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Mar. 10, 2015 - Updated 04:16 UTC

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UN General Assembly Held in NYC

Sep. 20, 2016

World leaders are arriving in New York City to attend debates at the United Nations headquarters. High on the agenda are the issues of refugees, the Middle East and North Korea.

Syria is one of the most pressing issues facing world leaders. A weeklong ceasefire was declared over by the Syrian government. An airstrike near Aleppo has hit a humanitarian aid convoy. It's not yet known who is responsible for the attack. Twelve people were killed.

An opposition activist in Aleppo spoke to NHK on the phone and described the situation there.

"I can see helicopters flying over," he said. "The strikes are heavy and most residents have taken shelter."

Eighteen UN and Syrian Arab Red Crescent trucks in a convoy were bombed. The vehicles were carrying food, medicine and other necessities to 78,000 people trapped in the combat zone.

The United Nations said it will investigate, and called on all parties involved to protect civilians and those engaged in humanitarian aid.

US Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters he wants to hear from Russia on the status of the ceasefire.

"The important thing is the Russians need to control Assad, who evidently is indiscriminately bombing, including of humanitarian convoys. So, let's wait and see, and wait and collect the facts," Kerry said.

The ceasefire came into effect last week. Under the deal, the 2 countries were to decide on whether it could be continued. Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are expected to discuss the matter.


Tackling Refugee Crisis

World leaders gathered at the United Nations to kick off their meetings yesterday by attending a summit on refugees and migrants. It's the first time the UN has organized a summit on this issue -- a reflection on how serious this issue has become.

This will be the last General Assembly for the current Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, whose term concludes at the end of the year.

At the opening ceremony, Ban called on the leaders to commit more to the protection of human rights of all refugees and migrants, regardless of their status.

The summit took place amid growing xenophobia, particularly in some Western countries.

"The United Nations is launching a new campaign called 'Together: Respect, Safety and Dignity for All.' Acting together, we can respond to rising xenophobia and turn fear into hope. I call on world leaders to join this campaign and commit together to upholding the rights and dignity of everyone forced by circumstance to flee their homes in search of a better life," Ban said.

The summit adopted the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, in which leaders made commitments to combat discrimination against refugees and migrants, and to take measures to improve their integration and inclusion.

A Syrian refugee was invited to directly address the leaders. He asked them to fully implement the declaration.

"As young refugee, we face this anger and fear every day. Doors are closed to us. Higher education is denied to us. We are often dismissed, not taken seriously and underestimated," Mohammed Badran said. "In our small way, refugees are already taking action; we want world leaders to do the same."

Leaders outlined their country's position on the issue.

"Jordan has accepted 1.3 million Syrian refugees in the past 6 years," said Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh. "The Syrian refugee crisis is not only the problem of Jordan or of Syrian neighboring countries, but also of all international societies."

"Japanese assistance is characterized by the parallel promotion of emergency human aid and development support. This approach safeguards the refugees' safety and dignity, and enables them to exist in the communities that accept them," said Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The UNHCR says the number of forcibly displaced people, including refugees, asylum-seekers and those who are internally displaced, hit a record-high last year at 65.3 million.

That's actually larger than the entire population of the United Kingdom. The number has continued to rise since 2011, when the Syrian civil war broke out. And last year, on average, 24 people worldwide were displaced from their homes every minute -- that's 34,000 people per day.

Nearly 1 child out of every 200 worldwide has become a refugee. The total number of child refugees has more than doubled in the last 10 years.


60 Years of UN Membership

This year marks the 60th anniversary of Japan's admission into the world body.

After the end of World War Two, it was not an easy task for Japan to join the UN. Even after joining in 1956, while exploring its role as a promoter of peace and development, the country has been caught between ideals and the reality of power politics. Here's a quick look at Japan's past 6 decades in the UN.

In 1956, members of the UN General Assembly voted unanimously to accept its 80th newest member. Japan was piecing itself back together from the rubble of the war. The nation's admission to the UN was finally granted 4 years after it first applied to join.

In his acceptance speech, Japan's then Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu spoke about what membership meant for Japan.

"On behalf of our government and the people of Japan, I want to express our profound gratitude. Japan may well be regarded as the bridge between the East and the West," Shigemitsu said.

A Japanese student was in the assembly hall to witness this historic moment. Yasushi Akashi was studying international politics in the US. The following year, he became the first Japanese to work for the UN. He spent nearly 40 years there, rising to the rank of under-secretary-general.

"I was very happy that Japan finally made it after the sufferings during the Second World War, and long period of waiting after the war," Akashi says.

Japan began contributing to the UN's diplomatic efforts at a time when the world was in the grip of the Cold War. When the Cuban Missile Crisis broke out, Akashi worked with then Secretary-General U Thant to prevent tensions from spiraling into nuclear war. And he says Japan had to walk a delicate line.

"Japan was sandwiched between America and the Soviet Union at that time, So Japan's position was rather delicate, and Japan often sided with the US against the Soviet Union. Japan wanted to be with other Asian countries, but the Asian countries were also divided. So it was a delicate posturing for Japan," Akashi says.

In the late 1960s, the UN came up with a plan to launch a university. It would be an international institution dedicated to pursuing peace and progress. Japan's government backed the plan, and Akashi devoted himself to making it happen.

In 1975, the United Nations University opened in Tokyo. Japan enjoyed rapid economic growth throughout the 1970s, and began contributing more money to the UN. It became the second-largest financial backer in 1986.

When the Cold War ended, regional conflicts and civil wars broke out in many parts of the world. In 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait, sparking the Gulf Crisis.

The UN Security Council adopted a resolution to dispatch multinational forces to expel the Iraqi troops. Japan didn't join the military operation. The nation's Constitution renounces war and the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes.

Tokyo offered 13 billion dollars to help fund the operation. Only the United States gave more. But it was dubbed "checkbook diplomacy" by some in the US and other countries, who said Japan only provides money and not human resources.

"I thought that was an undignified qualification. You know, you can contribute to your troops, or you can contribute to money for refugees or for a humanitarian crisis. These are different ways or contributing to peace. And for Japan, initially, it was on the question of a developmental assistance and humanitarian assistance that Japan thought it can do its best contribution," Akashi says.

In 1992, after a heated national debate, the Japanese Diet enacted a law allowing the government to send the Self-Defense Forces on UN peacekeeping operations to areas where a ceasefire is in force.

Later that year, SDF units first went to Cambodia to monitor a ceasefire and observe a general election. Akashi was there, heading a UN team tasked with helping the transition from civil war to peace.

"I must say I was in tears when I saw Japanese Self-Defense Forces joining the other countries' troops under the banner of the United Nations. I think Japan I felt was abandoning its isolationist policy, even though it was a pacifist policy, that Japan was now more active, more creative peace policy," Akashi says.

Since then, Japan has sent SDF units on 13 UN peacekeeping missions in the fields of peace-building, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief activities. Akashi says he wants to see even more of that.

"I think Japan will be and should be active on all different dimensions of UN activities. It should not be pick and choose. I think we are part and parcel of an increasingly dangerous multi-dimensional world community. Japan should not be shy, It should to what it can, if the Security Council or the General Assembly or the UN secretary-general asks for it," he says.


Dedicated and Determined

There are currently more than 750 Japanese working at the UN, and its related agencies around the world. One of them is Kyoko Ono, whose job it is to keep up-to-date on developments in Syria.

Ono is a political affairs officer at the UN Secretariat in New York. She's part of a team that's in charge of building a system to support reconstruction efforts after the Syrian civil war ends.

"There is a certain function that has been given to me, which is for us to think a little bit ahead on what a potential time when there is an agreement taking place, what are the issues that the Syrians will want to address as a priority," Ono says.

She recently held a telephone conference with a colleague stationed near the Turkish border with Syria. They discussed a report they're compiling on the early stage of a reconstruction plan.

They touched on several issues, including a lack of coordination among support groups and persistent confusion between the support groups, citizens and local governments that are creating a further divide.

Ono was born in Japan, but spent several years in the US and Middle East, where she was exposed to diverse cultures. Her desire to help make a better world eventually led her to join the United Nations in 2003.

Her first major assignment was at the UN Mission in Sudan. She worked as an aide to the special envoy who was negotiating an end to 20 years of civil war.

In 2005, she was on hand for the signing of a peace agreement.

In 2010, she was back in Sudan to help prepare for a referendum on independence in the southern part of the country. She was there to witness the historic moment -- the birth of the world's newest country.

"Seeing the first person casting their vote in one of the referendum and the joy it brought to the people, I think that's when you are very glad that you were part of the process that contributed to something that people really wanted," Ono says.

Often the places Ono visits are dangerous. Before being deployed, she receives training on survival techniques in case of a hostage-taking or kidnapping.

"We go also on a mission to Somalia, and so many other places, that people don’t go for a vacation, but to me, I think the interests and the wanting to be engaged I think outweighs the concerns over the security or health risks," Ono says.

"Seeing referendum, and seeing peace agreement being sighed, or seeing refugees coming back, and being happy, I think those the moment I work towards, so hopefully I can continue to contribute to that area of work," she says.