Entries in United Nations (142)


UN to Investigate Possible Chemical Weapons Use in Syria

ABC News(ALEPPO, Syria) -- U.S. officials do not believe that chemical weapons were used in Tuesday's attack in Aleppo, Syria.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon announced on Thursday that the U.N. will investigate possible use of chemical weapons in the Syrian conflict. The announcement was welcomed by U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, who said that the governing body should investigate "any and all credible allegations of the possible use of chemical weapons in Syria."

Syria is one of few countries who have not signed the Chemical Weapons Convention's agreement, which internationally bans use of chemical weapons. According to BBC News, Syria is believed to have large stockpiles of mustard gas and other chemical weapons.

The U.S. officials said that while nothing was certain, Tuesday's attack likely did not include use of any chemical warfare. However, tear gas or other chemical agents not categorized as chemical weapons could have been used, according to the officials.

At least one report said that Syrian rebels believed the agent to be Echothiphate, a chemical agent in insecticides. Echothiphate is not categorized as a chemical weapon.

"President Obama has been clear that the use or transfer of chemical weapons is totally unacceptable. If Bashar Al-Assad and those under his command make the mistake of using chemical weapons, or fail to meet their obligation to secure them, then there will be consequences. Those responsible will be held accountable," Rice said in her statement.

In addition to the Tuesday attack, rebels accuse the government of carrying out another attack involving chemical weapons near Damascus. There have been no verified instances of chemical weapon use in the two year conflict.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


UN Group Says Syria Using Militia to Incite Sectarian Warfare

JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images(GENEVA) -- A United Nations inquiry team has charged that the Syrian government is staging sectarian warfare by utilizing local militias called Popular Committees.

In a statement Monday, commission head Paulo Pinheiro declared, "Mass killings allegedly perpetrated by Popular Committees have at times taken on sectarian overtones."

Generally, President Bashar al-Assad's regime has allegedly used Shabbiha militias to commit various atrocities against civilians as the two-year war widens.

However, in its latest report to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, the inquiry team said the Popular Committee is different by mirroring "the ethnic, religious and class composition of the neighborhoods they protect."

Commission member Vitit Muntarbhorn added, "Some groups are exercising…civilian authority without due process of law, stressing that while the commission has listed 20 full-out massacres carried out by both sides, there have been “hundreds and hundreds of unlawful killings."

Since the U.N. cannot directly contact anyone in Damascus because of a news blackout, the inquiry team relied on testimonies from more than 1,500 refugees and exiles to compile its latest report.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Syrian Rebels Detain Twenty UN Peacekepers

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(JAMLAH, Syria) -- Twenty U.N. peacekeepers on the Syrian side of Golan Heights have been detained by a group of armed rebel fighters, the United Nations said today.

A spokeswoman for Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said in a statement that the observers -- reportedly from the Philippines -- were on a regular supply mission and were stopped near an observation post that had been damaged during heavy fighting in the nearby village of Jamlah.

The U.N. convoy was taken by a group known as the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade. The group says they will hold the observers until the Syrian army withdraws from the outskirts of Jamlah.

"If no withdrawal is made within 24 hours we will treat them as prisoners," a rebel spokesman said in a video posted online. The rebels have not threatened to kill the U.N. observers, and for now are treating them “as guests in our village.”

"The members of the Security Council demanded the unconditional and immediate release of all the detained U.N. peacekeepers and called upon all parties to cooperate with UNDOF in good faith to enable it to operate freely and to ensure full security of its personnel," a U.N. spokesperson said.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


UN Security Council Unanimously Condemns North Korean Nuclear Test

KIM JAE-HWAN/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- In a rare show of unanimity, the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday issued a strong statement against North Korea's detonation of an underground nuclear device, thus setting the stage for yet another round of sanctions against President Kim Jong-Un's government.

China, considered North Korea's most supportive ally, joined the 14 other members in stating that Pyongyang was in "grave violation" of three U.N. resolutions when it conducted the test earlier in the day.

By promising to take "significant action" to punish North Korea for what it says was a "a clear threat to international peace and security," the Security Council is on board with Washington, which previously denounced the "highly provocative" nuclear test that occurred two months after Pyongyang launched a long-range missile -- another violation of U.N. rules.

U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice will discuss how the Security Council can toughen and add on to existing sanctions that mainly target North Korea's already-dismal economy.

However, nothing so far has convinced Pyongyang and its relatively new leader Kim to put a freeze on their rogue nuclear activities.  Up to now, North Korea is the only nation this century to have conducted underground nuclear tests.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


UN Warns of Major Food Shortages in Syria

BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The growing humanitarian crisis in Syria resulting from the two-year civil war now includes dramatic food shortages and steep price increases on everyday supplies.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization warned on Wednesday that Syria’s farming sector was now in "tatters" with wheat and barley, staples of the Syrian diet, in rapidly diminishing supply.

Having seen the devastation firsthand, FAO Director of Emergencies Dominique Burgeon said, "I was very saddened by the situation.  The mission was struck by the plight of the Syrian people."

Much of the warfare between government and rebel forces has taken place in Syria's northern agricultural belt near the major cities of Aleppo and Idlib.  With opposition fighters cutting off supply routes, city residents have been particularly susceptible to food shortages.

Meanwhile, the conflict has also jeopardized the livelihoods of many of the tens of millions of Syrians whose jobs are tied to agriculture industry.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


UN Puts Death Toll from Syrian Conflict at 60,000

BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The United Nations high commissioner for human rights announced on Wednesday that the death toll from the conflict in Syria that began in March 2011 now exceeds 60,000 victims.

This represents a huge increase in killings from a report issued by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights earlier this week that put the death toll from 22 months of fighting at 45,000.

U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay called his organization's casualty count "truly shocking" and heaped most of the blame on President Bashar al-Assad for what started as a crackdown on groups calling for democracy in Syria that evolved into a full-scale, sectarian civil war.

Pillay said the U.N. conducted an "exhaustive analysis" of the violence based on seven data sets, putting the number of dead at around 59,650 as of the end of November 2012.  He indicated that the escalating hostilities last month certainly pushed the death toll well past 60,000.

Three cities alone -- Homs, Damascus and Idlib -- accounted for about half of those killed in the nearly two-year-long battle for control of Syria.

Pillay said he was concerned the death toll will grow much higher if there is no resolution to the crisis that major foreign powers seem powerless to stop.

However, the U.N. official was not letting them off the hook, lamenting, "The failure of the international community, in particular the Security Council, to take concrete actions to stop the bloodletting, shames us all."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Reports Calls Conflict in Syria Mostly Sectarian

Scott Peterson/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Sectarian violence now dominates Syria 21 months after President Bashar al-Assad began cracking down on activists supporting democratic reform.

A report released by a committee from the United Nations Human Rights Council claims that the conflict has spun so far out of control since March 2011 that it is now "overtly sectarian in nature."

Speaking for the panel, human rights investigator Paulo Pinheiro alleged that non-stop warfare between al-Assad's military and rebel forces has compelled entire communities to take up arms.  In many cases, groups that weren't even involved in the initial conflict have formed their own militias.

According to the report, "Feeling threatened and under attack, ethnic and religious minority groups have increasingly aligned themselves with parties to the conflict, deepening sectarian divides."

The sectarian groups mainly involved in the fighting are the minority Alawite sect, which sides with al-Assad, and its direct opponent, the Sunni Muslim majority.  However, Armenians, Christians, Druze, Palestinians, Kurds and Turkmens are now involved, whether willingly or not.

Further complicating the situation are foreign fighters from neighboring Middle Eastern and North African nations who mostly support the rebel Free Syrian Army while the militant Islamic group Hezzbolah has provided soldiers from Lebanon to assist al-Assad.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


UN Urges $1.5 Billion in Humanitarian Aid for Syria

BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Syria needs $1.5 billion more in humanitarian aid, the United Nations said Wednesday, as the number of refugees fleeing violence is expected to swell to one million by mid-2013.

Since President Bashar al-Assad unleashed his military on opposition forces in March 2011, an estimated 40,000 people have died in the conflict, with over 500,000 seeking safe havens in other countries, including Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.

According to Panos Moumtzis, the United Nations regional coordinator for Syrian refugees, if assistance from the international community does not arrive immediately, "we will not be able to fully respond to the lifesaving needs of civilians who flee Syria every hour of the day, many in a truly desperate condition."

Roughly two-thirds of the $1.5 billion sought by the U.N. would directly benefit Syrian refugees, while the remainder is earmarked for as many as four million people still in the country who are directly affected by escalating violence between al-Assad's military and rebel fighters.

Attempting to put the scope of the humanitarian crisis into perspective, Radhouane Nouicer, United Nations coordinator of humanitarian aid, said the non-stop fighting means there are virtually no places left in Syria where people can find safety.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


‘Most Dangerous City in World’ Showing Hopeful Signs

The Times/Gallo Images/Getty Images(MOGADISHU, Somalia) -- The battle-scarred capital of Somalia has long been called the “most dangerous city in the world,” but after more than two decades of war and lawlessness, there is evidence it might finally be able to shed that ominous title.

For the first time, the leaders of U.N. humanitarian agencies felt it was relatively safe enough to gather in Mogadishu with journalists and local government leaders for the public launch Tuesday of the annual appeal for donor support.  The location was meant to stress the country’s fragile progress as they present crisis-weary donors with a bold new funding request to further expand programs beyond emergency life-saving assistance.

“I think a lot of people are optimistic about Somalia’s future right now.  This is the time to invest and not to walk away.  Somalia is not in a situation where we can safely believe that tomorrow is for sure going to be a better day,” said Justin Brady, head of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Somalia.

For operations in 2013, U.N. humanitarian officials in Somalia are asking international donors for a collective $1.3 billion, and for the first time they are asking for a commitment beyond the next budget year.  They want donors to commit to a three-year strategy to enable 177 U.N. agencies and partnering groups to reach nearly half of Somalia’s population with coordinated programs to build resilience in a country with a history of chronic conflict and recurring droughts.

“We cannot just wait for another crisis, because it will come, and we have to be prepared for that.  And nowadays we can be prepared for that,” said Stefano Porretti, head of the U.N. World Food Programme Somalia and current U.N. Somalia Humanitarian Coordinator.  “I am convinced that we are at a critical time in the history of Somalia.”

More than two million Somalis are still living in crisis and dependent on humanitarian aid to survive, according to a recent report by the U.N. Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit.  That’s down from the peak of four million during last year’s famine, and progress is being seen on other fronts.

Within just the last few months, regional African forces in Somalia managed to push the Islamist militant group Al Shabab out of all major towns.  For years, the al Qaeda affiliate implemented a cruel form of strict Sharia law across much of the country and banned aid agencies during last year’s devastating famine.

A joint international naval mission to improve security in the waters off the Horn of Africa has nearly put Somalia’s 21st century pirates of business.  And the country’s corrupt and inept transitional government was replaced by a new parliament, which then peacefully elected a new president.

At the launch of the three-year U.N. funding appeal for Somalia, Ministry of Interior Adulkarim Hussein Guled promised this government will do better.

“We are ready and committed to assist and facilitate the humanitarian organizations to do their work in a better way.  We will never accept the humanitarian assistance to go directly in the wrong hands.  We need that help to go directly to the needy people,” Guled said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Palestine Wins 'Observer State Status' at U.N. over US Objections

John Moore/Getty Images(UNITED NATIONS) -- The United Nations has voted to move Palestine a small step closer to statehood. Despite opposition from the United States and Israel,  an overwhelming majority of UN member states Thursday approved a resolution giving Palestine non-member observer state status in the assembly, an upgrade that falls short of full UN membership.

For the resolution's passage, 138 voted in favor, nine voted against, and 41 UN members abstained from voting.

The resolution's supporters saw its passage as a step toward a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine.  However, the U.S. joined with Israel to vote against the measure. Immediately after the resolution was passed, U.S. and Israeli leadership explained their "no" votes.  

"This is a meaningless decision that will not change anything on the ground. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made it clear that there will be no establishment of a Palestinian state without a settlement that ensures the security of Israel's citizens," Netanyahu's office said in a statement after the vote.

The statement continued, saying that Netanyahu "will not allow a base for Iranian terrorism to be established in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank], in addition to those that have [already] been  established in Gaza and Lebanon."

Prime Minister Netanyahu believes peace between Jerusalem and Ramallah can only be achieved through direct negotiations "and not in one-sided UN decisions," and that "by going to the UN, the Palestinians have violated the agreements with Israel and Israel will react accordingly," the statement said.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the vote "unfortunate" in a speech she was giving on foreign policy in the U.S.

Ambassador Susan Rice agreed, adding that the move was counterproductive to the peace process.

"Today's unfortunate and counterproductive resolution places further obstacles in the path to peace. That is why the United States voted against it," Rice said Thursday.

Rice warned that Thursday's vote should not be seen as a constitution of eligibility for UN membership.

"This resolution does not establish that Palestine is a state," she said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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