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India seeks strong UN action against groups attacking peacekeepers

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United Nations: India has demanded that the UN take strong action against groups attacking peacekeepers who are being mandated to deal with emerging new threats and take on expanded roles.

“We would like to urge the United Nations, and specially the Security Council, to ensure a mandatory inclusion in all UNPKO (UN Peacekeeping Operations) mandates of legally binding provisions for prosecuting, penalizing and neutralizing any non-governmental armed groups and armed militias causing, or threatening to cause, harm to UNPKOs,” India’s delegate Rahul Kaswan told the General Assembly Committee dealing with political matters Wednesday.

“We have been stressing at various peacekeeping debates at the UN about the new demands that have been placed on the PKOs with the changing nature of conflicts,” Kaswan said as he outlined the threats faced by peacekeepers confronting terrorists and militias in new environments.

With 7,793 Indian personnel currently serving under the UN’s blue flag in dangerous environments far different from the international and civil conflicts the PKOs were designed for, India has been concerned for their safety.

In May, an Indian Colonel serving in South Sudan was injured when a compound with refugees protected by Indian peacekeepers was caught in a crossfire. Five Indian peacekeepers were killed in 2013 in two separate attacks by rebels on refugee camps they were protecting in that country.

In 2010, three Indian peacekeepers were killed in attacks by rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and in 2012 three were hacked to death.

Kaswan, a Bharatiya Janata Party member of the Lok Sabha representing Churu in Rajasthan, is among parliamentarians representing India at the UN.

He raised another issue of concern to India where the UN Security Council mixes traditional PKOs with a new type of active intervention by other troops.

He referred to the added risks from the Security Council mandating so-called UN Force Intervention Brigades to carry out offensive operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo, alongside the peacekeepers, of whom 4,000 are Indians.

Even as the Security Council added to the role of the PKOs, the resources and finances didn’t match the responsibilities, he said.

“There is an urgent need to offset the mismatch between the requirement of the resources and the actual allocated resources,” he added.

Kaswan said that emphasis should be placed on finding political solutions to conflicts give the resource constraints.

He brought up the payment for peacekeepers and said that the General Assembly had fixed a new rate since last year of $1,322 per person per month even though the Troop Cost Survey had recommended $1,762.55.

Kaswan crticised “the opaque manner in which the Security Council continues to mandate peace operations, without any accountability or transparency”, and reiterated India’s demand that it hold proper consultations with troops contributing countries as required under the UN Charter.

India is historically the largest troop contributor to UN operations, having sent 185,000 troops to serve in 48 of the 69 missions mandated so far, he said.

Referring to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s offer to increase troop contribution by ten percent and send three police units with a high proportion of women, Kaswan said it was a sign that “India is willing to walk the talk when it comes to supporting UN peace operations.”

(By Arul Louis,IANS)

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UNAIDS : World Is At A “Defining Moment” In A Battle Against HIV/AIDS

36.7 million people globally are living with HIV

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Michel Sidibe, Executive Director of Joint UN Program on HIV/AIDS, speaks during a news conference, Sept. 25, 2014.
Michel Sidibe, Executive Director of Joint UN Program on HIV/AIDS, speaks during a news conference, Sept. 25, 2014., VOA

The head of UNAIDS says the global community is at a “defining moment” in the effort to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic by 2030.

“This midpoint is important for us to reflect on what was not working,” Michel Sidibe told VOA, noting this year marks the halfway point to agreed global targets. “It’s about how to deal with vulnerable communities, fragile society.”

According to 2016 data, 36.7 million people globally are living with HIV. There were nearly 2 million new infections and 1 million AIDS-related deaths.

But the good news is there has been success in expanding access to critical anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs), which reached nearly 21 million people in 2016, leading to a reduction by one-third in global AIDS-related deaths.

Eliminating mother-to-child HIV transmission through childbirth and breast-feeding also has become a real possibility by 2030. This was considered a dream just a few years ago, Sidibe said.

“Today, we are seeing after six years that we reduced by almost 61 percent the infection among children — the transmission from mother to child,” Sidibe said. “But we still have 39 percent of babies born with HIV. We want to stop that and we are working very closely with countries who are lagging behind to make sure we have a catch-up plan.”

Scientist Professor Salim Abdool Karim, a South African epidemiologist and infectious diseases specialist, and one of the conveners of the march leads people during the 'March for Science' in Durban on April 14, 2018.
Scientist Professor Salim Abdool Karim, a South African epidemiologist and infectious diseases specialist, and one of the conveners of the march leads people during the ‘March for Science’ in Durban on April 14, 2018. VOA

Know your HIV status

The UNAIDS executive director says one of the most critical factors in ending the epidemic is making sure people are tested and know their HIV status. This requires lifting taboos and making testing more widely available.

“We need to reduce the price of self-testing; we need to go to community levels, family levels, to reach people where they are,” he said. “The family-centered approach and also community-based approach will become central to what we will do in the future, if we want to reach those millions of people who don’t know their status.”

A recent United Nations report on the AIDS response found that at the end of 2016, some 70 percent of people living with HIV knew their status, and 77 percent of them were accessing ARV therapy. Once on those treatments, 82 percent had suppressed the virus to undetectable levels in their systems. That is not a cure. HIV still remains in their body, but it greatly reduces the likelihood of transmission to a partner.

45-year-old Oscar Tyumre uses an HIV self-testing kit, administered by students from the University of the Witwatersrand in Hillbrow, Johannesburg, on March 19, 2018.
45-year-old Oscar Tyumre uses an HIV self-testing kit, administered by students from the University of the Witwatersrand in Hillbrow, Johannesburg, on March 19, 2018.
VOA

Uneven progress

While there have been significant successes, progress is uneven, especially for women and adolescent girls. This is the case in sub-Saharan Africa, where females aged 15-24 accounted for 23 percent of new infections in 2016, compared to 11 percent for their male counterparts.

Sidibe says women and young girls face unique challenges, including cultural norms, child marriage and early pregnancies.

“It’s something which we need to address at not just a peripheral level, we need to deal with poverty, to deal with violence against women, to change the laws, to make sure we give them services,” he said.

In order to stop new HIV infections, other vulnerable populations also need a scaled-up response, including intravenous drug users, sex workers and men who have sex with men.

Working with at-risk groups and spreading awareness of the importance of condoms and single-needle use for drug addicts are all crucial to the fight against HIV.

Also read:HIV Infected Smokers More likely to die of lung cancer than AIDS, Reveals Indian-origin Researcher

Next month, thousands of experts, activists and people living with HIV/AIDS will meet in Amsterdam for the International AIDS conference. Special attention will be focused on the need to reach key populations, including in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, North Africa and the Middle East, where epidemics have grown. (IANS)