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Moroccos Head of Govt to Speak Live on Public TV on

Rabat – Head of Government Saadeddine El Othmani will publicly respond to political, economic and social issues concerning Moroccans on a political talk show broadcast live on Moroccan TV, on Saturday night.Moroccan channels 2M TV and Al Oula will both air the meeting at 9:40p.m.The current crisis in Al Hoceima and its surrounding areas will be discussed, and questions expected to be raised on the topic include: What measures should be undertaken to mitigate social protests in Al Hoceima?How can the region’s development projects be speed up?What strategies are being implemented by the government to respond to the social,• political and economic demands of the Al Hoceima demonstrators?El Othmani told Moroccan media on June 28 that the government was ready to implement King Mohammed VI’s instructions to speed up the development of projects in the region.Eight months of protests and ensuing increasing tensions between the government and demonstrators have put the government under pressure to speed up the realization of the projects as well as to send positive signs to local inhabitants by decreasing the heavy security presence in the area.Protests have been taking place in Al Hoceima and its surrounding areas since the death of Mouhcine Fikri, a fish vendor who was fatally crushed in a trash compactor on October 28.Demonstrations have intensified in recent weeks due to the arrest of the movement’s leading activist, Nasser Zafzafi. read more

Morocco Remains Worlds Largest Cannabis Resin Exporter UN Report

Rabat – Morocco remained in 2015 the world’s largest provider of cannabis resin, feeding drug trafficking networks in Europe and North Africa, according to a report published last week by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). In North Africa alone, the number of cannabis users is estimated at 5.7 million. Moroccan resin is in great demand for its very powerful and high yielding hybrid varieties, the UNODC notes in its 2017 report on drugs in the world.During 2015, Morocco saw the third largest number of drug seizures in the world. The UN’s report notes that cannabis resin seizures from the kingdom increased substantially in 2015, reaching 235 tons. Eighty percent of this national production is destined for export, leaving 20 percent to the local market. Spain remains the main route through which Moroccan cannabis resin is transported to Europe, usually by land. The UN wrote that 15.9 tons were seized in 2015 at the Moroccan-Spanish maritime borders, compared with 15.2 tons in 2014. The same period also saw the seizure of 120 Kg of cocaine and 4.5 Kg of heroin.Morocco remains the most reported country by the states as a source of cannabis resin, followed by Afghanistan and, to a lesser extent, Lebanon, India and Pakistan, the UNODC’s report noted.In 2015, Morocco continued to be the world’s largest producer of cannabis resin, with 38,000 tons produced in open air. Indoor production amounted to 760 tons in the same year, according to UNODC. In 2015, the report states, 45,853 hectares out of 47,000 total cultivated areas of cannabis resin were exploited.International supplierThe office points out that Morocco has continued to supply cannabis resin to Europe and the North African countries during the period of 2010-2015 through smuggling networks.In addition to the ongoing deliveries to Spain, France, Italy and the Netherlands, European Integrated Police (Europol) detected a new road used by traffickers to transport the drug produced in Morocco to Europe through Libya. Data from UNODC and Europol confirmed that most of the drugs introduced into Europe are produced in Morocco.According to the UNODC report, revenues generated by drug trafficking are harmful to the economy. “An influx of money from drug trafficking can boost investment and drive local gross domestic product. In the long run, however, drug money tends to have negative effects, especially when it represents a significant part of the economy of a community or country,” the agency said.In this case, it may inflate property prices, distort exports, create unfair competition, reinforce unequal distribution of income and wealth, and increase corruption, according to the UN. The report warns of a cycle by which the development of an illicit economy contributes to weakening the rule of law and encourages corruption, which in turn reinforces the drug sector.Studies show that the injection of laundered money, especially from the drug trade, into the economy results in overall declines in growth rates. A study run in 17 countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development estimated that a USD 1 billion increase in the volume of laundered money could reduce overall economic growth by around 0.03 to 0.06 percentage points per year, UNODC notes. read more

Mauritania Refuses Entry to US AntiSlavery Activists

Rabat – Twelve anti-slavery activists from the United States have been denied entry to Mauritania, the country’s government announced on Sunday.The activists work with the Chicago-based Abolition Institute, an organization campaigning against what they call slavery in Mauritania, and Rainbow/PUSH, a social justice NGO founded by Reverend Jesse Jackson.They arrived at Nouakchout airport on Friday for an intended week-long visit but were refused visas to enter Mauritania. Mohamed Lemine Ould Cheikh, Mauritania’s Minister of Culture and government spokesperson, said that the activists were denied visa of entry to Mauritania soil because “their program is contrary” to local laws.“Mauritanian authorities were not consulted over this program,” said Ould Cheikh. “It included only meetings with people who were carefully chosen and who who happen to have a particular agenda.”The US Embassy, which Ould Cheikh said had been informed of the visa denial, had previously expressed its concern that Mauritania would not let the campaigners enter.Ould Cheikh said that Mauritanian authorities had worked with human rights organizations in the past, including US State Department missions.Slavery was officially abolished in Mauritania in 1981 and criminalized in 2007, and the government claims that the practice has been eradicated. However, local and foreign NGOs maintain the opposite.The Abolition Institute estimates there are 155,600 people enslaved in Mauritania today.Several local anti-slavery activists, including the prominent figure Biram Dah Abeid, head of l’Initiative pour la Résurgence du Mouvement Abolitionniste (IRA), have been arrested and prosecuted for campaigning against what they call the ongoing practice of slavery in the country.Abeid has been nicknamed “Mauritania’s Martin Luther King” for his activism in defending the rights of the local black community. Known as “Haratine,” they are descendants of slaves, and Abeid and other activists say that many of them are still subjected to practices similar to those forced upon their forefathers. read more

Death Toll in Egypt Mosque Attack Rises to 305 Including 27

By Sana ElouaziRabat – The death toll from the attack on a mosque in Egypt’s Sinai has risen to 305, including 27 children, and 128 wounded, according to the latest record provided on Saturday by the country’s chief prosecutor, Nabil Sadeq. The attack occurred during the Friday prayer in the mosque Al-Rawda Bir al-Abd, located roughly 40 km west of Al-Arich, capital of North Sinai Governorate. The masked terrorists unleashed a suicide bomb before opening fire during the Friday prayer on the worshipers, among whom were army conscripts.A leader of a Bedouin group fighting ISIS told AFP that the mosque was known as a gathering place for Sufis, followers of a mystical stream of Islam considered heretical by the jihadist group.The Egyptian prosecutor said in a statement that about 30 armed men carrying the black banner of the group jihadist Islamic State (ISIS) took part in the massacre.Following this attack, one of the bloodiest in the country’s modern history, Egypt began this Saturday a national three-day mourning.President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi has called on the armed forces to build a memorial to those killed at the mosque, reports state media.“The armed forces and the police will avenge our martyrs and restore security and stability with the utmost force,” said Al-Sisi in a televised statement.Few hours later, Egypt’s air force launched airstrikes against suspected terrorists in the attack zone in eastern Sinai, where security forces are fighting ISIS’ Egyptian branch.According to the Independent, the airstrikes had destroyed vehicles linked to the attackers, who used machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades to mow down worshippers during the Friday prayer.This attack on the mosque, an extremely rare occurrance in Egypt, left the country in shock.The grand Imam of Al-Azhar, the premier religious authority in Egypt, Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, himself a Sufi scholar, condemned in the strongest terms “the barbaric terrorist attack.”“The shedding of blood, the violation of the sacred houses of God, and the terrorizing of worshippers are acts of corruption on the earth,” he said. read more

Denver teachers prepare to strike amid pay dispute

Denver teachers are planning to strike Monday after failed negotiations with the school district over base pay.The Denver Classroom Teachers Association released a statement Saturday saying the district’s proposal lacks transparency and “pushes for failed incentives for some over meaningful base salary for all.”Teachers plan to picket around the city beginning Monday as the district tries to keep schools open by staffing them with administrators and substitutes.The two sides disagree on pay increases and bonuses for teachers in high-poverty schools and other schools that the district considers a priority.Teachers want lower bonuses to free up money for better overall salaries. The district says the bonuses are key to boosting the academic performance of poor and minority students.The Associated Press read more

IRS watchdog Shutdown caused shocking drop in phone help

WASHINGTON — Disruptions from last month’s partial government shutdown caused a “shocking” deterioration in the IRS’ telephone help for taxpayers in the first week of the filing season, the agency’s watchdog said in a report released Tuesday.In the week of Jan. 28, the official start of the tax season, Internal Revenue Service staffers answered only 48 per cent of calls seeking help in filing returns, with an average wait time of 17 minutes, the report from the office of the National Taxpayer Advocate said. That compares with 86 per cent of calls answered, and an average wait of 4 minutes, at the same time last year.In addition, 93 per cent of taxpayers who phoned during the last week in January to arrange installment tax payments were unable to speak with an assistant.The difference between the two years “for levels of service and wait times for phone lines … is shocking,” the advocate, Nina Olson, wrote in her annual report to Congress. “These numbers translate into real harm to real taxpayers. The IRS will be facing tough decisions in light of the shutdown’s impact.”The report flagged other problems at an agency that was already straining, even before the shutdown, from the burden of a complex new tax law, inadequate funding and antiquated computer systems. The IRS’ workforce faced a huge backlog — including 5 million pieces of mail to process —when it returned to full strength Jan. 28 after the 35-day partial shutdown, which had furloughed most of its employees.During the shutdown, the Trump administration made money available to pay hundreds of billions in refunds and ordered nearly 60 per cent of the IRS workforce back to work without pay to handle tax returns and questions. Yet fewer than half the recalled employees had returned to their jobs by the time the shutdown had ended, according to congressional and government aides.The disruption raised the possibility of delayed processing of returns and refunds — an annual check that about three-quarters of U.S. taxpayers typically count on. Lower-income households, especially, depend on refunds as their biggest cash infusion of the year.The IRS has said that when taxpayers file electronically and use direct deposit to their bank accounts, roughly nine out of 10 refunds will continue to be issued this year in fewer than 21 days.Still, anger is being vented on social media from people who have already filed their taxes and received smaller-than-expected refunds. President Donald Trump had pledged that under his tax-cut law, families would receive an average $4,000 tax cut. Most taxpayers did receive a tax cut. But because of how some workers had adjusted the amount of money withheld from their paychecks, to account for the complex tax changes, their refund has ended up smaller than they had anticipated.The average refund paid in the first week of the filing season, which ended Feb. 1, was $1,865 — down 8.4 per cent from $2,035 in the same week last year — according to the IRS. In her report, Olson did not address how the tax law or the shutdown might have affected refunds. But during the early part of the shutdown, no IRS employees were authorized to answer the phone lines, issue refunds, establish installment agreements with taxpayers or review pending agency actions.Olson’s report found that the IRS’ systems for detecting fraud in tax returns are hobbled by high rates of false positives and long processing times. That “continues to plague the IRS and harm legitimate taxpayers,” it says.The report also found that:— Taxpayers have difficulty navigating the IRS, reaching the right personnel to resolve their issues and holding IRS employees accountable.— The use of the IRS’ Free File, an electronic tax filing program in partnership with 12 private software providers, has steadily declined in recent years. The agency isn’t adequately overseeing and testing the program to understand why taxpayers aren’t using it and how it could be improved.—The IRS lacks a co-ordinated approach to overseeing professional tax preparers.—The agency’s expanding use of private debt collectors continues to burden taxpayers who are likely suffering economic hardship.Marcy Gordon, The Associated Press read more

Mawazine Blues at Bouregreg with Delgrés

Rabat – With hundreds of years of culture and tradition behind them, Delgrés brought the sound of the West Indies to Rabat on Tuesday, June 25 with their Carribean blues-inspired performance.On the fifth day of the Mawazine, Delgrés brought the smooth flow of blues as well as the hypnotic energy of rock and soul music to the festival’s “Rhythms of the World Stage” on the banks of the river Bou Regreg.Energetic guitar riffs accompanied with hefty drum beats and tuba sounds has allowed the band to fuse together influences from a myriad of genres. From blues and rock to reggae and soul music, the band’s sound represents a melting pot of rhythms from around the world. However, despite the influences the band has adopted, it remains firmly dedicated to its Caribbean sound and origins, distinguishing it from other artists performing at this year’s Mawazine.This Carribean influence can be seen upon first look at the band’s name: Delgrés. Selected shortly following the release of their track “Mo Jodi” (I’ll Die Today), the band’s name is a reference to Louis Delgrés, who died after revolting against French Napoleonic troops attempting to reintroduce slavery to the West Indies.“The piece Mo Jodi (I’ll Die Today) pays tribute to his sacrifice. As a result, the figure of Louis Delgrès was ever-present as the band slowly matured, to the extent that it seemed obvious they should take on his name,” said Pascal Danaë, the band’s lead singer.Meanwhile, the band’s use of the dobro guitar, accompanied by drums and brass instruments, helps to further entrench the Carribean vibes given off by their musical performances.Read also: Mawazine: Les Amazones d’Afrique Bring World Music to BouregregDelgrés has routinely used their music to convey messages that are difficult to state with just words. Songs such as Mr. President, venting frustration with the world’s treatment of the marginalized, and Ramené Mwen, emphasizing feelings after rejection, help to creatively express many emotions collectively felt around the world.Whether or not every member of the audience could understand the band’s creolized French, the music’s message was universally understood and its emotional weight was universally felt by all in attendance. read more

ONCF Launches Contest for Best Photo of New Train Stations

Rabat – The National Office of Railways (ONCF) has launched a competition calling all those with a keen eye behind the camera, amateur or not, to take their best shot of the four new strain stations built along the high-speed line. To enter the competition, simply upload a photo on Instagram of the train station of your choice, along with the hashtags: #ONCFPHOTOSGARES #LENOMDELAGARE. The competition will be divided into 4 parts, with a different week dedicated to each different station. Here are the dates and the stations:  Rabat Agdal: July 18 to July 24Kenitra: July 25 to July 31Casa Voyageurs: August 1 to August 7Tangier City: August 8 to August 15Each week, round-trip trips on the LGV Al Boraq trains, the high-speed rail service between Casablanca and Tangier, are to be won. The tickets are valid for one month from the day the winner’s name is announced. The winner is free to choose the times of the trip. Here are the exact prizes on offer: 1st prize: 1 Al Boraq trip A / R 1st class for two people 2nd prize: 1 Al Boraq trip A / R 2nd class for two people  3rd prize: 1 Al Boraq trip A / R 2nd class for one personThe 4 train stations all recently received a massive upgrade, to match the LGV high-speed train line that was inaugurated on November 15, 2018, by King Mohammed VI. The inauguration came after over a decade of planning and construction by Moroccan national railway company ONCF.The 200-kilometer-long LGV line is the first of its kind in Africa, linking Casablanca and Tangier in two hours and 15 minutes instead of the usual 5-hour train ride.The large-scale projects cost MAD 10.5 billion, with new Kenitra train station costing approximately MAD 400 million. The Casa-Voyageurs train station cost MAD 450 million, and renovation at Tangier-Ville cost MAD 360 million.The new train stations are all fitted with state-of-the-art technology which meets international standards in terms of safety, comfort, security, and quality of services. read more

Marrakech Court Sentences Two Café La Crème Shooting Suspects to Death

Rabat – On July 26, the Court of Appeal in Marrakech sentenced to death the main suspect Gabriel Edwin, from the Republic of Suriname, and his Dominican accomplice. Both defendants have Dutch nationality.The case goes back to November 2017 when the two defendants, on a large motorcycle, opened fire at café “La Crème.” The shooting caused the death of a young medical student and seriously injured his female classmate.The two Dutch defendants faced several charges. They were convicted of intentional premeditated homicide, participation in an attempted homicide, criminal gang formation, damage to public property, as well as drug production and trafficking. The owner of the café and his cousin were sentenced, respectively, to 15 and 8 years in prison. Both were convicted of involvement in drug trafficking operations which led to the shooting.Two further suspects were sentenced to 20 years imprisonment, and a third was handed a suspended sentence of 2 to 3 months.Judicial Police in Marrakech, in coordination with the services of the Directorate-General for the Surveillance of National Territory (DGST), carried out an investigation into the shooting. The investigation led to the arrest of the two Dutch nationals in August 2018.DGSN reported that the defendants already had criminal records. They were directly linked to cases of international drug trafficking, abduction, taking hostages, armed robbery, and attempted murder.Moroccan police linked the crime to the settling of accounts between drug cartels and drug traffickers working between Morocco and the Netherlands.In recent weeks, Sale’s Court of Appeal had announced similar verdicts in the Imlil murder case in which two Scandinavian female tourists were killed by extremist terrorists in December 2018.The three main defendants were also sentenced to death. However, the death penalty has not been carried out in Morocco since 1993. read more

Michigan House plans quick passage of auto insurance bill

LANSING, Mich. — The Republican-led Michigan House was poised Wednesday night to approve a plan to reduce the state’s high auto insurance premiums, moving quickly to no longer require that drivers buy unlimited medical benefits through their car insurer to cover crash injuries.The surprise move would set the stage for a potential showdown with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who a day earlier threatened to veto separate auto insurance legislation that cleared the GOP-controlled Senate. House Republicans expressed confidence that the Senate would back their proposal and send it to the Democratic governor as soon as next week.The House bill would let motorists forego mandatory unlimited personal injury protection, a requirement only in Michigan. Insurers would have to cut PIP rates, for five years, by between 10% and 100%. That could equal an estimated $120 and $1,200 in savings for someone paying $2,400 annually, assuming the PIP fee accounts for half their bill, according to Republicans’ projections.People opting out of unlimited coverage and instead choosing between $0 and $500,000 in medical benefits would not have to pay much of what will soon be a $220 annual per-vehicle fee that reimburses auto insurers for expenses surpassing $580,000 for the severely injured. The measure also would stop car insurers from having to pay much more than private and public health insurers do for the same medical services, a factor driving claim costs. They would follow a fee schedule similar to what exists for workers’ compensation injuries.A recent study showed that Michigan’s estimated annual premium of $2,610 is highest in the country and almost double the national averageWhile the pending House vote would be a big step forward in efforts to cut premiums after a half-dozen years of legislative stalemates, the bill’s prospects were uncertain. Majority Republicans have made car insurance changes a top priority, but Whitmer has been more focused early in her term on fixing the roads with a proposed fuel tax increase and enacting her first budget.Her Democratic allies in the House planned to blast the insurance legislation, and criticized how it was unveiled and approved in the matter of hours with no public review or committee testimony. They accused the GOP of playing “partisan games.”The bill would also create a task force to target fraud, limit reimbursement for family attendant care and no longer let insurers use sex as a rating factor when pricing policies issued on a group basis.___Follow Eggert on Twitter at https://twitter.com/DavidEggert00David Eggert, The Associated Press read more

Ban Kimoon sends UN legal chief to Lebanon to help break impasse

13 April 2007Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today he is dispatching the United Nations legal chief to Lebanon on Monday to help the Government and the country’s other political leaders to end their political impasse and set up a special tribunal as soon as possible to try the suspected killers of former prime minister Rafik Hariri. Nicholas Michel, the Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, will “offer his legal assistance… to help their constitutional procedures,” Mr. Ban told reporters at UN Headquarters in New York, referring to the parliamentary ratification necessary for the tribunal to enter into force. Mr. Ban said he hoped that Mr. Michel’s trip would help to “clarify all concerns or apprehensions” that might exist about the tribunal. In February, on behalf of the UN, Mr. Michel signed the agreement with Lebanon to set up the tribunal, but the country’s parliamentary forces have been deadlocked and there has been no vote so far on the tribunal agreement. The planned special tribunal in Lebanon will be of “an international character” to deal with the assassination of Mr. Hariri, who was killed along with 22 others in a massive car bombing in downtown Beirut in February 2005. Once it is formally established, it will be up to the tribunal to determine whether other political killings in Lebanon since October 2004 were connected to Mr. Hariri’s assassination and could therefore be dealt with by the tribunal. Mr. Michel told journalists today that his aim during the visit would be to “help the Lebanese parties to talk to each other and to find common ground so that the institutional process can be promoted towards ratification of the agreement.” He stressed that the UN had never tried to impose such a tribunal on the Lebanese, but had responded to an initial request from the country’s authorities for such a court. “So I work in that spirit, in the spirit of an assistance to be brought to the Lebanese authorities, in the spirit of a national dialogue, reconciliation, mutual understanding towards the establishment of the tribunal.” In April 2004 the Security Council set up the International Independent Investigation Commission (IIIC) after an earlier UN mission found that Lebanon’s own inquiry into the Hariri assassination was seriously flawed and that Syria was primarily responsible for the political tensions that preceded the attack. Its mandate runs out next year. Serge Brammertz, the current head of the IIIC, told the Council last September that evidence obtained so far suggests that a young, male suicide bomber, probably non-Lebanese, detonated up to 1,800 kilograms of explosives inside a van to assassinate Mr. Hariri. read more

UN political chief heads to Asia next week for threenation tour

The first stop for Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe will be Beijing, where he will hold talks with senior officials on a range of UN-related issues from 13 to 15 August. On 16 August, Mr. Pascoe will be in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, where he will deliver a message on behalf of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to the summit of Heads of State of the member countries of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization – a regional body comprising China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. While in Kyrgyzstan, he will also meet with a number of visiting leaders to discuss the situation in Central Asia and the broader region.Mr. Pascoe will be in Kathmandu from 18 to 19 August to discuss the peace process with national leaders and to consult with the UN Mission in Nepal (UNMIN), which is providing critical assistance to the holding of Constituent Assembly elections later this year. During his stay in the Himalayan nation, Mr. Pascoe is expected to meet with Nepal’s Prime Minister and other key political figures in the country. 10 August 2007The top United Nations political official will travel next week to Asia on a visit that will take him to China, Kyrgyzstan and Nepal, a spokesman for the world body said today. read more

General Assembly urges observance of Olympic Truce during Beijing Games

In a resolution adopted unanimously and sponsored by the vast majority of UN Member States, the Assembly also welcomed the decision of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to galvanize actions to promote a culture of peace and harmony based on the spirit of the Olympic Truce, a revived ancient Greek tradition known as ekecheiria.It called on all Member States to cooperate with the IOC in its efforts to use sport as an instrument to promote peace, dialogue and reconciliation in areas of conflict during and beyond the Olympic Games period.Assembly President Srgjan Kerim said the 192-member body considers the concept of ekecheiria “to be an important part of promoting international understanding and maintaining peace.” He noted that the UN “works closely with the International Olympic Committee to develop strategic partnerships with the international sport community to promote education, health, HIV/AIDS prevention, gender equality, environmental protection, peace and reconciliation.”The President praised examples including peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Liberia who use sport to bring previously warring factions together, while backing a call from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for a more systematic follow-up by all Member States and UN bodies to “more effectively use sport as a tool” to achieve the global antipoverty targets collectively known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).“If we are going to build a world with greater tolerance, mutual understanding and peace sport must continue to be used to channel energies away from aggression and self-destruction and into learning and self-respect,” he said. “This is the essence of the Olympic ideal.” 31 October 2007The United Nations General Assembly today urged all countries to observe the Olympic Truce during the 2008 Beijing Games – a move backed by its president, who advocated greater use of sport to promote peace and development. read more

Stars from sport and arts team up for photographs in UN antipoverty

1 April 2008Russian tennis ace Maria Sharapova and United States basketball star LeBron James are among 50 celebrities from the fields of sport, arts, fashion and business teaming up in new advertisements organized by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to promote the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Russian tennis ace Maria Sharapova and United States basketball star LeBron James are among 50 celebrities from the fields of sport, arts, fashion and business teaming up in new advertisements organized by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to promote the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).The pro bono advertisements, part of a campaign entitled “Team Up Against Poverty,” feature the celebrities in pairs as portrayed by top professional photographers. Ms. Sharapova, who is a Goodwill Ambassador for UNDP, and Mr. James were photographed by Patrick Demarchelier.Under the campaign the celebrities have also agreed to take part in specific anti-poverty activities, such as funding water and sanitation initiatives, supporting educational programmes and assisting HIV/AIDS-related projects, according to a news release issued by UNDP on Friday.The MDGs are a set of eight targets which more than 190 world leaders pledged in 2000 to try to achieve by 2015, and they include the eradication of poverty, fighting deadly diseases, promoting women’s rights and expanding access to safe drinking water. read more

Funding shortfall forces UN to cut back air service for aid workers

10 June 2008The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) announced today it will have to cut back on its air service in Sudan due to lack of funds, curtailing the ability of 14,000 aid workers to travel to Darfur and other parts of the strife-torn nation. The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) announced today it will have to cut back on its air service in Sudan due to lack of funds, curtailing the ability of 14,000 aid workers to travel to Darfur and other parts of the strife-torn nation. The Humanitarian Air Service (WFP-HAS), run by WFP on behalf of the entire humanitarian community in Sudan, needs $20 million by 15 June to avoid cuts and maintain full service through the coming months. The total shortfall is $48 million on the $77 million budget for this year.WFP’s Representative in Sudan, Kenro Oshidari said the agency has been facing the possible closure of the air service since March because of lack of funding. “The measures announced today are aimed to keep vital services going for longer, while we wait for new funding to be confirmed,” he stated. WFP-HAS will have to cut one helicopter immediately – bringing the fleet down to five – and two fixed-wing aircraft on 19 June, in addition to raising fees for helicopter flights in Darfur starting 1 July.Some 3,000 humanitarian workers use WFP helicopters each month to reach remote parts of Darfur, where travel by road is impossible due to insecurity, banditry or poor road conditions. “Undoubtedly, this is a blow to the humanitarian effort in Sudan. The impact will be felt by vulnerable people who depend on the international community for crucial services,” he said.Mr. Oshidari added that the cuts will also reduce the ability to respond to urgent medical evacuation requests and staff relocations because of insecurity. Last year, WFP-HAS carried out 267 security and medical evacuations.So far this year, donors have provided $13.2 million in confirmed contributions to WFP-HAS, about 17 per cent of the required budget. read more

Financial turmoil could usher in new green era says top UN climate

“Governments now have an opportunity to create and enforce policy which stimulates competition to fund clean industry,” Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) told reporters. The demand for energy worldwide is expected by surge more than 50 per cent by 2030, he said, requiring a $22 trillion investment – half of that in developing nations – in energy supply infrastructure. Massive increases in greenhouse gas emissions would result unless those funds are earmarked for clean energy, he stressed. For the first time since last December’s landmark UN Climate Change Conference in Bali, where countries agreed to launch formal negotiations to reach a long-term global agreement on climate change, dozens of environment ministers will meet next week before the next set of talks in the Polish city of Poznan begin in December. The Poznan conference will be crucial since it will be the first time that a text, for a successor pact to the Kyoto Protocol, will be discussed, Mr. de Boer said. “It will be very important, in that context, that ministers focus their attention on a shared vision of cooperative action,” he noted. While there has been much talk regarding what developed and developing countries must do to slash emissions, little emphasis has been placed on the infrastructure and resources that poorer nations require, the Executive Secretary said, calling on leaders at Poznan to make the necessary commitments. 10 October 2008The current global market crisis could provide an opportunity for the world financial system to reconstruct itself to promote “green” growth, the top United Nations climate change official said today in New York. read more

Iraq UN official welcomes creation of human rights commission

Staffan de Mistura, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, issued a statement in Baghdad calling the creation of the Independent High Commission for Human Rights (IHCHR) “a milestone” that will further existing efforts by the national Government’s human rights ministry, the judiciary, the Council of Representatives, law enforcement agencies and civil society groups.He said the new body will help advance human rights in many spheres, including the civil, cultural, economic, political and social.The Council of Representatives agreed yesterday to the setting up of the IHCHR, which is mandated in the Iraqi constitution, after the proposal was presented by the Council’s human rights committee following months of work.Mr. de Mistura called on both the Council and the Iraqi Government to ensure “the prompt establishment of a strong, credible and independent Commission that from the outset becomes an institution responsive to the needs of the Iraqi citizens, especially those of vulnerable groups such as children, women and minorities,” according to his statement.He stressed that the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) is ready to help with the selection process for IHCHR members and work the Commission once it is operating, in line with Iraqi law.On Friday, Mr. de Mistura briefed the Security Council at UN Headquarters in New York on the latest developments inside Iraq, warning that the country is entering a critical period as it prepares for upcoming provincial polls.The Special Representative said the polls offered an opportunity to shape a new political landscape in the fledgling democracy, while he cautioned that the potential for election-related violence and instability remains. 17 November 2008The top United Nations official in Iraq today welcomed the country’s establishment of an independent commission to promote and protect human rights in the troubled Middle East country. read more

Afghan law curbing womens rights reminiscent of Taliban era – UN official

2 April 2009A new law in Afghanistan seriously curtailing women’s rights, even explicitly permitting marital rape, is a “huge step in the wrong direction,” the United Nations human rights chief said today, calling for its repeal. A new law in Afghanistan seriously curtailing women’s rights, even explicitly permitting marital rape, is a “huge step in the wrong direction,” the United Nations human rights chief said today, calling for its repeal. Not yet published, the law, which was passed by the two houses of Afghanistan’s parliament before being reportedly signed by President Hamid Karzai earlier this month, regulates the personal status of the country’s minority Shi’a community members, including relations between men and women, divorce and property rights. It denies Afghan Shi’a women the right to leave their homes except for ‘legitimate’ purposes; forbids them from working or receiving education without their husbands’ express permission; weakens mothers’ rights in the event of a divorce; and makes it impossible for wives to inherit houses and land from their husbands, even if husbands can inherit property from their wives. “This is another clear indication that the human rights situation in Afghanistan is getting worse, not better,” said Navi Pillay, High Commissioner for Human Rights. “Respect for women’s rights – and human rights in general – is of paramount importance to Afghanistan’s future security and development.” That such a law has been passed in 2009 targeting women in this manner is “extraordinary, reprehensible and reminiscent of the decrees made by the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in the 1990s,” she stressed. Afghanistan’s Shi’a community, composed mainly of the Hazara minority, comprises some 10 per cent of the country’s total population, and the new law has the strong support of the Hazaras’ male leadership, even though it has been vigorously opposed by others in the group as well as Afghan human rights campaigners. There are concerns that the law will set precedents adversely affecting all Afghan women. In addition to women’s rights, there have been other setbacks to the country that have been undermining efforts to consolidate the rule of law in Afghanistan, such as both freedom of expression by the media and civil society activists being increasingly threatened, Ms. Pillay said. read more

Gaza members of UN factfinding mission hear testimonies during Geneva hearings

6 July 2009The fact-finding mission tasked by the United Nations Human Rights Council with probing rights violations committed during the recent Gaza conflict began the Geneva round of public hearings today, following a similar exercise held in the Gaza Strip last week. “The purpose of today’s interviews was to hear from victims, witnesses and experts from southern Israel and the West Bank,” UN spokesperson Michele Montas told reporters.The mission had wanted to hold hearings in the West Bank and in southern Israel, where the population had been on the receiving end of rocket attacks launched from Gaza, but that had not been possible since the Israeli Government has so far not cooperated with the mission.Testimonies were given both in person and by videoconference to the four-member team, led by Justice Richard Goldstone. Among those who came in person to address the panel were the mayor of the Israeli town of Ashkelon and the father of missing Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. During the 28 and 29 June hearings in Gaza City, the team heard accounts from people who had been badly injured in attacks and from victims who had lost many members of their families, as well as from people who had lost their livelihoods.Experts also gave testimonies on the psycho-social effects, particularly on health, children and education, of the fighting that took place between 27 December and 18 January.The panel is expected to compile its report in August. read more

Humans undermine natures help in war on climate change UN agency warns

Humankind is undermining a crucial natural ally in the battle against climate change through its activities in the world’s oceans and marine ecosystems, such as seagrasses, salt marshes and coastal wetlands, according to the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP).These ecosystems absorb and remove large quantities of global warming carbon emissions from the atmosphere each day, yet “the ocean’s carbon capture and storage systems are being undermined by human activity, thereby harming their ability to ‘sequester’ greenhouse gas emissions,” the agency said in a statement ahead of the release next week in Cape Town, South Africa, of a report on the issue.The Blue Carbon report, compiled in collaboration with the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), puts some hard figures on the carbon-capturing potential of the marine environment and on the impact of marine degradation on climate change. It also outlines the way markets might begin paying developing countries for conserving and enhancing the marine environment’s carbon capture and storage services (CCS) and the links between healthy oceans and adaptation to climate change. Currently, several developed countries are considering spending billions of dollar on CCS at power stations while the CCS services of natural systems, such as the seas and oceans, are tested and probably more cost effective. The report is being launched some 60 days ahead of the crucial UN climate convention meeting in Copenhagen, where it is hoped States will adopt a new to treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol, whose first commitment period expires in 2012, with even steeper reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. 7 October 2009Humankind is undermining a crucial natural ally in the battle against climate change through its activities in the world’s oceans and marine ecosystems, such as seagrasses, salt marshes and coastal wetlands, according to the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP). read more