France’s Supreme Court Suspends Burkini Ban

Rabat – The Council of State, France’s highest court, suspended the burkini ban today, saying that local mayors have no legal basis for which to justify the ban on full-body swimwear.The ruling was issued after several human rights organizations, such as the La Ligue des Droits de l’Homme (The Human Rights League) and Le Collectif Contre l’Islamophobie en France (The Coalition Against Islamophobia in France) called on the Council of State to suspend the decision of the mayor of the Mediterranean resort of Villeneuve-Loubet, in southwestern France, to ban the full-body swimwear ban.“The restrictions that [the mayor] has placed on freedoms must be justified by proven risks of breaches of public order,” declared the Council of State. “The impugned judgment constitutes an illegal and conspicuous breach against fundamental freedom, such as the freedom to come and go, the freedom of conscience and personal freedom,” the Council added. The ban “constituted a serious and manifestly illegal infringement of fundamental liberties,” the State Council said in its judgement reported in The Telegraph.The Council of State’s ruling relates specifically to the south-eastern town of Villeneuve-Loubet, but the decision is expected to set a legal precedent for the approximately 30 seaside towns that have issued similar bans.The controversy over the burkini hit its peak when pictures of four armed police officers forcing a Muslim women to take off her hijab and outer garments on the beach were posted in news outlets and on social media.The photos created an unprecedented uproar worldwide angering Muslims, as well as human rights activists.The burkini ban in many of these French towns were enforced a month after the deadly terror attack in nearby Nice.  A Muslim, said to have ties to ISIS, drove a massive truck through a Bastille Day celebration killing 84 people.A week later, Jacques Hamel, 86-year-old Catholic priest, was stabbed to death in another terror attack on a church in the northern France.French politicians yesterday debated the burkini ban in television and radio interviews.Former President Nicholas Sarkozy and other right-wing politicos expressed support for the burkini ban and the need for greater security after the terror attacks in France.Prime Minister Manuel Valls said yesterday he condemned any “stigmatization” of Muslims, but maintained that the burkini was “a political sign of religious proselytizing.”Moroccan-born French Minister of Education of Higher Education and Research Najat Vallaud-Belkacem stated that the ban of the burkini represented “a dangerous political drift,” in an interview with Europe 1. She said the “proliferation” of burkini bans “was not a welcome development.”While the debate among French politicians continues, one American terrorism expert questioned the reasoning and purpose of the burkini and burka ban as a means to combat terrorism in France.“It is the opposite of effective,” says Will McCants, author of The Isis Apocalypse and director of the Brookings Institutions’s Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World.“At least in the short term,” said McCants. read more

Morocco Praises Measures Taken by Saudi Arabia to Ensure Safety, Comfort…

Rabat – Morocco praises, once again, the measures taken by Saudi Arabia, on instructions from the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman Ibn Abdelaziz, to ensure the safety and comfort of pilgrims in order to perform the ritual of Hajj in the best conditions, said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation.As part of preparations by Saudi Arabia for the organization of the annual Hajj season (2016), and while recognizing the constant efforts of the Saudi authorities to develop and improve the services relating to the fulfillment of this religious duty by Muslims around the world, the Kingdom of Morocco praises the measures taken by Saudi Arabia to ensure the safety and comfort of pilgrims in order to perform the rituals of Hajj in the best conditions, said the Ministry in a statement on Thursday.While emphasizing the need to comply with the rules established by the Saudi authorities in this regard, the Kingdom of Morocco calls for ensuring that this pillar of Islam stays away from any attempt of politicization and from anything that is likely to affect the atmosphere of meditation that should prevail on such occasions, the statement concluded. With MAP read more

Increase of Unemployment Rate Despite an Invigorated Work Market: HCP

Rabat – Unemployment has risen again in the first three months of the current year, according to the High Commission for Planning’s (HCP) labor market figures for the first quarter of 2017.The HCP figures show the increase of the national unemployment rate from 10.4 percent to 10.7 percent between the first quarter of 2016 and that of 2017. The number of unemployed individuals rose from 1,233,000 to 1,296,000 people between the two periods, marking an increase of 63,000 people registered exclusively in urban areas. According to the note, this rate increased from 15 percent to 15.7 percent in urban areas and from 4.2 percent to 4.1 percent in rural ones, adding that the highest unemployment rate is recorded among young people aged 15 to 24, with 25.5 percent, and adults aged 25 to 34 with 16.6 percent. From the first quarter of 2016 to the same period of 2017, the Moroccan economy saw the creation of 109,000 jobs, with 62,000 posts in urban areas and 47,000 in rural ones, compared to a loss of 13,000 jobs a year earlier, reports the HCP.The services sector created 45,000 jobs, agriculture, forestry and fishing sectors 28,000 jobs, construction and public works 20,000 jobs, while industry including artisanat created 16,000 posts. However, these figures remain insufficient to reverse the curve of unemployment which continues on an upward trend.Increase of UnderemploymentThe note of the HCP also showed a slight increase in underemployment, with the underemployed population reaching 1,057,000 individuals, marking a growth rate of 0.1 percent compared to the first quarter of 2016, rising from 9.7 percent to 9.8 percent at the national level.From the first quarter of 2016 to that of 2017, the labor force aged 15 years and over increased by 1.4 percent at the national level, reaching 12,062,000 individual, with a 1.8 percent increase in urban areas and 0.9 percent in rural ones. As for the population of working age, it showed a 1.7 percent increase. As a result, the participation rate continues to decline from 47.6 percent to 47.5 percent between the two periods.By gender, the rate of underemployment reached 11.1 percent among men, with 9.4 percent in urban areas compared to 13.5 percent in rural ones, and 5.7 percent among women, with 9.8 percent in urban areas versus 2.8 percent in rural ones, noting that the HCP indicators also include unpaid employment.In conclusion, the number of paid jobs has risen to 86,000, with 57,000 in urban areas and 29,000 in rural ones, while unpaid employment posts are estimated at 23,000, with 18,000 in rural areas and 5,000 in urban ones.Difficult Mission for the New Government? The HCP grave figures concerning unemployment in Morocco rise another serious question: will Saad Eddine El Othmani’s new government be able to keep its promise? As soon as the new government assumed power, El Othmani promised to reduce the unemployment rate from 10 percent to 8 percent by the end of his term. No easy feast since he’ll have to bring down the current rate by almost three points in just five years. El Othmani’s government is counting on the implementation of the new 2025 Employment Strategy, which it’s intending to merge with the various existing sectoral strategies. The government will also have to the Ministerial Commission in charge of monitoring the implementation of the 2015-2025 National Employment Strategy, while evaluating the overall of employment promotion programs. Moreover, the Executive also promised to review the functioning of the National Agency for the Promotion of Employment and Skills (Anapec) and private sector mediation institutions. read more

Finance Minister Rejects Cigar Surtax

Rabat – Economy and finance minister Mohamed Boussaïd has rejected an amendment of the Finance Act, which would have raised the internal tax on cigars.In a meeting at the House of Councillors on Monday May 29, Boussaïd denied the amendment to the Finance Act of 2017, which would have imposed a tax between MAD 500-1000 for each unit of 1000 cigars.The bill had been proposed by the labour union Confédération Démocratique du Travail (CDT). One of its members, Abdelhak Hissan, suggested that the revenues from this supplementary tax should be given to programs dedicated to fighting against lung cancer. Boussaïd explained why he rejected the amendment, saying that a surtax would pave the way for smuggling of cigars, an item loved by the wealthy. The minister added that the tax rates are similar to those in European countries.Cigarette prices are due to increase within the next six months and Boussaïd believes that further tax increases within the tobacco industry will harm the business climate for producers and importers within the sector. read more

Morocco’s Climate Change Commitment Confirmed in One Earth Summit

Rabat – King Mohammed VI’s participation in the One Planet summit today in France affirms that Morocco has a strong commitment to the preservation of the environment, previously showcased during the organization of COP22 in Marrakech.Gathering more than 50 heads of state and government in La Seine Musicale, the main focus of the summit, which will revolve around “Climate Change Financing,” is to take further action on the financial front of the objectives of the Paris Agreement.The participation of King Mohammed VI isn’t arbitrary. The sovereign is an awarded environmental protector. On May 9, the Energy Efficiency Visionary Award was given to King Mohammed VI, in recognition of his “outstanding” and “visionary” leadership. Upon the reception of the award, the King sent a letter to the organizers, expressing Morocco’s “strong interest in energy efficiency as part of our vision of socio-economic development, given its role in strengthening the fundamental rights of citizens, protection of the environment, preservation of public health, reduction of energy dependence and rationalization of the State budget.”Morocco has implemented an integrated national policy for the protection of the environment, combating the effects of climate change and anticipating the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by up to 32 percent by 2030.As part of this policy, Morocco has launched a series of initiatives aiming to integrate the green economy, notably through by adopting the National Environment Charter and Efficiency Strategy and liberalizing the renewable energy sector.“Morocco, which hosted the COP22 in Marrakech on November 7-18, 2016, stands out for its exemplary approach to renewable energy under the visionary leadership of the King,” said Gil Quiniones, the co-chair of the Alliance to Save Energy (ASE) Board of Director.“Morocco has been able to put in place a global strategy that has allowed a significant improvement in energy efficiency in the Kingdom, on the way to achieving the specified objectives In the Paris Climate Agreement.”The King  has previously said that “the urgent challenge facing our world today is not so much the lack of energy resources but more of the necessary investment in this matter mobilization. Therefore, it is necessary to build the adequate energy infrastructure and to develop alternative technologies.”“That is why the kingdom of Morocco,” he continued, “is constantly working to adapt to future changes in order to ensure its economic and social development and to meet its growing energy needs on a sustainable basis.”The policies undertaken by the Kingdom place it at the forefront of climate change and environmental issues, Deputy Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Richard Kinley previously said.Meanwhile, the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Patricia Espinosa, praised during the preparation of COP23 in  Fiji the “great” Moroccan presidency of COP22, held in Marrakech in November 2016.“The Moroccan presidency was great, and we had an incredible partner with whom we delivered the first session of the Conference,” said the official in a statement to the MAP on the sidelines of the Pre-COP23 meeting.The One Earth Summit will be mainly devoted to the mobilization of funding to advance concrete projects in all areas of the fight against climate change: renewable energies, clean transport, agriculture, buildings and sustainable cities, and the protection of the population from the impacts of climate change.The goal of the One Planet Summit is to bring together all key players in the world of finance and climate to build the tools, alliances, and initiatives essential to the greening of finance and accelerate the implementation of climate projects on field. read more

Jamiroquai: Art Has Always been about Integrating Difference

Rabat – Whether it be the reserved exuberance of “Cosmic girls,” the delectable funkiness of “Virtual insanity,” the beatific insanity of “Runaway,” or the exultant cult-like philosophy of their early tunes, Jamiroquai remain to their fans the epitome of the subversive beauty of funk music. Although fundamentally faithful to the basic tenets of the funk genre, the British jazz-funk band has lately found quite an interesting way of mixing and exploring genres from electronic and disco to pop and rock.Hours prior to a superb performance at the 17th Mawazine Festival, the group gave a 15-minute press conference at the Rabat Art Gallery (Villa Des Arts) on Sunday, June 24. In what sounded more like a fifteen-minute chat with old friends, they talked about their music, how it felt to deliver a premier performance in front of a passionate Moroccan public, and their conception of art and its place in society.How did it feel to be in Morocco for the first time? What surprises did the band have for the thousands of Moroccan fans whose attachment to the band’s type of music has something of a religious elevation of spirit? asked a pack of journalists.Jay Kay, the band’s leader, laughed encouragingly at the questions.“It always feels good to sing, to perform, and do music,” he said, straddling the unique feeling of being in Morocco and that of being a celebrated music band whose dexterity has won them the admiration of a worldwide audience.“We are tired. We are just coming off Ukraine, where we’ve just given another performance,” he said, but promised the band will do what they do best for their Moroccan fans: Music.“The plan is to play really well,” they said. “It is interesting and refreshing to go somewhere we’ve never been before. It is exciting to be here.”Jay Kay, who that afternoon spoke on behalf of the group, talked about the band’s origins in terms of a constant drive to “synchronize.”The singer suggested that “A Funk Odyssey,” the group’s fifth studio album, was essentially about mixing, changing, and exploring unknown musical territories, new grounds—both for their own good as artists and the good of millions of fans who demand constant creativity and novelty of musical perspectives and instruments.“I think it is difficult to strive far away from what we do. But this album is a bit hybridized. Well, it’s always been hybrid, really,” Jay Kay said. “I think in terms of drums and how different it sounds [from previous albums]. I listened to some of the albums from day one, and I realized how much complexity and changes were in it.”To a journalist who asked about the group’s memory of Toby Smith, a founding member of Jamiroquai who passed away in April 2017, aged 46, Jay Kay said: “I saw his wife the other day…There is at least that nice thing that he has left his children—he has left three children behind–and his wife. There is a nice legacy for them to have. It is kind of there, the music does not go away.” read more

China, Iran meet amid efforts to preserve nuclear deal

BEIJING — The foreign ministers of China and Iran are meeting amid efforts to preserve the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.China’s Wang Yi met in Beijing on Tuesday with Mohammad Javad Zarif, who’s leading a delegation that includes parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani and the ministers of finance and petroleum, as well as the CEO of Iran’s central bank.Germany, Britain, France, China, Russia and the European Union have been trying to preserve the 2015 deal meant to keep Tehran from obtaining a nuclear weapon after the unilateral withdrawal of the U.S. last year.Zarif told the Munich Security Conference on Sunday a barter-type system known as INSTEX set up last month by France, Germany and Britain to skirt direct financial transactions with Iran and thereby evade possible U.S. sanctions isn’t enough.The Associated Press read more

Petition Increases Pressure on Morocco to Release Hirak Activists

Rabat – Over 160 artists and intellectuals have signed an online petition demanding the Moroccan government free Hirak activists.The petition is yet another call to authorities to release the activists, whom police arrested for rallying against corruption and unemployment in northern Morocco’s Rif region in “unauthorized protests” in 2016 and 2017 in what is known as the Hirak movement.Actors, writers, and intellectuals signed the petition, criticizing the heavy prison sentences imposed on the activists and demand their immediate release. On April 5, the Court of Appeals in Casablanca upheld the prison sentences imposed on dozens of the Hirak activists in June 2018. The court sentenced the leader of the movement, Nasser Zefzafi and activists Ouassim El Boustati and Samir Ghid to 20 years in prison for “conspiracy aiming to undermine state security.” Other activists were sentenced to prison terms of 15, 10,7, 3, or 1 years, and fined for “participating in unauthorized protests.”Read Also: First Hirak Rif March After Appeal Brings Hundreds to RabatAmong the signatories are actors Mohamed Choubi and Touria Alaoui; film producers Nabil Ayouch and Driss Roukhe; and intellectuals and journalists Ahmed Assid, Sanaa El Aji, and Ahmed Bouzafour.Member of Parliament Mustapha Chennaoui also wrote to Head of Government Saad Eddine El Othmani on Wednesday demanding the release of the activists.In his letter, Chennaoui expressed concern about the health of the prisoners, in particular, activist Rabii el Ablaq, who has been on hunger strike. Chennaoui requested the release of all the activists, stating they had done nothing wrong and had only demanded their human rights of justice and equality. On Sunday, thousands of protesters took to the streets in Rabat, demanding activists be freed. Political and civil rights groups organized the march, as well as the families of the prisoners. read more

India to observe US sanctions on Iranian oil

NEW DELHI — India says it will buy crude oil from other major oil producing countries in view of the United States’ decision this week to end waivers that allowed it to buy Iranian oil without facing U.S. sanctions.External Affairs Ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar says the Indian government will continue to work with partner nations, including the United States, to find ways to protect India’s energy and economic security interests.India bought 23.6 million tons of Iranian oil in the financial year ending in March 2019.In November, the U.S. granted a six-month waiver to India and seven other countries to continue importing oil from Iran. Washington decided to eliminate all Iranian oil revenue that it says funds destabilizing activity throughout the Middle East and beyond.The Associated Press read more

Progress seen on debt, spending talks

WASHINGTON — The top Republican in the House says congressional negotiators are making progress on two must-do items on the legislative agenda: averting automatic budget cuts and meeting a deadline later this year to increase the government’s borrowing limit.Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said “we’re making progress” as he rushed out of a two-hour session exploring a potential agreement to increase spending “caps” that threaten to hit the Pentagon and other federal agencies with budget cuts averaging 10 per cent.It was the first meeting of top administration officials, including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, with the top four leaders of Congress on the topics. They are returning for a second session later Tuesday.Efforts to raise the spending caps and government’s borrowing limit are often linked together to move them through Congress.Andrew Taylor, The Associated Press read more

Benefits and drawbacks of bioenergy must be considered UN experts say

The report from UN-Energy, an inter-agency body established to coordinate the world body’s work in the realm of energy, is entitled “Sustainable Energy: A Framework for Decision Makers” and was funded by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).The study is the first of its kind to examine the issue of bioenergy through the lens of nine issues, including poverty, health, food security, agriculture, climate change, finance and trade. “We tried to create the framework to discuss it really all together because they need to be seen together,” Gustavo Best, Vice Chair of UN-Energy, said at a press briefing for the report’s launch in New York.Bioenergy is produced from biofuels – solid fuels, biogas, liquid fuels such as bioethanol and biodiesel – which come from crops such as sugar cane and beet, maize and energy grass or from fuel wood, charcoal, agricultural wastes and by-products, forestry residues, livestock manure and others.The report underscores the many benefits that bioenergy provides in reducing poverty, improving access to energy and promoting rural development.A surge in oil prices has lead some of the world’s poorest countries to spend six times as much on petroleum as they do on health care, and thus bioenergy “can create a lot of opportunities,” Alexander Müller, Assistant Director-General of FAO, told reporters at the briefing.“In this report, we provide a framework for the worldwide use of bioenergy, not only for the developed and industrialized world, for mitigation of climate change, but also for the poorest people to get access to a modern form of electricity.”However, it warns that “unless new policies are enacted to protect threatened lands, secure socially acceptable land use, and steer bioenergy development in a sustainable direction overall, the environmental and social damage could in some cases outweigh the benefits.”In the realm of food security, for example, price increases in major biofuel sources such as sugar, palm oil and soybeans could drive up the prices of basic foods.These detrimental possibilities must be weighed against the tremendous benefits bioenergy stands to offer, Mr. Best observed.“The biofuel market offers a new and fast-growing opportunity for agricultural producers and could contribute significantly to higher incomes and could support higher productivity growth in agriculture with positive implications for food availability, sustainability and access,” he said.Bioenergy could potentially save hundreds of thousands of lives annually. In developing countries, the “kitchen killer” – or smoke inhalation from cooking with fuels such as coal and biomass, or wood, dung and crop residues – claims more lives annually than does malaria.At the national level, suggestions made to decision makers include creating bioenergy policies that take into account availability, access, stability and utilization. It also recommends that governments weigh the economic and social costs of subsidizing bioenergy sources, in particular, liquid biofuels.Meanwhile, the study proposes at the global level that signatories to the Conventions on Biological Diversity and on Combating Desertification consider opportunities for the sustainable cultivation and utilization of energy crops. It also suggests that greater emphasis is placed on promoting research on the social, scientific, technological, economic, policy and environmental facets of bioenergy development.Today’s report release coincided with the Commission on Sustainable Development – with long-term energy solutions, together with the interlinked issues of climate change, industrial development and air pollution, at the core of its agenda – which is in the midst of its two-week session. 8 May 2007As the demand for biofuels surges with over one billion people living without access to electricity, a new United Nations report released today cautions that the world’s energy needs must be met in a sustainable and environmentally sound manner. read more

UN agency calls on Thailand to release nearly 150 Lao refugees after

20 August 2007Voicing relief that 149 Hmong refugees from Laos held in a detention centre in Thailand had ended a hunger strike, the United Nations refugee agency today called on the Thai Government to release them, all recognized refugees. Voicing relief that 149 Hmong refugees from Laos held in a detention centre in Thailand had ended a hunger strike, the United Nations refugee agency today called on the Thai Government to release them, all recognized refugees. “We are alarmed and deeply concerned about the steadily deteriorating detention conditions of the refugees over the last weeks,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Bureau for Asia and the Pacific Director Janet Lim said. “They are being held in truly inhumane conditions – including innocent children – confined to two small cells into which daylight does not even shine and they are not allowed to leave,” she added. They also have no water source other than a tap in the cells. The Lao Hmong began their strike on Thursday at the Nong Khai Immigration Detention Centre in a protest over the deteriorating conditions under which they have been held since early December. After a UNHCR team visited and counseled them on Sunday evening, they began taking food again. Among the 149 recognized refugees are 90 children, including some babies born in the centre which is run by the Thai Immigration Ministry. “There is absolutely no reason for these 149 people to be detained, especially as other countries have come forward and offered them resettlement places if they are only allowed to leave Thailand,” Ms. Lim said. “They have committed no crime; on the contrary, they have been recognized as refugees in need of international protection. It is particularly disturbing to us that young children and babies are being subjected to these deplorable conditions.” The group was rounded up for deportation in Bangkok in November. After UNHCR intervened, the deportation was called off and the group was transferred to the Nong Khai detention centre on the border with Laos. Thai authorities attempted to deport them in January 2007, but backed down when the refugees put up fierce resistance. Since then, UNHCR has been urging the authorities to release them. “We appreciate the assurances given by the Thai Government that these 149 will not be deported, but now we need to move forward to end their detention, particularly as there is a solution at hand,” Ms. Lim said. UNHCR is also concerned about conditions faced by other asylum seekers and refugees in detention in Thailand, particularly as children are also in custody.The agency continues to urge the Thai Government to conclude its discussions on a screening mechanism which meets international standards that would allow the proper identification of different needs and claims concerning all asylum seekers on its territory. read more

UN forum seeks to ensure schooling for children from homes affected by

The Fourth Global Forum on Children Affected by HIV and AIDS, co-hosted in Dublin by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Irish Aid, the Irish Government’s overseas aid programme, called for a package of social welfare services to tackle child poverty and the effects of HIV/AIDS on children in developing countries. “For too long children have been the missing face of the aids pandemic,” UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman told the 200 delegates from 42 countries. “This conference, generously co-hosted by the Irish Government, provides an important opportunity to discuss approaches for dealing with children impacted by HIV and AIDS.” The forum will attempt to secure commitments for affected children to realize their right to health, education and welfare. Cash transfers and other social welfare instruments may alleviate poverty, improve school attendance and nutritional intake, Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen said. The forum brings together leaders in government, civil society and the UN to review progress, set priorities, and make commitments for children affected by HIV and AIDS. 6 October 2008Social services and the funding they entail are vital to ensure that children in households affected by HIV and AIDS are not forced to drop out of school to care for sick relatives or to engage in paid work when a breadwinner falls ill, a United Nations-backed forum said today. read more

UN refugee chief urges help for 6 million longterm displaced

The UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), António Guterres, said there were at least 30 long-term refugee situations around the world that had lasted five years or more. “The burden of hosting these refugees falls almost exclusively to developing states,” he said today at the opening session of a two-day conference on protracted refugee situations, taking place in Geneva. “It is important to recognise that the international community as a whole has not done enough to share that burden.” Guterres said that once the media spotlight turned away from refugee emergencies and international attention faded, the displaced people could go unnoticed for years. He added that much of the pressure fell on some of the poorest countries in the world, and hailed the example of Tanzania, whose Prime Minister, Mizengo Kayanza Peter Pinda, joined him at the conference podium. Tanzania has offered local integration, including naturalization and citizenship, to most of the Burundian refugees who fled their homeland in 1972 and who wish to remain in the country. Some 175,000 refugees stand to benefit from this programme, while others have opted to return to Burundi. For his part, Prime Minister Pinda called on the international community to recognise the impact of protracted refugee situations on host countries, including the over-exploitation of natural resources, environmental degradation, strains on social services and the spread of small arms and insecurity. 10 December 2008The top United Nations refugee official has called on the world to do more to help nearly 6 million long-term refugees, who have spent years and sometimes decades in exile, often in the poorest countries in Africa and Asia. read more

Security arrangements dominate UNbacked talks between DR Congo and rebels

“We have been going into details of elements of the security arrangements such as a ceasefire and cessation of hostilities agreements,” co-mediator and former Tanzanian president Benjamin Mkapa said at the close of today’s discussions. The Nairobi talks, between the Government and the rebel National Congress in Defense of the People (CNDP), began last month with the goal of ending the ongoing conflict, which has uprooted an estimated 250,000 people since late August on top of the 800,000 already displaced in the region, mainly in North Kivu province, which borders Rwanda and Uganda.Mr. Mkapa later met and briefed his co-mediator Olusegun Obasanjo, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region and former president of Nigeria, who was returning from three days of consultations with key players Kinshasa, Kigali and eastern DRC. The talks are set to resume tomorrow under the chairmanship of the Kenyan Foreign Minister, Moses Wetangula, representing President Mwai Kibaki. 9 January 2009United Nations-backed talks aimed at bringing an end to the deadly conflict between the Government and rebels in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have been focusing on security matters, including a possible ceasefire, since resuming earlier this week in Nairobi, a senior official said today. read more

SecretaryGeneral set to travel to Africa next week

18 February 2009Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is slated to leave early next week for Africa where he will make his first official visits to South Africa and Tanzania, as well as stops in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Rwanda and Egypt, his spokesperson announced today. While in South Africa Mr. Ban will meet with President Kgalema Motlanthe, as well as the Ministers for Finance and Environment, Marie Okabe told reporters in New York. He is also expected to meet with former President Nelson Mandela.In Tanzania, one of the pilot countries for the UN reform programme on “Delivering as One,” the Secretary-General will hold discussions with President Jakaya Kikwete, as well as address the diplomatic and academic community in Dar es Salaam. In addition, Mr. Ban will inaugurate the One UN Office in Zanzibar which will house all UN agencies under a single roof. He is also due to fly over the receding ice cap of Mount Kilimanjaro on his way to Arusha to visit the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.Following that, he will head to the DRC where he will meet with President Joseph Kabila, as well as with parliamentarians and members of civil society. He will then go to Bukavu, the capital of South Kivu province, to visit Panzi Hospital, where victims of sexual violence are cared for. Then in the North Kivu provincial capital of Goma, he will meet with members of the UN peacekeeping mission (MONUC) and with local authorities. He will also visit the Mugunga camp for people displaced by conflict before flying to Rwanda to meet with President Paul Kagame.Mr. Ban then plans to travel to the Egyptian seaside resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, where he will participate in the 2 March “International Conference in support of the Palestinian Economy, for the reconstruction of Gaza,” co-chaired by Egypt and Norway. read more

DR Congo Security Council team visits camp for internally displaced

The 15-member group visited Kiwanja IDP camp near Goma, in North Kivu province, temporary home to some 13,000 people fleeing conflicts in the area, Marie Okabe told reporters in New York.Earlier, on arrival in Goma from the Rwandan capital, Kigali, the delegation was briefed by the military leadership of the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC, known as MONUC, about the current UN-backed operations by the Congolese army to address the problem of foreign and local illegal armed groups.They also met with the governor of North Kivu, the humanitarian community and with senior Congolese military and police commanders, and visited a clinic caring for victims of sexual violence.Tomorrow, the delegation will be in Kinshasa for senior-level meetings with Government officials, including President Joseph Kabila, and will also examine the promotion of economic recovery and development in the DRC, Ms. Okabe said. It will then head to Liberia.Council members arrived in DRC from neighbouring Rwanda, where they met yesterday with President Paul Kagame to discuss Rwanda’s contribution to peace in the eastern DRC and the Great Lakes region and its role in UN peacekeeping.The delegation began their African trip on Saturday with a stop in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, where it met with African Union officials. Both parties expressed their commitment to enhancing collaboration in areas including the promotion of human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Africa, according to a communiqué released after the meeting.The Council team also met with Prime Minister Meles Zenawi to discuss the situation in Somalia and the stalemate in the Ethiopia/Eritrea peace process. 18 May 2009A Security Council delegation on a week-long visit to Africa met with internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) today to assess efforts by the Government and the United Nations to consolidate peace and security in the area, a spokesperson for the world body said. read more

UN official pledges support to tackle copyright challenges for the visually impaired

“Let me assure you that this is a priority area for the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO),” Director General Francis Gurry told participants at a conference in New Delhi today.According to the agency, over 314 million blind or visually impaired people worldwide stand to benefit from a more flexible copyright regime adapted to current technological realities.Individuals with reading impairment often need to convert information into Braille, large print, audio, electronic and other formats using assistive technologies. It is estimated that only 5 per cent of published books in developed countries are converted into formats accessible to the reading impaired. In India this number is even lower, at only 0.5 per cent, impeding educational and employment opportunities for the country’s nearly 70 million reading impaired citizens.“While, today, sighted individuals enjoy unprecedented access to copyright-protected content, in some contexts, social, economic, technological and legal factors, including the operation of copyright protection systems, can combine to seriously impede access to such works by the blind or other reading impaired persons,” WIPO stated in a news release.The agency added that the widespread use of digital technologies, in particular, has led to discussions on how to maintain a balance between the protection available to copyright owners, and the needs of specific user groups, such as reading impaired persons.Mr. Gurry noted that innovation and affordability are key considerations when addressing the specific requirements of the visually impaired in developing countries.He called for joining forces with UN partners, including the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), to make best use of the expertise and skills that are available and move forward on these important questions. 11 November 2009The head of the United Nations agency entrusted with protecting intellectual property rights has pledged support for efforts to improve access to copyright-protected works for the world’s blind or visually impaired persons. read more

UN agency convenes special meeting to examine turmoil in wheat markets

3 September 2010The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) will hold a special meeting later this month to examine the recent spike in wheat prices and help avoid any repeat of the recent global food crisis. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) will hold a special meeting later this month to examine the recent spike in wheat prices and help avoid any repeat of the recent global food crisis.The meeting, slated for 24 September at FAO headquarters in Rome, will bring together experts and government representatives to consider how to ease the current turmoil in grain markets and what role should the UN agency in handling the situation.Wheat prices experienced their biggest monthly rise in almost a year in August, according to the FAO’s Food Price Index, climbing by 5 per cent following persistent drought in Russia – a major producer – and that country’s subsequent restriction on sales.Higher sugar and oilseed prices also contributed to the price spike, which has flowed into overall international food prices as well.Rising food prices reportedly led to deadly protests this week in Mozambique’s capital, Maputo, and led to concerns about a potential repeat of the food crisis in 2007-08. Russia has also extended a ban on wheat exports into 2011 following the drought in its grain-producing regions.David Dawe, a senior economist at FAO, said today that while the recent turmoil is cause for concern, the so-called fundamentals of the wheat market are far more solid than they were before the food crisis.“The reaction in the wheat markets is a bit overdone – maybe even substantially overdone,” he told the UN News Centre.Wheat stockpiles are higher than before, he noted, while overall crop production levels are historically high, even if they have slipped from recent peaks.“There is uncertainty out there; agriculture markets are always uncertain because of the weather… But it would be premature to think that the situation would get worse.” read more

Conservation projects in Guatemala and Nepal win UN environment prize

23 February 2011A forest conservation initiative in Guatemala and a sustainable development project in Nepal are the recipients of this year’s Sasakawa Prize, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) announced today. The UNEP Sasakawa Prize, worth $200,000, recognizes the most innovative, groundbreaking and sustainable grassroots environmental initiatives in developing countries.The Asociación Forestal Integral San Andrés, Petén (AFISAP) in Guatemala and the Manahari Development Institute in Nepal (MDI-Nepal) won the award, whose theme this year is “Forests for People, Forests for Green Growth” in support of the 2011 International Year of Forests.The theme highlights the central role of forests in the pursuit of a global ‘green economy’ as key economic resources whose real value has all too often been excluded in national accounts of profit and loss, according to UNEP press release.Estimates from The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) indicate that deforestation and forest degradation are likely costing the global economy between $2.5 and $4.5 trillion a year, more than the losses of the recent and ongoing financial crisis.AFISAP, which was founded in 1999, is focused on preserving the forests on a 52,000-hectare concession within the Mayan Biosphere Reserve in the San Andres area in Guatemala, which plays a critical role in regional conservation. According to an AFISAP study that used remote cameras, the Mayan Reserve has the highest-density of jaguars ever reported in the world.The organization, which has distinguished itself as one of the most successful community groups in Guatemala, has also introduced projects to extract the lucrative xate, the popular foliage used for floral arrangements worldwide. Xate, which has been used for 40 years and is exported, has brought enormous economic benefits for the rural communities in the area. MDI-Nepal, a non-governmental organization founded in 2001, has introduced agroforestry to help improve crop productivity and water irrigation systems as well as reduce soil erosion on the forested hills and mountainous areas.Apart from making up most of the country’s land mass, the slopes are also home to 18 million people. The agroforestry measures have significantly improved food security and living standards of the rural communities living on the steep slopes of Nepal, said UNEP.In a related development, a forest conservation scheme in Kenya is one of the projects to benefit from a new partnership between UNEP and the European Union (EU).The partnership, announced today at the UNEP headquarters in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, by UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner and the EU Commissioner for the Environment, Janez Potocnik, covers funding from the European Commission (EC) to UNEP up to 2013 and identifies key areas of joint activities.Under the partnership, the EC will provide funding for the restoration of the north-western part of the Mau forest complex in Kenya.The project, which supports the strategy of the Kenyan Government to rehabilitate one of sub-Saharan Africa’s largest closed canopy forests, will contribute to maintaining nature-based assets worth an estimated $1.5 billion a year to the Kenyan economy.“Today we are also announcing support to the Government of Kenya, through UNEP, towards rehabilitation and restoring one of Kenya’s and East Africa’s key pieces of natural infrastructure,” said Mr. Potocnik.“The Mau forest complex is a living example of where economy and environment intersect and reflects not only our cooperative work with UNEP, but the EU’s overall vision for a sustainable 21st century at home and abroad,” he added. Mr. Steiner said: “The Government of Kenya has embarked on a remarkable transformation of its economy in which renewable energy and improved management of its nature-based assets are at the core of its sustainable, 2030 Vision, development path.“Realizing that vision however requires the support of committed partners – and I would like to thank the Environment Commissioner for the EC’s commitment in the UNEP-Kenya partnership in support of conserving and restoring Kenya’s vital water towers,” added Mr. Steiner. read more