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Public hearings start at UN World Court on Kosovo independence question

Peace Palace in the Hague1 December 2009 – The International Court of Justice (ICJ), the United Nations’ principal judicial organ, today began public hearings on the question of Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia early last year.

Thirty UN Member States and the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government (PISG) of Kosovo, which authored the declaration of independence from Serbia in February 2008, are scheduled to speak during the hearings, which will run until 11 December.

Both Serbia and the PISG are slated to address the ICJ today.

In October 2008 the General Assembly voted to request the ICJ to give an advisory opinion on the legality of the move by Kosovo, where ethnic Albanians outnumber Serbs and other minorities by about nine to one.

The ICJ, also known as the World Court, is tasked with settling legal disputes between UN Member States and with giving advisory opinions on legal questions. It is based in The Hague in the Netherlands.

UN issues new guidelines for earlier start to treatment of HIV/AIDS

A health worker counselling women about HIV/AIDS treatment30 November 2009 – On the eve of World AIDS Day, the United Nations today issued new recommendations for fighting the pandemic, calling for an earlier start to treatment for adults and adolescents, as well as urging HIV-positive mothers and their infants to take antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) while breastfeeding to prevent transmission.

“These new recommendations are based on the most up to date, available data,” said Hiroki Nakatani, Assistant Director General for HIV/AIDS, TB, Malaria and Neglected Tropical Diseases at the UN World Health Organization (WHO). “Their widespread adoption will enable many more people in high-burden areas to live longer and healthier lives.”

But the main challenge lies in increasing treatment in resource-limited countries, where expansion of antiretroviral therapy (ART) is hindered by weak infrastructure, limited human and financial resources, and poor integration of HIV-specific care within broader maternal and child health services.

An estimated 33.4 million people are living with HIV/AIDS, and there are some 2.7 million new infections each year. Globally, HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of mortality among women of reproductive age.

In 2006, WHO recommended that all patients start ART when their CD4 count (a measure of immune system strength) fell to 200 cells/mm3 or lower, at which point they typically show symptoms of HIV.

But with trials showing that starting ART earlier reduces rates of death and disease, WHO now recommends a higher threshold of 350 cells/mm3 for starting ART for all HIV-positive patients, including pregnant women, regardless of symptoms.

WHO also recommends that countries phase out the use of Stavudine, or d4T, still widely used in first-line therapy in developing countries due to its low cost and widespread availability, because of long-term irreversible side-effects. Zidovudine (AZT) or Tenofovir (TDF) are recommended as less toxic and equally effective alternatives.

The new recommendations for women and infants contrast with the guidelines of 2006, when WHO called for ARVs to be provided to HIV-positive pregnant women in the third trimester (starting at 28 weeks) to prevent mother-to-child transmission. Now, after trials, it urges starting ARVs at 14 weeks of pregnancy and continuing through the end of breastfeeding, which should last 12 months, thus reducing the risk of transmission.

“In the new recommendations, we are sending a clear message that breastfeeding is a good option for every baby, even those with HIV-positive mothers, when they have access to ARVs,” WHO’s Assistant Director General for Family and Community Health. Daisy Mafu said.

WHO noted that the recommendations will result in a greater number of people needing treatment, but said the associated costs of earlier treatment might be offset by decreased hospital costs, increased productivity due to fewer sick days, fewer children orphaned by AIDS and a drop in HIV infections.

The publications of the new guidelines coincided with the release of a UN report showing that national efforts to combat AIDS, particularly by preventing mother-to-child transmission, are showing positive results, but that many HIV and AIDS affected children still struggle to have their basic needs met.

The report – Children and AIDS: The Fourth Stocktaking Report, 2009 – published jointly by WHO, the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO), shows significant progress in some countries in both treatment to avoid mother-to-child transmission and testing of pregnant women for HIV.

Treatment to prevent mother-to-child transmission is now provided to 95 per cent of those in need in Botswana, 91 per cent in Namibia and 73 per cent in South Africa, all countries with high HIV prevalence. Progress is particularly evident in South Africa, where coverage was risen from just 15 per cent in 2004.

“Globally, 45 per cent of HIV-positive pregnant women are now receiving treatment to prevent them passing HIV on to their children, an increase of nearly 200 per cent since 2005,” UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman said. “The challenge is to scale up treatment in countries such as Nigeria,” home to 15 per cent of the world’s pregnant women living with HIV, of whom 90 per cent are not accessing treatment.

Globally paediatric treatment for HIV positive children, while still lagging behind adult treatment, has increased to cover 38 per cent, an improvement of nearly 40 per cent in just one year. Recent evidence indicates that diagnosis in the first two months of life and early ART can lead to significant reductions in mortality, but globally only 15 per cent of children born to HIV-positive mothers are being tested in the first two months.


UN News Centre

Switzerland: UN expert on religious freedom regrets outcome of vote to ban construction of minarets

Press Release

30 November 2009

GENEVA (OHCHR) -- The Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Ms. Asma Jahangir, regrets the outcome of the vote on the initiative to prohibit the construction of minarets in Switzerland.

“I have deep concerns at the negative consequences that the outcome of the vote will have on the freedom of religion or belief of members of the Muslim community in Switzerland,” Ms. Jahangir said. “Indeed, a ban on minarets amounts to an undue restriction of the freedom to manifest one’s religion and constitutes a clear discrimination against members of the Muslim community in Switzerland.”

As also stated by the United Nations Human Rights Committee a month ago, such a ban is contrary to Switzerland’s obligations under international human rights law.

“This vote reminds us that no societies are immune to religious intolerance,” stressed Ms. Jahangir, adding that “it is therefore more than ever necessary to continue raising awareness and educating people about religious diversity, enabling all societies to adopt an enlightened and progressive attitude towards the beliefs of other communities.”

“Doing so will help to eliminate the grounds for irrational fears towards Muslims. Unfortunately, these fears have been largely exploited in Switzerland for political purposes,” warned the UN expert.

The Special Rapporteur emphasized that Switzerland, which has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, must protect and ensure respect for freedom of thought, conscience and religion. “I therefore urge the Swiss authorities to abide by all its international obligations and to take the necessary measures to fully protect the right to freedom of religion or belief of members of the Muslim community,” concluded the the UN expert on religious freedom.

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Learn more about the Special Rapporteur’s madate and work:

OHCHR Country Page – Switzerland:

For more information and media requests, please contact Ms. Nathalie Rondeux (Tel.: +41 22 917 9251, e-mail: [email protected]) or write to [email protected]


Momentum for climate deal strong and growing, Ban tells Commonwealth

Climate Change27 November 2009 – The momentum for a deal at next month's United Nations climate change summit is strong and growing, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today, urging world leaders to make the extra push to achieve a firm foundation for a legally binding treaty as early as possible in 2010.

“My message to you today is simple: stay focused, stay committed, come to Copenhagen, and seal a deal,” Mr. Ban said in a keynote address to Commonwealth heads of government, at their meeting in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago.

“A deal that is ambitious, a deal that is equitable, a deal that satisfies the demands of science,” he added.

With only nine days to go, he and Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen of Denmark, which is hosting the 7 to 18 December conference, are working to get every country on board towards a new agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Some 80 world leaders have pledged to attend the summit, and more are signing up daily.

“The momentum is strong – and it continues to grow,” Mr. Ban told the gathering, which is the last international meeting before Copenhagen.

Despite several rounds of pre-summit negotiations, core issues – including mitigation targets from industrialized countries and financing to assist developing countries – remain unresolved and have dimmed the hopes of achieving a legally binding successor pact to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the emissions reduction treaty whose first commitment period expires in 2012.

Mr. Ban noted that every country, large or small, has an important role, and each week brings new commitments and pledges – from industrialized countries, emerging economies, and developing countries.

Among others, he cited the voluntary plans to significantly reduce emissions announced recently by Brazil, Indonesia and the Republic of Korea, as well as the “ambitious” pledges made by Japan, Norway and the European Union.

He called for strong commitments in five areas: ambitious mid-term mitigation targets from industrialized countries, ambitious mitigation actions by developing countries that limit the growth of their emissions to below 'business as usual,' ambitious adaptation framework for all countries, financing and technology to support developing countries with all of the above, and a transparent and equitable governance structure to manage and deploy these resources that gives all countries a voice.

Stressing that financing is key, he said that in the short term, the developed world will need to provide at least $10 billion dollars in fast-track funding annually over the next three years. This will go towards jump-starting low-emission growth in developing countries, limiting deforestation and financing immediate adaptation measures.

More substantial funding, scaled up to the needs, will be needed over the medium term, he added.

“An agreement in Copenhagen that clearly addresses these elements will be a success.”

Speaking later to journalists, Mr. Ban said he had been encouraged by what we had heard from leaders in Port of Spain, and he urged even more to attend the Copenhagen summit.


UN News Centre

Spain doubles aid for UN food operation in Horn of Africa

Horn of Africa19 November 2009 – The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) received a boost today for its emergency relief efforts feeding millions of hungry people in the Horn of Africa, with the announcement of a $112 million donation from Spain.

“This extraordinary contribution brings hope and help to the 20 million most vulnerable people that we are committed to assisting in the Horn of Africa,” said WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran.

WFP has scaled up aid efforts to people living in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia who have been struck hard by prolonged drought, recurring conflict, stubborn high food prices and the global financial crisis.

In September the agency launched an emergency appeal for almost $1 billion over the next six months, to provide millions of people throughout the region with food assistance.

“Spain has been a model partner for WFP in spearheading both the response to high food prices and now, in taking the lead on our critical appeal for the Horn of Africa,” said Ms. Sheeran.

Having already contributed over $107 million to WFP this year, the latest donation from the Spanish Government practically doubles its contribution and puts it on the agency’s list of top 10 donor nations.

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