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U.S. announces $10 million for Special Tribunal for Lebanon, SG addresses human rights in China, Council is briefed on Cote d’Ivoire elections and more from UN Direct

U.S. financial support for Special Tribunal: in a rare videotaped statement issued today, Ambassador Rice announced the U.S. provision of an additional $10 million for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which is currently under significant pressure within Lebanon.  This brings total U.S. support to $30 million.  In her statement, she condemned the recent attack on three Tribunal members in Beirut, adding that such attempts to discredit, hinder or influence its work will not be tolerated.

SG Returns to NY: the SG is due to return to New York this afternoon, following his Asia trip last week.  Before leaving China, he spoke at a roundtable discussion at the Central Policy School, highlighting the importance of China in its role to help address climate change, Sudan, Myanmar, and human rights issues.  On the later issue, the SG said no country can claim a perfect record and that there is always room for improvement adding, “we recognize that achieving the shared goals of human rights around the world is more than an aspiration, it is a foundation of peace and harmony in our modern world.  So too is respect for freedom of expression and the protection of its defenders”.

Third Committee discusses Refugees: today the Third Committee considered the report of the High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres.  Responding to the report, Ambassador Barton expressed the U.S.’ support for UNHCR’s efforts to reform itself through decentralization (less staff in Geneva) and budgeting appeals based on global needs assessments.  He also welcomed UNHCR’s two priority objectives of strengthening its protection capacity in response to threats to humanitarian and asylum space and enhancing its emergency preparedness and response capability.

UNHCR: today UNHCR issued an urgent appeal to Kenyan authorities to stop forcing Somali refugees to leave the country, brought to their attention when local authorities ordered more than 8,000 refugees out of a camp in northeast Kenya.  UNHCR has advised governments of the substantial risk that Somali refugees encounter, stressing the need for international protection.

Cote d’Ivoire elections: in a briefing on UNOCI in the Security Council this morning, SRSG for Cote d’Ivoire Choi Young-jin said voter turnout was over 80%, one of the highest turnouts in the world.  The UN provided – and will continue to provide – support to the electoral process.  The results of the October 31 elections are expected to be announced November 10 and, if necessary, a second round will be held November 28.

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Tomas May Make a “Direct Hit” On Port Au Prince, Haiti

Tomas is teetering between hurricane, tropical storm and tropical depression status. No matter what the prefix, Haiti is in the direct path of what is shaping up to be a very violent storm.  It has already claimed 12 lives elsewhere in the Caribbean and caused heavy damage.   The British Red Cross put out a press release this morning warning:

Haiti is on high alert with authorities predicting the storm will hit the south-west of Haiti on Friday and may come close to a direct hit on the capital Port-au-Prince and other earthquake-affected areas on Saturday.

“This is cause for serious concern,” said Alastair Burnett, British Red Cross recovery operations manager, who is in Haiti this week. “The people of Haiti have already lived through an earthquake, fear of a cholera epidemic and now a hurricane is on its way. These people are already highly vulnerable, and of course, hundreds of thousands of people are still in camps because of January’s earthquake.” [Emphasis mine]

That latter part is particularly significant.  There is simply not enough durable housing to shelter everyone.  Tents that shelter hundreds of thousands of people can easily be blown away in a storm.  But there is simply no place for these people to go.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the Haitian government, the UN and aid workers are doing the next best thing: distributing ropes so people can better secure their tents.

It is a scary just to think that the only thing standing between your family and the raging storm is a tent.  The fact is, hundreds of thousands of people are going to be forced to ride out this storm in flimsy shelters.

I can’t imagine what these families are going through right now. If you want to help, consider these organizations.

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Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore to Launch New UN Fund for Victims of Human Trafficking

Are you a despondent Democrat who woke up feeling salty about last night’s election returns?  If so, here is some news that might brighten your day.

At the United Nations tomorrow, Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore are kicking off the launch of the “UN Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Trafficking in Persons.”  The fund is a way for individuals, governments, philanthropies and companies to pool resources to help trafficking victims, especially women and children.  The Trust Fund will provide humanitarian, legal and financial aid to victims of trafficking and will be administered by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.

What this means, in practice, is that non-profits and NGOs that fight for the rights of trafficking victims and help with their social integration will have a new source of funding on which they can rely. For example, a small NGO that provides social services to women who have been lured into the sex trade can apply to this fund for a grant to expand their work to reach more victims.

The “trust funds for victims” model is currently being employed, to useful effect,  by the International Criminal Court.   In 2008, I met a social entrepreneur from Northern Uganda who used funding from the ICC’s Victim’s Trust fund to provide plastic surgery and psychological counseling to children who were mutilated during conflict.  With a small amount of funding, this NGO was able to change hundreds of lives.

This is an important development in the global fight against human trafficking, which is a billion dollar modern day slave trade.  To be sure, fighting human trafficking requires disrupting and dismantling the organized criminal networks that profit from selling women and children into slavery.   But any sustainable solution to this global scourge means that we need to do a much better job reaching victims themselves.   The new Trust Fund will be a critical tool to that end.

In addition to Moore and Kutcher, Ban Ki Moon, Nicholas Kristof and the head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime Yuri Fedotov will attend the launch tomorrow. You can watch live!

Here is hoping that Kutcher and Moore will use their considerable “klout” to spread the word and raise money for the new Fund.  Kudos to them for being involved in this.

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Security Council approves program of work for November under UK Presidency, Ambassador Rice condemns radio shutdown in Sudan and more from UN Direct.

Haiti: OCHA is currently prepositioning supplies in Jérémie, Les Cayes, Jacmel and Léogane as it continues to prepare for Hurricane Tomas.  Last night, Nigel Fisher, the Humanitarian Coordinator in Haiti, led an inter-agency mission to these cities to evaluate the level of emergency preparedness.  The UN is anticipating that a key challenge after the storm will be the difficulty of distributing supplies due to damaged infrastructure. In regards to the second batch of cholera tests conducted on the Nepalese military camp, it was confirmed that none of the peacekeepers have contracted the infection; however, MINUSTAH will continue running tests.

Security Council program for November: today the Security Council approved the program of work for November under the Presidency of the United Kingdom.  Briefing the press today, Ambassador Sir Lyall Grant said the “centerpiece” of the Presidency will be a Ministerial debate on Sudan November 16 intended to maintain the Council’s focus on the upcoming referenda.  The debate will follow the opening of voter registration November 14.  Other prominent debates will cover the three counterterrorism committees (1267, 1373, 1540) on November 15 and the protection of civilians November 22.  Two key adoptions expected will be on action against Somali piracy and DRC sanctions.

Ambassador Rice: today Ambassador Rice issued a statement condemning the reported shutdown of the Khartoum office of Radio Dabanga and the arrest of 13 staff and rights activists who shared the office.  The station was one of the few remaining media outlets reporting from Sudan on Darfur.  In a strongly worded statement, Ambassador Rice said that the arrests indicate an “emerging pattern of harassment and intimidation by the Government of Sudan against civil society”.  Asked about this in the press conference today, the Spokesperson said the SG is concerned by the reports, adding the UN calls on the Government to ensure the rights of journalists are respected.

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Why Scrutiny of the United States at the Human Rights Council is a Good Thing

On Friday, the human rights record of the United States will be the subject of a debate at the UN Human Rights Council.  The discussion is happening under the auspices of what is called the “Universal Periodic Review” in which every UN member state comes under scrutiny of the council once every four years.   Other than a few hours of discussion, no action is taken.

UN bashers are predictably working themselves into a frenzy about this apparent affront. After all, there are countries with much worse human rights records than the United States!  And some of these countries will participate in the discussion on Friday!  Pamela Geller says President Obama’s decision to participate in the Human Rights Council, is “More proof that he is either an America-hater or a madman.”  Israel Matzav says this is “as absurd as it gets.”  The Jawa Report and Astute Bloggers pile on further condemnations.

The thing is, if you actually care about human rights–as opposed to say, scoring cheap shots against the Obama administration and UN–you ought to applaud the fact that the United States is participating in the Universal Periodic Review.  This is a mechanism that has led to tangible improvement of human rights around the world.   There are a couple of exceptions, but for the most part, governments around the world do take seriously how other countries perceive their commitment to human rights. When it comes time for their own Universal Periodic Review, they tend to accelerate progress on certain human rights issues for which they might otherwise come under criticism.

For example, Human Rights Watch notes that a head of its review in June 2009 Saudi Arabia ended the juvenile death penalty, extended protections to foreign workers, and made new commitments on women’s rights.   In an International Herald Tribune op-ed today, the heads of the UN Association of the United States cite how Ecuador followed up its review by collaborating with the U.N. to train its police force on human rights and to improve the prison system.

The point is,  most countries respond positively to the kind of peer pressure that the UPR inspires.  For this peer pressure to be maximally effective, the UPR needs the support of everyone, including the United States.   By opening itself up to criticism, the United States is strengthening the Universal Periodic Review’s ability to function as a catalyst for human rights around the world.

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Previewing the mHealth Summit in Washington, D.C. Next Week

Next week, Washington, D.C. is playing host to a summit on how mobile phone technologies can be harnessed to improve health outcomes in the developing world.  The term of art for this emerging field is mHealth, and from November 8 to 10, experts from the world of technology, health, philanthropy and the government and private sector will converge for the mHeath Summit.

Keynote speakers include Bill Gates, the White House’s first Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra, Rockefeller Foundation President Dr. Judith Rogin, and UN Foundation President Ted Turner.  This promises to be a groundbreaking meeting.

Earlier today, the UN Foundation, which is one of the sponsors of the event, previewed the summit for a group of reporters.  Here’s the transcript of the call.

mhealth Alliance Press Briefing by UN Dispatch

I will attend and live blog many of the sessions. If you are planning to attend, drop me a line.

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