The Latest: UN panel says corruption hits the poor hardest

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In this UNTV image, Evariste Ndayishimiye, President of Burundi, speaks in a pre-recorded video message during the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020, at UN headquarters in New York. The U.N.'s first virtual meeting of world leaders started Tuesday with pre-recorded speeches from heads-of-state, kept at home by the coronavirus pandemic. (UNTV via AP)

TANZANIA – The Latest from the U.N. General Assembly (all times EDT):

8:08 p.m.

A U.N. panel says tax abuse, corruption and money laundering are draining hundreds of billions of dollars from governments that could help the world’s poor.

A report from the high-level panel on International Financial Accountability, Transparency and Integrity published Thursday said governments can’t agree on the problem or the solution. But they're also losing an estimated $500 billion due to corporate tax avoidance from profit-sharing enterprises.

In addition, the panel estimated that $7 trillion in private wealth is hidden in tax haven countries, with 10% of world GDP held offshore, and that money laundering amounts to around $1.6 trillion per year, or 2.7% of global GDP.

“Corruption and tax avoidance are rampant,” said former Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaitė, a panel co-chair. “Too many banks are in cahoots and too many governments are stuck in the past. We’re all being robbed, especially the world’s poor.”

She said trust in the finance system is essential to tackle global challenges including poverty, climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Instead we get dithering and delay bordering on complicity,” Grybauskaitė said.

The report said criminals exploited the COVID-19 pandemic as governments relaxed controls to speed up health care and social protection.

“Our weakness in tackling corruption and financial crime has been further exposed by ... COVID-19,” said former Niger prime minister Ibrahim Mayaki, a panel co-chair. “Resources to stop the spread, keep people alive and put food on tables are instead lost to corruption and abuse.

The panel’s goal is to help achieve U.N. goals for 2030 that include ending extreme poverty, preserving the environment and achieving gender equality.


7:30 p.m.

In his first appearance on the global stage, Burundi’s new president has asserted that “foundations have been laid for a strong democracy” even as opposition figures and human rights groups warn they see little change from his predecessor.

President Evariste Ndayishimiye was elected in May and hurried into office after longtime leader Pierre Nkurunziza died. Nkurunziza’s government turned inward after deadly political violence in 2015 sparked by his decision to run for another term.

In his address to a U.N. gathering of world leaders, Ndayishimiye said Burundi “has never stopped believing in international solidarity, multilateralism and the rejection of strongarm diplomacy.”

Watchdogs say the threat of violence remains, and the new leader has appointed senior officials who are under international sanctions for alleged abuses.

But Ndayishimiye pointed to the return of some of the hundreds of thousands of people who had fled the country as a “clear demonstration” of the return to peace.

He declared the East African nation “stable, calm and entirely under control,” even though rebels have killed a number of people in recent weeks.


6:25 p.m.

Few countries face a more challenging recovery from 2020′s multiple crises than Somalia, which on top of three decades of conflict and climate shocks now has COVID-19 rattling one of the world’s weakest health systems.

“COVID has been a devastating lesson and the loudest possible wake-up call,” President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed told the annual U.N. gathering of world leaders. He said the Horn of Africa nation’s economy is seeing a painful contraction, and “you can imagine this is a huge task for a recovering post-conflict state like Somalia.”

Even though virus testing levels remain low in the country and more cases are thought to exist than the 3.400 ones confirmed, the president said the country is cautiously starting to reopen its economy, “hoping that the worst is behind us.”

He also said he is “fearful” that COVID-19 will exacerbate the gulf between the world’s stronger and more fragile states in the face of further challenges like climate change, and ’this is something that must be avoided at all costs.”


6:15 p.m.

United Nations officials said they’ve reached a “tipping point” in climate change, but this one they call a positive development.

Usually when scientists talk of tipping points with climate change, they’re warning about massive and irreversible ice sheet melts or other catastrophic changes that push the ecosystem to a point of no return. But UN Special Envoy on Climate Finance Mark Carney said Thursday that private funding of efforts to fight climate change “are at a tipping point.

It is not just momentum.” He said what’s going on in the private level in the next year could help put the world on a “virtuous cycle. That can help us achieve our goals.”

Carney said every major bank, as well as the biggest insurers and pension funds in the world made calls to disclose climate-related financial information.

The European Union increased its goals to cut greenhouse gases by 55% compared to 1990 levels in just ten years. Chile announced it would phase out coal power by 2040. Microsoft President Ben Smith detailed how the company would take more carbon out of the air than it puts in by 2030.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, continuing his major push for the world to not put additional heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere by mid-century and become carbon neutral, announced a virtual Climate Ambition Summit on Dec. 12, the fifth anniversary of the Paris climate agreement, which the U.S. Trump administration is pulling out of.


4:55 p.m.

China, the United States and Russia have traded allegations at the United Nations about who mishandled and politicized the coronavirus pandemic.

It was one of the few real-time exchanges among top officials at the virtual U.N. General Assembly gathering. The remarks Thursday at the Security Council’s ministerial meeting on the assembly’s sidelines reflected deep divisions among the three veto-wielding council members that have escalated since the virus emerged in China.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi stressed the importance of U.N.-centered multilateralism and alluded to countries — including the U.S. — opting out of making a COVID-19 vaccine a global public good available to people everywhere.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the pandemic and its “common misfortune did not iron out interstate differences, but to the contrary, deepened them.”

The United States’ U.N. ambassador, Kelly Craft, said some representatives were “squandering this opportunity for political purposes.”


1:30 p.m.

Libyan Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj is calling for U.N. support in holding presidential and parliamentary elections as the war-torn country remains split between rival administrations in the east and west, each backed by armed groups and foreign governments.

Sarraj said elections next year could lead to democracy and end Libya’s “legitimacy crisis." While he called for political dialogue with all factions and regions of Libya, he said the exception would be those who’ve ”spilled Libyan blood."

Sarraj delivered his prerecorded remarks to the world body’s first-ever virtual General Assembly from Tripoli, where his U.N.-backed government is based. He is aided by Turkey and Qatar. His rival, Khalifa Hifter, controls the east and is backed by neighboring Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, France and Russian mercenaries.

Sarraj slammed Hifter’s attempted offensive on Tripoli last year, calling it a “tyrannical attack” that attempted to return the country to dictatorship.

Libya descended into chaos when a NATO-backed uprising in 2011 toppled longtime ruler Moammar Gadhafi.


12:20 p.m.

Another COVID-19 problem that the U.N. is trying to solve: how to help more than 300,000 merchant mariners trapped at sea because of virus restrictions.

Saying many seafarers are at a “breaking point” after as much as a year away from home, Captain Hedi Marzougui pleaded their case Thursday at a U.N.-organized meeting with shipping executives and government transport officials.

He described his own experience stuck aboard his ship as the pandemic washed over the world and made shipping crews unwelcome in many ports.

He says shipping crews felt like “second-class citizens” despite their increasingly crucial role in transporting food and medical equipment as air travel nearly collapsed.

Maritime ministers from Panama, France, Kenya and the Philippines defended steps they’ve taken to allow safe crew changes or otherwise ease the crisis.

But they lamented a lack of international coordination, calling for more cooperation and new rules to protect countries from the virus while respecting the rights of stranded merchant mariners.


12:20 p.m.

The king of the small island-nation of Bahrain used his appearance before world leaders to defend his nation’s decision to formalize ties with Israel.

In a prerecorded address for the virtual U.N. General Assembly, King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa also expressed support for an independent Palestinian state, with east Jerusalem as its capital. It's a position that Palestinians say is undermined by formalizing ties with Israel before concessions are made in peace talks.

Bahrain agreed to normalize relations with Israel two weeks ago following a similar move by the United Arab Emirates in August. Palestinians have slammed the agreements brokered by the Trump administration as acts of betrayal.

The king said a two-state solution is the way forward, saying “this would usher in a new era of cooperation."

Gulf Arab states have been building ties with Israel, in part over shared concerns about rival Iran.

The Sunni-ruled government of Bahrain accuses Iran of arming militants from among majority Shiites in the country and of plotting attacks on the island-nation.


11:10 a.m.

Yemen’s embattled and exiled president is urging his government’s rival, the Iran-backed Houthi rebels, to stop impeding the flow of urgently needed humanitarian aid.

President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi made the plea in a prerecorded speech to the U.N. General Assembly’s virtual summit. He spoke from Saudi Arabia, where he's been living during a more than five-year war that's ravaged the Arab world’s poorest nation on the western tip of the Arabian Peninsula.

Hadi represents the internationally recognized government of Yemen that was pushed out of the capital in late 2014 by the Houthis. A Saudi-led coalition backing Hadi has been at war in Yemen ever since, sparking the world’s worst humanitarian disaster. Millions have been displaced, pushed into poverty and live on the brink of famine.

Hadi blamed Iran for meddling in his nation and said he's “trying to save our country and establish a just and lasting peace."

The Yemen Data Project says more than 17,500 civilians have been killed and injured since 2015.

Multiple attempts by the U.N. to broker a peace deal have failed.


10 a.m.

African nations have come out swinging on the third day of the United Nations annual gathering of world leaders, calling for dramatic fiscal measures to help the continent’s economies survive the coronavirus pandemic.

They seek debt cancellation to free up more resources to tackle the virus and its effects, including the fight against other deadly diseases.

Niger’s president, Issoufou Mahamadou, said, “We need to purely and simply cancel this debt."

The president of Ivory Coast, one of the world’s fastest-growing economies before the pandemic, called for the extension of a debt moratorium and the issue of special drawing rights at the International Monetary Fund.

Alassane Ouattara called “Africa’s partners to take bolder measures.” He noted that the fight against COVID-19 and its economic effects has represented 5% of the country’s GDP.

African nations estimate they need $100 billion in support annually for the next three years, saying it’s a fraction of the trillions of dollars some richer countries are using to revive their economies.


9:50 a.m.

The United Nations chief says the world failed to cooperate in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic, and if its response to the climate crisis is equally poor, “I fear the worst.”

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the U.N. Security Council that the “tiny microscopic virus is now the number one threat in our world.” He blamed a lack of global preparedness, cooperation, unity and solidarity for the international community's failure.

The council met Thursday on the sidelines of the General Assembly’s virtual gathering of world leaders.

Guterres pointed to the nearly 1 million deaths and 30 million infections worldwide and warned that the coronavirus remains out of control.

He called for global cooperation, saying the idea of global governance must be broadened “to take in businesses, civil society, cities and regions, academia and young people.”

Guterres said COVID-19 is a warning “that must spur us to action.”