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António Guterres secures second term as UN Secretary-General

By Deepak Arora

UNITED NATIONS, June 18: António Guterres was on Friday re-appointed to a second term as UN Secretary-General, pledging as his priority, to continue helping the world chart a course out of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Taking the oath of office in the General Assembly Hall, Guterres said he was aware of the immense responsibilities bestowed on him at this critical moment in history.

“We are truly at a crossroads, with consequential choices before us. Paradigms are shifting. Old orthodoxies are being flipped,” he told ambassadors.

“We are writing our own history with the choices we make right now. It can go either way: breakdown and perpetual crisis or breakthrough and prospect of a greener, safer and better future for all. There are reasons to be hopeful.”

Guterres was the sole candidate from the UN’s 193 Member States to vie for its top job. His first five-year term began in January 2017.
He was nominated by his homeland, Portugal, and appointed by acclamation by the General Assembly, following prior endorsement by the UN Security Council, for a second term that runs from January 2022 to December 2026.

Speaking in a mix of English, French and Spanish – three of the UN’s six official languages – Guterres detailed how COVID-19 has taken lives and livelihoods, while exposing inequalities. At the same time, countries are confronting challenges such as climate change and biodiversity loss.

He stated it was crucial that the way out of the pandemic, as well as socio-economic recovery, should occur on a much more equitable basis, going forward.

“Our greatest challenge - which is at the same time our greatest opportunity - is to use this crisis to turn the tide, pivot towards a world that learns lessons, promotes a just, green and sustainable recovery and shows the way via increased and effective international cooperation to address global issues”, he said in French.

With the way forward filled with colossal tasks, the Secretary-General expressed confidence that they can be completed successfully, partly due to the incredible commitment of UN staff across the world, though underlining the need for continuous improvement, including through better data and analysis, and a reduction in “unnecessary bureaucracy”.

Although the world has changed a lot, the UN’s promises remain constant, but countries have to work together in entirely new ways to keep them alive.

He called for seizing momentum for transformation, while also stressing the need to bring other voices to the table, including civil society, the private sector and youth.

“Ultimately, this transformation has to do with solidarity and equality”, Guterres said, this time speaking in Spanish.

“But equity needs to start now: vaccines need to be available for everyone everywhere and we must create the conditions for sustainable and inclusive recovery both in the developed and developing world.  And there is still a long way to go.”

Guterres warned that countries must overcome their current “trust deficit” if this is to be achieved.

“In particular, we need to do everything we can to overcome current geostrategic divides and dysfunctional power relations. There are too many asymmetries and paradoxes. They need to be addressed head-on,” he advised.

“We also need to be aware of how power plays out in today’s world when it comes to the distribution of resources and technology.”

Guterres vowed to use his second term to work towards ensuring “the blossoming of trust between and among nations” and to engage in confidence building.

He will also seek to inspire hope that things can be turned around, or that the impossible might be made possible.

“The attitude is never to give up,” he said. “This is not idealistic or utopian but grounded in knowledge of history when big transformations occurred and guided by the fundamental belief in the inherent goodness of people. That breakthroughs are possible when we expect it the least and against all odds. That is my unwavering commitment.”

India Plans To Restore 2.6 Crore Hectares Of Degraded Land By 2030: Modi

NEW DELHI, June 14: India is working towards restoring 2.6 crore hectares of degraded land by 2030 and assisting fellow developing countries to develop land-restoration strategies, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said at a high-level United Nations dialogue today.

Asserting that land degradation affects over two-thirds of the world today, Modi said if left unchecked, it will erode the very foundations of our societies, economies, food security, health, safety and quality of life.

"Therefore, we have to reduce the tremendous pressure on land and its resources. Clearly, a lot of work lies ahead of us. But we can do it. We can do it together," he said.

The prime minister made these remarks in his virtual address at the UN "High-Level Dialogue on Desertification, Land Degradation and Drought" at the United Nations (UN).

He said India has taken the lead to highlight land-degradation issues at international forums and cited that the "Delhi Declaration" of 2019 called for better access and stewardship over land and emphasized gender-sensitive transformative projects.

"In India, over the last 10 years, around three million (30 lakh) hectares of forest cover had been added. This has enhanced the combined forest cover to almost one-fourth of the country's total area," the prime minister said.

"We are on track to achieve our national commitment of land degradation neutrality. We are also working towards restoring 26 million (2.6 crore) hectares of degraded land by 2030," the prime minister said.

This would contribute to India's commitment to achieve an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion (250 to 300 crore) tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, he added.

"We believe that restoration of land can start a cycle for good soil health, increased land productivity, food security and improved livelihoods," the prime minister said.

Noting that land degradation poses a special challenge to the developing world, Modi also told the meet that in the spirit of South-South cooperation, India is assisting fellow developing countries to develop land-restoration strategies.

A centre of excellence is being set up in the country to promote a scientific approach towards land degradation issues, he said.

"It is the mankind's collective responsibility to reverse the damage to land caused by human activity. It is our sacred duty to leave a healthy planet for our future generations," Modi said.

António Guterres nominated by Security Council for second term as UN chief

By Deepak Arora

UNITED NATIONS, June 8: The Security Council has formally selected the current Secretary-General António Guterres as its nominee to serve a second five-year term in the UN’s top job.

The recommendation, made in a resolution adopted by acclamation in a private meeting, now goes to the 193-member General Assembly for formal approval.

In a statement, Guterres said it was “a great honour” to be selected, and thanked ambassadors serving on the Security Council for placing their trust in him. “My gratitude also extends to Portugal, for having nominated me again”, he added.

“It has been an immense privilege to be at the service of ‘we, the peoples’ and at the helm of the amazing women and men of this Organization for the past four and a half years, when we have been facing so many complex challenges”, said the UN chief.

“I would be deeply humbled if the General Assembly were to entrust me with the responsibilities of a second mandate.”

Under procedures for appointing the world body’s new chief, after the recommendation is transmitted from the Security Council to the General Assembly, a draft resolution is issued for the Assembly to take action. After appropriate consultations with Member States, the Assembly President fixes a date for the draft to be taken up.

Guterres circulated his vision statement for a second five-year term in March, and in early May he took part in an informal interactive dialogue at UN Headquarters.

The informal dialogues were introduced during the last selection process in the UN General Assembly, with the idea of allowing candidates to present their views and take questions from a wide range of representatives of the global community, including civil society, establishing a new standard of transparency.

The last six proceedings for selecting the Secretaries-General were appointed by the Assembly through a resolution adopted by consensus.

A vote will take place only if a Member State requests it and a simple majority of those voting would be required for the Assembly to adopt the resolution. But the Assembly could decide that the decision requires a two-thirds majority. If a vote is taken, it will be by secret ballot.

The UN Charter, signed in 1945 as the foundation of the Organization, says relatively little about how a Secretary-General is to be selected, aside from Article 97, which notes that the candidate “shall be appointed by the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council.” At its first session in 1946, the General Assembly was much more active in the selection process.

It created resolution A/RES/1/11 determining that the Council take the lead in the selection process, agree on a single name in a private meeting, and pass that name down to the General Assembly for a vote.

‘Mass deaths’ alert in Myanmar as 100,000 flee junta’s heavy weapons

YANGOON, June 9: In Myanmar, international action is needed urgently to prevent “mass deaths” there, after civilians fled attacks by so-called “junta bombs”, a top independent UN rights expert has warned.

“Mass deaths from starvation, disease and exposure could occur in Kayah State after many of the 100,000 forced to flee into forests from junta bombs are now cut off from food, water and medicine by the junta. The international community must act”, UN Special Rapporteur for Myanmar, Tom Andrews, tweeted late on Monday.

In his alert, Andrews noted that the Kayah state attacks were just the latest in a series throughout Myanmar that had caused mass displacement and suffering, from Mutraw in Karen state to Mindat in Chin state and Bago city.

The independent rights expert, who reports to the Human Rights Council, emphasised that that the lives of many thousands of men, women and children were under threat from indiscriminate attacks, on a scale not seen since the February 1 coup, “that likely amount to mass atrocity crimes”.

The development echoes concern by the UN Country Team in Myanmar, which on Monday underscored the rapidly deteriorating security and humanitarian situation in Kayah State and other parts of the country, linked to protests caused by the military takeover.

Citing credible reports, Andrews said that people were in dire need of food, water, medicine and shelter after reported clashes with volunteer community militias, while the UN country team said that many had also sought safety in host communities and forests across Kayah and southern parts of neighbouring Shan state.

Aid deliveries had been allegedly blocked to those forced to flee their homes to escape bombing raids and artillery fire and the military had also placed landmines on public roads, said the Special Rapporteur.

“Any pressure or leverage UN Member States can put on the junta must now be exerted” to encourage junta leader Min Aung Hlaing to allow lifesaving aid in, and to stop “terrorising the population by ceasing the aerial bombardment, shelling and shooting of civilians”.

In its appeal, the UN Country Team reiterated earlier calls for all parties to protect all civilians and civilian infrastructure, “particularly medical units and health workers”.

Despite that fact that UN aid teams and their partners had supplies that were ready to be deployed “insecurity, travel restrictions imposed by security forces, and poor road conditions are delaying the delivery of supplies”, the team said in a statement.

The team called on "the security forces to allow for a safe passage of humanitarian supplies and personnel and to facilitate our ability to directly provide aid to all those who need it."

“Now, more than ever, the international community must cut off access to the resources that the junta needs to continue these brutal attacks on the people of Myanmar,” Andrews said.

Maldives Foreign Minister elected next General Assembly President

By Deepak Arora

UNITED NATIONS, June 7: The UN chief has welcomed the election on Monday of Abdulla Shahid, Foreign Minister of the Maldives, as President-elect of the 76th session of the General Assembly.

“Abdulla Shahid’s longstanding diplomatic experience, including in his current role as Minister of Foreign Affairs, has given him a deep understanding of the importance of multilateralism in addressing today’s global challenges”, said Secretary-General António Guterres.

He commended the President-elect for his “selection of hope as the central theme in his vision statement” and noted that, coming from a small island developing State, Shahid will “bring unique insights” to the Assembly as the world prepares for the UN climate conference, COP26, in Glasgow in November.

In what was a contested election, featuring former Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul, Shahid garnered 143 votes, to Rassoul’s 48.

“I also want to express my deep appreciation to His Excellency Dr. Zalmai Rassoul and thank him for contributing to this dynamic process”, added the UN chief.

During the meeting, the Secretary-General also drew the lots to determine the Member State that will occupy the first seat in the Assembly Hall in September, which went to Suriname.

The top UN official also expressed his “deep appreciation” to Volkan Bozkir for his “exceptional leadership” as Assembly President during the 75th anniversary session.

“As our most representative organ, the General Assembly is the foundation of all our work at the United Nations, and essential to our effectiveness as an Organization”, he said. “In 2021, the world needs that effectiveness more than ever”.

On May 6, Bozkir had convened informal interactive dialogues in the General Assembly Hall – as mandated in resolution 71/323 – in which the candidates responded to the questions submitted earlier by civil society and other representatives.

“I wholeheartedly congratulate the Honourable Abdulla Shahid on his election as the next President of the UN General Assembly”, said the incumbent President, reminding that the President-elect has been “a strong voice” for the small island developing States.

The outgoing President also recognized “the strong candidacy” of Zalmai Rassoul, saying that his “extensive experience in multilateral diplomacy” and “comprehensive vision” has “earned the respect of Member States”.

“At this important time in his country’s history, the international community’s support for Afghanistan's long journey towards democracy is as essential as ever”, said Bozkir, extending his best wishes to Rassoul’s continued success as Afghanistan’s Ambassador to the United Kingdom.

The UN chief said that millions of people are mourning the losses of loved ones to the COVID-19 pandemic in a crisis that has “dealt a body blow to communities, societies and economies”.

“Until everyone, everywhere has access to vaccines, it continues to pose an enormous threat”, he stressed.

The 76th Assembly will “grapple with the impact of the pandemic across the three pillars of our work: peace, sustainable development, and human rights”, said Guterres, wishing Shahid “every success in his task”.

The UN chief closed by offering the President-elect his “full support” and that of “the entire Secretariat” in reaching shared goals and upholding universal values.

Meanwhile, messages of support and congratulations echoed across social media, including from the World Health Organization (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who said he looked forward to working with Shahid “to end the COVID19 pandemic and towards health for all”.

"Hearty congratulations to Maldives Foreign Minister @abdulla_shahid for the robust victory and for being elected as the 76th President of the UN General Assembly," India's Permanent Mission to the UN tweeted.

According to the established rules of regional rotation, the President of the 76th session of the General Assembly was to be elected from the Group of Asia-Pacific States.

Shahid will succeed Turkish diplomat Volkan Bozkir who was UNGA President for the 75th session that came amid the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic.

The President of the General Assembly is elected every year by a secret ballot and requires a simple majority vote of the General Assembly.

The Presidency of the General Assembly rotates among the five regional groups - the Group of Asian States, the Group of Eastern European States, the Group of Latin American and Caribbean States, the Group of African States, the Western European and other States Group.

Traditionally, a regional group agrees on one candidate and presents his or her candidature for election as President of the General Assembly, paving the way for election by acclamation.

India had already voiced its strong support for Shahid's candidature for President of the 76th session of the UNGA, saying he is best equipped to preside over the General Assembly of 193 nations of the world.

The chairs for the six Main UN Committees were also elected.

Omar Hilale of Morocco will head the First Committee, which deals with disarmament; Vanessa Frazier of Malta will chair the Second Committee on Economic and Financial matters; and Djibouti’s Mohamed Siad Doualeh will lead the Third Committee, which covers human rights, humanitarian affairs and social matters.

Chairing the Fourth Committee on Special Political and Decolonization will be Egriselda Aracely González López of El Salvador; Mher Margaryan of Armenia will head the Fifth Committee on administrative and budgetary matters; and Alya Ahmed Saif Al-Thani of Qatar will lead the Sixth Committee, charged with international law and other legal matter.

Tedros asks States to support Covid-19 pandemic treaty

By Deepak Arora

TedrosGENEVA, June 1: UN health agency chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus urged all countries on Monday to support a pandemic preparedness treaty, warning that it would be a “monumental error” to think the danger of COVID-19 has passed.

In closing comments to the WHO’s annual week-long high-level assembly, Tedros said that a potential international treaty will be discussed in a special session of WHO members in November.

Although COVID cases and deaths are declining globally, Tedros insisted that the “way out” was through “tailored and consistent” public health measures in combination with equitable vaccination.

The WHO Director-General urged all Member States to commit to vaccinating at least 10 percent of the global population by the end of September and at least 30 percent by the end of the year.

“One day – hopefully soon – the pandemic will be behind us, but the psychological scars will remain for those who have lost loved ones, health workers who have been stretched beyond breaking point, and the millions of people of all ages confronted with months of loneliness and isolation”, he underscored.

Tedros stressed that the UN agency needed greater funding for the technical support and guidance that the agency provided to countries.

“The training of health workers, the critical supplies, the surge deployments and much more…It all has to be funded. We cannot pay people with praise”, he said.

Member States “can only truly keep their own people safe if they are accountable to each other at the global level”, Tedros maintained, adding that the pandemic had been characterized by the “lack of sharing” of “data, information, pathogens, technologies and resources”.

He insisted that a pandemic treaty would improve early warning on potential global health threats, promote stockpiling and production of pandemic supplies, allow for equitable access to vaccines, tests and treatments and provide an emergency workforce to handle emergencies.

“An international agreement of any kind must be designed and owned by all Member States,” said Tedros. “It must be truly representative and inclusive.

It must be thorough and carefully considered, but it must also be urgent. We don’t have time.”

Globally, as of 30 May 2021, there have been 169,597,415 confirmed cases of COVID-19 reported to WHO, including 3,530,582 deaths. As of 27 May 2021, a total of 1,546,316,352 vaccine doses have been administered.

In the past week, the global leaders in the World Health Assembly adopted more than 30 resolutions and decisions on diabetes, disabilities, ending violence against children, eye care, HIV, hepatitis and sexually transmitted infections, local production of medicines, malaria, neglected tropical diseases, non-communicable diseases, nursing and midwifery, oral health, social determinants of health and strategic directions for the health and care workforce.

Coronavirus Strain First Found In India Named "Delta Variant": WHO

The World Health Organization also announced that it has assigned new simple labels for key variants of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, using letters of the Greek alphabet.

For example, the B.1.1.7 variant of concern initially identified in the United Kingdom, will be labeled now as "Alpha". The one identified in South Africa will be "Beta".

The COVID-19 variant first found in India will henceforth be referred to as the "Delta". India had on May 12 objected to it, identified as B.1.617.2 till now, being labelled the "Indian variant".

The variant "earlier found" in India, B.1.617.1, will be known as "Kappa", the WHO has said.

Together, lineages of the B.1.617 variant were officially recorded in 53 territories and unofficially in another seven. It had shown to be more transmissible, while disease severity and risk of infection are still under investigation.

The B.1.617 was recorded last October. It has been found in 44 countries, according to WHO. "As such, we are classifying this as a variant of concern at the global level," it had said. Before that, it was listed as a "variant of interest".

This strain is called a double mutant because of the presence of two changes in the virus's genome, called E484Q and L452R.

Three others, first detected in Britain, Brazil, and South Africa, are already classified as being "of concern".

The labels were chosen after wide consultation and a review of many potential naming systems. WHO convened an expert group of partners from around the world to do so, including experts who are part of existing naming systems, nomenclature and virus taxonomic experts, researchers and national authorities.

In a statement published this Monday, the UN healthy agency explained that the new Greek alphabet names won't replace the variants existing scientific names, which convey important scientific information and will continue to be used in research.

"While they have their advantages, these scientific names can be difficult to say and recall, and are prone to misreporting. As a result, people often resort to calling variants by the places where they are detected, which is stigmatizing and discriminatory. To avoid this and to simplify public communications, WHO encourages national authorities, media outlets and others to adopt these new labels", the agency urged.

‘Simply no scenario’ where humanity can survive on an ocean-free planet: Volkan Bozkir

By Deepak Arora

UNITED NATIONS, June 1: The world must harness “clear, transformative and actionable solutions” to address the ocean crisis, the President of the UN General Assembly said on Tuesday, opening a meeting to generate momentum towards the 2022 UN Ocean Conference, when public health safety measures allow.

“Simply speaking, our relationship with our planet’s ocean must change”, Assembly President Volkan Bozkir told a high-level thematic debate on the ocean and Sustainable Development Goal 14 (SDG14): Life Below Water.

Against the backdrop that human activities have threatened to undo the delicate balance of this ecosystem, that supports nutritional, economic and social value to billions the world over, he upheld that there is “simply no scenario” wherein we live on a planet without an ocean.

People do not want to live in “a world of one crisis after the next”, Bozkir said, preferring instead the “security, sustainability and the peace of mind” that comes with a healthy planet.

Policy makers too are increasingly aware of how a healthy ocean is integral to a strong economy.

“We have seen this in countries and cities that have prioritized coastal and marine areas over tourism…in protected wetlands…in efforts to address illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, and regulate shipping and resource extraction”, he said.

New governance, policy and market approaches that incentivize both profit ability and sustainability – for people and planet – provide an opportunity for a “blue recovery” to build resilience, particularly in small island developing States, upheld the Assembly President.

“Building a sustainable ocean economy is one of the most important tasks and greatest opportunities of our time”, he spelled out, urging governments, industries, civil society and others to “join forces to develop and implement ocean solutions”.

As the SDG14 targets will be among the first to mature, Bozkir encouraged everyone to “think ahead” and arrive at the second Ocean Conference in Lisbon, Portugal, with “demonstrable evidence of progress”.

Rather than wait until the Conference opens to re-discuss these issues, he reminded that the Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development has already begun.

“Let us choose to arrive in Portugal with accomplishments and progress that inspire hope and optimism for a better tomorrow”, he concluded.

Peter Thomson, Special Envoy on Oceans, emphasized the need to improve our relationship with the sea to one of respect and balance.

He underscored the importance of delivering on SDG14, saying that “ocean acidification cannot continue unabated” while pointing out that greenhouse gas emission reductions are “required to meet 2030 goals”.

And while spotlighting progress that is being made on ocean awareness, marine protected area coverage and ocean science, Thomson highlighted the urgent need to scale up.

“At the heart of SDG14 is the sustainable blue economy”, Thomson said, “from nutrition to medicine, from energy to carbon sequestration and pollution-free transportation, the sustainable blue economy is the bedrock of upon which a secure future for humanity can be build.

In a world dependent on plastic, the UN official said that there was “no silver bullet for the plague of marine plastic pollution”.

However, he advocated measures to battle the scourge, including by “exponentially” increasing funding for developing countries to invest in waste collection and disposal infrastructure as well as widely implementing systems of reduction, recycling and plastic substitution.

He concluded by highlighting the interconnectivity of the world, calling it “the fundamental lesson of the COVID-19 pandemic”.

“We are connected within nature’s nurturing embrace”, he said, upholding that if we poison nature, we are in effect “poisoning ourselves”.

From Portugal, Ricardo Serrão Santos, Minister of the Sea, also spoke about the importance of ocean health for human and planetary well-being, pointing to the 2022 goal of “a more inclusive and more connected” engagement with the ocean.

“We are gathered here today to rekindle the tone of the Conference” next year, he said, elaborating on the need to “scale up ocean action…increasing and improving coordination at all levels…financing and continued monitoring”.

Serrão Santos underlined Portugal’s support for science, as being “critical to cross-cutting in every ocean action”.

Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Raychelle Omamo, drew attention to the impact of COVID-19, not only in delaying the Conference but also the havoc it has wreaked on jobs in coastal economies an on vulnerable coastal communities.

“We seek a recovery that will promote sustainable development and harmony between people and the natural resources that sustain us”, she said.

 

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