Syria; Secretary-General in Gaza; UN Women anniversary; UNFPA; and more

Syria: U.N. Security Council ambassadors today were considering a revised resolution aimed at stopping the bloodshed in Syria that removes an explicit reference to President Bashar Assad stepping aside, according to USA Today. The latest draft, obtained Thursday by the Associated Press, still “fully supports” the Arab League’s Jan. 22 decision to “facilitate a political transition leading to a democratic, plural political system.” But in an apparent effort to overcome Russian objections, the new version of the U.N. resolution no longer includes the explicit reference to Assad delegating his powers. It also removes the explicit call for a new national unity government and for transparent, free elections — also important parts of the Arab peace plan.

SG in Gaza:
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon travelled today to the Gaza Strip, where he underlined his commitment to continue working for peace and stability in the Middle East, and voiced his concern about the need to increase humanitarian assistance for Palestinians. As part of his visit, Mr. Ban was supposed to meet with business and civil society representatives, but this was cancelled when dozens of Palestinians staged a protest as Mr. Ban’s convoy crossed into Gaza from Israel.

Protesters, many of whom were relatives of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, threw shoes and other objects at the convoy. Mr. Ban, who met last night with the Palestinian Minister of Prisoners Affairs, Issa Karake, said he understood and shared their frustrations and concerns.

UN Women anniversary:
At her first press conference of the year and the first anniversary of UN Women, Bachelet  reports on the 2011 year of operations and outlines UN Women’s priorities for 2012. “My top priority for 2012 will be to make a renewed push for women’s economic empowerment and political participation. This is in response to women’s demands and also to recent events, to the transformations taking place in the political, social and economic spheres,” said Ms. Bachelet. “With rising demand for justice, upcoming elections in many countries and political transition, we can open doors wider for women in pursuit of the dignity and rights which all human beings are entitled,” she added.

UN Women’s six priority areas for 2012 include advancing women’s political participation and leadership, improving women’s economic empowerment, ending violence against women and girls, expanding the role of women in peace talks, peace-building, and recovery, making budgets and plans benefit women and men equally, and lastly, increasing coordination and accountability across the UN system for gender equality.

UNFPA Executive Board:
Expressing solidarity with UNFPA’s goals and programs, particularly those related to the promotion of sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights,  Deputy U.S. Representative to ECOSOC, John F. Sammis, at yesterday’s first regular session of UNFPA’s executive board,  reiterated his government’s strong support for UNFPA’s life saving assistance to women, children and families, calling for an emphasis on evidenced-based planning on the Fund’s Business Plan and encouraging consistent incorporation of the UNFPA Strategic Plan for 2012-13 and it’s Development Results Framework (DRF) throughout the organization, including as the foundation of preparations for the International Conference on Population Development(ICPD) Beyond 2014.

Special Tribunal for Lebanon:
The UN-backed independent tribunal set up to try suspects in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri announced today that it will try four men accused of carrying out the crime in absentia. Salim Jamil Ayyash, Mustafa Amine Badreddine, Hussein Hassan Oneissi and Assad Hassan Sabra, all Lebanese nationals, have been indicted over the massive car bombing in central Beirut that killed Mr. Hariri and 22 others on 14 February 2005.The indictment charges all four men with conspiracy to commit a terrorist act.

The United Nations human rights chief today voiced concern about the possible use of excessive force by Senegalese authorities amid the protests that have erupted ahead of the presidential election scheduled for later this month. At least four people, including one police officer, have reportedly been killed this week during protests following the publication of the list of presidential candidates approved by the Constitutional Council, states a news release issued by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). In addition to urging restraint on the part of the authorities, Ms. Pillay called on all presidential candidates to actively renounce and discourage any further violence or incitement to violence.