Annan introduces new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

Mr. Vieira de Mello, who was introduced at a press conference at UN Headquarters in New York by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, told reporters that he would try to build upon the legacy of his two predecessors, Mary Robinson and José Ayala-Lasso, and to foster an integrated approach to human rights. “I’ll do my best…to transform [the issue] into what governments and non-state actors should see as bonus and not just as an onus on them, and something that is truly consubstantial with our lives and individuals and societies and not something extraneous to our lives, which it is not,” he stressed. For his part, the Secretary-General paid tribute to Mrs. Robinson, who will complete her tenure in September, and said that she had done much for the UN and the cause of human rights. “Hers is going to be a tough act to follow, but I’m sure Sergio will not let us down,” Mr. Annan said. As for his recent turn as the head of the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor, Mr. Vieira de Mello said many lessons could be extracted from an experience in which the UN was asked to build a nation out of the ashes of what was there before. All of the new democratic institutions had to be built on the basis of a very fundamental principle of “rigorous respect” for human rights, Mr. Vieira de Mello stressed. “It’s not that the UN deals with human rights in an abstract fashion, we also have a very concrete experience in building institutions that are respectful of human rights,” he said. “I believe in East Timor, we have left behind a new Government and institutions that will be paying a great deal of respect for those universal principles.” read more

UN mission deplores deadly attack against Afghan government workers

Initial reports indicate that a suicide attacker detonated a vehicle packed with explosives in the parking lot of the city’s Supreme Court building, next to three shuttle buses transporting civilian court employees to their homes in the afternoon. The Taliban have reportedly claimed responsibility. “Today’s deplorable terrorist attack in an area densely populated with Afghan civil servants was clearly intended to kill and harm as many civilians as possible,” the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), Ján Kubiš, said in a press statement. “This brutal attack against Afghan people is unacceptable and it highlights the terrible toll that the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan is exacting on civilians. I call for an immediate end to such premeditated attacks.” Also condemning today’s attack was the Security Council, which voiced its concern about the rising violence in the country. “The members of the Security Council reiterated their serious concern at the threats posed by the Taliban, Al-Qaida and illegal armed groups to the local population, national security forces, international military and international assistance efforts in Afghanistan, particularly in light of a number of recent terrorist attacks in Kabul and elsewhere in the country,” it said in a statement issued to the press.Today’s incident follows a series of attacks against Afghan judicial officials elsewhere in the country, most notably the Taliban’s attack against the provincial court in the western province of Farah in April, in which 33 civilians were killed and 105 were wounded. UNAMA emphasized in the press statement that the deliberate targeting of civilians is a violation of international humanitarian law and may amount to war crimes.At a news conference in Kabul today, Mr. Kubiš noted that the security environment for Afghan civilians has worsened this year, with a 24 per cent rise in the number of civilians killed and injured compared to the same period in 2012.“I have to note, with regret that… the situation of civilians in the country and conflict-related civilian casualties is, indeed, not going in the right direction. On the contrary, the situation has worsened,” he stated. According to UNAMA data, 3,092 civilians were killed or wounded in the Afghan conflict between 1 January and 6 June this year. Children accounted for 21 per cent of all civilian casualties, a figure that Mr. Kubiš said was “unacceptable.” “Targeting civilians is a punishable crime and people that are targeting civilians will be punished for this. And I cannot understand this, from another perspective, where is the honour in targeting civilians?” the envoy said. “I have said it several times, maybe wrongly: when you have to fight, fight. Fight the fighters. Don’t kill civilians.” Mr. Kubiš noted that anti-Government forces were responsible for 74 per cent of the civilian deaths and injuries in the 1 January-6 June period, while pro-Government forces were responsible for 9 per cent. A fuller accounting of casualties during the first six months of 2013 is expected to be released by UNAMA next month. The envoy also reported that UNAMA has received from the Taliban, the main anti-Government force in Afghanistan, “signals about their willingness and readiness” to discuss ways to protect civilians in the Afghan conflict, amongst other topics. “I welcome this,” Mr. Kubiš stated. “Now we are discussing modalities. I hope we will start this dialogue sooner rather than later.” The Special Representative, who is expected to brief the Security Council next week, also touched on preparations for the 2014 presidential election and the ongoing transition of security responsibilities from international to Afghan forces. The country’s security forces will assume full responsibility from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which is due to end its combat mission by the end of 2014. The security transition also coincides with a political transition, which Mr. Kubiš stressed must be “orderly” and “transparent” and done through an electoral process. read more