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UN approves 26k peacekeepers for Darfur

Yesterday the United Nations Security Council voted unanimously to deploy up to 26,000 peacekeepers in an effort to stop the violence in Darfur.

The resolution will create the world’s largest peacekeeping operation, costing about $2 billion in its first year and drawing on military and police forces from the African Union and the United Nations, a United Nations spokeswoman said.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the mission “historic and unprecedented.”

The New York Times has more.

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Women’s rights activist Noeleen Heyzer chosen to head UN regional bodies

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has named leading women’s rights advocate Noeleen Heyzer of Singapore, who is also the former Qatari ambassador to the United States, to head up the Bangkok-based UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).

Ms. Heyzer was the “the first executive director from the South to head the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), where she has worked to promote women’s empowerment and gender equality.”

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‘An unimaginable brutality’

Yakin Erturk, the special rapporteur on violence against women for the UN Human Rights Council, was dispatched to the Democratic Republic of the Congo on a ten-day fact finding mission. Evidence of the sexual violence she encountered, which she described as “far beyond rape,” was widespread–and absolutely sickening.

“Women are gang raped, often in front of their families and communities. In numerous cases, male relatives are forced at gun point to rape their own daughters, mothers or sisters,” she said.

After rape, many women were shot or stabbed in the genital area, and survivors told Erturk that while held as slaves by the gangs they had been forced to eat excrement or the flesh of their murdered relatives.

Widespread sexual abuse in the various conflicts racking the republic — which last year held elections hailed as marking a new era — “seems to have become a generalized aspect of the overall oppression of women,” Erturk said.

Not surprisingly, the local governments do little or nothing to punish the perpetrators, despite laws on the books. Read Professor Ertuk’s full statement about sexual violence in DRC.

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Rwanda abolishes the death penalty

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour has hailed Rwanda’s abolition of capital punishment.

“Abolition in Rwanda sends a very strong message,” Ms Arbour said. “A country that has suffered the ultimate crime and whose people’s thirst for justice is still far from quenched has decided to forego a sanction that should have no place in any society that claims to value human rights and the inviolability of the person. Rwanda is demonstrating leadership by action.”

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Ewan McGregor on UNICEF-backed motorcycle ride

Actor Ewan McGregor, a United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Goodwill Ambassador, is riding his motorcycle from northern Scotland to the southernmost tip of Africa in an effort to raise awareness surrounding children’s issues.

McGregor, along with fellow actor Charley Boorman will make several stops in countries along the way.

This is not the first lengthy ride for the two friends: their first long-distance biking trip – called Long Way Round – was in 2004, where they rode from London to New York, stopping to participate in UNICEF projects in Mongolia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan along the way.

On this recent trip, Mr. McGregor and Mr. Boorman have met with children who have lost limbs to landmines in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia. After a two-year displacement due to the 1998-2000 Ethiopia-Eritrea war, hundreds of thousands of people returned to Tigray to find their homes, lands and schools heavily mined.

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“Educating children about landmines is so vital for children’s futures…With landmines and unexploded ordnance lying in homes, fields, rivers and schools in Ethiopia and other countries, I can really see how UNICEF’s Mine Risk Education is an essential life-saving intervention,” said McGregor.

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Ban Back to Where it All Began

Secretary General Ban ki Moon visited San Francisco yesterday to pay homage to the city that gave birth to the United Nations and also see, first-hand, some of California’s cutting edge efforts to fight global warming. But before Ban meets with Governor Schwarzenegger later today, he had a personal stop to make. From the San Francisco Chronicle:

…as soon as his airplane lands at San Francisco International Airport, Ban’s first order of business will be to visit Libba Patterson, 90, of Novato, whose family hosted him on his first visit to the United States more than four decades ago.

“San Francisco is a place close to my heart,” Ban told reporters at a news conference at U.N. headquarters in New York last week. “I was a young foreign exchange student in the Bay Area a long, long time ago in 1962. The kind lady who opened her home to me lives just across the (Golden Gate) bridge. I cannot wait to see her.”

Later today, Ban and Gov. Schwarzenegger will tour a Silicon Valley firm that has pioneered technology to make homes and businesses more energy efficient.

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