Death penalty; Somalia; Kenya; Iraq; countering racial discrimination and intolerance; child trafficking;

Death penalty: United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today called on Member States which use the death penalty to abolish this practice, stressing that the right to life lies at the heart of international human rights law.

The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has also repeatedly called for the universal abolition of the death penalty, citing a host of reasons ranging from the fundamental right to life to the possibility of judicial errors.

In 2007, the General Assembly endorsed a call for a worldwide moratorium of the death penalty. Since then, the practice has been abolished by countries like Argentina, Burundi, Gabon, Latvia, Togo and Uzbekistan. More than 150 States have either abolished the death penalty or do not practice it.

Somalia: At a United Nations-backed meeting in Italy, Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government today signed an action plan to end the recruitment and use of children in the East African country’s national military.

“The signature of the action plan will be critical for the professionalization of the security forces, and will contribute positively to the ongoing stabilisation of Somalia,” the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and head of the UN Political Office for Somalia (UNPOS), Augustine Mahiga, said in a news release.

The action plan, signed at a meeting of the International Contact Group on Somalia, taking place in the Italian capital of Rome, outlines concrete steps to be taken by the Government to ensure a child-free national army. The ICG is composed of representatives of the United Nations and its diplomatic partners in support of efforts to restore peace and stability in Somalia.

Kenya: The President of the United Nations General Assembly, Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, today condemned deadly attacks carried out on two churches in Kenya over the weekend. The attacks, which took place in the town of Garissa near Kenya’s border with Somalia, resulted in the deaths of 17 people and serious injury to several others. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon strongly condemned the attacks on Monday, calling for the perpetrators of the attacks, and of other recent terrorist acts in Kenya, to be held accountable.

Iraq: The United Nations top envoy in Iraq today strongly condemned attacks in the cities of Diwaniyah and Karbala which killed and injured dozens of people. According to media reports, at least 25 people have been killed and 40 wounded in a truck bombing at a market in Diwaniyah, while four people were killed when two car bombs targeting Shiite pilgrims exploded in the central city of Karbala.

“I am deeply saddened by the atrocious attacks on civilians and pilgrims and the continuing suffering inflicted on the Iraqi people by those who wish to derail efforts to achieve stability and prosperity in Iraq,” said the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), Martin Kobler, in a statement.

Countering racial discrimination and intolerance: The Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, Mutuma Ruteere warned that impunity for crimes motivated by racism, xenophobia and intolerance encourages recurrence of such acts. In a presentation at the Human Rights Council, he called on States to ensure that thorough and impartial investigations into these crimes are promptly carried out, that those responsible are prosecuted, and that victims have effective access to remedies.

Addressing the issue of racist groups in sporting events, the Special Rapporteur said that states must pay close attention to early signs of racism that could eventually lead to grave human rights violations, stressing that extremist groups in political movements and, in particular, sports arenas must be tackled. “The presence of extremist groups, including neo-Nazi and skinhead groups, in sporting events is a matter of serious concern,” said Ruteere.

Child trafficking: Chinese action-film star and UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Goodwill Ambassador Jackie Chan is in Myanmar this week to help United Nations efforts to combat child trafficking in the country. “Trafficking and exploiting children are horrific crimes. They leave lifelong scars and rob children of their childhoods,” Mr. Chan said. “Children are not for sale. For the sake the world’s children, we must work hard to stamp out these damaging and criminal practices.”

During his three-day visit, Mr. Chan will visit a vocational training center for trafficked children who have managed to return to their homes but are in need of special care and support. He will also travel to UNICEF-supported projects assisting children at risk of being trafficked, including those without parental care and children who are living and working on the street.