Syria draft in GA; Somalia; Bahrain; and more

Syria: The U.N. General Assembly has scheduled a Thursday vote on an Arab-sponsored resolution strongly condemning human rights violations by the Syrian regime and backing an Arab League plan aimed at ending the 11-month conflict.

Similar to the failed Security Council resolution, the assembly draft “fully supports” the Arab League plan floated last month and demands an immediate halt to military operations in Syrian cities and withdrawal of government security forces. One new element in the assembly draft is a call for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to appoint a special envoy to Syria.

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the United Nations can play a role in bringing the Syrian conflict to a halt as long as outside intervention isn’t imposed and opposition fighters also agree to a cease-fire. Russia is willing to talk about establishing a so-called “humanitarian corridor” in Syria when foreign ministers meet in Vienna tomorrow, Lavrov told reporters.

Lavrov is also scheduled to meet with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon while in Vienna. 

Sponsors of a U.N. resolution to boost by nearly half an African force trying to defeat Islamist militants in Somalia are seeking to have the Security Council pass it by the middle of next week, diplomats said on Wednesday. The draft would increase the force, known as AMISOM, from 12,000 to around 17,700 troops and step up equipment support from the U.N. budget, although it contains no specific figures.

The move is expected to more than double the U.N. cost of supporting AMISOM to around $500 million a year, not counting salaries for the soldiers, which are covered by the European Union, he said. The United States and France have expressed concerns about the cost but are expected to agree, he added.

SG Ban Ki-moon voiced concern today about reports of fresh clashes in Bahrain between security forces and demonstrators, a year after widespread civil protests first emerged in the Middle East country. In a statement issued by his spokesperson Mr. Ban called on all sides to show maximum restraint and said he expected Bahrain’s authorities “to act in accordance with their international human rights obligations. Mr. Ban reiterated his earlier call on Bahraini authorities “to do everything possible to expedite the implementation of the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, especially its provisions aimed at effective confidence-building measures.”

Two independent United Nations human rights experts today issued a joint call on Hungary to revise recent laws that criminalize homelessness and potentially imprison those living on the streets.

An estimated 30,000 to 35,000 people, including numerous women, children, older persons and persons with disabilities, are thought to be homeless in Hungary. About 8,000 of those live in Budapest, the capital, but the city has only 5,500 available places in public shelters. Ms. Sepúlveda and Ms. Rolnik said public funds should be used to assist people who find themselves homeless, rather than for carrying out often costly operations to prosecute and penalize them.

  Antonio Maldonado, human rights adviser for the UN system in Honduras, today called on Latin American countries to tackle the problem of prison overcrowding in the wake of an overnight fire at a jail in Honduras that killed hundreds of inmates. More than 300 prisoners are reported to have died in the blaze at the prison, located north of the capital, Tegucigalpa, with dozens of others still missing and presumed dead. Mr. Maldonado told UN Radio today that overcrowding may have contributed to the death toll.