, the main causes of the decline – high consumption rates, habitat loss, pollution and climate change – are not adequately being tackled.

The Secretary-General called on world leaders to commit to reducing biodiversity loss. “This will be your legacy – your gift for generations to come.”

Sep 21, 2010

Ban Ki-moon opens 65th annual UN General Assembly summit

Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, has opened the annual UN General Assembly summit  with a plea to the presidents, prime ministers and kings to use their power to meet UN goals to help the world's poorest by 2015.

Ten years after world leaders set the most ambitious goals ever to fight & check global poverty, they gathered again on Monday to spur action to meet the deadline - which the UN says will be difficult, if not impossible, in some cases.

For centuries, the plight of the world's poor had been ignored but with the turn of the new millennium, leaders pledged to begin tackling poverty, disease, ignorance and inequality.

Nicolas Sarkozy, France's president, made an impassioned plea to developed countries to join his country in raising its contribution to meet the millennium goals. France, he said, would increase its contribution by 20 per cent over the next three years.

"We have no right to do less than what we have decided to do," Sarkozy told the assembled leaders. He also said the world body should join in creating a small international tax on financial transactions that would go towards ending poverty and meeting other millennium goals.

Leaders have vowed to reduce extreme poverty by half, ensure that every child has a primary school education, halt and reverse the HIV/AIDS pandemic, reduce maternal mortality by three-quarters and child mortality by two-thirds. Goals additionally called for cutting by half the number of people without access to clean water and basic sanitation - all by 2015.

They also set goals to promote equality for women, protect the environment, increase development aid, and open the global trading and financial system.

"We brought new urgency to an age-old mission," the secretary-general told the assembled leaders. "And now, we have real results. New thinking and path-breaking public-private partnerships. Dramatic increases in school enrolment. Expanded access to clean water. Better control of disease. The spread of technology - from mobile to green."

But Ban called the advances "fragile" and declared "the clock is ticking, with much more to do".
He urged the leaders to deliver the needed resources "above all by exercising political leadership".

"Despite the obstacles, despite the scepticism, despite the fast-approaching deadline of 2015, the Millennium Development Goals are achievable," the secretary-general said.

More than 140 world leaders were expected at the summit and security was exceedingly tight, as even U.N. staff and permanent correspondents were subjected to full screening to enter and move around the international complex.

The three-day summit on the goals, known as the MDGs, will be followed by the annual ministerial meeting of the General Assembly. Leaders will be presenting positions not only on global anti-poverty plans but also on global issues.

"Many countries are falling short, especially in Africa," Ban warned, and "inequities are growing within and among countries," a problem compounded by the global economic crisis.

Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and former UN human rights commissioner, was at the UN when the MDG were set in 2000. She told Al Jazeera that there were two key reasons for why the UN has fallen short of its goals.

The first, she said, was the lack of a "rounded" approach to human rights, taking into account women's reproductive and legal rights and issues. The other is that the policies are not linked to employment, and do not address the jobless rates in the Middle East and North Africa.

She also conceded that there was an issue of accountability.

"The Millennium Development Goals did not have a sufficient benchmarking and accountability, including more accountability of the rich countries," said Robinson.

Amnesty International, which says world leaders have failed more than a billion of the world's poorest people, will be unveiling a Maternal Death Clock in Times Square in the heart of New York on Monday to count maternal deaths around the globe while world leaders are meeting.

Maternal mortality remains unacceptably high and the clock will begin at 5,317,280, the number of women Amnesty says have died since the MDGs were adopted in September 2000. It predicted about 3,700 more will die during the summit, which ends Wednesday.

On the plus side, the Overseas Development Institute, a British think-tank, said Ghana outperformed all other countries in reducing hunger by nearly three-quarters, from 34 per cent in 1990 to 9 per cent in 2004. Vietnam reduced the proportion of people living on less than $1 a day from nearly 66 per cent to 20 per cent in just 14 years.

Ten African countries, including Ethiopia, Egypt, and post-conflict Angola, have halved their absolute poverty levels, Benin ranked in the top 10 in education improvements, and Angola and Niger significantly reduced child deaths.

On the minus side, Amnesty International said efforts in many countries fail to address the widespread discrimination women face in accessing food, water, sanitation and housing - especially in slums. It accused Kenya of ignoring the needs of women living in slums and Nigeria of evicting slum dwellers and driving them deeper into poverty.

Even if the main goal of reducing extreme poverty by half is achieved, the U.N. said nearly one billion people will still be living on less than $1.25 a day.

Sep 20, 2010

Ruling Moderate Party of Sweden draws double support of voters

The ruling Moderate Party of Sweden could draw a double  support of voters to its government  in the parliamentary election of the country held on Sunday. The electoral result shows the party achieved  30 percent voter's support in the election which is just double of 15 per cent gained in 2002.

"I have been clear ... We will not co-operate with or be made dependent on the Sweden Democrats," Fredrik Reinfeldt, the prime minister and leader of the ruling centre-right coalition, said after winning 172 seats in the 349-seat parliament, just three short of a majority.

"We have received broad support tonight," he added. But he said it was "not the election result we had hoped for".

An anti-immigration party in Sweden also managed their first win of seats in parliament election of the country signing that far-right parties are gaining some public support in Europe.

The Sweden Democrats (SD), who have described Islam as the country's biggest foreign threat since the second world war, won 20 seats in Sunday's parliamentary elections, leaving the two main parties without a majority.

Both the centre-right governing coalition and the opposition Social Democrats have ruled out any negotiations with the far-right group, instead looking to the Green Party for support.

Stig-Bjorn Ljunggren, a political analyst, told Al Jazeera that the centre-right would "invite the red-green parties for partnership ... to show that they are taking responsibility, that they are reaching out a hand, to ensure that those xenophobes don't get any influence.

"The Social Democrats will say the same thing. But they have to hug the Greens so they're not running away."

The Social Democrats, which for the first time had created a coalition of leftist parties to increase its chances of winning power, suffered a historic loss, winning just 30.9 per cent of the vote, down from 35.3 per cent in 2006.

However, the Green Party, which campaigned as part of a "red-green" opposition coalition with the Social Democrats and communist Left Party, scored its best election result ever with 7.2 per cent of the vote.

But it appeared unlikely that they would willingly give their support to the centre-right coalition.

"It would be very difficult for us after this campaign to look our voters in the eyes and say we have agreed to co-operate with this government," Maria Wetterstrand, co-chairwoman of the Green Party, told Swedish public television.

The SD, who have been celebrating their historic entry into parliament, has dismissed fears that the party could cause legislative chaos.

"We won't cause problems. We will take responsibility. That is my promise to the Swedish people," Jimmie Aakesson, the party's 31-year-old leader, said.

In the final result it is declared that Governing bloc grabbed total 49.30 % voters support while Moderate Party: 30.00%, Liberal Party:7.10%, Centre Party: 6.60%, Christian Democrats: 5.60%.

Besides, Opposition Social Democrats: 30.80%, Green Party: 7.20% and Left Party: 5.60% and much talk about Sweden Democrats backed 5.70% of support.

However, voter turnout in the election was 82.10%.

Sep 19, 2010

Unconditional release of chinese captain demanded

"We demand Japan return the Chinese captain unconditionally and immediately. If Japan continues to take the wrong course, China will take strong counter-measures and Japan will have to take all the consequences", Chinese foreign ministry statement said.

China had warned it would be taking "strong measures" against Japan after a court in Okinawa, southern Japan, said the sailor could be held for a further 10 days.

China has closed top-level exchanges with Japan in a row over the detention of a Chinese ship captain following a collision near disputed islands. The disputed islands are known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.

Chinese state media said ministerial and provincial-level contacts had been suspended, including talks on aviation and coal.

Earlier, a Japanese court extended the detention of the captain, held after the collision in the East China Sea.

A foreign ministry statement read out on Chinese state television said the decision had "seriously damaged Sino-Japan bilateral exchanges".

It read: "[Foreign ministry spokesman] Ma Zhaoxu said China has repeated many times that any judicial measures Japan has taken against the Chinese captain are illegal and invalid.

On Friday, small protests against Japan took place in several Chinese cities, marking the anniversary of the 1931 Mukden incident, that led to Japan's occupation of north-east China.

Demonstrators held banners demanding that Japan "get out" of the islands and release the Chinese captain from detention.

"Extensive irregularities" mark Afghanistan election, observers say

The Free and Fair Election Foundation (FEF) of Afghanistan termed the outlook of the Saturday's parliamentary election as "extensive irregularities" and urged the IEC "to ensure the integrity of the rest of the electoral process".

Some of the monitoring groups also raised serious concerns about electoral fraud.
The FEF's Nader Nadery told the BBC it was to be welcomed that more people had voted than expected and that casualties from attacks were lower than anticipated.

But he said there were many problems with the indelible ink used to stop multiple voting, with proxy votes, interference by local power brokers and with a large amount of intimidation.

Meanwhile, the bodies of three members of Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission (IEC) kidnapped in Balkh province during voting on Saturday have been recovered.

Taliban militants had vowed to disrupt the vote for the lower houses of parliament.

The discovery of the bodies means at least 17 people were killed on election day in about 445 violent incidents.

Announcing the death of his colleagues, IEC chairman Fazl Ahmad Manawi said: "Unfortunately three IEC workers who were abducted yesterday in the Chemtal district of Balkh province were killed and we found their bodies today."

He said about 29 other election workers had been wounded in incidents on Saturday, according to preliminary reports.

A spokesman for Nato's Isaf said the level of violence on polling day had been similar to last year's presidential election, during which 479 violent incidents were recorded.
Low turnout

International officials have hailed the bravery of voters who turned out in defiance of the Taliban threat.

More than 2,500 candidates are vying for 249 seats in the lower house of parliament, or Wolesi Jirga.Turnout has been put at 40%.

Preliminary results are to be announced on 22 September, with the final results due on 31 October.

The outcome is not expected to change the make-up of the government, although President Hamid Karzai's credibility may be damaged if his preferred candidates are defeated, or if vote-rigging is suspected, sources said.

However, the many reports of fraud may raise questions about the results.

The BBC's Lyse Doucet in Kabul said that among the incidents of fraud were the arrest of 26 people with fake identity cards in Helmand province, and reports of officials stuffing ballot boxes at one closed polling station in eastern Wardak province.

The Taliban had earlier warned voters to boycott the poll and "stick to jihad".