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More than $350 million pledged for refugees in Uganda; 'A good start, we cannot stop,' says UN chief

INTERNATIONAL, 23 June 2017 – A 'Solidarity Summit' for refugees hosted by Uganda has raised some $358 million in pledges, the United Nations announced today.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres told reporters in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, that it was a “good starting point” although the international conference was looking to raise $2 billion.

In just the past year, the overall refugee population in Uganda has more than doubled, largely due to an influx of desperate people fleeing violence and instability in South Sudan – from 500,000 to more than 1.25 million – making the East African country host to the world's fastest growing refugee emergency.

Convened by President Yoweri Museveni and the UN Secretary-General, the Summit sought to rally international support for refugees and host communities in the form of donations, investments and relevant programmes, over the next four years.

Mr. Guterres noted that the World Bank and the African Development Bank had promised “innovative funding” for projects involving both refugees and the local communities.

“We cannot stop,” he underscored, recalling that several of the countries agreed to put forward their pledges in the weeks to come.


Security 'number one concern' of displaced Iraqis seeking to return home – UN study

INTERNATIONAL, 23 June 2017 – With three million Iraqis remaining internally displaced across the country, the United Nations migration agency today published findings of a study showing that the decision to return or remain displaced depends largely on how close their home is to the frontline of conflict.

The study, titled Obstacles to Return in Retaken Areas of Iraq, commissioned by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), has surveyed more than 1.7 million Iraqis who opted to return, posing questions as to the factors that motivate, or inhibit, Iraqis from returning to their areas of origin.

The qualitative and quantitative data collection was carried out in eight sub-districts the Government has recently retaken from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da'esh).

Security in the areas of origin topped all other factors in influencing the decision to return home or remain displaced, with proximity to the frontline – and perceived instability in the place of origin – remaining the most relevant obstacle for return, according to the study.

Speaking to reporters at the regular bi-weekly news briefing in Geneva, IOM spokesperson Joel Millman said security is the “number one concern. If they feel fighting is still going on or that the people who had destroyed their homes are still at large in the community – that is a major deterrent.”

Feelings of trust towards the security actors in control of the areas of origin promotes a higher number of returns, while fear of security actors in the place origin is a strong drawback and reinforces the perceived advantage of staying in displacement, the study finds.

Fear of reprisal back home is a concern for more than 30 per cent of all internally displaced persons (IDPs) interviewed. However, that perception is much lower among interviewed returnees, at 10 per cent.

The data suggest that damage to housing does not constitute an obstacle to return, although the presence of actors whom IDPs hold responsible for the damage inflicted in a given location is, noted IOM.

Livelihood options and previous or current employment status also play an important role in influencing the decision to return. IDPs who have jobs in the location of displacement are less inclined to return home. By contrast, those who are unemployed appear to be more likely to return to seek new opportunities.

The study shows that almost a quarter of interviewed IDPs who decided to return were prevented from doing so, mostly by delays in processing their documentation, or by being stopped at checkpoints on the way back to their place of origin.


UN chief welcomes deployment of regional force to combat terrorism in the Sahel

INTERNATIONAL, 23 June 2017 – United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has welcomed the deployment by the so-called Group of Five (G5) – Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger – of a joint force to tackle the threat of terrorism and organized crime in the Sahel region.

In a statement issued late last night by his spokesman, the Secretary-General welcomed the recent adoption of Security Council resolution 2359 (2017), which created the joint task force.

Mr. Guterres reiterated the UN's commitment, working closely with the African Union (AU) and other partners, “to do its utmost to help mobilise adequate resources for the attainment of the objectives of the Force as agreed by the leaders of the G5 and endorsed by the AU Peace and Security Council.”

The unanimous adoption of the resolution on Wednesday coincided with the second anniversary of the 2015 Agreement on Peace and Reconciliation in Mali. The agreement, signed on 20 June following Algeria-led mediation, included political and institutional reforms, and those relating to defence and security. It also encompasses humanitarian, economic and legal aspects.

In his statement, Mr. Guterres welcomed the “important progress” made by the Government and the groups, and stressed the need “for expeditious progress” on the remaining aspects of the agreement for sustaining peace in Mali and the region.


Strengthen existing protections to curb negative impact of sanctions, UN rights expert urges EU

INTERNATIONAL, 23 June 2017 – Noting progress made by the European Union (EU) to ensure that its sanctions allow for legal remedy and offer a measure of due process, a United Nations expert has called for further strengthening such measures to ensure that the human rights of those impacted are protected to the greatest extent.

“If sanctions are ever to be used, they should only address direct security threats or internationally recognized human rights violations,” Idriss Jazairy, the UN Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of the unilateral coercive measures, said in a news release today, at the end of his first official visit to Brussels – the official seat of the EU.

Highlighting that EU sanctions offered “a measure” of due process for those being targeted, and while such efforts were “still insufficient,” they compared favourably to the legal remedies available in other blocs and States that impose sanctions.

These steps, though they need to be further reinforced, are important commitments by the EU and its members to ensure that the States or individuals targeted by sanctions have the possibility of effective remedies.”

In the release, issued by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the Special Rapporteur also positively noted the position of the EU not to claim extraterritorial enforcement of domestic legislation concerning unilateral sanctions.

He also urged the regional bloc to clarify “practical implications” of its legal requirements and to make clear that humanitarian exemptions from sanctions should be mandatory and that these exemptions should become effective and be communicated to financial institutions and other stakeholders at the time of the enforcement of sanctions, so as to avoid a protection gap between the start of sanctions and decisions on humanitarian exceptions.

Mr. Jazairy also called on EU institutions to reiterate their endorsement of the principle identified by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights – an independent body of experts that monitors the implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights by its States parties – that “when an external party takes upon itself even partial responsibility for the situation within a country […] it also unavoidably assumes a responsibility to do all within its powers to protect the economic, social and cultural rights of the affected population”.

This would be in line with the EU's commitment to uphold human rights and international law, stressed the Special Rapporteur.

'Common ground' to address sanctions 'stalemate' in international community

Mr. Jazairy noted that a sanctions “stalemate” in the international community, with most countries agreeing that sanctions had to be adopted by the UN Security Council in order to be compatible with international law, while States that frequently use sanctions believe there are exceptions to this principle.

A common ground could be found, he said, suggesting a declaration on minimum standards of behavior aimed at further mitigating the impact on human rights until the international community could agree on giving up on the “very blunt policy tool” of unilateral sanctions.

It was hoped that beyond that point, sanctions would only be enacted through the Security Council as provided for under the UN Charter, noted Mr. Jazairy.

The findings from the expert's visit will be submitted to the UN Human Rights Council – the highest intergovernmental body on human rights issues within the UN system – in September 2018.

Special Rapporteurs are appointed by the Geneva-based Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.


UN opens international probe into alleged abuses in DR Congo's Kasai provinces

INTERNATIONAL, 23 June 2017 – The United Nations today opened an international investigation into alleged killings, mutilations and destruction of entire villages in the Democratic Republic of the Congo's (DRC) restive Kasai provinces.

The UN Human Rights Council, comprised of 47 countries, adopted the resolution by consensus during a meeting earlier today in Geneva.

“The victims – those who have been killed, maimed, subjected to terrible violence and forced from their homes – deserve justice,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, who has been called on to appoint a team of international experts to carry out the investigation.

In a statement, Mr. Zeid, who has repeatedly called for a probe, said the creation of the investigation is “a step forward in identifying the perpetrators of gross violations and bringing them to justice.”

His office said it expects and counts on “the full cooperation of the authorities” including “unfettered access to all sites, files, people and places.”

He added that the team will conduct investigations “in a fully independent manner, in accordance with international standards.”

Addressing the Council on Tuesday, Mr. Zeid recounted chilling details of apparent ethnic violence that included mutilated babies and fetuses.

Violence flared up in the DRC's Kasai regions in August 2016, when a customary chief was killed by Forces armées de la République démocratique du Congo (FARDC), as DRC's armed forces are known. The Kamuina Nsapu militia (named after the chief) then set about avenging the killing, committing widespread atrocities as well as recruiting children into its ranks.

The gravity of the situation was further underscored by the discovery in April of forty-two mass graves by Mr. Zeid's office (OHCHR) and the UN mission in the country, known by its French acronym, MONUSCO.

Since the start of the violence, more than 1.3 million people have since been displaced within the country as well as thousands forced to flee across its borders.


Sri Lanka's food gap widens in wake of regional floods and drought, UN agencies warn

INTERNATIONAL, 22 June 2017 – An extreme drought followed by floods has affected large swathes of cropland in Sri Lanka, United Nations agencies reported today, warning that the disaster threatens the food security of some 900,000 people.

Having lost their crops to drought and floods, Sri Lanka's most vulnerable groups are struggling to earn an income, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP). Following the bad harvests, many, the agencies add, are now also forced to buy food from local markets.

As access for families to nutritious food has been reduced – forcing many to eat less – prices at local markets have risen sharply, with rice prices reaching an all-time high in January.

Now, nearly 225,000 households (or about 900,000 people) face food insecurity, the UN agencies say.

A previous joint assessment showed that in 10 districts about one third of the drought-affected population had its regular income reduced by more than half.

To cover immediate needs, FAO and WFP are calling in the current Crop and Food Security Assessment for the urgent provision of seeds, as well as planting and irrigation equipment for the next planting season, from September to December, as well as support for irrigation systems.

Additionally, both agencies recommend quick and targeted cash assistance for the poorest and most vulnerable families to ensure adequate food intake and to prevent them from incurring unsustainably high debt or adopting other coping mechanisms that could have long-term negative effects.

Rice production to drop by nearly 40 per cent in 2017

Based on findings in the report, which assesses the seriousness of a crisis situation by looking at the food produced nationally and the extent to which poor people can meet their basic food needs, both agencies argue that drought conditions in 2016 and early 2017 led to widespread crop failures, in particular for rice paddy – the country's staple food.

Total paddy production in 2017 is forecast at 2.7 million metric tonnes, almost 40 per cent less than the last year's output and 35 per cent lower than the average of the previous five years.

Following last month's severe flooding and landslides, the agencies note that the heavy rains did not ease the water supply constraints in the drought-impacted north-central and eastern parts of the South Asian country.

Looking ahead, the situation may further deteriorate if the next cropping season fails. Current predictions show the second 2017 paddy harvest – known as Yala, due to be harvested in August and September – is forecast at 1.2 million metric tonnes, 24 per cent below last year's level.


Millions could escape poverty by finishing secondary education, says UN cultural agency

INTERNATIONAL, 22 June 2017 – While a new United Nations study shows that the global poverty rate could be more than halved if all adults completed secondary school, data show high out-of-school rates in many countries, making it likely that education completion levels will remain well below that target for generations.

“The new analysis on education's far-reaching benefits released today should be good news for all those working on the Sustainable Development Goal to eradicate poverty by 2030,” said Irina Bokova, Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

“It shows that we have a concrete plan to ensure people no longer have to live on barely a few dollars a day, and that plan has education at its heart,” she added.

Based on the effects that education had on growth and poverty reduction in developing countries from 1965 to 2010, the new analysis by UNESCO's Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report team, shows that nearly 60 million people could escape poverty if all adults had just two more years of schooling.

“If all adults completed secondary education, 420 million could be lifted out of poverty, reducing the total number of poor people by more than half globally and by almost two-thirds in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia,” according to UNESCO.

The paper, from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) on reducing global poverty through universal primary and secondary education, is being released ahead of the UN High Level Political Forum (HLPF) which will be held in New York from 10 to 19 July and focuses on poverty eradication in pursuit of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It demonstrates the importance of recognizing education as a core lever for ending poverty in all its forms, everywhere.

Studies have shown that education has direct and indirect impacts on both economic growth and poverty. It provides skills that boost employment opportunities and incomes while helping to protect from socio-economic vulnerabilities. An equitable expansion of education is likely to reduce inequality, lifting the poorest from the bottom of the ladder.

However, if current trends continue, of the 61 million primary school age children currently out of school, 17 million will never to set foot in a classroom – one in three of whom live in sub-Saharan Africa, Western Asia and Northern Africa, and more than one in four of those in Central Asia and Southern Asia.

Moreover, girls in poor countries continue to face particularly steep barriers to education.

While UNESCO underscores that education must reach the poorest in order to maximize its benefits and reduce income inequality, according to the GEM Report, children from the poorest 20 per cent of families are eight times as likely to be out of school as children from the richest 20 per cent in lower-middle-income countries.

The paper stresses the need to reduce the direct and indirect costs of education for families.


Global narcotics market 'thriving;' range of available drugs diversifying at alarming pace – UN

INTERNATIONAL, 22 June 2017 – Of the quarter of a billion people who used drugs in 2015, about 29.5 million – or 0.6 per cent of the global adult population – were engaged in “problematic use” and suffered from drug use disorders, including dependence, according to report out today from the United Nations drugs and crime agency.

Opioids were the most harmful drug type and accounted for 70 per cent of the negative health impact associated with drug use disorders worldwide, said the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

“There is much work to be done to confront the many harms inflicted by drugs to health, development, peace and security, in all regions of the world,” said UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov in a statement on the launch of the 2017 World Drug Report.

Marking 20 years of its publication, the report provides a global overview of the supply and demand for opiates, cocaine, cannabis, amphetamine-type stimulants and new psychoactive substances (NPS), as well as their impacts on health.

This year's report states that opium production is up and the cocaine market is “thriving.” In 2016, global opium production increased by one third compared with the previous year and this was primarily due to higher opium poppy yields in Afghanistan.

The report also highlights the scientific evidence for hepatitis C causing greatest harm among people who use drugs; and spotlights further diversification of the thriving drug market, as well as changing business models for drug trafficking and organized crime.

Disorders related to the use of amphetamines also account for a considerable share of the global burden of disease. And while the NPS market is still relatively small, users are unaware of the content and dosage of psychoactive substances in some NPS. This potentially exposes users to additional serious health risks.

The 2017 report finds that hepatitis C is causing the greatest harm among the estimated 12 million people who inject drugs worldwide. About 1.6 million people are living with HIV and 6.1 million are living with hepatitis C, while around 1.3 million are suffering from both hepatitis C and HIV.

Overall, three times more people who use drugs die from hepatitis C (222,000) than from HIV (60,000).

Changing business models for drug trafficking and organized crime

In 2014, transnational organized crime groups across the globe were estimated to have generated between one fifth and one third of their revenues from drug sales. Mobile communications offers new opportunities to traffickers, while the 'dark net' allows users to anonymously buy drugs with a crypto-currency, such as bitcoin.

While drug trafficking over the dark net remains small, there has been an increase in drug transactions of some 50 per cent annually between September 2013 and January 2016 according to one study. Typical buyers are recreational users of cannabis, ecstasy, cocaine, hallucinogens and NPS.

Drugs and terrorism

Although not all terrorist groups depend on drug profits, some do, notes the report. Without the proceeds of drug production and trafficking, which make up almost half of the Taliban's annual income, the reach and impact of the group would probably not be what it is today.

Up to 85 per cent of opium cultivation in Afghanistan occurs in territory under some influence of the Taliban.


Many aid groups unable to manage war zone risks, says UN-backed report

INTERNATIONAL, 22 June 2017 – Humanitarian aid workers want to help people in some of the biggest war zones, but extreme risks and threats are paralyzing their operations, a United Nations-backed report today concluded.

“'Conflict parties' lack of respect for the fundamental tenets of international humanitarian law and the brutality and volatility of today's armed conflicts make it extremely difficult and dangerous for these brave aid workers to deliver humanitarian assistance and protection in complex emergencies,” said UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O'Brien, whose Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) co-produced the report.

Presence and Proximity: To Stay and Deliver, Five Years On, produced by OCHA, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) and Jindal School of International Affairs in India, is based on interviews with more than 2,000 international and national aid workers, and includes case studies on humanitarian aid in Afghanistan, the Central African Republic (CAR), Syria and Yemen.

“It is our duty as aid workers to work where needs are greatest,” said Jan Egeland, Secretary General of NRC. “But our international humanitarian community is failing too many people in too many places, from Syria and Yemen to South Sudan and Nigeria. Extreme risks and threats are paralysing too many organizations and their ability to deliver aid and save lives.”

Among its findings, the report found that as overall needs in the field have grown, so have the funding gaps, which necessitate cutting of projects and aid work.

Based on interviews with aid workers, the authors also concluded that abductions of workers are on the rise, criminality is seen as a rising threat, and the number of incidents against national aid workers has increased.

“Humanitarians expressed an increased sense of risk and vulnerability, even though most major security incidents affecting humanitarians occur in a very small number of countries and tend to reflect the increased level of humanitarian activity in proximity to ongoing conflict rather than expanded targeting of humanitarians around the world,” the authors wrote.

The report is a five-year follow up to the 2011 document, To Stay and Deliver, which provided advice and recommendations to practitioners on critical issues, such as risk management, responsible partnerships, adherence to humanitarian principles, acceptance and negotiations with relevant actors.

Among the conclusions, the authors wrote that “not enough progress has been achieved since 2011, and many of the recommendations contained in the initial report remain particularly relevant today.”

Other trends noted that humanitarians are more focused on security analysis, and that remote programming – the concept of using local organizations to help implement aid activities – can generate risks and undermine the quality of protection and humanitarian programmes.


Iraq's children caught in cycle of violence and poverty as conflict escalates, UNICEF warns

INTERNATIONAL, 22 June 2017 – The past three years of intensifying conflict in Iraq have left the country's children trapped in a grinding cycle of violence and poverty, an assessment out today by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) has warned, calling on the warring parties to immediately end hostilities.

“Across Iraq, children continue to witness sheer horror and unimaginable violence,” said Peter Hawkins, the UNICEF Representative in the country, in a statement on the launch of the new assessment.

Entitled Nowhere to Go, the assessment underscores that more than five million children in the country are in need of urgent humanitarian aid.

“They have been killed, injured, abducted and forced to shoot and kill in one of the most brutal wars in recent history,” Mr. Hawkins emphasized.

In west Mosul, children are being deliberately targeted and killed to punish families and deter them from fleeing the violence. In less than two months, at least 23 children have been killed and 123 have been injured in that part of the city alone, according to UNICEF.

Among others, the assessment on Iraq outlines that since 2014:

  • 1,075 children have been killed, 152 in the first six months of this year;
  • 1,130 have been maimed and injured, 255 in the first six months of 2017; and
  • More than 4,650 have been separated from their families.

In addition, over the same three-year period, there have been 138 attacks on schools and 58 on hospitals; over three million children miss school on a regular basis while 1.2 million are out of school; and one in every four children comes from a poor household.

For nearly four decades, Iraq has faced violence, war, sanctions and instability. But in the last three years alone, conflict has displaced three million people – half of them children. Many parts of the country were turned into war zones with civilian infrastructure severely damaged or destroyed. Half of all schools in Iraq are now in need of repairs.

As life opportunities for children dwindle, UNICEF continues to respond to their growing needs and those of their families.

Pointing out that all warring parties owe it to the children of Iraq to end the violence, UNICEF is appealing for an immediate end to the conflict. The agency is also calling for all children affected by the crisis to have access to unimpeded and sustained humanitarian assistance and basic services; and for children in detention to have access to legal protection and services in line with international standards of juvenile detention.

UNICEF also requesting an end to all grave violations against children – including killing, maiming and recruitment – and an end to attacks on civilian infrastructure; freedom for all families to move, should they wish to flee or return to home; and increased investments to improve the quality of education, healthcare and protection services for all children.

Finally, the agency called for sustained humanitarian contributions, noting its funding gap of $100 million for lifesaving emergency operations in Iraq and to support children returning home to resume their lives.

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