United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on world leaders on Aug. 31 to take urgent action to combat climate change for the sake of "the future of humanity." Ban, on a tour of Svalbard, the remote Norwegian-controlled Arctic archipelago, said the region might have no ice within 30 years if present climate trends persisted, Reuters reported. He is trying to drum up support for a comprehensive accord to limit emissions of greenhouse gases at a U.N. summit in Copenhagen in December. The accord will be a successor to the Kyoto Protocol which expires in 2012. Ban said he wants leaders "to agree a global deal that is comprehensive, equitable and balanced for the future of humanity and the future of planet Earth."

The top UN envoy to Afghanistan has urged the entire nation to join an ambitious three-week-long peace campaign, which kicked off today when Afghan celebrities, UN staff and civil society representatives held hands at simultaneous events in cities throughout the country. The ‘What Are You Doing for Peace in Afghanistan?' campaign runs until International Peace Day on 21 September and features numerous initiatives by individual citizens and groups, as well as a polio immunization drive that aims to reach millions of children in some of the most insecure areas in the country. "I call on all to take part in this campaign for peace," said Kai Eide, the Secretary-General's Special Representative and head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).

The indigenous peoples of the Chaco region of neighboring Bolivia and Paraguay are often trapped into forced labor practices and face discrimination, severe poverty and in some cases systematic violence, the United Nations reported Aug. 31, calling on the two countries to take urgent action to protect those groups' human rights. The UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues voiced grave concern today as it released the reports from the recent visits to Bolivia and Paraguay of a mission comprising Permanent Forum members as well as experts from a series of UN agencies and departments.

Representatives of dozens of countries have gathered Sept. 2 at UN Headquarters in New York for the start of a three-day meeting to map out practical ways to strengthen the rights of the world's estimated 650 million persons with disabilities. The Conference of States Parties to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities will focus on improving rights through national laws and other measures at the country level. The Convention, which entered into force in May last year, asserts the rights to education, health, work, adequate living conditions, freedom of movement, freedom from exploitation and equal recognition before the law for persons with disabilities. So far 142 countries have signed the treaty and 66 have ratified it.

A United Nations human rights expert Aug. 31 condemned the massacre of 12 indigenous people, including seven children, in southern Colombia and voiced concern about an apparent wave of deadly attacks this year against indigenous peoples in that region of the South American country. Unidentified gunmen opened fire on a house in an indigenous reservation in Colombia's Narino department early last week. The victims, from the ethnic Awa group, included seven children and some of their parents. At least three others were injured. James Anaya, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people, issued a statement in Geneva expressing his outrage about the attacks. Anaya said at least 38 Awa have been killed in Colombia so far this year and urged the country's authorities to step up their efforts to protect the rights of the indigenous group.

Some 91 countries have agreed to the final text of a United Nations-brokered treaty aimed at combating illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) announced. The first ever global pact, which intends to block illicit fish catches from entering international markets, focuses on ending such violations as fishing without a license, using illegal gear, disregarding fishing seasons, catching prohibited or undersized species, and fishing in closed areas. "By frustrating responsible management, IUU fishing damages the productivity of fisheries, or leads to their collapse," said FAO Assistant-Director General for Fisheries and Aquaculture, Ichiro Nomura.

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