Following a request from the Chilean government for assistance in the wake of Saturday’s devastating earthquake, the U.N. and Member States are assisting the South American nation to assess the damage wrought and help people in need. The 8.8-magnitude earthquake occurred in the early hours of the morning on Feb. 27, and has claimed more than 700 lives, according to government officials, with the death toll expected to climb as communications are restored to the most affected areas. Authorities in Chile have issued a request for supplies, including mobile bridges, satellite telephones, electric generators, water purification systems and dialysis centers. For its part, the U.N. is sending dozens of satellite telephones to Chile from New York and Geneva, said Alicia Barcena, Executive-Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). The U.N. World Food Program (WFP) has offered 30 tons of food support, which is ready to be transported to Chile from nearby Ecuador.

The Somalian Islamist militia al-Shabaab has ordered the U.N. World Food Program to halt all operations and leave the country. The WFP reports that convoys carrying food for more than 360,000 refugees in camps near Afgoye have been stopped by militiamen. The camps in Afgoye, just west of the capital, have the largest concentration of refugees in the country. Al-Shabaab says the WFP is competing with Somalian farmers who reportedly cannot get a fair price for their products because of the large foreign shipments of free food, Radio Netherlands reports. The militia also says many people have fallen ill after eating expired food distributed by the WFP. Somalia has been in the grip of widespread malnutrition for a number of years. The WFP ended its operations in much of the south of the country in January after attacks by insurgents.

The top U.N. human rights official said March 1 that the economic and financial crises have exposed existing violations and increased the number of victims of abuse and hardship. “The financial and economic downturns – together with food shortages, climate-related catastrophes and continuing violence – have shattered complacent or over-optimistic notions of expanding security, prosperity, safety and the enjoyment of freedoms by all,” High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said in her opening statement to the 13th session of the Human Rights Council, which runs until March 26. She recalled that she addressed the Council for the first time last year against the background of worsening financial and economic crises. “These sudden and cascading upheavals exposed and exacerbated existing violations of human rights. They also widened the areas and increased the number of victims of abuse and hardship,” she noted.

The head of the U.N.-backed panel tasked with preparing regular scientific reports on the impact of climate change has announced the establishment of an independent review body to ensure that its procedures for producing assessments are closely followed, amid growing attacks from global warming skeptics. The measure comes after the disclosure that the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which confirmed that global warming is man-made, contained an error over the rate at which the Himalayan glaciers would melt. “We stand firmly behind the rigor and robustness of the Fourth Assessment Report’s conclusions, and are encouraged by the support demonstrated recently by scientists and governments around the world,” said IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri.

Thousands of migrant workers from Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar face possible deportation from Thailand unless they registered their nationality this past weekend. Under a nationality verification (NV) scheme, migrants had to register by Feb. 28 for their work permits to be extended. The government says the process will give migrant workers legal status and better protect them from exploitative labor practices, including human trafficking and other rights violations. However, officials admit that just 500,000 people have applied to take part in the NV process so far. And with threats of immediate deportation for those who do not comply, rights activists are worried. “We support the policy as a concept, but the way in which that concept has been applied is simply terrible,” said Andy Hall, director of the Migrant Justice Program at the Human Rights and Development Foundation. (U.N. News Service)

Two independent U.N. experts March 1 urged the leaders and government of Uganda to prevent an anti-homosexuality bill from becoming law, stressing that it would be in breach of fundamental freedoms and human rights. The bill “would also criminalize the legitimate activities of men and women, as well as national and international organizations, who strive for the respect for equality and non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation,” said Margaret Sekaggya and Frank La Rue. Sekaggya, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, and La Rue, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, issued their statement ahead of the third and final reading of the bill before the Ugandan Parliament. In addition to a fine, the bill would impose on an offender imprisonment of at least five years, and in the case of an NGO, the canceling of its certificate of registration and criminal liability for its director.

About the author