Secretary-General in Somalia; Syria; Lebanon; Bahrain; and more

Somalia: Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon paid an unannounced visit to Mogadishu today together with the President of the General Assembly, Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, to express the solidarity of the United Nations at what he called a “critical juncture” for the future of the Somali people.  On the political front, he emphasized the need to move ahead quickly with the roadmap that was agreed in September and which spells out priority measures to be implemented before the current transitional governing arrangements end next August.

To further these efforts, Mr. Ban announced that the UN Political Office for Somalia (UNPOS), headed by Special Representative Augustine Mahiga, will re-locate from Nairobi to Mogadishu in January. Meanwhile, he drew attention to the new threats to humanitarians, and condemned the recent attacks and actions of the Islamist militant group Al-Shabaab. This is the first time that a Secretary-General and Assembly President have visited Somalia together, and the first by a UN chief in nearly two decades.

Meanwhile, the United Nations humanitarian chief, Valerie Amos today welcomed the announcement by Sweden, already one of the key donors to UN aid operations, of another $10 million in funding to help with the response to the crisis engulfing the Horn of Africa. The donation will be used to help fund emergency food supplies, the provision of clean water and treatment for severely malnourished children

UN chief Ban Ki-moon hit back Friday at Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s attacks on the world body, while his human rights chief said that lives could have been saved if the Security Council had acted earlier over the Syria crackdown. Ban and UN rights chief Navi Pillay gave a stern response to Assad’s outspoken dismissal of the United Nations this week. They insisted that claims of more than 4,000 dead in the assault on protesters were “very credible” and that Assad should let UN investigators into the country.

Five UN peacekeepers serving in Lebanon have been injured after an explosion targeted their vehicle in the country’s south earlier today – the third such attack this year. A vehicle with the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was travelling on the southern outskirts of the port city of Tyre when it was directly targeted, according to a press statement released by the mission. The injured peacekeepers were treated at the scene and later evacuated for further medical care. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the mission’s Force Commander, Major-General Albert Asarta Cuevas, strongly condemned the attack, which follows the targeting of two UNIFIL logistics convoys by roadside bombs in May and July. The Secretary-General expects that the perpetrators will be swiftly identified and brought to justice, the statement added.

The United Nations human rights office announced today it is dispatching a delegation to Bahrain, where serious rights violations are alleged to have occurred earlier this year, to discuss how to build a more open and democratic society in the Middle East country. A four-member team will head to Bahrain next week at the request of the Bahraini Government, according to a spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). The team will then submit recommendations to High Commissioner Navi Pillay on the way forward for Bahrain.

DR Congo:
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today took note of the release of the provisional results of the presidential elections in the DRC, which indicate that incumbent Joseph Kabila garnered the most votes, and stressed that any differences over the polls be resolved peacefully. Mr. Ban continues to follow the situation closely and strongly condemns any acts of violence in connection with the electoral process, his spokesperson said in a statement.

Human Rights Day:
Building on the momentum for change triggered by the Arab Spring, top UN officials have urged everyone, everywhere to join in the Internet and social media campaign launched on the occasion of Human Rights Day to help more people know, demand and defend their rights. “In 2011, the very idea of ‘power’ shifted,” High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said in a message to mark Human Rights Day, which is observed annually on 10 December. The campaign by the UN human rights office (OHCHR) focuses on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and aims to help more people know, demand and defend human rights.

Meningitis Vaccine Project:
Three more countries in the so-called “meningitis belt” stretching across Africa will this month introduce a new vaccine designed to eliminate a particular strain of the often deadly disease, the WHO reported today. Nigeria, Cameroon and Chad will vaccinate millions of their citizens with MenAfriVac, which was created to target Group A meningitis, responsible for millions of cases in sub-Saharan Africa over the past century. MenAfriVac was developed by Meningitis Vaccine Project (MVP) – a partnership between WHO and the global non-profit organization PATH, with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.