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Korea may declare itself MERS-free in late July (Korea Times, 1 July 2015)

The government is cautiously weighing when to declare Korea free from Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). The country has not had any new cases of the disease for four consecutive days since Sunday. If the situation continues, the government may declare itself MERS-free as early as later this month, according to the Ministry of Health and Welfare. The ministry said Wednesday that there were no new cases besides the already confirmed 182. No more deaths were reported, so the fatality rate remained at 18.1 percent. Signs are becoming more evident that the outbreak is waning. Professor Eom Joong-sik at the Sacred Heart Hospital also said regional health authorities are receiving less and less requests for MERS tests.  "The team is considering declaring the country MERS-free if no case is reported for 28 days, twice the incubation period, since the last confirmation," Eom said. "We sent an inquiry about it to the World Health Organization (WHO) and if it agrees, we may be able to declare Korea free from MERS around July 25."
In case of Ebola and other infectious diseases, the WHO usually declares the end of a disease when no new cases are reported for twice the disease's incubation period.

Who Wants to Rule the World? (Straits Times, 27 June 2015)

Prior to Mr Ban Ki Moon stepping down next year, one might think that a global search is under way, perhaps using an executive search firm. One might assume that a job description has been circulated with prominent placement in the Economist magazine and elsewhere. Shortlists would then be drawn up, interview panels convened, a battery of psychometric tests administered to ensure that the best candidate possible can be identified, recruited and hired. One would be wrong on all counts. Not only is there no formal search process - but there is not even a job description. The UN Charter is vague, merely defining the position as the "chief administrative officer" of the organisation. The secretary-general is appointed by the General Assembly "upon the recommendation of the Security Council".

Ban stresses UN’s impact in past 70 years, urges States to recommit to collective security, rights (UN News Centre, 23 February 2015)

In a Security Council meeting on 23 February in which Member States reaffirmed their commitment to the United Nations Charter, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the UN was an organization with major achievements to its credit, multiple crises on its agenda, and tremendous opportunities ahead. Mr. Ban described how the world had “starkly” changed since the Charter was drafted and how those changes were reflected within the UN, with four times as many Member States and new items, such as climate change, on the international agenda. Despite those changes, the aspirations contained within the Charter remained “valid, valuable and vital”, especially the commitment to prevention of armed conflict through the peaceful settlement of disputes and the protection of human rights.

Despite that flexibility, he noted that UN Member States needed to fortify a sense of unity on the meaning of the term ‘collective security’, which he stressed was the core purpose of the Organization. States were also falling short in their personal responsibility to prevent conflict, something about which the Charter was very clear, and he stressed that the collective work of the UN was based on consent and respect for the sovereign equality of all members. UN human rights action often caused concern among Member States because of fears such action could harm national sovereignty, he said, stressing that in fact, early action to prevent conflict and protect human rights helps to strengthen sovereignty, rather than challenge or restrict it, and that serious violations of human rights that weaken sovereignty.

United Nations General Assembly and Security Council elect four Members of the Court (ICJ Press Release No. 2014/32, 7 November 2014)

The General Assembly and the Security Council of the United Nations yesterday elected four Members of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for a term of office of nine years, beginning on 6 February 2015. Judges Mohamed Bennouna (Morocco) and Joan E. Donoghue (United States of America) were re-elected as Members of the Court. James Richard Crawford (Australia) and Kirill Gevorgian (Russian Federation) were elected as new Members of the Court.

ASEAN Political, Security Issues Impeding Integration (VOA, 30 June 2014)

ASEAN has developed so-called scorecards for three categories of communities: economic, socio-cultural and political-security. ASEAN officials say they score 92 percent for economic community and 82 percent for socio-cultural. But ASEAN only scores 12 percent in political and security issues, said Hassan Wirajuda, the Indonesian ambassador to Cambodia. Speaking at a public lecture at the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace, Wirajuda said these issues remain a major gap in ASEAN integration. “Because of differences among ASEAN countries on the state of their political development in terms of democracy, quasi-democracy and authoritarian government, which makes the issue of political and security community most sensitive to some,” he said. “But through time since the ASEAN Charter and the Blueprints were adopted, we made a lot of progress. Not as fast as we wanted, but we made progress.”

Japan may suggest smaller whale catch after ICJ blow (Reuters, 1 April 2014)

Japan could try to rescue its Antarctic whaling programme by sharply reducing catch quotas after the highest U.N. court ordered a halt, rejecting Tokyo's argument that the catch was for scientific purposes and not mainly for human consumption. The judgment by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) was a blow to Japan's decades-old "scientific whaling" programme, although Tokyo, which said it would abide by the ruling, might be able to resume Antarctic whaling if it devises a new, more persuasive programme that requires killing whales. "We want to accept this from a position that respects the international legal order," Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters. "We want to properly consider our country's response after carefully examining the contents of the ruling."

The ICJ Judgment Whaling in the Antarctic (Australia v. Japan: New Zealand Intervening) of 31 March 2014 can be found here.

Backing Ukraine’s territorial integrity, UN Assembly declares Crimea referendum invalid (UN News, 27 March 2014)

In a vote that reaffirmed Ukraine’s unity and territorial integrity, the United Nations General Assembly on 27 March 2014 adopted a measure underscoring that the mid-March referendum in Crimea that led to the peninsula’s annexation by Russia “has no validity” and that the parties should “pursue immediately a peaceful resolution of the situation.” By a vote of 100 in favour to 11 against, with 58 abstentions, the 193-member Assembly called on all States, international organizations and specialized agencies not to recognize any alteration of the status of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol on the basis of the 16 March referendum “and to refrain from any action or dealing that might be interpreted as recognizing any such altered status.”

ASEAN members step up consolidation for RCEP (Jakarta Post, 27 Feb 2014)

Topics related to the preparation and follow-up negotiations of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) — touted as the largest free trade area in the world — are likely to be on the table when Southeast Asia’s economic ministers meet during the 20th ASEAN Economic Ministers Retreat in Singapore at the end of February. The RCEP, which comprises the 10 ASEAN member nations as well as China, South Korea, Japan, India, Australia and New Zealand, would integrate all of ASEAN’s existing free-trade agreements into one scheme. It would account for a third of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP) with total trade reaching US$740.5 billion and combined GDP amounting to $21.2 trillion in 2012. The RCEP is estimated to give income gains of approximately $644 billion by 2025, equal to 0.6 percent of the world’s GDP, due to the faster flow of goods, services, investment and labor across participating economies, according to a study by the Asian Development Bank (ADB). For Indonesia, the deal will push GDP up by more than 1 percent in the designated time line for forging the partnership.

ASEAN chair Myanmar's domestic issues a lingering threat to nation's credibility (China Post, 28 January 2014)

Myanmar made succinctly clear the Rohingya problem would not be raised in any ASEAN meeting during its chairmanship this year. U Ye Htut, the spokesperson of President Thein Sein, reiterated his country's position during a press conference on the eve of the first ASEAN informal ministerial meeting recently in Bagan. After months of praise over economic and political reforms, Myanmar's continued denial of the existence of this issue has put a damper on its leadership role in ASEAN and further tainted its otherwise rather positive image abroad. Indeed, Nayphidaw's firm position has generated strong reactions from Western countries and international governments. ASEAN Muslim neighbors such as Malaysia, Indonesia and including Buddhist Thailand were extremely uneasy but have so far abstained from criticizing the treatments of the Rohingya by Nayphidaw.


A statement from Myanmar's Foreign Ministry in mid-January also urged international organizations and the media to verify information with assigned officials, otherwise they would be considered an act of interference with the country's internal affairs.

As such, it is imperative that Myanmar must come clean over the reported killings by showing transparency and accountability as soon as possible. The sooner the better, as it will impact not only on Myanmar's internal dynamic but ASEAN as a whole.

Myanmar will use ASEAN chair to address regional disputes (Eleven Myanmar, 25 November 2013)

Myanmar will make use of its helm as chair of the ASEAN bloc of nations to try and improve relations between China, Japan and the U.S. over territorial claims in the South China sea. Aung Htoo, deputy director-general of ASEAN Affairs Department, made comments during the second ASEAN talk jointly organised by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Hanns Seidel Foundation of Germany held in Yangon on November 22 and 23.

"If China puts pressure on us, we will imitate Brunei. We will have to deal with four countries as to water territory dispute. We will try to improve relations with China and all concerned countries including the U.S. We will have to practice this policy. We will cleverly address these issues as they can last longer," said Aung Htoo. There is growing concern that China will exert pressure on its long term ally Myanmar to try and rally regional support behind its claims. 

UN chief reports on world body’s work in 2013, outlines new challenges (UN News, 3 September 2013)
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has released his report to the General Assembly on the work carried out by the United Nations over the past year, highlighting new priorities and challenges. Mr. Ban said that the UN is adapting to new realities, among them an unprecedented level of interconnectedness, as well as unemployment brought about by the global economic crisis, increasing inequality within and among States, and environmental degradation. He also highlighted various issues that the UN has been focusing on to address new challenges, including the shaping of a post-2015 development agenda, the need to tackle climate change, democratic transitions, methods to maintain peace and security such as mediation and peacekeeping, the promotion of human rights, disarmament and drug control, among others.
China's development opportunity for ASEAN, not threat: Chinese FM (Xinhua, 2 August 2013)

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has expressed that the development of China is an opportunity for countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and not a threat. China's fast growth has generated tangible benefits for its ASEAN friends while "unavoidably" arousing certain suspicion, concern or even misunderstanding among some of them, and "We're clear about it," Wang said in a speech at the opening ceremony of the High-Level Forum on the 10th Anniversary of China-ASEAN Strategic Partnership. "This is nothing to be surprised at, because anyone could feel uneasy about a close friend who has all of a sudden grown into a big fellow," he said, adding that China's development is the strengthening of a force for peace and friendship. According to the minister, the judgment of a country's strategic direction should be based on its culture and history. The essence of the Chinese culture is about the pursuit of peace that features love, non-offensiveness and good-neighbourliness. China has made no attempt to act as colonialist anywhere in the world throughout the past 600 years and more, nor has it gone for expansion in its neighborhood since the People's Republic was founded more than 60 years ago. "This is what China has done in the past and it will remain unchanged in the future," said the minister.

UN official calls for urgent action to improve air quality in Asia-Pacific region (UN News, 21 June 2013)

With smog levels hitting all time highs in cities across the Asia-Pacific region, a senior United Nations official there is calling on Governments to do more, with greater urgency, to tackle the myriad challenges associated with worsening air quality. “The ongoing problem of air pollution between Indonesia and Singapore is symptomatic of a much wider challenge for the countries of [the region],” said Noeleen Heyzer, Executive Secretary of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), urging Governments in the region to prioritize critical issues of air quality and human health.

China and haze to dominate Asia security meeting

China's territorial disputes with its neighbours and choking smog in Southeast Asia are among the contentious issues set to dominate the ASEAN Regional Forum following the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Brunei beginning at the end of June. The foreign minister-level talks, which climax 2 July with the ASEAN Regional Forum that includes China, the United States, Russia and other heavyweights. ASEAN has sounded a more unified tone of late, and will press China in Brunei for "urgent" talks on a "code of conduct" meant to ease tensions, Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said. In a move likely to anger China, which insists the United States has no role to play in the South China Sea, US Foreign Secretary John Kerry is expected to raise the issue in Brunei.

ASEAN new chief's pressing concern (Channel News Asia, 23 January 2013)

ASEAN's newly-installed secretary-general Le Luong Min has voiced concern over the slow progress towards building an ASEAN Community by 2015. Minh said member states have yet to ratify the numerous treaties and agreements necessary to transform the region into a single market. "One of the major challenges is that while we have been able to agree on many measures, we have been able to adopt many treaties and agreements, the pace of ratification and of course implementation on the part of the member states is rather low,” Minh noted. This is going to be one of the main areas he will be focusing on during this 5-year term in office.

General Assembly Votes Overwhelmingly to Accord Palestine ‘Non-Member Observer State’ Status in United Nations (UN News, 29 November 2012)

Voting by an overwhelming majority — 138 in favour (including China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia and Vietnam) to 9 against (Canada, Czech Republic, Israel, Marshall Islands, Micronesia (Federated States of), Nauru, Panama, Palau, United States), with 41 abstentions (including Singapore and South Korea) — the General Assembly has accorded Palestine non-Member Observer State status in the United Nations. Resolution A/RES/67/19 upgraded Palestine’s status without prejudice to the acquired rights, privileges and role of the Palestine Liberation Organization in the United Nations as the representative of the Palestinian people, in accordance with the relevant resolutions and practice.  The Palestinian Liberation Organization was recognized as an observer entity in 1974.  By other terms of the resolution, Member States echoed the “urgent need for the resumption and acceleration” of the peace negotiations.

In particular, Malaysia has expressed continued support for the creation of a Palestinian state while Indonesia has sent a high-level delegation to Gaza to stand in solidarity with the Palestinians. India has also reaffirmed its unwavering support to the people of Palestine and reiterated its belief that a just, comprehensive and lasting peace can be achieved through talks leading to a "sovereign, independent, viable" state. Japan and China have recently expressed regret over Israel's recent approval of the construction of settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory of East Jerusalem and the West Bank, and have urged the Israeli government to review the plan for the sake of the progress of the peace process.

ICJ is the international community’s forum of choice for the peaceful settlement of every kind of international dispute over which it has jurisdiction (ICJ Press Release No. 2012/31, 1 November 2012)

President of the International Court of Justice, Judge Peter Tomka, informed the United Nations General Assembly that over the last 12 months the Court had “continued to fulfil its role as the international community of States’ forum of choice for the peaceful settlement of every kind of international dispute over which it has jurisdiction”. He added that the Court had “made every effort to meet the expectations of the parties appearing before it in a timely manner” and noted in that regard that, “since the Court has been able to clear its backlog of cases, States thinking of submitting cases to the principal judicial organ of the United Nations can be confident that, as soon as they have finished their written exchanges, the Court will be able to move to the hearings without delay.”

The International Court of Justice has more than doubled its work rate since 1990 (ICJ Press Release 2012/27, 28 September 2012)

H.E. Judge Peter Tomka, President of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) noted in his address before the United Nations member states at the “high-level meeting on the rule of law” on 24 September 2012 that “bringing a dispute before the Court usually contributes to defusing tensions between States, in particular in situations of competing claims to sovereignty or maritime zones”. President Tomka noted, “If the Parties are unable to resolve such matters through negotiation to their satisfaction or find a creative solution, such as joint management and exploitation régimes, the Court remains available to assist them by adjudicating the dispute on the strength of their legal arguments and evidence in accordance with international law.”

UN employees sentenced by Myanmar court for Rakhine violence (UN News, 27 August 2012)

One employee of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), one of the World Food Programme (WFP), and another person working for UNHCR’s partner organization were sentenced at a court in Maungdaw, in the westernmost part of Myanmar.

Addressing the media at UN Headquarters in New York, UN spokesperson Martin Nesirky said that no further information was provided by the local authorities to UN officials in Myanmar’s capital, Yangon. “The UN has consistently held that formal and precise charges would need to be provided to us before action is taken by the Myanmar authorities,” Mr. Nesirky said. “We would like to indicate that the detained staff should be treated in accordance with all the applicable international conventions and immunities they may be entitled to.”

A 'test case of ASEAN's ability to forge consensus' (Today, 3 August 2012)

Disagreements over the South China Sea will continue to test ASEAN's ability to forge consensus on difficult political issues, said Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong at an ASEAN and Asia forum organised by the Singapore Institute of International Affairs. This statement comes as ASEAN foreign ministers failed to issue a joint communique at the recent annual ASEAN Ministerial Meeting (AMM) last month because of disagreements over the South China Sea. "Whether we like it or not, after the 45th AMM, the South China Sea will remain a test case of ASEAN's ability to forge consensus on difficult problems and act in the region's broader interests," said Mr Goh, speaking to some 300 business leaders at the forum. A goal that encompasses such interests is the setting up of the ASEAN Economic Community by 2015. Mr Goh said ASEAN's economic integration cannot be insulated from its ability to maintain unity on important issues and stability in the region.
ASEAN's dialogue partners and investors are watching and re-calculating their interests and positions, he added. "We cannot blame them for this. It is therefore imperative that we address their concerns and demonstrate that we're capable of reaching consensus on even the most sensitive of issues."

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