The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's UN briefing by U.N. Spokesperson Yusuf Hassan --excluding question and answer session).
** Yusuf Hassan, UN Spokesperson
Human rights day 2001, traditionally celebrated on 10 December has special meaning this year, as it falls on the same day that the United Nations and Secretary General Kofi Annan receive the Nobel Peace Prize.
In his message for the day, Mr. Annan stresses that "in today's interconnected world, where conflict in one country can have repercussions for another far away, the world community must keep in mind the lesson that widespread human rights violations in any country are a danger signal. As we unite to take action against terrorism, let us remember that the human rights we are defending are universal."
Mary Robinson, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that this year's observance of the day is taking place in the context of "worrying times" for the promotion and protection of human rights. Speaking in particular about Afghanistan, she expressed concern about measures being taken "very understandably and very rightly, to combat terrorism, but in doing so possibly eroding human rights and longstanding liberties, and even aspects of the rule of law."
Mrs. Robinson stressed that one of her office's priorities in Afghanistan was working with other UN colleagues to prepare for Afghanistan's reconstruction and 'putting strong emphasis on human rights." "There are many acute human rights concerns in Afghanistan, starting with the very serious humanitarian situation which was there before 11th September and was not getting adequate attention."
The security situation in Mazar is relatively ok. UN staff will on Tuesday travel from Termez to Mazar. From tomorrow, up to five UN staff members will be stationed in Mazar. With the security improving in Mazar and other areas in the north, it should be possible for our NGO partners to access most of the people in need in the hunger belt. An estimated 3 million people in the northern provinces are dependent on food assistance.
The UN is preparing to resume flights from Islamabad to Mazar. There will be two flights a week. The first UN flight is expected to leave for Mazar on Wednesday. The return of international staff to Mazar will give UN agencies a greater capacity to assess the situation and deliver urgently need assistance.
The UN is fully operational in Herat, western Afghanistan. We now have 23 international staff there, who together with a range of international and national NGOS, have began providing aid to the more than 350,000 internally displaced people in camps in and around Herat.
During the weekend, more UN winter relief assistance from Iran and Turkmenistan reached Herat, Badghis and Faryab provinces. An estimated 20-thousand internally displaced women and children in the Maslakh camp near Herat, are expected to attend UNICEF-supported clinics this winter.
Two more vital corridors to ferry in urgently need humanitarian supplies in to northern Afghanistan re-opened during the weekend. On Saturday, Tajikistan opened the Nijni Pyandj - Shirkan Bandar River crossing between Tajikistan and Afghanistan, and on Sunday, Uzbekistan allowed access across the so-called Friendship bridge, which links Termez to the northern Afghan town of Hairaton. WFP, UNHCR and UNICEF have already began moving supplies stored in Termez to Hairaton.
WFP is trying to provide food aid to over 350,000 internally displaced people in the northern provinces. At the weekend, the UN food agency sent 437 tonnes of food to Kunduz sufficient for more than 50,000 people. This is the first time that these IDPs have had food aid since September. UNHCR is preparing to deliver aid for up to 65,000 vulnerable people in the Mazar area.
Today, WFP finished dispatching 30,000 tons of food to be distributed in Hazarajat in the Central Highlands by NGO partners. UNICEF and OXFAM are working together to distribute winter clothes, shoes and blankets for some 3-thousand Hazara children mainly in Bamiyan, Yakawlang and Panjao. In this region, as elsewhere in Afghanistan where temperatures are dropping and will keep dropping, UNICEF wants to be sure that the most vulnerable children are able to keep warm in the coming months.
The overall security situation in Afghanistan continues to be complicated by reports of rising common criminal activity, looting and highway robberies in the east and parts of the north-west. Furthermore, snow and winter conditions continue to pose logistical problems in the northeast region of Afghanistan.