World endorses UN treaty
Nearly 100 countries signed the first internationally binding global treaty against corruption at a three day UN conference in Merida, Mexico, in December. The UN Convention against Corruption now needs to be formally ratified by 30 countries to come into force.
The agreement was negotiated over nearly two years by more than 125 countries and is expected to give a boost to the global fight against corruption. It contains more than 70 articles covering topics such as bribery, embezzlement, misappropriation, money-laundering, protection of whistle-blowers and cooperation among states.
For the first time in international law, the treaty “makes a major breakthrough by requiring member states to return assets obtained through corruption to the country from which they were stolen,” said UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. “This is a particularly important issue for many developing countries where corrupt officials have plundered the national wealth.”
Corruption is considered a major impediment to development and it is estimated that hundreds of billions of dollars are lost each year in corrupt transactions. “Corruption not only distorts economic decision-making, it also deters investments, undermines competitiveness and ultimately weakens economic growth,” said UN Office on Drugs and Crime Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa.
Under the convention, signatories are required to adopt a number of measures to curb corruption, including codes of conduct and disciplinary measures for public servants and laws to criminalize bribery and money laundering. Mr. Costa said the “convention had teeth,” in that it contains many binding aspects.
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Africa faces food shortages
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported in December that 23 sub-Saharan African countries face food shortages in 2004. The causes range from continuing droughts in Somalia and other countries, including parts of Ethiopia and Tanzania, to civil conflict and its aftermath in Côte d'Ivoire, Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola.
In Eritrea, despite improved weather conditions, an estimated 1.4 million people are expected to require emergency aid. As many as 5.5 million Zimbabweans, or about half the population, will need food aid due to shortages of seeds, fertilizers and fuel caused by the country's economic difficulties and the government's controversial land reform programme. Despite good harvests and the end of a long civil war in Angola, some 1.4 million returning refugees and internally displaced people will require assistance until they are resettled and can resume food production.
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Ethiopia awaits artefact's return
The Italian government is finally sending back to Ethiopia a 1,700-year-old obelisk that was looted from the ancient city of Axum during the 1930s by Italian soldiers. For Ethiopians, the return of the 24-metre-high granite structure, scheduled for early 2004, is long overdue. They have been campaigning for its return since a 1947 UN peace treaty between Ethiopia and Italy mandated that the obelisk, along with other articles looted from Ethiopia after October 1935, be sent back.
The move reflects increasing pressure on former colonial nations to return artworks they took from their former colonies. European museums are filled with such treasures. “This may be a starting point, really, for returning the cultural heritages of many countries,” says Ethiopian Ambassador to Italy Mengistu Hulluka. “What has been the thinking in the past is no longer a reflection of the present.”
Promises to keep
In his New Year's message to the peoples of the world, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan affirmed his commitment to combating terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, but called on global leaders not to lose sight of a greater challenge, the war on poverty. “Without development and hope,” he noted, “there will be no peace.” Following are excerpts from his message:
Just over three years ago, at the Millennium Summit, leaders of all nations pledged to provide that hope. They set themselves precise, time-bound targets — the Millennium Development Goals. To meet these goals would cost only a fraction of what our world spends on weapons of war. Yet it would bring hope to billions, and greater security to us all. But in 2003 we did not live up to these promises. We let ourselves be swept along by the tide of war and division.
2004 must be different. It must be the year when we begin to turn the tide. We can turn the tide against HIV/AIDS, if we act on the “three-by-five” initiative — the World Health Organization's plan to get 3 million people on anti-retroviral treatment by 2005. It's a bold target, but it can be met — if rich countries, poor and afflicted countries, governments, civil society, the private sector, and the United Nations system all pull together — and if the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria is fully funded.
We can turn the tide against hunger, if we all work together to make existing food stocks available to hungry people everywhere, and to help Africa produce the extra food it needs. And we can turn the tide in world trade, if governments do as they promised, and make the current round of negotiations a true “development round.” We don't need any more promises. We need to start keeping the promises we already made.
The UN Secretary-General has appointed Mr. Jan Egeland (right) as the new Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, effective 1 September 2003 . Mr. Egeland has 25 years of experience in humanitarian, human rights and peace work, including as secretary-general of the Norwegian Red Cross, chairman of Amnesty International in Norway and Vice Chairman of the International Executive Committee of Amnesty International. From 1999 to 2002 he was Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General on Colombia.
Mr. Daudi Ngelautwa Mwakawago has been appointed by the UN Secretary-General as his new Special Representative for Sierra Leone, effective 1 December 2003 . Mr. Mwakawago served for much of the past decade as Tanzania's permanent representative to the UN and previously held several ministerial positions in his country. In Sierra Leone, he succeeds Mr. Oluyemi Adeniji, who was recently appointed Nigeria's minister for foreign affairs.