UN chief urges action to end Syria conflict, support rights

EDITH M. LEDERER
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres attends the UNHCR - Global Refugee Forum at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2019. (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP)

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Secretary-General Antonio Guterres issued “a very strong appeal” Wednesday for a political solution to Syria’s nearly nine-year conflict, and he called for a global “push-back against the push-back” on ensuring human rights.

In a wide-ranging speech and question-and-answer session with diplomats from the 193 U.N. member states, Guterres painted a gloomy picture of a world where tensions are at their highest in years, mistrust is growing, new technologies are being abused and people face “an existential climate crisis.”

Speaking at the start of the United Nations’ 75th anniversary year, he warned that those threats endanger progress in the 21st century and said “the risk of a great fracture is real.”

Guterres pointed to devastating conflicts, terrorist attacks taking “a merciless toll,” a growing “nuclear menace,” rising inequality, and war and persecution forcing more people to flee their homes than at any time since World War II.

“Disquiet and discontent are churning societies from north to south,” Guterres said. “Confidence in political establishments is going down. Young people are rising up.”

He said decision-makers “continue to fiddle” about seriously tackling climate change as “our world is edging closer to the point of no return.”

Despite enormous benefits, Guterres said, “new technologies are being abused to commit crimes, incite hate, fake information, oppress and exploit people and invade privacy.”

“Artificial intelligence is generating breathtaking capacities and alarming possibilities,” he said. “Lethal autonomous weapons — machines with the power to kill on their own, without human judgment and accountability — are bringing us into unacceptable moral and political territory.”

He called for fresh efforts to bring order “to the wild west of cyberspace.”

Guterres used the General Assembly meeting to launch a “Decade of Action” to deliver U.N. goals for 2030 that call for ending extreme poverty, preserving the environment, achieving gender equality and achieving “a fair globalization, boosting economic growth and preventing conflict.”

Today, he said, the world is “off track.”

“At present course, half a billion people will still be living in extreme poverty by 2030,” he said. “And the gender gap in economic participation would have to wait more than 250 year” to close.

Guterres said he is deeply concerned about the different ways that respect for human rights are being eroded around the world.

“There is indeed a push-back in relation to human rights,” he said. “I think the push-back that we need is a push-back against the push-back.”

He pointed to the backlash against gender equality in many countries, saying that “women’s rights are human rights and ... it’s very important to fight the backlash ... and work seriously for gender equality.”

On Syria, Guterres stressed the need to move toward ending the conflict and said the first step must be to “unlock” the work of the committee established to draft a new constitution. Its second meeting in late November ended in failure because Syria's government and opposition couldn’t agree on an agenda.

Responding to a Syrian question about support for the country's reconstruction, the secretary-general said, “The truth is that ... in the absence of a more clear visibility of a political process, many donors and probably the most important donors, be it in the Gulf, be it in the Western part of the world, will be very reluctant to support a true reconstruction process.”

“So I think we need to work together to make the political process move forward,” Guterres said, and then to exert pressure to normalize Syria’s relations with the entire international community."

  • EU summit collapses as leaders struggle to fill €75bn Brexit hole
    News
    The Guardian

    EU summit collapses as leaders struggle to fill €75bn Brexit hole

    EU summit collapses as leaders struggle to fill €75bn Brexit holeStates deeply divided over budget as big contributors reject plan for them to pay more

  • EastEnders death ‘to power the story for months and months’
    News
    PA Media: Entertainment

    EastEnders death ‘to power the story for months and months’

    There will be 'serious consequences' over the death, EastEnders boss Kate Oates said.

  • Flooding: Yorkshire village marooned in third consecutive weekend of stormy weather
    News
    The Telegraph

    Flooding: Yorkshire village marooned in third consecutive weekend of stormy weather

    A Yorkshire village has become marooned by flood water, as a third consecutive weekend of stormy weather brings further misery to already sodden communities. Horton-in-Ribblesdale was cut off by rising water on Friday night, with floods reported across the southern edge of the Yorkshire Dales. There were 75 flood warnings and 143 flood alerts in place on Saturday. Many areas have been left struggling to cope in recent weeks as England has been hit with 141 per cent of its average February rainfall so far. North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service said on Twitter: "We have two crews from Settle, Grassington and a water rescue team from Ripon in Horton-in-Ribblesdale which is currently surrounded by floodwater. "Crews are checking residents and ensuring everyone is safe. Please avoid the area and do not attempt to drive through floodwater." The service also said it had helped four people to safety from a stranded vehicle in Skipton as well as helping with flooded properties in the village of Giggleswick.

  • Footage shows Flintoff’s high-speed crash during Top Gear filming
    News
    PA Media: Entertainment

    Footage shows Flintoff’s high-speed crash during Top Gear filming

    Former presenter Richard Hammond crashed on the same airfield in 2006.

  • Gerry Adams will be Sinn Féin negotiator, leaked brief reveals
    News
    The Guardian

    Gerry Adams will be Sinn Féin negotiator, leaked brief reveals

    Gerry Adams will be Sinn Féin negotiator, leaked brief revealsParty challenged over IRA links as former leader quietly chosen to help form next government

  • Grooming gang review kept secret as Home Office claims releasing findings ‘not in public interest’
    News
    The Independent

    Grooming gang review kept secret as Home Office claims releasing findings ‘not in public interest’

    The government is refusing to release official research on the characteristics of grooming gangs, claiming it is not in the “public interest”.Survivors accused ministers of making “empty promises”, while a man who prosecuted abusers in Rochdale called for the Home Office to “show some courage and publish” its findings.

  • Coronavirus: asymptomatic Wuhan woman shows why outbreak 'will be hard to stop'
    News
    The Guardian

    Coronavirus: asymptomatic Wuhan woman shows why outbreak 'will be hard to stop'

    Coronavirus: asymptomatic Wuhan woman shows why outbreak 'will be hard to stop'. Case study of 20-year-old who infected relatives despite not showing signs of illness – and testing negative – stokes global pandemic fears

  • The Masked Singer's Nicola Roberts wants Girls Aloud reunion for 20th anniversary
    News
    Digital Spy

    The Masked Singer's Nicola Roberts wants Girls Aloud reunion for 20th anniversary

    Girls Aloud will soon be marking 20 years since 'Sound of the Underground'.

  • 'Don't play with me, 'cause you're playing with fire': Trump adopts ominous new walk-on music after vowing impeachment revenge
    News
    The Independent

    'Don't play with me, 'cause you're playing with fire': Trump adopts ominous new walk-on music after vowing impeachment revenge

    They say the music is the message, and it probably doesn’t take much reading between the lines to get the meaning behind the music Donald Trump walked on stage to at his Colorado Springs rally on Thursday night.As the president stepped out in front of the crowd, The Rolling Stones’ 1965 song Play WIth Fire blasted out across the venue.

  • Blue Brexit passports to be issued from next month
    News
    The Guardian

    Blue Brexit passports to be issued from next month

    Blue Brexit passports to be issued from next month. Redesign proves as divisive as EU referendum, with one former MP calling it ‘ignorant’

  • India asks Oxford museum to return ‘stolen’ 15th century statue
    News
    The Independent

    India asks Oxford museum to return ‘stolen’ 15th century statue

    The Indian government has issued a formal request for the return of a 15th century bronze idol from the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.The Guardian reports that an independent scholar’s research appears to show that the statue of the saint Tirumankau Alvar was stolen from the Sri Soundarrajaperumal temple in Tamil Nadu, where it had been photographed in 1957, and replaced with a replica.

  • Leclerc explains notebook slip in F1 testing
    News
    motor1

    Leclerc explains notebook slip in F1 testing

    Charles Leclerc has explained his new note-taking approach after a spy shot of his notepad emerged on social media on Wednesday.

  • Damilola Taylor's killer back behind bars after driving car at female police officer
    News
    Yahoo News UK

    Damilola Taylor's killer back behind bars after driving car at female police officer

    Ricky Preddie, 32, also known as Ricky Johnson, is back behind bars after pleading guilty to multiple charges at Harrow Crown Court on Thursday.

  • NHS introduces home testing to stop spread of coronavirus
    ITN

    NHS introduces home testing to stop spread of coronavirus

    In order to help combat the spread of the coronavirus in the UK, the National Health Service has started pilots of home testing where NHS staff, including nurses and paramedics, will visit people in their own homes. Professor Keith Willett, NHS strategic incident director for coronavirus, said home testing was a way to limit the spread of infection.

  • Friends reunion: Reese Witherspoon and Gwyneth Paltrow lead celebrity reactions to hit show's return
    News
    The Independent

    Friends reunion: Reese Witherspoon and Gwyneth Paltrow lead celebrity reactions to hit show's return

    Reese Witherspoon, Gwyneth Paltrow and Laura Dern are among the celebrities reacting to the news that the Friends cast will get back together in an official reunion.David Schwimmer, Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Matt LeBlanc, Lisa Kudrow, and Matthew Perry will all return for the one-off HBO special.

  • Boris Johnson Has Not Been Seen For A Week Despite Storm Dennis Floods
    News
    HuffPost UK

    Boris Johnson Has Not Been Seen For A Week Despite Storm Dennis Floods

    The prime minister has been spending part of his week at his grace-and-favour Chevening country mansion.

  • China's Xi writes thank you note to Bill Gates for virus pledge
    News
    AFP

    China's Xi writes thank you note to Bill Gates for virus pledge

    Chinese President Xi Jinping has written a letter expressing thanks to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for the organisation's "generosity" and support tackling a deadly virus epidemic, state media said Saturday.

  • Does showbiz press have Caroline Flack's 'blood on its hands'?
    News
    The Guardian

    Does showbiz press have Caroline Flack's 'blood on its hands'?

    Does showbiz press have Caroline Flack's 'blood on its hands'?Celebrities criticise media following presenter’s death but reporters describe more complicated web of relationships

  • Supermarkets rated by customers for in-store experience and value
    News
    PA Media: UK News

    Supermarkets rated by customers for in-store experience and value

    Which? said there is clear room for improvement among the biggest supermarkets.

  • London Mosque Attack Had ‘Been Brewing’, Say Leaders
    News
    HuffPost UK

    London Mosque Attack Had ‘Been Brewing’, Say Leaders

    Yousif al-Khoei said Muslims ‘have become easy targets for some sections of the media’.

  • Haftar promises to protect Libya from "Turkish invaders"
    News
    RFI

    Haftar promises to protect Libya from "Turkish invaders"

    Libya’s eastern military commander Khalifa Haftar has promised to fight Turkish forces if UN-led peace talks in Geneva break down.“We cannot sit idly by,” said Haftar, according to comments to a Russian news agency carried by Sputnik News. "The armed forces will fulfill their national and constitutional duty to protect citizens, the country’s sovereignty and borders from Turkish invaders,” added Haftar.Haftar accused Libya's Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj of using the ceasefire to transfer Syrian mercenaries, Turkish soldiers, terrorists and weapons to Tripoli. Haftar also said he supported European Union plans to use a naval mission to enforce a UN arms embargo.Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan confirmed on Friday that Syrian fighters are operating in Libya alongside a Turkish training force, according to reports from the AFP news agency. “There are also people from the Syrian National Army,” said Erdogan, referring to fighters formerly known as the Free Syrian Army.Erdogan levelled fresh accusations at Russia, saying some 2,500 mercenaries had been sent to Libya by Moscow. He said some “15,000 terrorists” were supporting Haftar.Turkey, as well as Qatar, backs the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli, which opposes Haftar who is supported by Russia, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.'More hope' in UN talksUN envoy Ghassan Salame on Thursday kicked off military negotiations between the GNA and Haftar loyalists. The GNA had shunned a second round of indirect talks following a rocket attack on a port in Tripoli. However, GNA representatives returned to negotiations following a short break, Salame told the AFP news agency.Salame optimistically described both sides in discussions as returning for fresh talks with “even more energy towards finding a deal,” referring to a military settlement as “essential”.Libya has been in conflict since the toppling of longtime leader Moamer Kadhafi in 2011, sparking fighting between armed factions vying for control of the oil-rich country.Haftar launched an offensive on Tripoli last April and made a number of quick advances, but his fighters stalled on the edge of the city. The first round of military discussions ended with no outcome earlier this month, although Salame has said there is “more hope” in these latest negotiations.

  • News
    Sky News

    Essex lorry deaths: Seven face trafficking charges in Vietnam

    Seven people in Vietnam have been charged in connection with the deaths of 39 people who were found in a lorry container in Essex, according to Vietnamese state media. The charges include organising and brokering illegal emigration for helping 67 people travel illegally from Vietnam to Europe, according to Vietnam News Agency. The 39 bodies, all believed to be Vietnamese migrants aged between 15 and 44, were found in the back of the lorry container in an industrial estate in Grays, Essex, last October.

  • German far-right party AfD accused of fuelling hate after Hanau attack
    News
    The Guardian

    German far-right party AfD accused of fuelling hate after Hanau attack

    German far-right party AfD accused of fuelling hate after Hanau attack. Leading politicians say Alternative für Deutschland should face surveillance

  • Prince Harry to host first UK event since Canada move with eco-friendly tourism launch in Edinburgh
    News
    Evening Standard

    Prince Harry to host first UK event since Canada move with eco-friendly tourism launch in Edinburgh

    The Duke of Sussex is to host his first public event in the UK since stepping down as a senior royal at a summit for sustainable tourism.Harry will travel to Edinburgh next Wednesday for the Travalyst event, which is at the start of a busy 13-day period for the duke and wife Meghan.

  • JP Morgan economists warn climate crisis is threat to human race
    News
    The Guardian

    JP Morgan economists warn climate crisis is threat to human race

    JP Morgan economists warn climate crisis is threat to human race. Leaked report for world’s major fossil fuel financier says Earth is on unsustainable trajectory