Syria; Somalia; Sexual violence in conflict report; Iraq; and more

Syria: A commission of inquiry answering to the UN Human Rights Council said it had compiled a confidential list of those “up to the highest levels” who had ordered the shooting dead of unarmed women and children, shelling of residential areas and torturing of wounded protesters in hospital. It released its findings on Thursday as Western and Arab League diplomats and Syrian opposition figures gathered in Tunis to hammer out proposals to put pressure on President Bashar al-Assad to quit.

One option reportedly under consideration by the “Friends of Syria” was presenting a 72-hour ultimatum to Mr. Assad that diplomats said would include as yet unspecified punitive measures, likely to include toughened sanctions. According to a leaked draft declaration, the meeting will call on Syria to implement an immediate ceasefire to allow aid groups to deliver relief supplies to areas worst hit by the violence. It also “recognised the Syrian National Council as a legitimate representative of Syrians seeking peaceful democratic change”, a phrase which appeared to fall short of full endorsement of the most prominent group opposed to Mr Assad.

Syria Envoy:
UN diplomats say former Secretary-General Kofi Annan is the leading candidate to be the new U.N. envoy to Syria. The diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity because discussions have been private. They say Annan’s successor, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, is likely to announce his choice Friday to coincide with a major international conference on Syria in Tunisia’s capital.

Diplomats said Thursday that Ban couldn’t find a high-level Arab acceptable to both sides and turned to Annan and former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari. Diplomats said the new envoy will have a difficult mandate — trying to end the violence and arrange a political transition.

Addressing the London Conference on Somalia, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that an opportunity has presented itself that “we cannot afford to miss” to help the people of the Horn of Africa nation end threats and instability and to realize the vision of a productive and peaceful Somalia.

“Somalis have shown astounding resilience in the face of extreme hardship. They are ready to show the world they can rebuild their lives and their country with our support. We can do no less than answer their cries for peace,” said the Secretary-General. Mr. Ban also called for steps to improve security, advance the political process and step up assistance for recovery, reconstruction and development.

Sexual violence in conflict:
The annual UN report documenting conflict-related sexual violence around the world today for the first time names some of the military forces, militia and other armed groups that are suspected of being among the worst offenders. The groups listed in the report include the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in the Central African Republic (CAR) and in South Sudan, armed militia groups and former armed forces in Côte d’Ivoire, and the armed forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

The report also highlights the need to put measures and frameworks in place not just to address sexual violence in conflict but to prevent it, and outlines various UN initiatives that seek to identify early warning signs of sexual violence, and to ensure that peace agreements address this issue so it is not repeated in the future.

The top United Nations envoy in Iraq has strongly condemned the series of deadly attacks carried out today across the country and called on authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice. The wave of bombings and shootings in various cities and towns has resulted in at least 55 deaths and hundreds of injuries, according to media reports, which added that the violence targeted predominantly Shia areas.

Today’s bombings are the latest in a series of deadly attacks across Iraq in recent weeks, and have sparked concerns about renewed political and sectarian tensions.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today stressed his hope that this weekend’s presidential election in Senegal is peacefully and credibly staged after a campaign marred by several deadly incidents. In a statement issued by his spokesperson, Mr. Ban said he hoped the election process would be “peaceful, credible and transparent… in line with Senegal’s long-standing democratic tradition and the aspirations of its people.”

Senegalese voters are scheduled to go to the polls on Sunday to elect a president to serve for the next seven years, with 14 candidates reportedly in the running.

UN-Gates partnership
: The United Nations and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced today their agreement to strengthen their partnership to support small farmers in developing countries. The agreement, signed at the headquarters of the UN International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) in Rome, signifies a step to build upon the partnership between the two organizations and to boost their joint ongoing work funding agricultural research and development in the poorest regions of the world.