INTERNATIONAL, 15 October 2021, Culture and Education - Dmitry Muratov, editor-in-chief of Russia's Novaya Gazeta newspaper, has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize this year. He shares the prestigious award with Maria Ressa, another campaigning journalist from the Philippines.
The pair received the award for their efforts to defend freedom of expression in their respective countries, and the Nobel committee called them “representatives of all journalists who stand up for this ideal”.
Mr. Muratov is the co-founder and editor of Novaya Gazeta, which has stood up for press freedom and freedom of speech in Russia for decades. Six journalists who worked for the newspaper have been reportedly murdered in connection with their investigative work, shining a light on corruption, crime and other alleged abuses.
In an exclusive interview with UN News this week, he explained what he would do with his award money, why he loves Novaya Gazeta, and his thoughts about press censorship.
UN News: We planned to have this interview last night, but I was told that you were with Mikhail Gorbachev then. Can you tell us about that?
Dmitry Muratov: We talked, he joked. For example, he spoke about Novaya Gazeta’s mission and he commended us for “rarely letting the truth down”. I admit, we are not perfect, and we have made our mistakes.
UN News: Are you happy with such an evaluation of your job?
Dmitry Muratov: Yes, I am. Very.
UN News: I read online that Novaya Gazeta, when it was being establish, was partially financed by Nobel Peace Prize money received by Mikhail Gorbachev himself.
Dmitry Muratov: He told me yesterday that, in fact, it was not Nobel Prize money. Rather the money from publishing Raisa Gorbacheva’s book [the late wife of Mikhail Gorbachev, who died in 1999] entitled I hope. They donated it to buy computers for Novaya Gazeta. But I prefer to think that some prize money was there too.
Since this is a Peace Prize, then I believe it should contribute to this cause.
UN News: How will you spend the monetary award? Do you already have plans?
Dmitry Muratov: Let's start with me, okay? I will not take or receive even one single cent of it. That is out of the question.
Since it is a Peace Prize, I believe it should contribute to that cause. We held an editorial board meeting where we decided how to distribute the Nobel Prize money.
It will be donated to a health foundation that helps journalists; to a foundation that supports children with spinal muscular atrophy and other serious rare diseases; a part will go to the Anna Politkovskaya Prize Foundation; and, of course, a part will go to the children's hospice in Moscow, the Vera Foundation and the Dmitry Rogachev Clinic, where children with leukemia are treated. That’s it!
UN News: You have repeatedly said that you regard the Prize as an award to the entire staff of Novaya Gazeta and, especially, to the ones who are gone. Anna Politkovskaya was killed 15 years ago.
Dmitry Muratov: Yes, exactly 15 years on 7 October.
UN News: Don't you think that the prize has come late?
Dmitry Muratov: Right on time, I think.
Dmitry Muratov, Russian journalist and 2021 Nobel Peace Prize laureate in his office as Editor-in-Chief of Novaya Gazeta, by Novaya Gazeta
UN News: Congratulating the Nobel Peace Prize laureates the UN Secretary General said, I quote: “No society can be free and fair without journalists who are able to investigate wrongdoings, bring information to the citizens, hold leaders accountable and speak truth to power”. What do you think?
Dmitry Muratov: Here’s what I think. This is an absolutely accurate idea, and I would like to build on it. You see, the UN Secretary General is talking about censorship.
What is censorship? It is a manifestation of distrust to your own people. Those who introduce censorship do not trust their people. In different countries of the world, many individuals who, of course, consider themselves independent, simply do not believe their people.
They think that they are the ones to determine what the people should read, watch, see and listen to. Such lack of trust to the people is the most dangerous thing. People must be trusted.
UN News: What would you like to tell our listeners about your newspaper? How do you survive these days?
Dmitry Muratov: Well, first of all, thanks to the people we have. We have absolutely amazing staff -- these are the stars of Soviet and Russian journalism as well as people who will become the stars of modern journalism. Some write essays, others, for example, do big data research.
The combination of both, the synergy that in our editorial office, people who write brilliant texts, and those who do coding and programming, who dig for impossible information, is for me the recipe for our outstanding success.
I really love this “angry crew of kind people”.
UN News: What do you know about Maria Ressa? Have you met?
Dmitry Muratov: I know a lot about her! She is an outstanding journalist. The first issue of the newspaper published after we learnt about the prize had an image of Maria Ressa on the front page, not our faces.
We have the highest regard for her. In the past, several members of our staff took her training courses. Today we sent her a letter. We really want to invite the Nobel Peace Prize laureate to give a lecture to the Novaya Gazeta staff and the students who will join.
She is an outstanding woman who single-handedly confronts tyranny.
[Maria Ressa] is an outstanding woman who single-handedly confronts tyranny.
UN News: So you approve of the choice by the Nobel Committee?
Dmitry Muratov: I'm delighted. Naturally, I am also delighted that Novaya Gazeta was given the award, it is true, but I think that Maria Ressa is a brilliant choice.
I don't know how it happened, how it all happened. We will only find out about this in fifty years [when the Nobel Committee discloses all the information behind the nomination and selection process].
I won’t live that long to see it, though. But the fact that my name is mentioned next to hers is just fascinating!
UN News: Do you know how the award ceremony will be held?
Dmitry Muratov: I received a letter this morning saying that the ceremony will be held in Oslo. But let me wrap up our conversation by saying that we would be happy to greet Maria, in our office in Moscow.
Describing current levels of poverty as “a moral indictment of our times”, Secretary-General António Guterres said that the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on economies and societies around the world, with some 120 million more people falling into poverty last year.
“A lopsided recovery is further deepening inequalities between the Global North and South”, said Mr. Guterres. “Solidarity is missing in action – just when we need it most”.
Fighting two battles
The fight against poverty must also be a battle against inequality.
The UN chief said that vaccine inequality has enabled COVID variants to mutate and “run wild”, condemning the world to millions more deaths, and prolonging an economic slowdown that could cost trillions of dollars.
“We must end this outrage, tackle debt distress and ensure recovery investment in countries with the greatest need”, he spelled out.
‘Building forward better’
Mr. Guterres outlined a three-pronged global recovery approach to ‘Building Forward Better’ that begins with stronger political will and partnerships to achieve universal social protection by 2030.
For a transformative recovery to end to the endemic structural disadvantages and inequalities that perpetuated poverty even before the pandemic, the world must invest in job re-skilling for the growing green economy, according to the UN chief.
“And we must invest in quality jobs in the care economy, which will promote greater equality and ensure everyone receives the dignified care they deserve”, he said.
Raising women up
Recovery must be inclusive so as not to leave so many behind, “increasing the vulnerability of already marginalized groups, and pushing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) ever further out of reach”, Mr. Guterres added.
“The number of women in extreme poverty far outpaces that of men. Even before the pandemic, the 22 richest men in the world had more wealth than all the women in Africa – and that gap has only grown”, he upheld, adding, “we cannot recover with only half our potential”.
Economic investments must target women entrepreneurs; formalize the informal sector; focus on education, social protection, universal childcare, health care and decent work; and bridge the digital divide, including its deep gender dimension, he said.
To build a resilient, decarbonized and net-zero world, the recovery must be sustainable, which was the UN chief’s third point.
He urged everyone to “listen far more” to those living in poverty, address indignities and “dismantle barriers” to inclusion, in every society.
“Today and every day, let us join hands to end poverty and create a world of justice, dignity and opportunity for all.”
The majority of people in Madagascar live in extreme poverty.
Help on the ground
In his message, UN Development Programme (UNDP) chief Achim Steiner spoke of numerous initiatives underway to help communities to Build Forward Better.
Against the backdrop that “people living in poverty are bearing the brunt of changing climate”, he pointed to UNDP’s Strategic Plan 2022-2025 as a “bold pledge to lift 100 million people out of multidimensional poverty”.
Describing access to renewable energy as a “vital lever” to creating decent green jobs while driving down carbon emissions, Mr. Achim echoed UNDP’s ambitious commitment to work with partners to provide 500 million additional people with access to clean, affordable energy by 2025.
The International Day can be traced back to 17 October 1987, when more than 100,000 people gathered at the Trocadéro in Paris – where the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed in 1948 – to honour the victims of extreme poverty, violence and hunger.
They proclaimed poverty a violation of human rights, affirmed the need to ensure respect for these rights, and inscribed their commitments on a commemorative stone – replicas of which have been unveiled around the world, including in the garden of UN Headquarters in New York.
Since then, people have gathered every year on 17 October to show their solidarity with the poor.
INTERNATIONAL, 15 October 2021, Climate and Environment - In recent months, some 260 different clean-up operations have been undertaken across, aimed at protecting life under the sea, with the UN and European Union’s #EUBeachCleanUp campaign, managing to remove some 50 tons of trash from some of the EU’s finest shorelines.
Every year, millions of tons of litter end up in the ocean, often having a direct and deadly impact on wildlife, from seabirds to whales, fish to invertebrates.
With that in mind, the UN and the EU campaign has tapped into growing awareness of the issue, aiming to boost ocean activism at the grassroots level, through concrete action.
“The fish can get stuck in plastic, the turtles can eat the glass and other things can poke some of them”, four year old Gustavo Johns.
Launched in 2017, the campaign allows people from around the world to volunteer and contribute to restoring the planet.
Portugal embraces the wave of change
Most of this year initiatives took place on the beautiful beaches of Portugal. The host country of the UN Ocean Conference in 2022 was responsible for cleaning up 175 beaches, which represents almost 70% of all the actions taken by campaigners.
One of them involved children from Park International, a school in Lisbon. Wearing gloves and carrying trash-bags the four year olds went to “Praia da Poça”, a popular little beach at the start of the Estoril - Cascais coast, with the mission of saving marine life.
According to the organizers, millions of tons of litter end up in the ocean every year, and marine animals can´t distinguish between trash and food.
Children show the way
UN News/Teresa Salema
Children cleaning Praia da Poça, a popular little beach at the start of the Estoril - Cascais coast, in Portugal.
“The fish can get stuck in plastic, the turtles can eat the glass and other things can poke some of them”, student Gustavo Johns told UN News.
Bearing in mind the motto for the day, Together to protect marine life, the children removed litter from the beach and considered the different ways they could help protect ocean animals.
For Teresa Salema, the teacher who accompanied the kids to the beach, the action was important to “acquire the very important habit of not throwing trash on the floor, because the wind or the waves can bring it to the sea”.
‘Save the animals!’
“On their way to the beach, on the bus, they were singing: ‘Let’s save the animals! Let’s save the animals!’. They want to make sure that the ocean animals wouldn’t swallow trash, wouldn’t cough, or that any object would hurt the animals or kill them.”, Ms. Salema added, reminding that “actions like this also send and important message to the parents”.
Marine pollution starts on land and is one of the main drivers of the depletion of marine biodiversity. “Life Below Water” is goal number 14 of the Sustainable Development Goals, aiming to protect sea life and preserve oceans and seas and to significantly reduce by 2030 marine pollution of all kinds.
INTERNATIONAL, 15 October 2021, Human Rights - For more than two years, a UN-appointed team of 59 people has been collecting and analyzing more than two million pieces of evidence about possible human rights violations in Myanmar.
Working out of Geneva, there are experts in gender violence and crimes against children; analysts with experience in international justice; specialists in open source evidence; and investigators working with sophisticated information systems.
The Mechanism was established after an Independent International Fact-Finding Mission found “clear patterns” of violations by the military, known as the Tatmadaw, and insisted that the perpetrators of the “gross human rights violations”, including those against the Rohingya, must not go unpunished.
The IIMM is not a court, neither does it have the power to prosecute. The hope is that all the information that could otherwise be lost, is preserved, and then shared with national, regional or international courts.
In an extensive interview with UN News, the head of the Mechanism, Nicholas Koumjian, explains the importance of preserving this evidence before it is potentially lost.
“Crime scenes get disturbed, bodies decompose, wounds can heal, people’s memories can fade, witnesses with information can pass away”, he explains. “So it’s very important to collect the information while you can.”
The interview has been edited for clarity and length.
UN News: You and your colleagues have been working for over two years. What has been your focus? What has been achieved so far?
Nicholas Koumjian: We started two years ago, in July of 2019, and we've been building up the Mechanism, acquiring all of the expertise that we believe would be necessary.
We have those with expertise in International Criminal law, in things like gender violence, investigation of crimes against children, investigation of sexual assaults, analysts with experience in very complex international cases.
We have those with experience in using open source evidence and very sophisticated and secure information systems, so that the information that we collect and preserve, is held confidentially and no one has access to it, and that also allows us to analyse the very vast quantities of data that we have collected.
We're now looking at the evidence that we've collected, over two million pieces, and analysing that in various situations, that we believe have the potential to amount to criminal cases against individuals responsible for those offences.
UN News: Are there any preliminary conclusions? Can you share any?
Nicholas Koumjian: What's different about our mechanism is that we're not really a reporting mechanism. We're not a court or prosecution service. We're collecting the evidence and preparing files to share them with those courts that might, or judicial authorities that might have the authority, and the willingness, to hold fair proceedings to hold individuals to account.
We've specifically been asked to cooperate with the International Criminal Court, which has an investigation related to Rakhine State [home to many of those mostly-Rohingya Muslims who have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh], and we're doing that.
We also have been asked by the parties at the International Court of Justice to share evidence, and we looked at that situation. We want to help the judges in that case reach the best decision, and so we've agreed to look for relevant evidence that we can share, with the permission of those that provided it to us.
Nicolas Koumjian, Head of the Independant Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar., by UN Photo/ Jean Marc Ferré
UN News: Can you tell me how you're conducting this work without having access to the country?
Nicholas Koumjian: It's unfortunate that we don't have access. The Human Rights Council specifically asked Myanmar to cooperate with us and we've reached out to them and we will continue to reach out and seek cooperation and access to the country, to the crime scenes, and to witnesses inside Myanmar when we can do so safely.
UN News: Do you have any hope that it can happen at any time soon?
Nicholas Koumjian: I don't think there's an immediate prospect of that happening. But what I've learned is, in International Criminal law, and generally in history, it's very hard to predict the future. Things can change much quicker than we imagined, so we will continue to reach out and hope that things do change and that we will eventually have access.
UN News: Regarding the military coup in in February, has it impacted your work? If so, in what ways?
Nicholas Koumjian: We said, when the coup first happened, that the change of government itself, the overthrow of the constitutional authority, the question of fair elections and democratic process, is not within our mandate, which is limited to the most serious international crimes and violations of international law.
But we said that we were very concerned, given the history of Myanmar, of so many crimes against civilians occurring in political conflicts, that we would be watching the situation closely.
What we've seen since then is, unfortunately, that it appears that very serious crimes have been happening, throughout the country, in different regions, systematically and on a widespread basis. So, we're collecting that information.
Many different sources have been voluntarily reaching out to us to provide us with information.
Others we have contacted. I believe we received over 200,000 communications just in the first few months after the coup, so it's increased the burden on us, but it's also given us the opportunity to have more individuals and organizations willing to speak to us, more opportunities to talk to those who have information about what is happening or has happened in the past in Myanmar. And this has created some opportunities for investigations.
Conditions have 'worsened' in Myanmar following a military coup in February 2021, according to a UN human rights rapporteur., by Asian Development Bank
UN News: Is it correct to say that some of these investigations, some of the information you're collecting, wouldn't otherwise happen, or be collected, if your mechanism didn't exist?
Nicholas Koumjian: Yes, I believe that it is absolutely fair to say that.
I've worked on different war crime tribunals, different processes to seek accountability, and one of the things that we've seen in other conflicts is the importance of preserving information while it's still fresh, while you can, because, of course, crime scenes get disturbed, bodies decompose, wounds can heal, people’s memories can fade, witnesses with information can die, can pass away without that information being collected.
So, it's very important to collect the information while you can, because unfortunately international justice often is a long process.
I came to the Myanmar mechanism from being the co-prosecutor at the Extraordinary Chambers for the courts in Cambodia, otherwise known as the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, which was looking into crimes committed between 1975 to 1979.
Even in 2019, 40 years after those crimes were committed, that process was ongoing, and the evidence was being used. Fortunately, a lot of the evidence that was used there had been collected by a civil society organization, DC-Cam, in the 1990s, and that was very helpful to us.
So we think what we're doing now is very important, to preserve the evidence so that someday – and we hope it certainly will be much sooner than 40 years – this evidence can be used in courts that can hold those responsible for crimes accountable.
UN NEWS: When you talk about information and evidence, what are you talking about? Electronic communications? Forensic evidence?
Nicholas Koumjian: It's a broad category of information. We will be collecting information from individuals, sometimes interviewing individuals, collecting information that different organizations have previously collected, consolidating that, and analysing it.
Looking at digital information, looking at photographic and video information, analysing that with the most modern information technologies. We can locate where videos were taken and identify the duplicates, because we're getting so many thousands and thousands of videos and photographs, this is very important for us to do.
UN NEWS: And you're getting those from civil society organizations? People in the country?
Nicholas Koumjian: We're getting it from a broad range of different sources, and of course one of the basic premises of our work is that we don't name the individuals or organizations that we received the information from. But I would say from a very broad range of different types, organizations, businesses, individuals, many different types of sources.
UN NEWS: You spoke about having justice. What does it look like in this case?
Nicholas Koumjian: I think in Myanmar, as in many other conflicts around the world, many, many people have suffered. Some of them continue to suffer. There are hundreds of thousands of refugees living outside of their homes, either inside Myanmar or outside the borders of the country, wanting to go home.
Unfortunately, the crimes that they fled from continue to occur in some way or another, so they don't feel it's safe to go home.
Part of justice is assuring that those who committed crimes previously with impunity will now be held responsible, so that hopefully that will deter future crimes from occurring, and that the people of Myanmar who suffered can have some hope that these crimes will end and that they will receive some justice for what happened to themselves or to their family members.
INTERNATIONAL, 15 October 2021, Peace and Security - The United Nations has condemned the deadly suicide bombing during Friday prayers at the largest Shia mosque in Kandahar, Afghanistan, which killed at least 30 people and wounded dozens more.
The attack marked the second consecutive week that a Shia mosque in the country has been targeted, following a blast last Friday in the northeastern city of Kunduz, which left more than 100 worshippers dead.
“Terrorism continues in Afghanistan”, the UN mission in the country, UNAMA, said in a post on Twitter. “(The) UN condemns latest atrocity targeting a religious institution and worshippers. Those responsible need to be held to account.”
The President of the UN General Assembly, Abdulla Shahid, also strongly condemned the attack.
Mr. Shahid expressed his profound condolences to the families of the victims and wished a speedy recovery to all of those who were injured.
The blast occurred against the backdrop of the deepening and multifaceted crisis in Afghanistan.
Humanitarian needs increasing
The UN continues to advocate for greater international support for the country, where boys and girls “are paying the highest price”, according to Omar Abdi, Deputy Executive Director at the UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF.
“We anticipate that the humanitarian needs of children and women will increase over the coming months, amidst the severe drought and consequent water scarcity, an uncertain security environment, continuous displacement, the devastating socio-economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the onset of winter,” he said, speaking in New York on Friday.
Mr. Abdi was in Afghanistan last week, where he saw first-hand how children are bearing the impacts of a tattered economy and collapsing health system.
Medical supplies are running dangerously low, and outbreaks of measles and acute watery diarrhoea are on the rise.
Even before the Taliban takeover in August, at least 10 million Afghan children were in need of humanitarian assistance. He warned that at least one million are at risk of dying from severe acute malnutrition if they do not receive treatment immediately.
“I visited the Children's Hospital in Kabul and was shocked to see how packed it was with malnourished children, some of them babies,” he said.
Prioritize girls’ education
The UNICEF official met with the de facto authorities where he put girls’ education top of the agenda. Millions of Afghan girls of secondary school age have yet to return to the classroom.
“I got affirmations of the commitments that the Taliban made in terms of allowing all girls to go to school,” he said. “Girls up to grade six can go to school now.”
There are more than 30 provinces in Afghanistan and Mr. Abdi reported that it is only in five, where girls can go to secondary school, “but we are asking that girls everywhere go to school.”
The Taliban authorities are developing a framework on the issue, which is expected in the next two months, he said. The framework will also address concerns by more conservative elements in society around girls’ education, such as keeping girls separate from boys and allowing only women to teach them.
“Now interestingly, the authorities that I met said that when they put in place the framework that they're working on, (it) will convince more parents to send their girls to school, so that has to be seen,” he said.
Step up support
UNICEF has been in Afghanistan for more than 60 years. The agency fears that education gains made over the last two decades could be rolled back.
Since 2001, school enrollment jumped from one million to 10 million through to the middle of this year, including four million girls, while the number of schools also tripled, from 6,000 to 18,000 in the last decade. Yet, 4.2 million Afghan children are out of school, 2.6 million girls of them girls.
UNICEF is also now accessing more areas of the country that were previously under Taliban control. Some women staff are back at work, and Mr Abdi expects they will all return.
The UN agency is scaling up its programmes, but needs support, and he urged the de facto authorities, the international community, humanitarian organizations and other stakeholders, to step up more.
INTERNATIONAL, 15 October 2021, Humanitarian Aid - Displaced families in Nigeria’s northeast are “knocking on the door of starvation”, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) said on Friday.
The alert follows years of insecurity linked to non-State armed groups that have disrupted livelihoods and forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee in search of shelter.
More than one million children are already malnourished, according to WFP spokesperson Tomson Phiri.
He told journalists in Geneva that the agency may have to cut rations to more than half a million women, men and children in northeastern Nigeria by the end of the month, unless at least $55 million in new funding is found.
“We are facing very severe levels of hunger that we have witnessed since, this is probably the highest that we are witnessing since the crisis exploded in 2016. Approximately 4.4 million people are facing acute food insecurity in the conflict-affected states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe.”
Deciding who eats
Mr. Phiri said that COVID-19 had pushed up food prices and limited food supply, and that the number of internally displaced people surpassed two million in September – reaching another grim milestone.
Amidst the socio-economic fallout from COVID-19, high food prices and limited food supply, WFP’s Regional Director for West Africa Chris Nikoi observed during a recent visit that “cutting rations means choosing who gets to eat and who goes to bed hungry”.
“We are seeing funding for our life-saving humanitarian work dry up just at the time when hunger is at its most severe”, he warned, reminding that WFP’s food assistance is “a lifeline for millions whose lives have been upended by conflict and have almost nothing to survive on”.
Feeding people in search of safety
The number of people forced to flee their homes searching for safety in northeast Nigeria has been rising steadily.
“Cutting food assistance will be a painful decision for humanitarians as it will negatively affect children, women and men uprooted from their homes due to continued violence” said Edward Kallon, UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria, calling on partners to “step up” support in response to the growing needs.
Keep lifeline flowing
For five years, WFP has been providing life-saving food and nutrition assistance to the severely food insecure, displaced families in camps, and to vulnerable people living in host communities.
This year, relying on the continued generosity of donor partners, WFP ramped up its response to address rising food insecurity and the impact of COVID-19, targeting 1.9 million displaced people in the country.
However, to sustain humanitarian operations in northeast Nigeria until March 2022, WFP urgently needs $197 million.
“We must act now to save lives and avoid disruptions to this lifeline”, Regional Director Nikoi said.
INTERNATIONAL, 15 October 2021, Migrants and Refugees - The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, on Friday urged countries to step up reunification for Afghans whose families remain in the country or who are displaced across the region, as the humanitarian crisis in their homeland worsens.
Spokesperson Shabia Mantoo said Afghan refugees have been approaching UNHCR offices, desperately concerned about the safety and welfare of their loved ones left behind, or living in neighbouring countries.
“While recent political developments in Afghanistan have not led to large-scale cross-border displacement, many among pre-existing Afghan refugee and asylum seeker populations remain separated from their families owing to the inaccessibility of family reunification procedures,” she told journalists in Geneva.
The call comes as the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan continues to deteriorate as winter approaches. Half the population, some 20 million people, depend on aid to survive, and the number is rising.
Mothers pleading for milk
With the economy on the verge of collapse, the UN has been pressing the international community to increase support to the country. However, a $606 million appeal launched last month is only around 38 per cent funded.
Speaking from the capital, Kabul, UNHCR Spokesperson Babar Baloch said this week he was at a distribution centre where hundreds of people gathered to receive assistance every day. Their stories were heartbreaking.
“We saw an old mother collapsing before our eyes and some colleagues attended to her. The reason is she hasn’t eaten for days, and she is the one who is heading the household, because of what has happened to her,” he recalled.
“We have grandfathers, we have children, we have little girls who should be in school, queueing up in the redistribution queue and then you have mothers who are pleading for one more pack of cereal or milk.”
Prioritize family reunification
UNHCR is urging governments to prioritize and simplify reunification admission procedures so that Afghan refugees and their families can be together again.
Family reunification schemes are distinct from refugee resettlement programmes, but they can complement humanitarian programmes by facilitating safe and legal entry for refugees to other countries, thus reducing the chance of them resorting to dangerous and irregular routes.
Reunification ensures preservation of family unity, a principle protected under international law, the agency said, and also helps to protect lives, given the exceptionally challenging situation in Afghanistan.
“While many countries have specific legal frameworks that provide for refugee family reunification and offer specific safeguards and waivers, UNHCR is worried that many Afghan refugees could face considerable administrative barriers in realising this legal right,” said Ms. Mantoo, referring to constraints such as prohibitive costs, lengthy waiting times and inflexible documentation requirements.
Include extended family
A few countries have committed to fast-tracking through measures such as humanitarian visas and prioritizing reunification procedures for Afghan families, and UNHCR urged governments to ease, expand and expedite these arrangements.
Countries are also encouraged to apply “liberal and humane criteria” when it comes to identifying qualifying family members, taking into account diverse family compositions and structures.
Eligibility should also include extended family members, when a relationship of dependency is shown, said Ms. Mantoo. “In the current context, many of those seeking to reunify with their loved ones in third countries will in any case qualify as refugees and be eligible for all refugee protection safeguards.”
With many embassies and consulates currently closed in Afghanistan, refugees may face constraints in meeting administrative and documentation requirements. To account for this, UNHCR suggested that countries should update processing procedures, as well as accommodate remote interviews online, among other measures.
INTERNATIONAL, 15 October 2021, SDGs - Although rural women and girls have an essential role in food systems, they still do not have equal power with men, therefore earn less, and experience higher levels of food insecurity, according to UN Women, the agency supporting countries to reach gender equality.
Food systems worldwide depend on the labour of rural women. They raise and process crops, and prepare and distribute their products, ensuring that their families and communities are nourished.
However, these same women often have less access to food, and suffer higher risk of hunger, malnutrition and food insecurity, when compared with men.
Discriminatory gender norms often see them eating last, or least, in the household, where they are also responsible for the greater share of unpaid caregiving and domestic work.
The theme for the International Day, Rural Women Cultivating Good Food for All, shines a spotlight on the critical role they play in feeding the world.
UN Women said although the planet is capable of providing enough good food for everyone, more and more people are finding it harder to get enough to eat, especially in the face of escalating climate and environmental crises and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Transforming food systems
Last year, the number of people who did not have access to adequate food rose by nearly 20 per cent, reaching more than 2.3 billion. Most of those affected were rural women and girls.
The new plan puts gender equality, social justice, and sustainability at the centre of COVID-19 recovery and global efforts to “build back better” in the aftermath of the crisis.
“This International Day of Rural Women offers us a renewed opportunity to commit to a different way of organizing our world, to build on the vision of the Feminist Plan and on the outcomes and multi-stakeholder commitments of the recent United Nations Food System Summit, so that rural women benefit equally from their productivity, with good food enjoyed by all,” the agency said in a statement.
The Feminist Plan calls for strengthened partnerships between governments and civil society to scale up “gender-responsive agroecology”, described as an alternative to industrial agriculture.
This approach to farming has proven benefits for women small-scale producers. It also supports food security and protects biodiversity and ecosystems.
INTERNATIONAL, 15 October 2021, Climate and Environment - On 8 October, loud and unusual applause reverberated around the chamber of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. A battle fought for decades by environmental activists and rights’ defenders, had finally borne fruit.
For the first time ever, the United Nations body whose mission is to promote and protect human rights around the world, passed a resolution recognising access to a healthy and sustainable environment as a universal right.
The text also calls on countries to work together, and with other partners, to implement this breakthrough.
“Professionally that was probably the most thrilling experience that I ever have had or that I ever will have. It was a massive team victory. It took literally millions of people, and years and years of work to achieve this resolution”, said David Boyd, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Environment, who was in the room when President Nazhat Shameem from Fiji, brought down her gavel, announcing the voting results.
43 votes in favour and 4 abstentions counted as a unanimous victory to pass the text that cites the efforts of at least 1,100 civil society, child, youth and indigenous people’s organizations, who have been campaigning for global recognition, implementation and protection of the human right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment.
But why is this recognition important, and what does it mean for climate change-affected communities?
Here are six key things you need to know, compiled by us here at UN News.
1. First, let’s recall what the Human Rights Council does, and what its resolutions mean
The Human Rights Council is an inter-governmental body within the United Nations system, responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe and for addressing situations of human rights violations and make recommendations on them.
The Council is made up of 47 UN Member States which are elected by the absolute majority in the General Assembly and represent every region of the world.
Human Rights Council resolutions are “political expressions” that represent the position of the Council’s members (or the majority of them) on particular issues and situations. These documents are drafted and negotiated among States with to advance specific human rights issues.
They usually provoke a debate among States, civil society and intergovernmental organisations; establish new ‘standards’, lines or principles of conduct; or reflect existing rules of conduct.
Resolutions are drafted by a “core group”: Costa Rica, the Maldives, Morocco, Slovenia and Switzerland, were the countries who brought resolution 48/13 for its adoption in the council, recognising for the first time that having a clean, healthy and sustainable environment is indeed a human right.
2. It was a resolution decades in the making
In 1972, the United Nations Conference on the Environment in Stockholm, which ended with a historical declaration, was the first one to place environmental issues at the forefront of international concerns and marked the start of a dialogue between industrialized and developing countries on the link between economic growth, the pollution of the air, water and the ocean, and the well-being of people around the world.
UN Member States back then, declared that people have a fundamental right to "an environment of a quality that permits a life of dignity and well-being," calling for concrete action. They called for both the Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly to act.
Since 2008, the Maldives, a Small Island Developing State on the frontline of climate change impacts, has been tabling a series of resolutions on human rights and climate change, and in the last decade, on human rights and environment.
Support for UN recognition of this right grew during the COVID-19 pandemic. The idea was endorsed by UN's Secretary-General António Guterres and High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, as well as more than 1,100 civil society organisations from around the world. Nearly 70 states on the Human Rights Council also added their voices to a call by the council’s core group on human rights and environment for such action, and 15 UN agencies also sent a rare joint declaration advocating for it.
“A surge in emerging zoonotic diseases, the climate emergency, pervasive toxic pollution and a dramatic loss of biodiversity have brought the future of the planet to the top of the international agenda”, a group of UN experts said in a statement released in June this year, on World Environment Day.
Emmanuel Rouy/Lycée Français d
Students of the primary section of the Lycée français de New York (French School) protest climate change in the city’s Upper East Side neighbourhood (file photo).
3. It was a David vs Goliath story…
To finally reach the vote and decision, the core group lead intensive inter-governmental negotiations, discussions and even experts’ seminars, over the past few years.
Levy Muwana, a Youth Advocate and environmentalist from Zambia, participated in one of the seminars.
“As a young child, I was affected with bilharzia, a parasitic disease, because I was playing in the dirty water near my household.
A few years later, a girl died in my community from cholera. These events are sadly common and occurring more often.
Water-born infectious diseases are increasing worldwide, especially across sub-Saharan Africa, due to the changing climate”, he told Council members last August.
Muwana made clear that his story was not unique, as millions of children worldwide are significantly impacted by the devastating consequences of the environmental crisis. “1.7 million of them die every year from inhaling contaminated air or drinking polluted water”, he said.
The activist, along with over 100.000 children and allies had signed a petition for the right to a healthy environment to be recognised, and they were finally heard.
“There are people who want to continue the process of exploiting the natural world and have no reservations about harming people to do that. So those very powerful opponents have kept this room from going forward for decades.
It's almost like a David and Goliath story that all of these civil society organizations were able to overcome this powerful opposition, and now we have this new tool that we can use to fight for a more just and sustainable world”, says David Boyd, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Environment.
Young girls carry water from a source in Ituri in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
4. But what good is a non-legally binding resolution?
Mr. Boyd explains that the resolution should be a catalyst for more ambitious action on every single environmental issue that we face.
“It really is historic, and it really is meaningful for everyone because we know right now that 90% of people in the world are breathing polluted air.
“So right off the bat if we can use this resolution as a catalyst for actions to clean up air quality, then we're going to be improving the lives of billions of people”, he emphasizes.
Human Rights Council resolutions might not be legally binding, but they do contain strong political commitments.
“The best example we have of what kind of a difference these UN resolutions make is if we look back at the resolutions in 2010 that for the first time recognized the right to water. That was a catalyst for governments all over the world who added the right to water to their constitutions, their highest and strongest laws”, Mr. Boyd says.
The Rapporteur cites Mexico, which after adding the right to water in the constitution, has now extended safe drinking water to over 1,000 rural communities.
“There are a billion people who can't just turn on the tap and have clean, safe water coming out, and so you know, for a thousand communities in rural Mexico, that's an absolutely life-changing improvement. Similarly, Slovenia, after they put the right to water in their constitution because of the UN resolutions, they then took action to bring safe drinking water to Roma communities living in informal settlements on city outskirts”.
According to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the recognition of the right to a healthy environment at the global level will support efforts to address environmental crises in a more coordinated, effective and non-discriminatory manner, help achieve the Sustainable Developing Goals, provide stronger protection of rights and of the people defending the environment, and help create a world where people can live in harmony with nature.
Extreme weather events are devastating many countries, including Fiji which was hit by a cyclone in 2016.
5. The link between human rights and environment is indisputable
Mr. Boyd has witnessed firsthand the devastating impact that climate change has already had on people’s rights.
In his first country mission as a Special Rapporteur, he met the first community in the world that had to be completely relocated due to rising sea levels, coastal erosion and increased intensity of storm surges.
“You know, from this beautiful waterfront paradise on a Fijian island, they had to move their whole village inland about three kilometers. Older persons, people with disabilities, pregnant women, they're now separated from the ocean that has sustained their culture and their livelihoods for many generations”.
These situations are not only seen in developing countries. Mr. Boyd also visited Norway where he met Sami indigenous people also facing the impacts of climate change.
“I heard really sad stories there. For thousands of years their culture and their economy has been based on reindeer herding, but now because of warm weather in the winters, even in Norway, north of the Arctic Circle, sometimes it rains.
“The reindeer who literally for thousands of years had been able to scrape away snow during the winter to get to the lichens and mosses that sustained them, now can't scrape away the ice - and they’re starving”.
The story repeats itself in Kenya, where pastoralists are losing their livestock because of droughts that are being exacerbated by climate change.
“They have done nothing to cause this global crisis and they’re the ones who are suffering, and that's why it's such a human rights issue.
“That's why it's such an issue of justice. Wealthy countries and wealthy people need to start to pay for the pollution they've created so that we can help these vulnerable communities and these vulnerable peoples to adapt and to rebuild their lives”, Mr. Boyd said.
Air pollution in Dhaka, Bangladesh, is leading to a series of health problems for the city's inhabitants.
6. What’s next?
The Council resolution includes an invitation to the UN General Assembly to also consider the matter. The Special Rapporteur says he is “cautiously optimistic” that the body will pass a similar resolution within the next year.
“We need this. We need governments and we need everyone to move with a sense of urgency. I mean, we're living in a climate, biodiversity, and pollution crisis, and also a crisis of these emerging diseases like COVID which have environmental root causes. And so that's why this resolution is critically important because it says to every government in the world ‘you have to put human rights at the centre of climate action, of conservation, of addressing pollution and of preventing future pandemics’”.
For Dr. Maria Neira, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) environment chief, the resolution is already having important repercussions and a mobilizing impact.
“The next step will be how we translate that on the right to clean air and whether we can push, for instance, for the recognition of WHO’S Global Air Quality Guidelines and the levels of exposure to certain pollutants at a country level. It will also help us to move certain legislation and standards at the national level”, she explains.
Air pollution, primarily the result of burning fossil fuels, which also drives climate change, causes 13 deaths per minute worldwide. Dr. Neira calls for the end of this “absurd fight” against the ecosystems and environment.
“All the investments need to be on ensuring access to safe water and sanitation, on making sure that electrification is done with renewable energy and that our food systems are sustainable.”
According to WHO, achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement would save millions of lives every year due to improvements in air quality, diet, and physical activity, among other benefits.
“The climate emergency has become a matter of survival for many populations. Only systemic, profound and rapid changes will make it possible to respond to this global ecological crisis", says the Special Rapporteur.
For Mr. Boyd, the approval of the historical resolution in the Human Rights Council was a ‘paradoxical’ moment.
“There was this incredible sense of accomplishment and also at the exact same time a sense of how much work remains to be done to take these beautiful words and translate them into changes that will make people's lives better and make our society more sustainable”.
The newly declared right to a healthy and clean environment will also hopefully influence positively negotiations during the upcoming UN Climate Conference COP26, in Glasgow, which has been described by the UN chief as the last chance to ‘turn the tide’ and end the war on our planet.
INTERNATIONAL, 14 October 2021, Climate and Environment - World Food Day is not only a reminder of the importance of what we eat to everyone on the planet, but also “a call to action to achieve food security around the world”, the UN chief said in his message marking the day on Friday.
World Food Day is not only a reminder of the importance of what we eat to everyone on the planet, but also “a call to action to achieve food security around the world”, the UN chief said in his message marking the day on Friday.
Commemorated annually on 15 October, Secretary-General António Guterres pointed out that currently, almost 40 per cent of humanity, some three billion people, can’t afford to eat healthily.
And as hunger, undernourishment, and obesity are on the rise, the economic impacts of COVID-19 “have made a bad situation even worse”, he said, noting that the pandemic has left an additional 140 million people “unable to access the food they need”.
For people and planet
At the same time, the way we produce, consume and waste food is taking a heavy toll on our planet.
“It is putting historic pressure on our natural resources, climate and natural environment - and costing us trillions of dollars a year”, warned the UN chief.
Reference this year’s theme that the power to change is in our hands, he spelled out that “our actions are our future”.
The UN chief recalled that during the summit, “countries made bold commitments” to make healthy diets more affordable and accessible and to make food systems “more efficient, resilient and sustainable at every step”.
“We can all change how we consume food, and make healthier choices – for ourselves, and our planet”, said the Secretary-General. “In our food systems, there is hope”.
An agri-food system comprises all the activities related to the production, processing, distribution, preparation and consumption of food.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), that’s something we play a part in, every time we eat: “The food we choose and the way we produce, prepare, cook and store it make us an integral and active part of the way in which an agri-food system works”.
In a healthy and sustainable agri-food system, local market shelves are stocked with nutritious food, but less is wasted and the supply chain is more resilient to shocks, such as extreme weather, price spikes or pandemics – all without worsening environmental degradation or climate change.
“In fact, sustainable agri-food systems deliver food security and nutrition for all, without compromising the economic, social and environmental bases, for generations to come” said the UN agriculture agency. “They lead to better production, better nutrition, a better environment and a better life for all.