UN holds first high-level meeting for the disabled

Updated 24 September 2013

UN holds first high-level meeting for the disabled

UNITED NATIONS: World leaders are holding their first-ever UN meeting Monday to explore how the more than 1 billion disabled people in countries rich and poor can contribute to the global economy instead of being a drain on society.
The World Health Organization says a huge increase in hearing aids, glasses and wheelchairs could improve the lives of hundreds of millions of people — and help them participate in the development of their countries. But the disabled have other hurdles to overcome, including discrimination and stigmas.
The high-level General Assembly meeting on disabilities Monday is the prelude to the annual UN gathering of presidents, prime ministers and monarchs, which starts Tuesday. It is expected to be dominated by Russian-US efforts to rid Syria of chemical weapons and hold a new peace conference to end the 2 ½-year Syrian conflict, and a possible first meeting between American and Iranian leaders since the Islamic revolution toppled the US-backed Shah of Iran nearly 35 years ago.
For the disabled, who represent about 15 percent of the world’s population, Monday’s meeting is a milestone. Speakers will include US Secretary of State John Kerry and Stevie Wonder.
“We are excited about what’s going to happen,” said Daniela Bas, director of the UN Division for Social Policy and Development, who has been a paraplegic since the age of six. “It is the first meeting of this kind in the whole history of the United Nations.”

“This is a group of the society that has been considered for too long a vulnerable group of the society in need of help, while on the contrary this is ... a resourceful group of the society that can contribute in an enormous way to development,” she said.
Dr. Jacob Kumaresan, executive director of WHO’s office at the UN, said people with disabilities are twice as likely to find health services inadequate, and three times as likely to be denied adequate health care.
According to WHO, 360 million people worldwide have moderate to profound hearing loss but only 10 percent have access to hearing aids. Some 200 million people need glasses or low vision devices but have no access to them, and only between 5 to 15 percent of the 70 million people who need wheelchairs have access to one.
Kumaresan said these barriers are avoidable and can be overcome.
Mongolia, for example, has introduced disability friendly health centers, and East Timor and the Solomon Islands are providing wheelchairs to those in need, he said. The Philippines Health Insurance Corporation added rehabilitation to its coverage last year which enabled a 25-year-old construction worker who lost a leg in an accident to get a prosthesis and return to work.
“This is what we mean by what the governments can do to help not an individual but an entire society to be productive,” Kumaresan said.
He added that public-private partnerships could also help to reduce the cost of wheelchairs, hearing aids, glasses and other devices.
In its main report earlier this year, the UN children’s agency, UNICEF, said children with disabilities and their communities would both benefit if society focused on what these youngsters can achieve — not on what they can’t do.
A report issued Monday by the child rights organization Plan International in collaboration with the University of Toronto found that children with disabilities in West Africa face widespread poverty, discrimination, violence, and exclusion, including from education.
The report, based on research in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Niger and Togo, said disabled girls, especially, are highly vulnerable to neglect and abuse.


Top diplomat implicates Trump in explosive impeachment testimony

Updated 21 November 2019

Top diplomat implicates Trump in explosive impeachment testimony

  • Sondland said Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani led the effort at Trump’s direction to pressure Ukraine President Volodymr Zelensky
  • Trump said he barely knew Sondland and had not spoken to him much

WASHINGTON: A senior US diplomat directly implicated President Donald Trump Wednesday in a scheme to force Ukraine to probe a political rival, in bombshell testimony to a televised impeachment hearing.
Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, told lawmakers he followed the president’s orders in seeking a “quid pro quo” deal for Ukraine to investigate Democrat Joe Biden in exchange for a White House summit.
Sondland said Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani led the effort at Trump’s direction to pressure Ukraine President Volodymr Zelensky for the investigation and that top officials in the White House and State Department knew about it.
The unexpectedly damning testimony drew a sharp backlash from Trump who tweeted: “This Witch Hunt must end NOW. So bad for our Country!.”
Trump said he barely knew Sondland and had not spoken to him much, despite the senior diplomat having donated $1 million to his inauguration and testifying that he had spoken to the president some 20 times while ambassador.
Democrats said Sondland’s seven hours of testimony before the House Intelligence Committee had bolstered their case for Trump’s impeachment for what they have labeled “extortion.”
“Today’s testimony is among the most significant evidence to date,” said committee chairman Adam Schiff.
“It goes right to the heart of the issue of bribery as well as other potential high crimes or misdemeanors.”
A succession of Democrats hoping to win the nomination to take on Trump in next year’s election also said the testimony had strengthened the case for impeachment as the issue dominated the opening exchanges in their latest televised primary debate.
Sondland said Trump directed him and two other senior diplomats to work with Giuliani.
From early in the year, Giuliani mounted a pressure campaign on Zelensky’s government to investigate Biden over his son Hunter’s ties to a Ukrainian energy company, Burisma, and to probe a conspiracy theory espoused by Trump that Ukraine helped Democrats against him in 2016. Biden is one of the favorites to challenge Trump in next year’s presidential election.
“Mr. Giuliani demanded that Ukraine make a public statement announcing the investigations of the 2016 election/DNC server and Burisma,” Sondland told the panel.
“Mr Giuliani’s requests were a quid pro quo for arranging a White House visit for President Zelensky.”
Far from being a “rogue” operation outside normal US diplomatic channels, Sondland told the hearing top officials — including Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — were kept constantly informed.
“We followed the president’s orders,” he said.
Like Trump a multimillionaire developer with a chain of high-end hotels, Sondland, who wore a $55,000 Breguet white gold watch to the hearing, fended off pressure from both Democrats and Republicans.
He had not implicated the president in earlier private testimony, when he answered scores of questions by saying he could “not remember.”
But subsequent testimony by other witnesses which had further implicated him in the Ukraine pressure scheme had jolted his memory, he said on Wednesday.
While he confirmed the linkage between the investigations and a White House meeting between Zelensky and Trump, he would not attest to allegations that Trump froze $391 million in aid as well to Ukraine to add pressure on Ukraine.
“I never heard from President Trump that aid was conditioned on an announcement” of the investigations, he said, contradicting testimony from two other diplomats.
In separate testimony, a Pentagon official appeared to undermine a key Republican defense in the impeachment battle, that Kiev did not even know until late August or even September about the July 18 aid freeze, rendering moot Democrats’ allegations that Trump had extorted Ukraine.
Laura Cooper, the Pentagon official in charge of Ukraine affairs, said Kiev voiced concern over a holdup in aid on July 25.
That was the same day that Trump told Zelensky in a phone call that he wanted a favor, asking for investigations into Biden specifically and the 2016 conspiracy theory.
“The Ukrainian embassy staff asked, ‘What is going on with Ukrainian security assistance?” she told the committee.
At the White House, Trump denied making the demand of Zelensky, citing Sondland’s own recall of their September 9 phone call on the Ukraine issue.
Reading from large-print notes, he said that he told Sonderland: “I want nothing. I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo. Tell Zelensky to do the right thing.”
“If this were a prizefight, they’d stop it!” he said of the inquiry.
Speaking at the Democrats’ debate, Biden dodged a question on the role of his son but said the testimony had shown that “Donald Trump doesn’t want me to be the nominee.”
And Bernie Sanders, another of the frontrunners for the nomination, said Trump had been shown to be “not only a pathological liar” but also “the most corrupt president in the modern history of America.”