Nelson Mandela International Day; Libya; Syria; China; Russia; Ethiopia; Bangladeshi journalist

Nelson Mandela International Day: The United Nations today marked Nelson Mandela International Day, celebrating the South African leader’s 94th birthday and honoring his contributions to democracy, racial justice and reconciliation with events at its Headquarters in New York and around the world.

Every year on 18 July, individuals around the world are encouraged to devote 67 minutes to helping others – by volunteering in a hospital, tutoring a child, providing food for the homeless, or any other community service. The 67-minute campaign – ‘Take Action – Inspire Change’ – is based on people devoting one minute of their time for every year that Mr. Mandela devoted to public service, as a human rights lawyer, a prisoner of conscience, an international peacemaker and the first democratically-elected President of post-apartheid South Africa.

Libya: With the successful holding of elections earlier this month, the Libyan people are on their way toward the first peaceful and democratic transfer of power in the North African nation, a top United Nations official said today, adding that the country must now agree on the formation of a new government and on the process for drawing up a new constitution.

Libya’s interim Government is expected to remain in office until the new government is formed, and is preparing a smooth handover. “New ministers will begin with a better legacy than the institutional void which greeted their predecessors. But there is no underestimating the challenges and the expectations which the new government will face,” said the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), Mr. Martin.

Syria: Speaking in Beijing today, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he held “very good meetings” on the situation in Syria with China’s President Hu Jintao and Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, and expressed the hope that the Security Council can reach agreement on a course of action for the situation in the Middle Eastern country.

“I have explained how serious the situation is now and all the leaders in China have also shared my view that this situation is very serious,” Mr. Ban said at a press encounter in the wake of his meetings. “Therefore, I sincerely hope that the members of the Security Council will be able to discuss with a sense of urgency and take collective action with a sense of unity.”

China: Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today praised China’s efforts to implement initiatives that will lead to sustainable development, as well as its participation at the recent United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), adding that countries still need to do much more to achieve all their economic, environmental and social goals in the next 20 years. During his visit to Beijing, Mr. Ban highlighted that the UN and China are working together to improve various development issues, such as forest management, the protection of workers, women’s empowerment, disaster risk reduction, and HIV/AIDS prevention.

Russia: United Nations human rights chief Navi Pillay on Wednesday said the new administration of Russian President Vladimir Putin was sliding back to Soviet practices in its handling of dissent and free speech.

In a statement issued from her Geneva office, Pillay said laws being passed in Moscow on freedom of assembly, of speech and of information would have a detrimental impact on human rights.

Her statement left no doubt that she saw the flurry of recent legislation, which Russian rights groups say presages a wider crackdown, as being linked to the return to the presidency in May of Putin, a former official in the Soviet KGB.

Ethiopia: The top United Nations human rights official today said she is “seriously alarmed” by the current climate of intimidation against journalists and human rights defenders in Ethiopia due to an overly broad interpretation of laws concerning terrorism and civil society in the country.

Charging journalists and political opposition member with terrorism and treason charges is seriously limiting their legitimate rights to freedom of expression and association, Ms. Pillay noted, and urged the Government to review its legislation, as well as its interpretation and application by the courts.

Bangladeshi journalist: The head of the United Nations agency tasked with defending press freedom today denounced the murder of a Bangladeshi journalist, Jamal Uddin, last month.

Mr. Uddin, a reporter for the Bengali-language newspaper Gramer Kagoi, was stabbed and hacked to death by a group of men in a market in Sharsha, in the south-western Bangladeshi district of Jessore on 15 June, UNESCO said, adding that he was the third journalist to have been killed in Bangladesh this year. According to Reporters without Borders, Mr. Uddin had been the target of death threats in connection with his reporting on the local drug trade.