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2 Aug, 2011

UNESCO Unveils Winners Of Annual Literacy Awards

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1. Marking International Friendship Day, UN Chief Urges Global Amity

2. Suppression Of Women’s Rights Persists Despite Progress On Discrimination
3. UNESCO Unveils Winners Of Annual Literacy Awards
4. UN Economic And Social Forum Ends With Calls For Action To Follow Decisions
5. UN Human Rights Body Criticizes Restrictions On Free Expression


1. Marking International Friendship Day, UN Chief Urges Global Amity

Jul 30 2011 — On the first International Day of Friendship, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today urged the global community to work together to build a peaceful, more prosperous world, where old friendships flourish and new ones are made.

“Friendship harmony tolerance mutual respect and mutual concern — these concepts are part of the Organization’s [United Nations] very fibre,” said Mr. Ban. “They inform our activities, from peacekeeping and defending human rights to our collective efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

“And they are now the focus of the International Day of Friendship, a new observance established by the General Assembly in a resolution that highlights the potential of friendship to ‘build bridges’ and ‘inspire peace efforts’,” he said.

Mr. Ban recalled that the UN Charter proclaims that one of the purposes of the UN is “to develop friendly relations among nations,” words that also appear in the preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The constitution of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), he added, also stressed the need for peace based not only on the “political and economic arrangements of Governments,” but on the “intellectual and moral solidarity of mankind.”

The Secretary-General said individual friendships brought humans face to face with diversity and different points of view, as well as joy and support, notwithstanding the tests that can encumber even the best of relationships.

“The same pillars that support sturdy personal friendships — trust, respect, mutually beneficial decision-making — also have an important place in the community of nations,” he said.

He quoted the late Woodrow Wilson, a former President of the United States, who once said: “Friendship is the only cement that will ever hold the world together.”

2. Suppression Of Women’s Rights Persists Despite Progress On Discrimination

Jul 29 2011 – The United Nations committee tasked with ensuring compliance with the global treaty to end discrimination against women today noted that there has been progress towards improving the lot of women in some countries, but discriminatory practices continued to limit their human rights.

During its 49th session, the Committee on the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) considered reports from Costa Rica, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Italy, Nepal, Republic of Korea, Singapore and Zambia.

Silvia Pimental, the chair of the CEDAW committee, told a news conference at UN Headquarters that improvements in the those countries included legal reforms aimed at ending discrimination and promoting gender equality, the implementation of policies to allow property ownership, access to health and education, greater participation in decision-making, and efforts towards ending violence against women, including female genital mutilation (FGM).

The committee is tasked with monitoring compliance to the Convention by considering reports submitted to it by the State parties to the convention.

Ms. Pimental said that the committee had also expressed its concern that in the eight countries whose reports were considered, there were still “persistence of stereotypes and conservative attitudes which have an impact on the on the advancement of women’s rights.”

The committee also noted lack of laws addressing sexual harassment in the workplace and violence against women, including marital rape.

“In some of the countries, the committee was very concerned with high maternal mortality rates and limited access to reproductive health services,” said Ms. Pimental.

Discriminatory provisions regarding marriage, inheritance, nationality and family relations remained on the statute books of many countries, she pointed out.

Ms. Pimental said the committee had noted that trafficking of women and children remained a common problem in some of the countries whose reports were under consideration, and that women and girls continued to be subjected to harmful practices, including the demand for bride price, polygamy, child marriage, abduction and rape.

Each of the countries had disadvantaged groups of women who suffered multiple forms of discrimination, she said. Limited participation of women in decision-making in business and government was also identified, she added.

The 49th session of the committee’s meeting also adopted a general recommendation on the protection of women’s human rights in conflict and post-conflict situations.

“In addition to the widely reported instances of sexual violence and mass rape in times of war, women experience widespread violation of non-derogable rights to life, torture, summary or arbitrary executions, displacement and gross violations of socio-economic rights,” said Pramila Patten, the chair of CEDAW’s Working Group on the human rights of women in armed conflict and post-conflict situations.

The proposed general recommendation will address diverse conflicts, including violations occurring in international and non-international armed conflicts, as well as in situations of extreme violence and other internal disturbances which may not necessarily be classified as armed conflict.

3. UNESCO Unveils Winners Of Annual Literacy Awards

Jul 28 2011 — Literacy programmes in Burundi, Mexico, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the United States won the 2011 International Literacy Prizes of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The awards, worth $20,000 each, will be distributed in September at International Literacy Day celebrations in New Delhi, India, the agency announced today.

UNESCO identified the winners as:

(+) The National Literacy Service of Burundi won one of two King Sejong Literacy Prizes for its approach that links functional literacy to daily life issues and to topics related to peace and tolerance.

(+) The National Institute for the Education of Adults of Mexico won the other award for its Bilingual Literacy for Life programme, which has helped reduce illiteracy rates among indigenous populations, especially women, and for improving indigenous people’s ability to exercise their rights.

(+) The US-based Room to Read shared the Confucius Prize for Literacy for a programme on promoting gender equality and literacy through local language publishing. Operating in nine countries – Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Laos, Nepal, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Viet Nam and Zambia – the programme has assisted communities in developing culturally relevant reading materials in local and minority languages.

(+) Collectif Alpha Ujuvi in the DRC also won for its programme called Peaceful Coexistence of Communities and Good Governance in North Kivu, which attempts to resolve tensions and conflicts among individuals and communities through developing literacy.

The agency said honourable mentions were also awarded to:

(+) Allah Bakhsh Malik, Secretary, Government of the Punjab, Pakistan, for leadership in the implementation of the Adult Education and Vocational Skills programme; and

(+) the City Literacy Coordinating Council, Tagum City, the Philippines, for its Peace Management Literacy and Continuing Education through its “Night Market” programme, which uses peace education activities, literacy teaching and business entrepreneurship to generate jobs for marginalized populations.

4. UN Economic And Social Forum Ends With Calls For Action to Follow Decisions

Jul 29 2011 — The President of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) today urged the implementation of decisions made at the body’s substantive session this year, which focused on the importance of education as a catalyst for the achievement of the global goals against poverty.

“We addressed issues of access to education, particularly of the girl child; the quality of education; the partnerships and financing needed; the need to ensure that education equips our youth with skills needed by our economies and the jobs markets; and we shared best practices and experiences,” said Lazarous Kapambwe, the ECOSOC President, at the end of the session in Geneva.

He said the Council also underscored that the UN system should respond fast to the needs of Least Development Countries (LDCs) and countries recovering from or in conflict, as well as middle income economies.

“We have agreed on the follow-up to the Fourth UN Conference on Least Developed Countries by adopting a resolution including the review of the implementation of the Istanbul Programme of Action in the 2015 annual ministerial review,” said Mr. Kapambwe.

He said the Council’s humanitarian affairs segment stressed the need for strong financial partnerships and fast and response capabilities.

“We took the opportunity to discuss the drought in the Horn of Africa and conflict in Somalia, as well as how we can assist in promoting dialogue on nation-building in South Sudan. On Haiti, the Council reviewed the report of its Ad Hoc Advisory Group, which includes a series of recommendations on aid effectiveness for reconstruction and long-term development,” said Mr. Kapambwe.

ECOSOC also established a new UN Committee of Experts on Global Geospatial Information Management, which he said would bring together, for the first time at the global level, government experts from all Member States to compile and disseminate best practices and experiences on geospatial information, in the context of sustainable development and humanitarian assistance.

“We have taken a number of decisions and resolutions at this session, as we always do and are expected to do, during ECOSOC’s substantive session. But it would be regrettable if our success is measured by the number of these decisions, or how good many of them are.

“The real success of this session should be determined by the extent to which we shall implement these decisions,” said Mr. Kapambwe.

Nikhil Seth, the outgoing Director of ECOSOC’s Office for Support and Coordination, said emphasis should be on monitoring the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals; improving the results of development cooperation and responding quickly to humanitarian crises.

“We must avoid, as [United Kingdom’s] former prime minister Gordon Brown cautioned, a future marked by ‘broken promises, broken dreams, broken trust’,” said Mr. Seth.

5. UN Human Rights Body Criticizes Restrictions On Free Expression

Jul 28 2011 — The United Nations Human Rights Committee has issued a commentary on freedom of expression that says anti-blasphemy laws and restrictions on criticism of governments are incompatible with existing norms and that free expression is essential for the protection of human rights, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) reported today.

The committee also said counter-terrorism measures, including laws that outlaw acts that allegedly “encourage” or “justify” terrorism, “should be clearly defined to ensure that they do not lead to an unnecessary or disproportionate interference with freedom of expression;” and laws against defamation of public officials and heads of State “should not provide for more severe penalties solely on the basis of the identity of the person that may have been impugned.”

The committee’s report, entitled “General Comment” , is an interpretation of the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which has 167 States parties. The UN Human Rights Committee is an independent body tasked with supervising compliance with the ICCPR.

“Prohibitions of displays of lack of respect for a religion or other belief system, including blasphemy laws, are incompatible with the covenant,” except in specific circumstances, it said, and States “should not prohibit criticism of institutions, such as the army or the administration.”

The committee said that so-called “memory laws,” which it defined as “laws that penalize the expression of opinions about historical facts,” are also “ incompatible with the obligations that the covenant imposes on States parties in relation to the respect for freedom of opinion and expression.”

“General Comment is a comprehensive response to numerous requests from lawmakers, judges, prosecutors, lawyers, rights defenders and even journalists asking for clarification on many of the issues covered by the rights to freedom of expression and opinion,” said committee member Michael O’Flaherty, the principal drafter of the report.

“It is a strong reaffirmation of the central importance for all human rights of the freedom of expression and sets out the very strict parameters within which the right can be restricted by States.”

“Freedom of expression is a necessary condition for the realization of the principles of transparency and accountability that are, in turn, essential for the promotion and protection of human rights,” the report said.

“States parties should put in place effective measures to protect against attacks aimed at silencing those exercising their right to freedom of expression.”