U.N. General Assembly Condemns Iran’s Human Rights Record

The United Nations (U.N.) General Assembly passed a resolution on Wednesday calling on Iran to end its ongoing human rights violations. Coming a year after Iran’s clamp down on protests, the resolution expressed “serious concern” regarding Iran’s continued “widespread and systematic use of arbitrary arrests and detention.” Sponsored by Canada, the resolution passed with a vote of 81 to 30 with 70 abstentions. In response, Iran criticized Canada’s human rights record. An official slammed the resolution as having no “legal credibility” given that Canada is a “systematic violator of human rights” (referring to the suppression of its native people), and also took aim at U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres for not mentioning the impact of the U.S. sanctions regime on the Iranian people.

 WHO Chief Calls for Urgent Steps to Contain COVID-19 as Vaccines Show Promise

Speaking on the surge of global cases in COVID-19, World Health Organization (WHO) Chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus cautioned Monday that “this is not the time for complacency.” He further added that “those countries that are letting the virus run unchecked are playing with fire.” In response to interim vaccine results showing efficacy rates above 90 percent, WHO Chief Scientist Dr. Soumya Swaminathan called the results “quite encouraging” but similarly urged caution and global solidarity, noting: “Supplies are going to be limited.  There are bilateral deals that many of the companies have done, so many of the doses have already been booked by some countries.”

 WHO Debuts Plan to Eliminate Cervical Cancer

The WHO set out a strategy on Tuesday for eliminating cervical cancer – the fourth most common cancer among women globally, and an especially deadly disease in low- and middle-income countries. WHO Director Ghebreyesus said in a statement that “eliminating any cancer would have once seemed an impossible dream, but we now have the cost-effective, evidence-based tools to make that dream a reality.” The strategy, backed by WHO Member States, aims to vaccinate 90 percent of girls by the age of 15, conduct cancer screenings for 70 percent of women by the age of 35, and treat 90 percent of women diagnosed with cervical disease. WHO Assistant Director-General Dr. Princess Nothemba Simelela noted that, “this is a big milestone in global health, because for the first time the world has agreed to eliminate the only cancer we can prevent with a vaccine and the only cancer which is curable if detected early.” Without the WHO plan, annual cases are estimated to reach 700,000, with 400,000 associated deaths, by 2030.

U.N. Secretary General Issues Dire Warning on Global Famine

Addressing the Executive Board of the World Food Programme (WFP) on Monday, U.N. Secretary General António Guterres decried the worsening global food crisis, noting that “hunger is an outrage in a world of plenty.” The U.N. Chief expressed his gratitude for the diligence of the WFP in addressing the crisis, stating that, “with human need all around, and at times with bullets and bombs shrieking through the air, you brought life-saving assistance to vulnerable people in a way that is an example for the whole world.” The U.N. Chief described the most recent WFP figures showing that 690 million people have insufficient food, and 130 million more are at risk of being pushed to the brink of starvation by the end of this year as “totally unacceptable”.

“Daunting Challenges” Remain in the Sahel Region

Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix told the U.N. Security Council Monday that, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, counterterrorism efforts in the Sahel region have “intensified.” The head of U.N. peacekeeping commented on these developments by noting that, “we welcome the increased coordination of security players on the ground…for a more visible presence of defence and security forces in the region as well as stepped-up pressure on terrorist groups.” Lacroix further stated that “the G5 Sahel Joint Force plays a critical role in the regional response to violent extremism”, and so “it is essential that it receives the assistance it requires to carry out its mandated tasks.” Addressing the road ahead, the U.N. peacekeeping chief pointed out that, “as calls for the mobilization of additional resources to support the G5 Sahel’s fight against terrorism continue, so do calls for increased mobilization to tackle poverty and the unprecedented humanitarian crisis that the region currently faces… strengthening the Joint Force is indeed only one aspect of the international community’s support.”

2021 Must See “Great Leap” Toward Carbon Neutrality, Says Secretary General

Guterres declared on Monday that “2021 must be the year of a great leap towards carbon neutrality.” The U.N. chief added that, “every country, city, financial institution and company should adopt plans for transitioning to net zero emissions by 2050.” Guterres reported that the European Union, Japan, the Republic of Korea, and more than 110 other countries have announced their pledges for achieving carbon neutrality. The U.N. Chief additionally announced that “by early 2021, countries representing more than 65 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions and more than 70 percent of the world economy are very likely to have made ambitious commitments to carbon neutrality,” further adding that “the signal this sends to markets, institutional investors and decision-makers is clear. Carbon should be given a price.  The time of fossil fuel subsidies is over.  We must phase out coal. We must shift the tax burden from income to carbon, from taxpayers to polluters.” The U.N. Chief acknowledged that the transition to carbon neutrality would be challenging, stating that, “we need a just transition, with training and assistance for those who will lose jobs or be affected in other ways.”

Image: A young girl in Rwanda receives her HPV vaccination while her classmates nervously wait their turn. Photo: UNICEF/Laurent Rusanganwa