Syria; DR Congo; Switzerland/Freedom of Expression; Japan

Syria: The United Nations relief chief today urged Syrian authorities to allow unrestricted access to humanitarian organizations to deliver aid to people affected by the ongoing violence, saying she was “horrified” by the destruction she had seen in some of the areas she visited during her two-day visit to the country.

Valerie Amos, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, met with Syrian Foreign Minister, Walid al-Moallem, and other Government ministers, who agreed to a joint preliminary assessment mission to areas where people urgently need assistance.

“While this is a necessary first step, it remains essential that a robust and regular arrangement be put in place, which allows humanitarian organizations unhindered access to evacuate the wounded and deliver desperately needed supplies,” said Ms. Amos in a statement. “A proposal has been submitted to the Government of Syria and I ask them to consider this matter with the utmost urgency.”

Meanwhile, The U.N. said Friday that former Secretary-General Kofi Annan will meet the Syrian leader, President Bashar al-Assad during a stop in Damascus on Saturday. Mr. Annan has been calling for a political solution to the crisis, warning attempts to arm rebel forces will only make the situation worse.

DR Congo
: More than 3,000 civilians fleeing violence in the North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have entered Uganda since the beginning of this year, the United Nations refugee agency reported today.

Those arriving in Uganda are mostly farmers and have spoken of abductions, looting, harassment and rape, Adrian Edwards, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) told reporters.

UNHCR is concerned that further deterioration of security in North Kivu could halt the tripartite process initiated by DRC, Uganda and UNHCR in 2010 to pave the way for the voluntary return of Congolese refugees in Uganda.

Switzerland/Freedom of Expression
: An independent UN human rights expert warned today that Switzerland’s proposed law authorizing heavy fines for protesters without official permission to demonstrate would have a “chilling” effect on the rights to freedom of assembly and expression in the country. The new law targets demonstrations in the canton of Geneva, with fines of up to $110,000 for those without authorization to demonstrate, who fail to respect the authorization’s content or do not comply with police injunctions.

On the eve of the first anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami that killed more than 20,000 people in eastern Japan, United Nations officials praised the country’s recovery and highlighted the progress made to improve nuclear safety.

At an event in New York to mark the one year anniversary on Thursday evening, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon voiced his admiration for the efforts of Japanese people to overcome the disaster and stressed that the UN will continue to work on ways to improve measures to prevent and deal with natural disasters of such magnitude.  In his remarks, Mr. Ban stressed that since the accident he has sought to raise the profile of nuclear safety and security on the international agenda, in order to help prevent future nuclear accidents from happening.