Strong remarks from High Commissioner on Egypt, NGOs call for HRC Special Session, SG to Munich, Pillay to Israel and OPT and more from UN Direct

Egypt: Speaking to the press after a meeting with the German Foreign Minister today, the SG said we’ve witnessed too much violence and bloodshed and “now is the time for Egyptians to begin a process of peaceful and orderly transition leading to free and fair elections”, adding that the UN “stands ready to assist in this process”.  Responding to a question on what Mubarak should do now, he said “I believe it is important for the Egyptian leadership to listen more attentively to what the genuine and real wishes are.  Reflecting their wishes will be very important.  As the Foreign Minister said, it is up to the Egyptian people who will decide their leadership”.  Responding to a question at today’s briefing on whether the SG thinks that the situation threatens regional peace and security, the spokesperson said the SG has not yet made a determination on this.  A broad coalition of NGOs, backed by calls by High Commissioner Pillay, have written a letter to Human Rights Council Members urging them to convene a special session on the human rights situation in Egypt.  The letter suggests that States utilize a session to “foster concrete measures to prevent further violations of international human rights and protect those already suffering from such violations”, adding that a failure to do so would “be a grave and tragic abdication of responsibility by the Council membership”.  Signatories include Amnesty, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Carter Center, Conectas Direitos Humanos, DCP, Freedom House, Human Rights First, and HRW, among several NGOs representing a cross-regional group.  Speaking to the press today for the second time this week, Pillay said that governments must listen to their people, adding that regimes which deprive people of their rights are “bound to fail”.  She addressed the increasingly violent unrest, pointing to the “noticeable absence of police” and failure of the army to separate the two sides.  In a clear response to Mubarak’s interview yesterday when he said he feared “chaos” if he stepped down, Pillay stated “one of the prime drivers of this chaos seems to been the actions of Egypt’s security and intelligence services.  I urge the authorities to make a strong, clear and unequivocal call on the security and intelligence forces that have protected the authoritarian regime in Egypt for the past 30 years, to stop undermining the security of the state they are supposed to serve”.  She also reiterated her call for an investigation into whether the violence was planned, and if so, by whom.  On the arrest of human rights defenders and journalists, she said they “must be released immediately and unconditionally”.  Pillay also noted that the OHCHR team deployed to Tunisia has just returned, and will present a written report on how OHCHR can help Tunisia provide immediate and long-term support to promote and protect human rights there.

SG Travel: In addition to meeting with the German Foreign Minister on a range of topics including Germany’s leadership at the UN (third largest contributor, provides peacekeepers, PBC Chair), the SG spoke at Humboldt University.  In his wide-ranging remarks, he touched on the University’s work to pioneer renewable energy, and cited the Global Strategy on Women’s and Children’s Health, calling women and girls the world’s most “under-utilized resource”.  He is currently in Munich, where he will attend the  Munich Security Conference and a Quartet meeting tomorrow.  The Quartet meetings typically conclude with the issuing of a communiqué, reflecting the discussions held.  He will be back in NY Monday.

Côte d’Ivoire: At a Security Council stakeout this afternoon following morning consultations on Côte d’Ivoire and a briefing by SRSG Choi, Ambassador Ribeiro of Brazil explained that ECOWAS, AU, and the UN are continuing their efforts to address the current political stalemate.

Senior UN Staff Travel: High Commissioner Pillay will visit Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory February 6-11. She plans to meet with high-level officials, including Israeli President Shimon Peres, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and PM Salam Fayyad. In addition, Pillay plans to meet with Palestinian and Israeli human rights defenders, the Palestinian Independent Commission on Human Rights, and UN agencies on the ground. She will also tour the West Bank and Gaza to find out the situation first-hand from affected groups.

Exec Boards: Today and Monday the Executive Boards of UNDP/UNFPA, UNICEF, UNOPS, UN Women and WFP are holding a joint meeting.  Today’s session focused on two items: 1) equity and narrowing the gaps in MDG achievement; and 2) mainstreaming gender through the work of UN agencies and collaboration with UN-Women.  Clark’s remarks from today’s sessions can be found here.

Congress: during today’s briefing a question was asked about how much money is in the UN Tax Equalization Fund and closed UN peacekeeping fund and what the UN thinks about Cantor’s call to have this money returned. Haq said, “First of all, this is not up to the host countries’ parliaments…We don’t comment on processes as they work through the legislative system so we’ll leave it to the legislature of the United States to work out the particular matter.” On how much is in each pool, Haq said that DPKO is looking into the matter now.

Global Health: today IAEA is utilizing World Cancer Day to communicate the live-saving work it does to fight cancer.  IAEA is currently working with African countries to train healthcare professionals.  Through its Technical Cooperation program, IAEA offers  expertise and support on using nuclear applications to diagnose and treat cancer.  IAEA is also involved with the Virtual University for Cancer Control, a training platform to strengthen local capacity in partnership with the WHO, African academic institutions and Africa Virtual University (a project of the World Bank and UNDP).  A new Gates PSA on how vaccines are “the best investments in health” is also out today.

NGOs: ECOSOC’s Committee on NGOs is currently holding its 2011 regular session, which ends February 9.  The U.S. is pushing for consultative status for an Iranian human rights NGO, which is facing pushback from Iran, who is utilizing procedural games to try to undermine their chances.

Interfaith Week: Yesterday, the UN Committee of Religious NGOs and DPI hosted an “Interfaith Breakfast” as part of the first annual World Interfaith Harmony Week, intended to highlight global interfaith understanding, and allow religious leaders a space to promote mutual understanding. Marc Scheuer, Director of UN Alliance of Civilizations, talked about this initiative that was put forward by Turkey and other Member States. Scheuer said that everyone has a role to play in interfaith, and the Alliance of Civilizations aims to support NGOs and civil society at the grassroots level on human rights, environment, and poverty. Another aim of the Alliance is to engage with young people and support efforts to expand their views on various religions and opinions. Also, Stephen Hanmer from UNICEF talked about the importance of partnering with religious organizations, as UNICEF has a number of shared values with them. For example, both communities aim to 1) protect children; 2) support the emotional and spiritual well-being of children; 3) provide a moral authority; and 4) utilize their large networks. Hanmer explained that such partnerships are essential to effectively work on the MDGs. Similarly, someone from UNFPA stated that faiths are the essence of civil society partnerships. Representatives from the U.S. Mission, the Turkish Mission, and the Islamic Conference also attended.

Afghanistan: On Thursday, February 3rd, the SRSG for Children and Armed Conflict Radhika Coomaraswamy talked to the press about her recent three-day visit to Afghanistan, where she assessed the situation regarding children in there and witnessed the signing of the Action Plan between the government and the UN on the recruitment of children in security forces. Currently the Afghan government is working with the UN on this action plan, which 1) calls for the release of children from all security forces; 2) allows the UN to access all training centers and barracks of security forces to monitor the situation; and 3) includes an approach of reintegration of children in society once they are released from security forces. Coomaraswamy also met with the Ulema and High Peace Council and is pursuing negotiations to get children’s issues on the agenda so that involved parties can make commitments to include the issue of children affected by armed conflict on their agendas. As the year continues, she said that her office plans to follow up with UNICEF on these issues. While there she also met with General Petraeus, Commander of ISAF and of the U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, and pointed out that with regards to the protection of civilians, there’s been a 37% decrease of casualties due to pro-government programs. Another one of Coomaraswamy’s goals is to prevent sexual violence and the killing and maiming of children during war time  In Afghanistan, a lot of children die due to land mines.

UNFF9: today was the final day of the UN Forum on Forests 9th session (UNFF9), which concluded with the adoption of a Ministerial Declaration that committed States to highlighting the role of forests in addressing the challenges of economic and social development, taking meaningful action on forest financing at UNFF10 in 2013, and made recommendations to raise the profile of forests during Rio+20.  The Declaration also included commitments to developing cross-sectoral policies that integrate sustainable forest management into development plans.  During the High-Level Segment of UNFF9 (Wednesday and Thursday), a roundtable was held on forests and Rio+20, in which States agreed on the need to raise the profile of forests at Rio+20, including within the theme of green economy for long-term development.  Daniel Reifsnyder, U.S. DAS for Environment and Sustainable Development, who moderated the session, said Rio+20 presents a unique opportunity to recognize the multiple values forests have in sustainable development, touching energy, food security, poverty reduction, land degradation, water, biodiversity and climate change. Other issues participants felt should be raised at Rio include the establishment of a forest financing mechanism and the impact of global carbon credit programs on forests.  In his remarks, USG Sha Zukang said forest stakeholders need to determine what they expect from Rio+20, which they have yet to do.  Finally, the Collaborative Partnership on Forests (comprised of 14 international organizations including UNFCCC, UNEP, UNEP), held a ministerial dialogue yesterday, which Christiana Figueres addressed via video, stating that forests must “feature prominently” on the Rio+20 agenda.

Week ahead: on Monday, the second session of the open-ended working group on the review of the Human Rights Council begins in Geneva, which will run periodically throughout the month. On Tuesday, DPKO and DFS will launch a 10-year impact study on the implementation of 1325.  On Wednesday, the GA will hold a debate on disaster risk reduction.  Key briefings next week include Roger Meece (SRSG DRC) on Tuesday and Margot Wallström (SRSG Sexual Violence in Conflict) on Wednesday.  The postponed Holocaust Remembrance ceremony will be held on Thursday, where the SG is expected to make remarks.