News in Brief 22 September 2017 – Geneva (AM)

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Uruguay’s Ambassador to China Fernando Lugris, who has led efforts to promote mercury pollution reform. Photo: UN Photo

World prepares to unite on mercury pollution

The global community is set to gather in Geneva to celebrate an historic international agreement that tackles deadly mercury exposure for the first time.

Known as the Minamata Convention on Mercury – after the Japanese city that experienced the world's worst poisoning disaster from the heavy metal – the accord contains legally binding obligations for Member States.

The agreement came into force in August this year after gaining the support of 50 Member States.

The hope is that three times that number will sign up at the meeting in Geneva next week.

Here's Uruguay’s Ambassador to China Fernando Lugris,  Chair of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee of the Mercury Convention:

"This week is going to be very important, it's going to be a huge celebration. If you see two heads of state coming from the North and the South it's very important for every single country in the world. And I think the political will is going to be there to celebrate this new instrument that has been called by some the "happy instrument' because it came at a moment in history when we needed to have an important achievement and it came on the basis of consensus."

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mercury is among the 10 most lethal pollutants on the planet.

Thousands of tonnes of the element are released into the environment every year as used-batteries, lightbulbs and coal fumes.

One of the Convention's key aims is to phase out mercury use in artisanal mining, amid growing demand linked to gold production.

UNHCR rejects "safe zones" plan for Myanmar refugees

A reported proposal by Bangladesh to establish internationally monitored "safe zones" in Myanmar so that refugees can return home has been rejected by the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR.

Spokesperson Andrej Mahecic was speaking to journalists in Geneva, as Rohingya Muslims continued to flee across the border to Bangladesh from Myanmar's Rakhine state, following a security operation.

"In principle, you know, history has taught us that safe areas are seldom safe, and without the international humanitarian law safeguards in place, including the consent of the government and all of the parties, and you know the civilian character of such zones, the safety of civilians would be very hard to guarantee."

Almost 430,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled to Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh in the last three weeks, following a security operation in Myanmar's Rakhine State.

UN agencies and partners are stepping up deliveries of life-saving aid, amid concerns about the situation of desperate refugees who remain in makeshift shelters in south-eastern Bangladesh.

Missing migrants death toll passes 4,000 barrier – IOM

More than 4,000 people on the move have died so far this year around the world, the UN migration agency IOM has said.

This is the fourth year in a row that the grim milestone's been reached, as migrants search for shelter, or improved economic conditions.

Joel Millman is a spokesperson for IOM:

"This is right within the range, late summer, early fall, and we're very concerned about conditions especially in the Mediterranean in the coming months."

Mr Millman added that the agency has just learned about 122 new deaths in Sub-Saharan Africa which brings the year's total to 269, about four times the total at this point last year.

At more than 2,500 fatalities so far in 2017, the Mediterranean region is the deadliest for migrants.

This is followed by North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa and the US/Mexico border.

UN Special Rapporteur on LGBTI issues steps down

The UN's top expert on threats to sexual minorities has handed in his resignation citing personal reasons, it has been announced.

Vitit Muntarbhorn was appointed Independent Expert on sexual orientation and gender identity by the Human Rights Council a year ago, a new mandate that was not welcomed by all Member States.

Asked whether threats made to Professor Muntarbhorn might have been behind his decision to step down, Council spokesperson Rolando Gomez said that he did not believe this to be the case.

But he said that harassment of UN independent investigators was not uncommon:

"They often work under difficult circumstances and this mandate was no different. But I believe he was very undeterred with, given the surrounding controversies around the mandate itself as you will recall, the decision to create this post was met with great controversy, and strong voices against it, and some of those were directed to him personally. But I'm pretty certain and I'll have it confirmed that this was not at all the reasons why he stepped down, I believe he has other good reasons but again, I'll have to enquire and get back to you."

Professor Muntarbhorn has served on many United Nations bodies and before his latest appointment, was a key member of the Commission of Inquiry on Syria.

Daniel Johnson, United Nations.

Duration: 4’43″



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