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UN calls on Maldives to respect Supreme Court decision, says 'ready' to help ease political impasse

By Deepak Arora

UNITED NATIONS, Feb 3: Following the Maldives' Supreme Court decision ordering the release of convicted opposition leaders and the reinstatement of 12 parliamentarians, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has expressed the world body's continued readiness to facilitate all-party talks in finding a solution to the Indian Ocean nation's political stalemate.

“The Secretary-General takes note of the important ruling by the Supreme Court” and calls on the Government to respect it, said a statement issued overnight by his Spokesman Stéphane Dujarric.

“The Secretary-General reiterates his belief in finding a solution to the political stalemate in the Maldives through all-party talks, which the United Nations continues to stand ready to facilitate,” the statement added.

On Friday, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) also urged the Government of the Maldives to fully respect the Supreme Court decision, which also overturned the conviction of former President Mohamed Nasheed and ordered to retry his case.

“We are concerned by what appears to be an initial heavy-handed reaction by security forces in the capital Malé against people celebrating the Court's decision,” Spokesperson Rupert Colville told reporters at a press briefing in Geneva, Switzerland, urging them to show understanding and restraint, and to act in full accordance with international laws and standards governing the policing of protests and other forms of public assembly.

“We also urge all those celebrating, or protesting, to do so in a peaceful fashion,” he added.

UN will ‘not tolerate’ sexual harassment in its ranks: Guterres

By Deepak Arora

UNITED NATIONS, Feb 2: Secretary-General António Guterres on Friday made clear that the United Nations will not tolerate sexual harassment “anytime, anywhere,” within its ranks and laid out a five-point plan to ensure equality across the Organization, which he said was critical to tackle on the challenge of such behavior.

“I reaffirm my total commitment to the UN’s zero tolerance policy on sexual harassment,” Mr. Guterres told the press at the Organization’s Headquarters in New York.

Noting that like sexual abuse and sexual violence, sexual harassment is rooted in the historic power imbalances between men and women, the UN chief said he is well aware of the male-dominated culture that permeates governments, the private sector, international organizations and even areas of civil society.

“This creates obstacles to upholding zero tolerance policies on sexual harassment, including here at the United Nations. I am determined to remove [those obstacles],” he said.

Because equal rights and representation are so important in this regard, he launched a gender parity strategy at the UN, and for the first time in its history, the same number of women occupy senior management positions as men at the UN Secretariat; In fact, 23 women to 21 men.

“This is a start,” he stressed, urging equality at all levels and outlining some concrete steps to address sexual harassment, including taking every allegation seriously, past and present, and making sure all staff affected know what to do and where to go for help.

He said a new helpline for staff within the Secretariat who seek confidential advice will be operational by mid-February.

Mr. Guterres has also established a Task Force of leaders from across the UN system to step up efforts to tackle harassment and boost support for victims, including mandatory staff training on this issue.

He has also strengthened the protection of whistleblowers and reminded staff of their duty to call out sexual harassment and to support those affected.

A survey among Secretariat staff will be conducted soon to obtain better information on prevalence and reporting rates.

“In this effort and beyond, my message is simple: we will not tolerate sexual harassment anytime, anywhere,” he said. “And we will continue to change the dynamic and put greater power into the hands of women to prevent and end sexual harassment and all abuse of power in the UN.”

Russia-sponsored talks on Syria

The Secretary-General also addressed the topic of the Syrian political process and the Russia-sponsored Congress of the Syrian National Dialogue in Sochi, to which Mr. Guterres dispatched his Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura.

The UN chief highlighted three key points from the final Sochi statement.

First, it embraced a vision of Syria for all Syrians – as reflected by the 12 living intra-Syrian principles put forward by de Mistura in Geneva late last year.

Second, the Congress affirmed that a Constitutional Committee should be formed under UN auspices in accordance with Security Council resolution 2254 (2015).

He said that there is an understanding that such a Committee should at the very least comprise the Government, opposition representatives in the intra-Syrian talks in Geneva, Syrian experts, civil society, independents, tribal leaders and women. It would also include adequate representation of Syria’s ethnic and religious components.

Third, the Congress made it clear that a final agreement on the mandate, terms of reference, powers, rules of procedure, and selection criteria for the composition of the Constitutional Committee is to be reached in the UN-led talks in Geneva.

“My Special Envoy will now draw on this Sochi outcome to meet our shared goal: full implementation of Security Council Resolution 2254 and the Geneva Communique,” Mr. Guterres said.

Turning to the humanitarian situation in Syria, he noted that over the last two months, not a single convoy of life-saving relief has reached a besieged area – no medical supplies and no food.

He appealed for humanitarian access, strict respect for international humanitarian law and, in particular, the protection of civilians.

“I call on the Government and opposition delegations and all States with influence to cooperate with my Special Envoy,” he said, stressing that the UN-led process must move ahead in Geneva, credibly and seriously because “we don’t have a moment to lose.”

India seeks inclusive, holistic document for negotiations on UNSC reforms

UNITED NATIONS, Feb 2: India on Friday sought an inclusive and holistic document that will enable all parties to base their negotiations transparently on the UN Security Council reforms.

India's Permanent Representative to the UN, Ambassador Syed Akbaruddin, said UN member states wanted continuity in terms of building on available documentation and a change in terms of style, so as to focus on negotiating the rolling document.

He said lack of a rolling document is the bane in current process on Security Council reforms.

"We seek a structured format of a single document that can be negotiated, one issue at a time, with the usual understanding that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed to," said Ambassador Akbaruddin.

He was addressing the first meeting of the intergovernmental negotiations on the 'question of equitable representation on and increase in the membership of the Security Council and related matters.'

Akbaruddin urged its Co-Chairs to facilitate from the next meeting onwards, a normal process based on an inclusive and holistic document that enables the member nations to structure negotiations transparently in a rolling document with the goal of early reform.

"It is not our case that the document that you prepare needs to have only one option. It can have, in every cluster, every option that can be distilled," he said.

"Such a document will provide clarity to where we stand, what are the options, who is proposing what and what are the interlinkages. Documenting positions in a holistic and transparent manner is what we seek from you as the way forward," he noted.

Akbaruddin welcomed the remarks of the UN General Assembly President Miroslav Lajcak who called for out of the box thinking and flexibility among member nations on an early reform of the Security Council.

He said that Co-Chairs have produced documents and papers in each of the last 3 sessions and member states have engaged in discussion on the documentation submitted to us.

"Going forward, we desire that you build on these documents, rather than begin an entirely new approach," Akbaruddin said.

North Korea flouts UN sanctions earning $ 200 millions

UNITED NATIONS, Feb 2: North Korea is flouting UN sanctions on oil and gas, engaging in prohibited ballistic missile co-operation with Syria and Myanmar, and illegally exporting commodities that brought in nearly $200 million in just nine months last year, according to UN experts.

The experts said Pyongyang is still able to access the global financial system through "deceptive practices combined with critical deficiencies in the implementation of financial sanctions."

And it continues to engage in "widespread conventional arms deals and cyber operations to steal military secrets," the panel said.

The experts report to the UN Security Council said North Korean diplomats "continue to play a key role in the country's prohibited programs."

The council has imposed increasingly tougher sanctions against North Korea in response to its nuclear and ballistic missile tests. The latest resolution in December -- in response to the launch of a ballistic missile that Pyongyang says is capable of reaching anywhere on the U.S. mainland -- sharply lowered limits on North Korea's refined oil imports and authorized the inspection and seizure of ships suspected of smuggling banned items including coal and oil to and from the country.

U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said sanctions now ban well over 90 per cent of North Korea's exports reported in 2016.

But the panel of experts said the expansion of UN sanctions hasn't been matched by the "political will," international co-ordination, and allocation of resources to implement them.

"This year could represent a critical window of opportunity before a potential miscalculation with disastrous implications for international peace and security," the experts said.

According to the report, the panel investigated North Korea's ongoing ballistic missile co-operation with Syria and Myanmar.

It also investigated illegal ship-to-ship transfers of oil "comprising a multimillion-dollar business that is driving an international network of brokers and ship charterers as well as unwitting global commodity trading companies and oil suppliers."

North Korea also continued its illegal coal exports by combining deceptive navigation patterns, trans-shipment through third countries and fraudulent documentation "to obscure the origin of the coal."

The report said North Korea exported coal to China, Malaysia, South Korea, Russia and Vietnam in 2017 in violation of sanctions.

It said "a network of foreign traders responsible for violations of the coal ban operates through numerous front companies" registered in Australia, British Virgin Islands, China, Hong Kong, Marshall Islands, Samoa, Seychelles and the United Kingdom.

The experts said North Korea also exported $125 million of iron ore to China last year in violation of sanctions.

The Security Council has slapped sanctions on seven vessels for illegally transferring coal and petroleum. The panel said stepped-up efforts are "crucial to curb these rampant illicit activities."

The experts also cited "critical deficiencies" in implementing financial sanctions.

North Korean financial institutions, including banks which have been sanctions by the council, "maintain more than 30 overseas representatives who live and move freely across borders in the Middle East and Asia, where they control bank accounts, facilitate transactions and deal in bulk cash," the report said.

The experts said North Korea is also exploiting "a key vulnerability" which has enabled the country "to easily create front companies offshore in Asian financial centres where they leverage assistance" from other nationals and use the firms to open accounts and move money worldwide.

The panel said its investigations highlight the activity of intelligence agents and other individuals acting on behalf of sanctioned North Korean entities who operate bank accounts in Europe and the Asia-Pacific "and use diplomatic passports and diplomatic-plated cars to cross land and air borders with less scrutiny."

 

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