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UNICEF urges leaders to keep schools safe following deadly Texas shooting

INTERNATIONAL, 25 May 2022, Peace and Security - Governments must take greater action to ensure school remains a safe place for boys and girls, the head of the UN children’s agency, UNICEF, said on Wednesday, following the latest deadly school shooting in the United States. 

At least 19 children and two teachers were killed on Tuesday when 18-year-old gunman Salvador Ramos opened fire at Robb Elementary School in the small city of Uvalde, Texas, located near the border with Mexico. 

How many more? 

Catherine Russell, UNICEF’s Executive Director, said there have already been “horrific attacks” this year on schools in Afghanistan, Ukraine, the US, West Africa and beyond. 

“Tragedy after tragedy, shooting after shooting, young life after young life: how many more children will die before government leaders act to keep children and their schools safe? Because until they do, these horrors will continue,” she said in a statement. 

Ms. Russell emphasized that outside of their homes, school is the one place where children should feel safest. 

She noted that in addition to the lives lost, “many more children, teachers and school staff who witnessed the carnage will bear the emotional and psychological scars for the rest of their lives.” 

Shock and sadness 

UN Secretary-General António Guterres was deeply shocked and saddened by “the heinous mass shooting”, saying it was particularly heart-wrenching that most of the victims are children.  

Mr. Guterres has extended his heartfelt condolences to the families and loved ones of the victims and to the entire community, his Spokesperson said in a statement issued on Tuesday. 

UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed expressed her outrage in a post on Twitter. 

“When children go to school, they should only be concerned about learning,” she wrote.  “Children should not go to school fearing for their lives!” 

Ms. Mohammed said her heartfelt prayers are with the families, classmates and teachers who are mourning this “devastating loss”. 

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‘Grim reality’ of war’s deadly toll on civilians laid bare in Security Council

INTERNATIONAL, 25 May 2022, Peace and Security - Conflict continues to inflict “widespread civilian death and injury” a senior UN official told the Security Council on Wednesday, outlining the “grim reality” for those caught up in the crossfire of war.

Updating the ambassadors on the latest UN report on protecting civilians in armed conflict, Ramesh Rajasingham, Director of the Coordination Division of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that hostilities in densely populated areas, “sharply” increased the risks of death and injury for civilians.

“When explosive weapons were used in populated areas, about 90 per cent of casualties were civilians, compared to 10 per cent in other areas”.

Catalogue of destruction

War damages and erodes critical infrastructure, by disrupting vital water, sanitation, electricity and health services, and puts education at risk – depriving hundreds of thousands of children of tuition, while rendering them vulnerable to forced recruitment, and other dangers.

“In the first nine months of last year, over 900 schools in Afghanistan were destroyed, damaged or closed and their rehabilitation hindered by explosive hazards,” he stated.

Conflict also damages the natural environment not just through fighting, but due to a lack of good governance and neglect.

Forcible displacement

“We are all too familiar with the cycle of violence and displacement, and 2021 was no exception,” said Mr. Rajasingham. “By midyear, fighting and insecurity had forcibly displaced 84 million people, with close to 51 million of them internally displaced”.

Meanwhile, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) reported over the weekend that the Ukraine war and other conflicts have pushed the number of people forced to flee conflict, violence, human rights violations and persecution, to over 100 million, for the first time on record.

When civilians flee, they often left behind people with disabilities and those who manage to leave frequently confront difficulties in accessing assistance.

Health impacts

Conflict also takes a significant toll on mental health.

“More than one in five people living in conflict-affected areas were estimated to suffer from depression, anxiety and PTSD,” said the deputy humanitarian chief.

Medical workers, facilities, equipment and transport continued to come under attack, while parties to conflict interfered with medical care.

“In northern Ethiopia, healthcare facilities, equipment and transport were attacked and looted, and hospitals used for military purposes,” he elaborated.

And the pandemic has intensified human suffering and strained weakened healthcare services.

“Nearly three billion people are still waiting for their first vaccine, many of them in conflict situations where health systems are weak and public trust is low,” Mr. Rajasingham told the Council.  

Humanitarian struggles

At the same time, parties to conflicts have heightened food insecurity by destroying supply chains, as aid workers continued to face complex challenges depriving civilians of life-saving assistance.

Children play in a neighbourhood ravaged by conflict in Iraq.
© UNICEF/UN0330643/Anmar
Children play in a neighbourhood ravaged by conflict in Iraq.

And as non-State armed groups further complicate humanitarian access negotiations, private military and security contractors have increasingly thrown up roadblocks for humanitarians desperately trying to deliver aid, said the deputy relief chief.

Moreover, as sanctions and broad counterterrorism measures interfere with humanitarian work, misinformation and disinformation have eroded trust – putting humanitarians at risk of harm and further jeopardizing operations.

“When humanitarian activities were politicized, community acceptance was jeopardized,” detailed the OCHA chief. “Humanitarian staff were intimidated, arrested and detained while carrying out their functions.”

Last year, some 143 security incidents against humanitarian workers were recorded in 14 countries and territories affected by conflict, along with 93 humanitarian deaths.

Of those killed, injured or kidnapped, 98 per cent were national staff.

Ukraine: Suffering and loss

Since 24 February, OHCHR has recorded 8,089 civilian casualties in Ukraine, with 3,811 killed and 4,278 injured.

Hospitals, schools, homes, and shelters have come under attack, 12 million have been forced from their homes, and tens of thousands of civilians remained trapped and cut off from food, water and electricity.

“The prospect of nuclear conflict, once unthinkable, is now back within the realm of possibility,” said the Deputy Relief Coordinator.

Turning to the war’s impact on exports, he said that food, fuel and fertilizer prices have skyrocketed globally – with increases of up to 30 per cent for staple foods affecting people across Africa and the Middle East – “hitting the poorest people the hardest…and planting the seeds for further political instability and unrest worldwide.”

A woman retrieves possessions from her bombed house in the village of Novoselivka, near Chernihiv, Ukraine.
UNDP Ukraine/Oleksandr Ratushnia
A woman retrieves possessions from her bombed house in the village of Novoselivka, near Chernihiv, Ukraine.

Compliance

Mr. Rajasingham underscored that all States and non-State actors must comply with international humanitarian law (IHL), including by avoiding explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas.

He also upheld the need to integrate legal protections into military training, doctrine, and policy and legal frameworks.

“Parties to conflict and States must apply much greater political will and commitment to respect the rules of war,” concluded the senior UN official.

Uphold humanitarian tenets

Robert Mardini, Director-General of the International Committee of the Red Cross, briefs the Security Council meeting on the protection of civilians in armed conflict.
UN Photo/Manuel Elías

Director-General of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Robert Mardini, reminded ambassadors that respect for IHL requires accountability and constructive dialogue with States and the various parties to conflict.

Humanitarian principles must never be compromised, he said.

Recalling that ICRC has been briefing the Council year after year on the plight of civilians, he argued that civilian protection should be made more of a strategic priority by States, in the planning and conduct of all military operations “in populated areas, which includes avoiding the use of heavy explosive weapons.”

‘New muscle’ needed

David Miliband, President of the International Rescue Committee, and a former British Foreign Secretary, stressed that early warning mechanisms must not be allowed to “gather dust.”

“We see the constraints around this Council as well as in the conflict zones where we work.  But we also look to the wider international community to break the deadlock,” he said, advocating for the General Assembly to establish independent mechanisms to gather evidence on violations of international law. 

Mr. Miliband also maintained the need for “new muscle” to prevent “the strangulation and weaponization of aid,” and more determination to uphold existing rights.

Click here to view the meeting in its entirety. 

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UN rights chief Bachelet holds ‘valuable’ meeting with China’s President Xi

INTERNATIONAL, 25 May 2022, Human Rights - On day three of her official mission to China, top UN rights official Michelle Bachelet described having a “valuable opportunity” to highlight rights issues and concerns with President Xi Jinping and other senior officials, the first such visit by a UN rights chief since 2005.

In a tweet on Wednesday, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Bachelet, indicated that she had been able to “discuss directly” important issues via videolink with the country’s premier, without providing further information about her talking points.

Personal mission

“I have been committed to undertaking this visit, the first visit by a UN Human Rights High Commissioner to China in 17 years, because for me, it is a priority to engage with the Government of China directly…on human rights issues, domestic, regional and global,” Ms. Bachelet said, in comments shared by her OfficeOHCHR.

She added: “For development, peace and security to be sustainable – locally and across borders – human rights have to be at the core.”

In opening remarks to President Xi, the UN rights chief also stressed that China had “a crucial role to play within multilateral institutions in confronting many of the challenges facing the world currently”, comments echoed in an address to students at Guangzhou University.

These challenges included “threats to international peace and security, instability in the global economic system, inequality, climate change and more”, Ms. Bachelet explained, adding that she looked forward “to deepening our discussions on these and other issues”.

As with other countries, the High Commissioner also offered China technical assistance to “accompany efforts to strengthen the promotion and protection of human rights, justice and the rule of law for all without exception”.

Xinjiang spotlight

The development came as Ms. Bachelet prepared to visit the western Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region on Wednesday, where UN-appointed independent rights experts have raised serious concerns about the alleged detention and forced labour of Muslim Uyghurs.

China has strongly denied the allegations over its treatment of the Uyghur minority, hundreds of thousands of whom who have been reportedly held in so-called re-education” facilities or forcibly transferred to factories in Xinjiang or other Chinese provinces.

Student solutions

Also on Wednesday – halfway into her six-day mission to China - the UN rights chief delivered a lecture to students at Guangzhou University.

At a time of “uncertainty and unpredictability”, a “human rights education is so crucial” for everyone, Ms. Bachelet insisted.

It offered the opportunity to shape “our own social, economic, cultural and political reality”, she continued, adding that it provided “concrete solutions to the challenges people face”.

Despite numerous global threats, from COVID-19 to climate change, conflict and growing inequalities, the High Commissioner told her audience that “the tremendous power of youth” was one of several “beacons of hope”.

“A fundamental ingredient for youth to be able to play that role is an open civic space where they can voice their opinions and seek change,” Ms. Bachelet said, adding that she had been inspired by youth activist movements who had challenged “discrimination, injustice and inequalities”.

She added: “Young people are influencing debates of national and international importance and prompting social change - including by demanding a seat at the table and holding governments and businesses to account for their inaction.”

Echoing the UN Secretary-General’s Call to Action for Human Rights and Our Common Agenda blueprint for multilateral action, which underlines how young people must have the opportunity to take part in discussions that affect them, Ms. Bachelet highlighted the need for “an open civic space where they can voice their opinions and seek change”.

Returning to the topic of the inalienable right to participate in open dialogue, she also added: “When various sectors of society are brought into discussions, are included in debate, it allows for a deeper understanding of the issues. With different voices at the table, States can better identify gaps in laws and policies, to make sure they are more just.”

Upon arriving in Guangzhou on Monday where she was greeted by Vice Foreign Minister Ma Zhaoxu, Ms. Bachelet told journalists that she expected to discuss “some very important and sensitive issues” over the course of her visit, to help to “build confidence”.

She is scheduled to hold a press conference at the end of her six-day mission.

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Disaster prevention, risk reduction, critical to sustainable future: UN deputy chief

INTERNATIONAL, 25 May 2022, Climate and Environment - The world will experience 1.5 medium to large-scale disasters every day through the end of the decade, unless countries ramp up action on prevention and risk reduction, UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed said in Bali, Indonesia, on Wednesday.

Ms. Mohammed was speaking at the opening of the Seventh Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction - the first international forum on the issue since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic - bringing together governments, the UN and key stakeholders.

During the three-day meeting, participants will take stock of implementation of a 2015 agreement known as the Sendai Framework, which aims to protect development gains from the risk of disaster.

Resilient future

The UN deputy chief told participants that the world is looking to the forum for leadership, wisdom, and expertise.

“The decisions you take can play a significant part in preventing another calamity like the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said.  “We can – and we must – put our efforts firmly behind prevention and risk reduction, and build a safe, sustainable, resilient and equitable future for all.”

Disasters are already hampering global efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed (third left) visits the UN in Indonesia booth at the first post-pandemic global disaster summit in Bali.
© UNDRR
UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed (third left) visits the UN in Indonesia booth at the first post-pandemic global disaster summit in Bali.

Lessons from COVID-19

Stressing the need for urgency, Ms. Mohammed outlined four areas for action, starting with learning from the pandemic.

“We must secure better coherence and implementation of the humanitarian development nexus.  That means improving risk governance. Because despite our efforts, risk creation is outpacing risk reduction,” she said.

Ms. Mohammed noted that currently, there are no governance frameworks in place to manage risks and to mitigate their impact. She said the UN’s 2022 Global Assessment Report, published last month, outlines ways in which governance systems can evolve to better address systemic risks. 

The report “makes clear that in a world of uncertainty, understanding and reducing risk, is fundamental to achieving sustainable development”, she added.

Invest in data

For her second point, Ms. Mohammed emphasized the importance of investing in stronger data capabilities.  

She pointed to “new multilateral instruments” in this area, such as the UN’s Complex Risk Analytics Fund, which supports “data ecosystems” that can better anticipate, prevent, and respond to complex threats, before they turn into full-blown disasters

“This includes jointly developing risk analysis, and investing in coordination and data infrastructure that enables knowledge-sharing and joint anticipatory action. Such investments will us help us navigate complex risks earlier, faster, and in a more targeted and efficient manner,” she said.

Mangroves serve as a protective ecosystem for the community of Punta de Miguel near Ecuador’s border with Colombia.
© WFP/Giulio d'Adamo
Mangroves serve as a protective ecosystem for the community of Punta de Miguel near Ecuador’s border with Colombia.

Support vulnerable countries

As the world’s Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States suffer disproportionately during disasters, her third point centred on giving greater focus to them. 

Disasters in these countries can wipe out decades of development progress and economic growth, she said, with very serious long-term economic and social consequences. 

“We urgently need to step up international cooperation for prevention and disaster risk reduction in the most vulnerable countries and for the most vulnerable communities, including women and girls, people with disabilities, the poor, marginalized and isolated,” she said.

Early warning saves lives

Ms. Mohammed listed the provision of Early Warning Systems as one example of an effective measure that provides a considerable return on investment.

She said the UN Secretary-General has asked the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) to present an action plan at the next UN Climate Conference (COP27), to be held in Egypt in November, aimed at ensuring that every person on earth is covered by Early Warning Systems within five years.   

For her final point, Ms. Mohammed called for the public and financial sectors to be “risk proofed”, stating that “we need to ‘think resilience’, account for the real cost of disasters and incentivize risk reduction, to stop the spiral of disaster losses.”

Governments also need to factor disaster risk reduction into financial frameworks, while “alternative measurements, beyond Gross Domestic Product, should take account of disaster risk and resilience.”

Aerial view of damage caused by Hurricane Irma in Antigua and Barbuda (2017).
UN Photo/Rick Bajornas
Aerial view of damage caused by Hurricane Irma in Antigua and Barbuda (2017).

Resilience ‘must be our mantra’: Shahid

The President of the UN General Assembly, Abdulla Shahid, said that one overriding lesson of COVID and the climate crisis, was that those who are furthest behind, and who suffer the most are “far to often, wiped away by whatever crisis comes their way.”

“Our recovery from the pandemic must reflect this knowledge. Resilience, must be our mantra”, he said.

“Every new building, every new social programme, every budget and every initiative must be designed and executed in a way that reduces risk. It must be embedded into everything we do, from the very beginning, and cross-checked at each step of the way.

“And the importance, no, the necessity, of this will only increase.”

Mr. Shahid said the requirement now, was for a “transformative recovery” that makes up for gaps in economic, social, and environmental policies, and over production and consumption.

“Everything about the way we live on this planet, must now be seen through a precautionary lens, ever mindful of the volatility that exists, and laser focused on covering gaps and strengthening defences.

Such a recovery, he said, “requires more than policy, it requires whole-of-society ownership.”

Seize the moment

The Seventh Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction was organized by the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) and is being hosted by the Government of Indonesia. 

President Joko Widodo said his country is highly prone to disasters.

“In 2022, as of May 23, 1,300 disasters have taken place, and in a month, on average, 500 earthquakes happened,” he said.

“Therefore, at the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, today, the government of Indonesia offers to the world the concept of resilience as a solution to mitigate all forms of disasters, including pandemics.”

President Widodo also called on all nations to “commit and be serious” in implementing the Sendai Framework.

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Cultural destruction in Ukraine by Russian forces will reverberate for years, UN rights expert warns

INTERNATIONAL, 25 May 2022, Culture and Education - The attempted destruction of Ukraine’s historic culture by invading Russian forces, will have a devastating impact on the pace of recovery in the post-war era, an independent UN human rights expert warned on Wednesday

“As in other conflicts, we currently witness the unfolding of suffering in Ukraine that does not seem to end and we cannot stop,” said Alexandra Xanthaki, Special Rapporteur on cultural rights.

“The questioning and denial of the Ukrainian identity and history as a justification for war, is a violation of the Ukrainians’ right to self-determination and their cultural rights.

“Self-identification is the paramount expression of these rights and all discussions, by States and in social media, should respect this.”

She said that the considerable loss of cultural heritage already, and destruction of cultural artefacts, was worrying for the identity of both Ukrainians and minorities within the country, and would impact the return to a peaceful multicultural society after the end of the war.

Museums under fire

Ms. Xanthaki expressed her concern at damage inflicted by Russian forces on city centres, cultural sites and monuments and museums, housing important collections.

“These are all part of the identity of people in Ukraine; their loss will have a lasting effect,” the expert said. She shared UN cultural agency UNESCO’s concern that there is an existential threat to Ukraine’s entire cultural life.

The expert said the cultural rights of all individuals - Ukrainians, Russians and other members of minorities living within Ukraine, the Russian Federation, and elsewhere - must be fully respected and protected.

"As the battles rage on, we are not completely powerless,” she said. “Beyond recalling that the rules of international humanitarian and human rights law should be scrupulously applied by all parties to the conflict, we must ensure that culture helps us maintain our dignity and is not used as a means to pursue and fuel the war. 

"We often do not measure how devastating violations of cultural rights can be for peace”, she continued.

"Attempts against academic and artistic freedoms, linguistic rights, falsification and distortion of historical facts, denigration of identities and denial of the right to self-determination, result in further degeneration and fueling of open conflict.”

The expert paid tribute to the many cultural professionals in Ukraine devoted to protecting the country’s heritage, who are using powerful artistic expression, against the war, and in favour of peace.

‘Regret’ over retaliation

The Special Rapporteur also expressed her regret about the indiscriminate exclusion of Russian artists from cultural events.

“I am saddened by the numerous restrictions affecting Russian artists in retaliation for the actions of the Russian Government, as well as by the deprogramming of sometimes centuries-old works of art from Russian writers or composers”.

Ms. Xanthaki cited reports of Russian musicians prevented from performing or taking part in competitions, and of Russian artists being asked to publicly take sides.

“It is especially in this situation of continuous dehumanization, that culture and cultural rights must be visible and visibly push for humanity, empathy and peaceful co-existence,” she said.

UN Special Rapporteurs are independent experts, appointed by the Human Rights Council. They are not UN staff, nor are they paid by the UN, for their work.

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UNHCR chief urges support for Bangladesh to save Rohingya lives, ‘build hope’

INTERNATIONAL, 25 May 2022, Migrants and Refugees - Wrapping up a five-day mission to Bangladesh, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees appealed on Wednesday for sustained and predictable support for Rohingya refugees and their host communities.

“The world must remember the crisis that Rohingya refugees and their hosts have been facing for the last five years,” Filippo Grandi said after visiting refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar and Bhasan Char island, in the Bay of Bengal.    

Bangladesh hosts some one million Rohingya refugees, most of whom fled from Myanmar in 2017.

UN priority

Mr. Grandi lauded the Bangladesh Government’s leadership in making important strides in refugee response, including the provision of COVID-19 vaccinations for more than 88 per cent of the population, aged 18 and over.

“Bangladesh, which has led in assisting nearly a million refugees, remains a priority partner for UNHCR, but continued international support is crucial to provide life-saving assistance and build hope,” he stressed.

Support, imperative

Noting that refugee lives depend on “how the international community responds in caring for them,” the High Commissioner reminded that international support was vital, “including flexible funding to protect Rohingya refugees until they can safely return home.”

In meeting with national leaders, UNHCR donors and humanitarian actors, he also emphasized the need to maintain refugees’ hopes for voluntary return to Myanmar, as the situation allows.

“The world must work to address the root causes of their flight and to translate those dreams into reality,” said the High Commissioner.

Hope of return

According to Mr. Grandi, the solutions lie within Myanmar.

“The Rohingya refugees I met reiterated their desire to return home when conditions allow”, he said.

Meanwhile, under a tripartite agreement maintained with the military leadership, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, and UN Development Programme (UNDP) continue to work on community projects in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.

He explained however, that those initiatives must be scaled up and better supported, to create conditions for voluntary returns in a just, safe, and sustainable manner.

Safety, dignity, and education

In the meantime, Bangladesh has offered a welcoming interim home to those on the move – some 52 per cent of whom are under 18.

As such, the UNHCR chief maintained the importance of enabling Rohingya parents to send their children to school and study according to the Myanmar curriculum, which is being rolled out in the refugee camps.

Bangladesh, which has led in assisting nearly a million refugees, remains a priority partner for UNHCR – High Commissioner for Refugees

“Skills development and livelihood activities in Cox’s Bazar and on Bhasan Char are extremely important in allowing refugees to build peaceful communities, contribute to a safe environment and support their sustainable return.”

Island camp

The Bangladesh Government has relocated some 28,000 Rohingya refugees to the offshore island of Bhasan Char, where it has scaled up essential humanitarian services.

He called for continued strong management of conditions on the island, enhanced education services, skills development and livelihood initiatives. 

Humanitarian agencies need more than $881 million this year to support approximately 1.4 million people, including 920,000 Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar and Bhasan Char, and around 540,000 Bangladeshis “in neighbouring communities.”

As of this month, the Joint Response Plan is only 13 per cent funded.

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Africa provides a ‘home for hope’, despite new challenges: Guterres

INTERNATIONAL, 24 May 2022, Economic Development - On Africa Day, the world celebrates the diverse and dynamic continent’s “enormous promise and potential”, the UN chief said in an upbeat message to mark the day on Wednesday.

“Africa is a home for hope,” said Secretary-General António Guterres, citing the continent’s “growing and vibrant youth population”.

And with initiatives such as the African Continental Free Trade Area, the Decade of Women’s Financial and Economic Inclusion, and the African Union’s (AU) bold Agenda 2063 set of game-changing proposals, the “prospects on the horizon are bright”, he declared.

Obstacles to success

However, the top UN official reminded that there are “multiple challenges preventing Africa from reaching its full potential”.

He pointed to the COVID-19 pandemic and its devastating impact on African economies along with climate change, unresolved conflicts, and a severe food crisis.

And the war in Ukraine is exacerbating challenges, “creating a perfect storm for developing countries, especially in Africa”.

“This crisis is resulting in soaring costs for food, energy and fertilizer with devastating consequences on nutrition and food systems, while making it even more difficult for the continent to mobilize the financial resources needed to invest in its people,” the Secretary-General detailed.

Day to remember

Africa Day marks the 1963 founding of the Organization of African Unity, now known as the AU, and provides an annual opportunity to reflect on the challenges and achievements of the continent.

Among African nations, UN entities have long played key roles in promulgating the fundamental values of the Charter and Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

From peace and security to social and economic development and regional integration, the United Nations has proven itself an indispensable partner.

Standing in solidarity

With 2022 designated the Year of Nutrition by the AU, the Secretary-General urged the world to “join together in solidarity with all Africans to strengthen food security and put nutrition within reach of every person”.

“We must also intensify our efforts to end the pandemic, reform the global financial system, stop climate change and silence the guns across all conflicts,” he added.

The UN chief concluded by pledging the Organization’s continued support in “standing proudly with Africans as we work to deliver on the promise of a prosperous and peaceful Africa”.

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Time is short for Sudan to resolve political crisis, Mission chief warns

INTERNATIONAL, 24 May 2022, Peace and Security - Time is short for Sudan to reach a solution to its protracted political crisis, the Special Representative for the country told the Security Council on Tuesday, warning that if the impasse is not urgently overcome, the consequences will be felt beyond national borders, impacting a whole generation.

“The crisis facing Sudan is entirely homegrown and can only be resolved by the Sudanese,” Volker Perthes, who is also Head of the United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS), told Council members. 

Envoys of the trilateral mechanism facilitating intra-Sudan talks – the United Nations, the African Union and regional body, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) – have stressed that it is up to the Sudanese, particularly the authorities, to create an environment conducive to the success of any negotiations.

Detainees released

Outlining developments since March, he said authorities have released 86 detainees across the country, including high profile officials affiliated with the work of the Dismantling Committee and activists from the Resistance Committees.

Violence by security forces against protestors also appears to have decreased overall, although violations still occur.

At least 111 people reportedly remain in detention in Khartoum, Port Sudan and elsewhere.  On 21 May, another protestor was killed by security forces, bringing the number of those reportedly killed to 96.

To build trust, accountability needed

“If the authorities want to build trust, it is essential that those responsible for violence against protesters be held to account,” he stressed.

A growing number of Sudanese parties and eminent national figures have come forward with initiatives to solve the political crisis, he said, while several political coalitions have formed new alliances around common positions.

Against this backdrop, he said the trilateral mechanism held initial talks with key components of Sudanese society and politics throughout April, among them, political parties and coalitions, representatives from resistance committees, youth, the military, armed groups, Sufi religious leaders, women’s groups and academics. 

He said the aim was to canvass the views of the stakeholders on the substance and format of a Sudanese-led and owned process of talks.

While almost all have shown willingness to engage with facilitation efforts, some key stakeholders continue to reject face-to-face talks with other counterparts or prefer to participate indirectly.

Charting a way out

“Forging shared understandings around these issues will help chart the way out of the crisis and address the institutional vacuum after the coup,” he said.

On the security front, he said recent events in West Darfur, including the destruction and displacement in Kerenik and violence in Geneina between 22 and 26 April, have again exposed deficits in the State’s ability to provide security and protection for civilians.

The Permanent Ceasefire Committee, chaired by UNITAMS, has launched an investigation into possible ceasefire violations, following the submission of formal complaints by the parties.

In Darfur, high risk of violence

“The risk of a new outbreak of violence remains high,” he cautioned.  Ultimately, protection of civilians requires that the causes of conflict are addressed, including issues of decades-long marginalization, land issues and the return of internally displaced persons and refugees.

In the meantime, physical protection must be a priority for the Sudanese authorities and for the local/state governments in Darfur.

Eight month-old boy is being treated for severe malnutrition in Al Sabbah Children’s Hospital in Juba, South Sudan. (2018)
© UNICEF/Sebastian Rich
Eight month-old boy is being treated for severe malnutrition in Al Sabbah Children’s Hospital in Juba, South Sudan. (2018)

18 million face acute hunger

He said food prices in April jumped 15 per cent compared to March and remain 250 per cent higher than respective prices in 2021.  The combined effects of political instability, economic crisis, poor harvests and global supply shocks are having a “disastrous” impact on inflation. 

The number of Sudanese facing acute hunger is projected to double to 18 million by September.

Noting that most Sudanese stakeholders realize that the geopolitical environment is becoming more challenging, and the international gaze is deflected from Sudan, he said: “Too much is at stake, too many hopes and aspirations impacted”.  He urged the Sudanese to seize this opportunity to make progress.

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Zimbabwean peacekeeper wins UN gender advocate award

INTERNATIONAL, 24 May 2022, Peace and Security - For the first time, a Zimbabwean peacekeeper has been chosen to receive the prestigious 2021 Military Gender Advocate of the Year Award, UN Peacekeeping announced on Tuesday.

Commending Military Observer Major Winnet Zharare, 39, as “a role model and a trailblazer”, Secretary-General António Guterres, will present her with the award on Thursday during a ceremony marking the International Day of UN Peacekeepers

‘Building trust, advocating for peace’

Throughout her 17 month assignment with the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), Major Zharare advocated for gender parity and women’s participation, within her own ranks, among local military counterparts, and in host communities.  

As the Chief Military Information Officer in the UNMISS Bentiu field office, she helped ensure that patrols included both women and men to improve protection and build trust between host communities and the Mission.   

The Major also contributed to an increase in gender-aggregated data so that issues raised by local women and girls would be fully recognized and given their due importance. 

“Through her service, she has demonstrated the invaluable role that women play in building trust, advocating for change and forging peace,” said the UN chief.   

Building a legacy 

Major Zharare advocated for gender parity and women’s participation in a traditionally male-dominated environment that has often excluded women from decision-making, 

She also encouraged local civilian and military authorities and community representatives to involve women in UN meetings.  

Her diligence and diplomatic skills quickly gained her the trust of local military commanders who would systematically reach out to her on issues of women’s protection and rights.   

During her patrols and numerous community engagement initiatives, the well-regarded UN peacekeeper also successfully encouraged men and women to work together in farming and constructing dikes around Bentiu town to alleviate food shortages and prevent further displacement. 

Commitment and perseverance 

Created in 2016, the UN “Military Gender Advocate of the Year Award” recognizes the dedication and efforts of an individual military peacekeeper in promoting the principles of landmark resolution 1325 on women, peace and security. 

“Her example shows how we will all gain with more women at the decision-making table, and gender parity in peace operations,” Mr. Guterres said. 

Expressing her gratitude and pride, Major Zharare said that being selected “motivates her to maintain her course towards gender equality”. 

Climbing the ladder 

At home in Mhondoro, Zimbabwe, the UN peacekeeper’s parents raised their seven children without gender stereotyping.  

“My parents gave us equal opportunities with my brothers, so I believe that equal opportunities should be given to both men and women in all aspects of life,” Major Zharare said. 

From 2015 to 2019, she worked as a Protocol Officer before being nominated to serve in UNMISS as a Military Observer in Bentiu, in roles that included Chief Information Officer, Training Officer and Gender Focal Point.   

When her tour of duty there ended in April, she returned to serve in her home country. 

Before joining UN peacekeeping, her military career began in 2006 as a Second Lieutenant and later an Infantry Platoon Commander, where she doubled as a matron, in Mutare.   

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World’s richest countries damaging child health worldwide: UNICEF

INTERNATIONAL, 24 May 2022, Climate and Environment - Over-consumption in the world’s richest countries is creating unhealthy, dangerous, and toxic conditions for children globally, according to a new report published on Tuesday by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

“Not only are the majority of rich countries failing to provide healthy environments for children within their borders, they are also contributing to the destruction of children’s environments in other parts of the world,” said Gunilla Olsson, Director of the UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti.

Urgent policy shift

The latest Innocenti Report Card 17: Places and Spaces compares how 39 countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and European Union (EU) impact children’s environments.

Indicators include exposure to harmful pollutants, such as toxic air, pesticides, damp and lead; access to light, green spaces and safe roads; and countries’ contributions to the climate crisis, resource consumption, and e-waste dumping.

The report states that if the entire world consumed resources at the rate of OECD and EU countries, the equivalent of 3.3 earths would be needed to keep up with consumption levels.

If it were at the rate at which people in Canada, Luxembourg and the United States do, at least five earths would be needed, according to the report.

Not in your own backyard

While Spain, Ireland and Portugal feature at the overall top of the list, all OECD and EU countries are failing to provide healthy environments for all children across all indicators.

Based on CO2 emissions, e-waste and overall resource consumption per capita, Australia, Belgium, Canada and the United States are among other wealthy countries that rank low on creating a healthy environment for children within and beyond their borders.  

Meanwhile, Finland, Iceland and Norway are among those that provide healthier environments for their country’s children but disproportionately contribute to destroying the global environment.

“In some cases we are seeing countries providing relatively healthy environments for children at home while being among the top contributors to pollutants that are destroying children’s environments abroad,” attested Gunilla Olsson, Director of UNICEF Office of Research

In contrast, the least wealthy OECD and EU countries in Latin America and Europe, have a much lower impact on the wider world.

Harmful exposures

Over 20 million children in this group, have elevated levels of lead – one of the most dangerous environmental toxic substances – in their blood.

In Iceland, Latvia, Portugal and the United Kingdom, one in five children is exposed to damp and mould at home; while in Cyprus, Hungary and Turkey, that number rises to more than one in four.

Many children are breathing toxic air both in and outside of their homes.

More than one in 12 children in Belgium, Czech Republic, Israel and Poland and are exposed to high pesticide pollution, which has been linked with cancer – including childhood leukaemia – and can harm vital body systems.

Routes of children’s exposure to toxic substances.
Source: WHO
Routes of children’s exposure to toxic substances.

“We owe it to ourselves and to future generations to create better places and spaces for children to thrive,” Ms. Olsson said.

Improve children’s environments

Children in poor families tend to face greater exposure to environmental harm –entrenching and amplifying existing disadvantages and inequities.

“Mounting waste, harmful pollutants and exhausted natural resources are taking a toll on our children’s physical and mental health and threatening our planet’s sustainability,” said the UNICEF official.

As such, UNICEF has urged national, regional, and local governments to improve children’s environments by reducing waste, air and water pollution, and ensuring high-quality housing and neighbourhoods.

Children’s voices count

Governments and businesses must immediately honour their commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. And climate adaptation should also be at the forefront of action across various sectors – from education to infrastructure.

Child-sensitive environmental policies must ensure that children’s needs are built into decision making and that their perspectives are considered when designing policies that will disproportionately affect future generations.

UNICEF’s report outlines that although children are the main stakeholders of the future and will face today’s environmental problems for the longest time, they are the least able to influence the course of events.

“We must pursue policies and practices that safeguard the natural environment upon which children and young people depend the most,” Ms. Olsson said.

UNICEF Innocenti Report Card 17 illustrates a child-centred framework encompassing their physical and mental health; both the world around them and at large; the environment as shaped by past actions; and the impact of countries beyond their own borders.
Source: WHO
UNICEF Innocenti Report Card 17 illustrates a child-centred framework encompassing their physical and mental health; both the world around them and at large; the environment as shaped by past actions; and the impact of countries beyond their own borders.

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