News in Brief 22 November 2017 – Geneva (AM)

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Ratko Mladic, former commander of the Bosnian Serb Army, at his trial judgement at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. Photo: ICTY

War crimes verdict hailed for Mladic, the "epitome of evil"

The conviction on Wednesday of Ratko Mladic for genocide following his role in the Srebrenica massacre has been welcomed by UN Human Rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, who described the former general as "the epitome of evil".

The verdict against Mladic, a commander in the Bosnian Serb army, was handed down by judge Alphons Orie from the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY):

"The crimes committed rank among the most heinous known to humankind and include genocide and extermination as a crime against humanity."

The 74–year-old defendant was on trial in the Hague for his involvement in the killing of thousands of Bosnian Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica in 1995.

Mladic was also condemned for his part in the Bosnian-Serb's siege of Sarajevo, in which many more thousands of civilians died in the early 1990s, during the Bosnian war.

In a statement, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights wrote that Mladic had presided over "some of the darkest crimes" in Europe since the Second World War.

Although the verdict against him might be little comfort to victims' families, Zeid added that he hoped it would stand as a warning to perpetrators of similar crimes that they would not escape justice either.

Adopt a "common line", UN negotiator appeals to Syrian opposition

Syrian opposition groups meeting in Saudi Arabia should do all they can to unify ahead of fresh peace talks in Geneva, UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura said on Wednesday.

The veteran negotiator was speaking in the Saudi capital Riyadh, at a meeting involving the principal opponents of forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Al Assad.

After welcoming the "wide spectrum" of representation at the Saudi meeting, Mr de Mistura noted the "very complicated environment" in which it was taking place – a reference to the bloody war in Syria that has left hundreds of thousands dead and drawn in foreign powers.

Despite these obstacles, the UN Special Envoy called for the opposition groups to take a "common line" on their country's future.

Their actions could help shape not one but two rounds of intra-Syrian talks in Geneva, Mr de Mistura said.

The first discussions are due to begin next Tuesday, to be followed by a second session in December.

"We want to show and we want to show through you that this is the way the future of Syria can be decided," Mr de Mistura told all those gathered in Saudi Arabia.

He added that they had a chance to give "a new dynamic" to the UN's efforts to secure peace in Syria, based on Security Council Resolution 2254.

The UN text calls for the Syrian Government and opposition to engage in formal negotiations on a political transition process "on an urgent basis" – something that will be tested in Geneva when intra-Syrian talks begin on Tuesday.

In his push "for real negotiations" based on Resolution 2254, Mr de Mistura explained that once back in Switzerland for the UN talks, he would be seeking progress on a new constitution and elections supervised by the United Nations.

The aim is to produce "credible, all-inclusive, non-sectarian governance" in Syria, he said, and to address the threat of terrorism in the war-torn country.

World faces increasingly complex health challenges, says WHO chief

The world faces increasingly complex health challenges which have created a "turning point" for the World Health Organization (WHO), WHO chief Tedros Ghebreyesus said on Wednesday.

Addressing Member States six months after he took over the reins at the UN agency, Dr Tedros explained that staff were involved in 44 emergencies around the world, making the WHO more relevant than ever:

"None are simple health problems with simple solutions. All are complex issues, involving conflict, politics, civil strife and other factors. The burden of non-communicable diseases continues to grow, as multinational companies market products that are harmful to health with little or no regulation."

Other threats to global health included antimicrobial resistance that risked returning medicine "to the dark ages", Dr Tedros said, before calling for Member States to back a radical shift in the way the organization functions.

Presenting his draft plan of action to Member States for the first time, Dr Tedros said that it involved achieving the so-called "three billion" target – one billion more people with health coverage, one billion made safer and a billion lives improved.

Achieving this for the WHO's 194 Member States will involve beefing up its presence in regional offices, Dr Tedros explained, adding that he hoped to have an answer from them on his plans in the January.

Daniel Johnson, United Nations, Geneva.

Duration: 4’42″

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