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SG at Kabul Conference, Spokesperson responds to outgoing OIOS USG, Guterres in DRC and Uganda and more from the UN

SG: today the SG opened the International Conference on Afghanistan in Kabul (a follow-up to the London Conference in January), in which he appealed to Afghan citizens to unite in the national interest and told participants that they were there, not to revise strategies, but to support the Afghan government and its priorities. He also emphasized the need for Afghans to take greater responsibility for security, including accountability for human rights.

OIOS: in response to the end-of-term report issued by former USG for OIOS Ahlenius, the Spokesperson said the Secretariat is examining the report to draw lessons learned and welcomes constructive advice to strengthen the UN. A successor to Ahlenius is expected to be named soon.

Kyrgyzstan: today High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay called for close monitoring of reported human rights violations occurring in Kyrgyzstan, involving torture after being detained by police and military.

Refugees: Antonio Guterres, High Commissioner for Refugees, is currently in DRC and Uganda to highlight those displaced due to the conflict in the region.

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Food and HIV

In the focus on universal access to ARV treatment for people living with AIDS, it’s easy to forget the other thing that helps people survive HIV infection: food. Good nutrition has a huge impact on the progression of AIDS. Poverty in general makes HIV hit harder, but poor nutrition is the major part of that effect.

The World Food Programme’s head of nutrition and HIV, Martin Boem, spoke at the AIDS 3020 conference in Vienna today. He reminded the audience that “Among malnourished patients that start antiretroviral therapy (ART), the risk of death is 2-6 times higher compared to those who are receiving proper nourishment.” Universal access, it seems to me, is about more than just food.

To quote the WFP website, “People living with HIV need more calories to help fight the virus. HIV-positive children need between 50 to 100 percent more calories, compared to HIV-negative children, while adults need up to 30 percent more calories as the disease progresses.”

In other words, if we provide nutritional support to people living with AIDS, they have longer, healthier lives. It doesn’t require technology, expensive medicines, or health care personnel. Just regular food. We ought to be able to do that.

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Top UN Human Rights Official Says Kyrgyz Security Forces Are Violating Uzbek’s Rights

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay offered sharp words for Kyrgyz officials.  In the wake of violence and communal riots that uprooted some 400,000 ethnic Uzbeks in Kyrgyzstan last month, her office sent a team of investigators to the region.   Today, Pillay says that her office has collected evidence that Kyrgyz security forces are responsible for detaining 1,000 ethnic Uzbeks, and subjecting them to torture and other ill treatment. From a statement released by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights:

“Large numbers of people – most of them young men, and virtually all of them Uzbek – have been arbitrarily detained in ways that not only demonstrate flagrant ethnic bias, but also break many of the fundamental tenets of both Kyrgyz and international law,” Pillay said. “My staff in Kyrgzstan have received information suggesting that local authorities are routinely turning a blind eye to illegal arrests, torture and ill-treatment of detainees leading to forced confessions.”

“Victims’ lawyers, families and human rights defenders are also being threatened and intimidated to an alarming degree,” she said. “All of these acts are clearly illegal under the Kyrgyz penal code as well as under international law.”

And it also would appear that Kyrgyz authorities are trying to cover up their crimes.

Doctors have been reported to be refusing to issue medical certificates for people who have been subjected to torture or ill-treatment, as well as death certificates for some people who died during the June violence, thereby making it impossible for family members to claim compensation or inheritance. The UN Human Rights Office has also received reports that men in military dress have been increasingly seen in public health institutions, including hospitals, hampering victims’ access to medical care.

Seems to me that this is something the Human Rights Council ought to look into. 

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Bringing Free Primary Education to Liberia (Video)

MDG 2 calls for universal primary education.  Last month, the UN released a major MDG review study showing that 89% of children in the developing world are enrolled in primary education.  In sub-saharan Africa, enrollment stands at 76%, which is up from 58% in 1999.  The report credits governments that have abolished school fees and undertaken other policies that make access to eduction more affordable for poor children.

The video below shows how one sub-Saharan African country, Liberia, is working to increase access to primary education for Liberian children.  Consider it a grounds-eye snapshot of how public policy is implemented in a developing country recovering from a decade of war.



Free primary education: A stepping stone towards a better future for children in Liberia from UNICEF: Back on Track on Vimeo.

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Do Cash Transfers to Young Women Help Prevent HIV/AIDS?

By Harold Pollack, the Helen Ross Professor at the School of Social Service Administration and faculty chair of the Center for Health Administration Studies at the University of Chicago.

When you think about how to protect young women from HIV around the world, improved sex education and condoms are the first things that come to mind. Both of these things are valuable. Neither is enough, because neither addresses the sexual risks facing millions of impoverished women who are vulnerable participants in the sexual economy.

I don’t mean outright commercial sex work, here, although this is an important concern, too. Rather, I mean the much more widespread, generally implicit ways in which adult men use cash or gifts as inducements to partner with younger women or adolescent girls. Such “transactional sex” is common in many societies, including ours. In many low-income settings, young women must support themselves and help others in their families. They have powerful reasons to partner with older, relatively prosperous men. This is a major public health threat, because these older men are likely to have had previous partners, and are thus especially likely to spread HIV and other sexually-transmitted infections.

A new study tests one strategy to address this problem: Putting a little money in young women’s pockets so they are less vulnerable to economic blandishments. A World Bank research team implemented a 2008-09 randomized trial, in which adolescent girls and young women age 13-22 in Zomba, Malawi received monthly cash payments. Their families received payments, too. Not much cash was involved by western standards. On average, households were offered $10-15 per month, in a society whose per-capita GDP is about $288. The program also paid girls’ secondary school fees. (In return for the money, some girls were required to regularly attend school. Others simply received the cash. This didn’t seem to matter for HIV prevention.)

The program was not designed as an HIV prevention intervention, but it was an effective one. After 18 months, 1.2% of girls who received the cash had been infected with HIV, compared with 3% of girls in the control group. The program provided a larger reduction in genital herpes (0.7% vs. 3.0%). Girls who received payments had less sex, and a higher proportion of the sex they engaged in was with younger male partners estimated to have about half the rate of HIV infection. Girls receiving cash transfers were less likely to have early marriages or to have teen pregnancies. They were more likely to attend school.

It’s fashionable to criticize development assistance as ineffective or even self-defeating. This cynical stance provides comfort to wealthy nations, who provide well below one percent of GDP in assistance to the poorest countries in the world. The growing track record of well-designed cash transfer programs refutes such cynicism. Excellent studies such as this one reflect the fruitful partnership between development economics and the public health community. The two fields have never been more rigorous or more effective.

The need could hardly be greater. The world’s women cannot protect themselves unless they command some degree of financial independence from men who would prey upon them. A little money in their pockets is a lifesaver.

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President Obama Statement on LGBT Rights at the UN

It is not often that the President of the United States weighs in directly on debates at the UN Economic and Social Council.

The council is a 54 member consultative body that handles all manner of issues at the UN. One of these issues is granting accreditation to NGOs that wish to operate inside the UN and at UN conferences.  This process can sometimes get politicized, which was the case with the US-based International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. The group has been seeking credentials since 2007, but was blocked at nearly every turn by a coalition of socially conservative countries, led by Egypt and including Pakistan, Sudan, Russia and China. 

This stand-off has become a point of interest here in the United States, both for LGBT rights groups and home-grown social conservatives.  Colum Lynch reported earlier this week that two leading social conservatives in the U.S. congress wrote a letter to ECOSOC members urging them to block the group.  Moderates and liberals also chimed in, though on behalf of the group.

A few hours ago, the ECOSOC finally voted to give the group consultative status–meaning it has UN credentials.  The vote was 23-13 and 13 abstentions. Not surprisingly, the Obama administration, which has been previously supportive of using the UN as a platform to push for LGBT rights internationally, is touting this as a success.  What is really surprising, though, is that Obama himself is speaking directly to this issue. In a statement released moments ago, the president said:

I welcome this important step forward for human rights, as the International Lesbian and Gay Human Rights Commission (ILGHRC) will take its rightful seat at the table of the United Nations. The UN was founded on the premise that only through mutual respect, diversity, and dialogue can the international community effectively pursue justice and equality. Today, with the more full inclusion of the International Lesbian and Gay Human Rights Commission, the United Nations is closer to the ideals on which it was founded, and to values of inclusion and equality to which the United States is deeply committed.



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