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UN appalled at killing of aid workers in South Sudan

INTERNATIONAL, 26 March 2017 – Six aid workers from a national non-governmental organization were killed when their convoy was ambushed yesterday while travelling along the Government-controlled area on the Juba-Pibor road, the United Nations mission in the country (UNMISS) has said.

Their bodies were found on the road by others members of the convoy who were some way behind.

“The United Nations condemns this appalling and pointless loss of life,” said the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for South Sudan and the head of UNMISS, David Shearer in a news release issued by the mission.

“This cold-blooded killing is utterly reprehensible, not least, because these aid workers were dedicated to alleviating the ongoing suffering of the people of South Sudan,” he added, urging the Government to investigate and apprehend the killers.

The attack – the single worst incident targeting aid workers in the African country since the outbreak of hostilities in December 2013 – comes at a time when humanitarian needs have reached unprecedented levels.

“[Such attacks] not only put the lives of aid workers at risk, they also threaten the lives of thousands of South Sudanese who rely on our assistance for their survival,” said Eugene Owusu, the Humanitarian Coordinator for South Sudan, stressing that security of relief workers has to be ensured so that they are able to provide relief to those with immense needs across the nation.

The conflict has taken a devastating tool on the people of South Sudan: around 7.5 million people are in need of relief and protection, and the humanitarian crisis has deepened further with localized famine declared in parts of the country.

No safety when attacks met with silence

At least 79 aid workers have been killed in South Sudan since December 2013, including at least 12 this year. The last two months alone have seen a sharp increase of attacks on humanitarians and looting of supplies intended for people suffering from the famine.

On 14 March, one health worker and a patient were killed in an attack on a humanitarian convoy that was responding to a cholera outbreak in Yirol East (in the central part of South Sudan). Earlier, on 10 March, staff of an international non-governmental organization were detained by non-state armed individuals during fighting in Mayendit town (also in central South Sudan). They were released four days later.

“Every time an attack of this nature happens, we say that it must never happen again. And yet it does [...] there is no safety when attacks are met with silence and inaction,” said the Humanitarian Coordinator, underscoring that the impunity that has prevailed for such crimes must end, and that perpetrators must be brought to justice.

“I implore all those in positions of power to step up to their responsibilities and stop this, as they are ultimately accountable for what happens under their watch.”

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Hoping to build with 'incremental, constructive steps' – UN envoy for Syria

INTERNATIONAL, 25 March 2017 – Speaking to the media in Geneva yesterday, United Nations Special Envoy for Syria said that he is not expecting miracles, breakthroughs or breakdowns but is hoping to build on the previous rounds of talks on the war-ravaged country with some incremental, constructive steps.

"All invitees and delegations who were present here [...] are feeling that it was worth it to come and all came. None of them has threatened to leave [...] which is a sign of maturity and of responsibility particularly in difficult moments like this one," said UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura at a media stakeout at the UN Office at Geneva (UNOG), yesterday.

Underscoring the importance attached to the fifth round of the talks, Mr. de Mistura added that he has been particularly attentive, trying to engage with and having support from all the regional players, interlocutors and stakeholders.

He further mentioned that the discussions that took place earlier in Riyadh (capital of Saudi Arabia), Moscow (Russia) and Ankara (Turkey) conveyed a strong feeling of the need to build on the fourth round of the Geneva talks, which took place from 23 February to 3 March.

"Hence, our expectation and the stronger suggestion to the guarantors of the Astana process that they do retake the situation in hand and that hopefully there will be new Astana meeting as soon as possible in order to control the situation which at the moment is worrisome," added the UN Special Envoy.

He also informed the media that the meeting yesterday focused into substance and that the agenda had been established and strongly supported by the Security Council.

Mr. De Mistura further noted that given the importance of the current round of intra-Syrian talks and in view of the tensions within the country, he would be travelling to Syria to meet with members of the Arab League as well as bilateral meetings on the situation.

"Meanwhile the talks will continue under the chairmanship of Ambassador Ramzy [Ezzeldin Ramzy, the Deputy Special Envoy for Syria,] but I felt it was important to engage as many regional players as possible and they all happen to be in one room," said the UN Special Envoy.

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Hundreds of thousands trapped in Mosul with 'worst yet to come' – UN agency

INTERNATIONAL, 24 March 2017 – An estimated 400,000 Iraqi civilians are trapped in Mosul's Old City as fighting intensifies and people continue to flee, the United Nations refugee agency representative today warned.

“The worst is yet to come,” said Bruno Geddo, the Representative of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Iraq.

Speaking by phone, Mr. Geddo said the fighting in the west has been more intense than in the less densely populated east of the city, where the battle ended in January.

“People are stuck between a rock and a hard place,” he added. “There's fighting shelling, bombing.”

When people try to flee, extremists shoot them. Some have tried to leave during prayers or under cover of fog at first light – but were killed, Mr. Geddo said.

Meanwhile, life in the Old City is becoming impossible with a lack of food, clean water or fuel, Mr. Geddo said.

Meeting with civilians at the UNHCR transit and reception centre at Hammam al-Alil, outside of the city centre, Mr. Geddo said the number of people moving through has “surged” in recent days with up to 12,000 people arriving daily.

Some 340,000 people have been displaced since the fighting in Mosul started last October. Of those, about 72,000 have returned home.

The UN representative called on all those fighting to allow civilians to leave areas of conflict for safer zones, and no one should be forced to come back home.

“Liberating Mosul is necessary but not sufficient,” Mr. Geddo said. “We equally have to get it right with the protection of civilians and in the humanitarian response.”

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Two years on, Yemen conflict targets children, food trucks and even fishermen's boats - UN

INTERNATIONAL, 24 March 2017 – The conflict in Yemen is raging, the United Nations human rights chief today warned, urging those fighting to work towards a ceasefire and to allow humanitarian aid to get through to millions of people in need.

“The violent deaths of refugees fleeing yet another war, of fishermen, of families in marketplaces – this is what the conflict in Yemen looks like two years after it began…utterly terrible, with little apparent regard for civilian lives and infrastructure,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said.

In the past month alone, at least 106 civilians were killed, mostly by air strikes and shelling from war ships, the High Commissioner's Office (OHCHR) said in a press release.

Of particular concern is fighting in and around Al Hudaydah, which has left thousands of civilians trapped and blocked deliveries of humanitarian aid, as was the case last month in the port city of Al Mokha in the hard-hit Taizz Governorate.

One of the worst incidents there was on 10 March, when a ship carrying at least 70 people was shot by what appeared to be an Apache helicopter overhead, killing at least 33 people and severely wounding 29 others, including children.

OHCHR also reported at least four incidents of fishermen being targeted by missiles and airstrikes.

Meanwhile, the Popular Committees affiliated with the Houthis and former President Saleh have continued to encircle densely populated areas in Taizz Governorate, preventing civilians from leaving and restricting humanitarian access to Taizz city, according to OHCHR.

“Two years of wanton violence and bloodshed, thousands of deaths and millions of people desperate for their basic rights to food, water, health and security – enough is enough,” Mr. Zeid said ahead of the infamous 26 March anniversary.

“I urge all parties to the conflict, and those with influence, to work urgently towards a full ceasefire to bring this disastrous conflict to an end, and to facilitate rather than block the delivery of humanitarian assistance.”

The UN High Commissioner has also called for an international, independent investigative body to look into hundreds of reports of serious violations in the country.

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Environmental recovery key to post-conflict development in Colombia – UN agency

INTERNATIONAL, 24 March 2017 – Concluding a mission to Colombia, a multi-disciplinary team of United Nations environment experts have highlighted that the country has a unique opportunity to promote sustainable and resilient livelihoods in which the nature serves as the foundation for long-lasting peace.

In a news release today, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) said that different rebel groups and criminal gangs, which controlled large parts of the country for decades, illegally extracted and exploited natural resources leading to major environmental damage, including illegal cropping, deforestation and the unregulated use of hazardous chemicals.

The UN team’s visit and aerial inspection of the Quito and Atrato rivers uncovered the scale of environmental challenges brought by large scale and mechanized illegal operations.

“The environmental destruction in the Quito river basin is significant in terms of scope and magnitude, due to a combination of illegal mining and deforestation,” read the release.

Also, the release of Mercury (one of the most hazardous chemicals used in mining) into the environment has added significant challenges given the potential that the heavy, toxic, metal can reach the community through air, water and food chain.

The UN team was invited by the Colombian President, Juan Manuel Santos, to identify priority actions towards mitigating the health and livelihood risks from the environmental damage in priority areas for post-conflict development.

“Environment is at the heart of post-conflict development in Colombia,” said Leo Heileman, the Director of the UNEP Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean, noting that the UN agency “will unwaveringly stand by Colombia during the post-conflict phase.”

Initial support proposed by UNEP includes technical recommendations and training for the effective implementation of environmental peace-building projects; strategic environmental assessment of key post-conflict interventions; advice on measures to improve social, economic and environmental conditions for the extractive sector and to remediate damage caused by illegal operations; and strengthening of the institutional and technical capacities.

On its part, the Colombian Government emphasized the importance of strengthening the environmental dividends of peace and fostering green growth as pillars for sustainable development, noted the UNEP news release.

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Marking World Tuberculosis Day, UN seeks to address stigma, protect patient rights

INTERNATIONAL, 24 March 2017 – To mark World Tuberculosis Day, the United Nations health agency has launched a new set of ethics guidance to protect the rights of all people affected by the infectious disease, which claims 5,000 lives each day.

New tuberculosis (TB) ethics guidance, launched earlier this week by the World Health Organization (WHO), aims to help ensure that countries implementing anti-TB strategy adhere to sound ethical standards to protect the rights of all those affected.

“TB strikes some of the world’s poorest people hardest,” said WHO Director-General Margaret Chan in a news release.

“WHO is determined to overcome the stigma, discrimination, and other barriers that prevent so many of these people from obtaining the services they so badly need,” she said.

World Tuberculosis Day, celebrated on 24 March each year, is an opportunity to raise awareness about the burden of tuberculosis worldwide and the status of prevention and care efforts.

This is the second year of a two-year Unite to End TB campaign. WHO is placing a special focus on uniting efforts to ‘Leave No One Behind,’ including actions to address stigma, discrimination, marginalization and overcome barriers to access care.

The heaviest burden is carried by communities which already face socio-economic challenges: migrants, refugees, prisoners, ethnic minorities, miners and others working and living in risk-prone settings, and marginalized women, children and older people.

The new WHO ethics guidance addresses contentious issues such as, the isolation of contagious patients, the rights of TB patients in prison, discriminatory policies against migrants affected by TB, among others. It emphasizes five key ethical obligations for governments, health workers, care providers, nongovernmental organizations, researchers and other stakeholders to:

  • provide patients with the social support they need to fulfil their responsibilities;
  • refrain from isolating TB patients before exhausting all options to enable treatment adherence and only under very specific conditions;
  • enable “key populations” to access same standard of care offered to other citizens;
  • ensure all health workers operate in a safe environment; and,
  • rapidly share evidence from research to inform national and global TB policy updates.

“Only when evidence-based, effective interventions are informed by a sound ethical framework, and respect for human rights, will we be successful in reaching our ambitious goals of ending the TB epidemic and achieving universal health coverage. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aspiration of leaving no one behind is centred on this,” said WHO Global TB Programme Director Mario Raviglione.

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UN agencies, partners to launch polio vaccination campaign across Africa

INTERNATIONAL, 24 March 2017 – More than 116 million children are set to be immunized against polio starting tomorrow in one of the largest of its kind synchronized vaccination campaigns across west and central Africa, United Nations agencies today announced.

All children under five years of age in the 13 countries will be simultaneously immunized in a coordinated effort to raise childhood immunity to polio across the continent, the UN World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEFsaid in a press release.

Twenty years, ago, “every single country on the continent was endemic to polio, and every year, more than 75 000 children were paralysed for life by this terrible disease. Thanks to the dedication of governments, communities, parents and health workers, this disease is now beaten back to this final reservoir,” said Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.

The campaign aims to vaccinate all young children in Benin, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Côte d'Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.

Of particular concern are the five Lake Chad Basin countries. Four children were paralysed by the disease last year in north-eastern Nigeria where insecurity cut off health access. This area is one of the few where polio is active.

“Polio eradication will be an unparalleled victory, which will not only save all future generations of children from the grip of a disease that is entirely preventable – but will show the world what Africa can do when it unites behind a common goal,” said UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa, Marie-Pierre Poirier.

Organizers said that more than 190,000 polio vaccinators will deliver bivalent oral polio vaccine (bOPV) to every house across all cities, towns and villages of the 13 countries.

“Volunteers and health workers will work up to 12 hours per day, travelling on foot or bicycle, in often stifling humidity and temperatures in excess of 40°C. Each vaccination team will carry the vaccine in special carrier bags, filled with ice packs to ensure the vaccine remains below the required 8°C,” according to the press release.

The polio campaign will run through 28 March.

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‘We can no longer turn our backs’ on communities affected by migration crisis in Libya – UN agency chief

INTERNATIONAL, 23 March 2017 – The top United Nations migration official is visiting Tripoli to discuss the complex migration and displacement situation with hopes of shoring up technical support to foster a stable environment.

“Libya, once a booming economy which many hopeful migrants viewed as a prized destination, is today a country beset by a grave security situation, a collapsing economy and virtually no service provision which is worsening an increasingly complex migration situation,” said William Lacy Swing, Director General of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in a press statement.

The statement emphasized that fostering a stable environment to bring about a much-needed holistic approach to migration governance is now a priority.

There are different migratory flows moving through and towards Libya, driven by underdevelopment, State fragility, marginalization and security threats in West Africa, East Africa and the Middle East. These are compounded by political insecurity and conflict, which further exacerbate existing vulnerabilities of the affected communities, including Libyans themselves, according to IOM.

Mr. Swing will meet with the Interior Minister of the Government of National Accord, Alaref Al Khoja and the Chairman of the Presidential Council of the Government of National Accord, Fayes Al Sarraj to discuss how IOM can strengthen its technical support to these communities within Libya.

“As humanitarians, we can no longer turn our back on the communities affected by the current migration crisis in Libya,” Ambassador Swing underscored. “This is why IOM is enhancing its support to the most vulnerable people in the country – be they migrants or Libyans,” he added.

There are an estimated 303,608 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Libya, according to IOM’s Displacement Tracking Matrix. A majority have been displaced from areas in the north-east and north-west of the country, particularly in Sirte and some parts of Benghazi.

Displaced Libyans are suffering from a lack of access to essential services, including medical assistance and economy opportunities. IOM works with local government and communities to promote stability and development for IDPs, migrants and local host communities in Libya. It is also helping to establish a better system of managing the migration situation on the ground.

Mr. Swing will also meet with migrants at Triq Al Sekka detention centre, where he will speak to Ahmed Issa, Head of the Directorate for Combatting Illegal Migration, about how IOM can offer continued support, such as through direct assistance, infrastructure development and voluntary humanitarian return.

Due to the situation, many migrants are turning to IOM for help getting home. Since 2011, IOM has helped 13,691 migrants get home to safety. Just this week, the UN agency assisted 160 stranded migrants return from Tripoli to Cote d'Ivoire.

IOM stresses that increased support to voluntary humanitarian returns is essential to improving migration management and a long-term commitment to forging links between effective reintegration schemes, stability and local development potential in communities of return.

The UN migration agency is launching an Action Plan for Libya to work with the authorities to address the many challenges faced by migrants, IDPs, returnees and the affected Libyan population. The two key objectives of the approach are to urgently provide humanitarian assistance and protection to affected populations in Libya and contribute to stability, build capacities and resilience of Libyan authorities, as well as the affected populations themselves.

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UN envoy and Pope Francis meet on enhancing cooperation to protect children from violence

INTERNATIONAL, 23 March 2017 – The United Nations envoy advocating an end to violence against children has met with His Holiness Pope Francis to discuss greater cooperation on protecting children from sexual and other forms of violence.

“Accelerating progress in children's protection from violence needs to be at the heart of the actions of every nation, every faith and every person,” said Marta Santos Pais, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General on Violence against Children, during a private meeting with the Pope this past weekend in Vatican City.

The also meeting provided an opportunity to enhance collaboration on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and she noted that in a world free from fear and from violence, “everyone counts and everybody is needed.”

The meeting was meant to strengthen cooperation between the office of Ms. Santos Pais and the Holy See, which has permanent observer status at the UN, alongside 193 Member States.

The Pontiff reiterated his call for a ‘zero tolerance’ policy and reaffirmed the high priority given by the Holy See to protecting the rights of all girls and boys who are victims of violence, neglect, maltreatment, abuse and exploitation.

“This is a plague, a hidden scream that should be heard by all of us,” highlighted Pope Francis, further recognizing the need to “take all necessary measures to protect in every way the lives of our children, so that such crimes may never be repeated.”

Ms. Santos and the Pontiff also discussed the perils endured by children on the move who are exposed to constant incidents of violence especially when traveling unaccompanied or separated from their families, and who often lack the support of a nurturing and protective environment and in many cases end-up locked behind bars.

Pope Francis and Ms. Santos Pais also discussed the growing risk of the criminalization of children living in socially excluded and poor communities, who lack support to develop to their full potential and who often become an easy target for armed gangs and organized crime networks. Victims of marginalization and exploitation, these children are at high risk of deprivation of liberty, where they may be exposed to incidents of neglect, abuse and ill treatment.

The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) include a target, 16.2, that calls for an end to “abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against and torture of children.” As this is a top UN priority, this meeting provided a significant opportunity to identify ways of enhancing collaboration and supporting implementation of the 2030 Agenda targets on violence against children.

Pope Francis and Ms. Santos Pais reaffirmed the importance of continuing to foster the cooperation between the UN and the Holy See in the promotion of children’s rights and protection from violence, and in process of implementation of the 2030 Agenda.

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UN agency, Ugandan government call for urgent support amid influx of South Sudanese refugees

INTERNATIONAL, 23 March 2017 – United Nations refugee assistance efforts in Uganda are seriously overstretched as thousands of refugees from South Sudan, desperate for safety and assistance, pour into the country that is already hosting more than 800,000 people, the organization’s top official dealing with refugee issues warned today.

More than 70 per cent of the number in Uganda (about 572,000) arrived since July last year and given present rate of arrivals, the figure could surpass one million by the middle of 2017.

“We are at breaking point” warned Filippo Grandi, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, appealing for urgent and massive support.

“The lack of international attention to the suffering of the South Sudanese people is failing some of the most vulnerable people in the world when they most desperately need our help.”

According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Uganda’s approach to dealing with refugees has long been among the “most progressive” anywhere on the African continent but the sheer scale of the influx has placed enormous strain its services and infrastructure.

“Uganda has continued to maintain open borders,” said Ruhakana Rugunda, the Prime Minister of Uganda, adding: “We continue to welcome our neighbours in their time of need but we urgently need the international community to assist as the situation is becoming increasingly critical.”

Chronic and severe underfunding has reached the point where critical programmes operated by UNHCR are at the risk of being dangerously compromised.

Transit and reception facilities are rapidly becoming overwhelmed and there are significant challenges in providing adequate food rations, health and educational services, as well as sufficient clean water.

The already dire situation has been further complicated by the onset of heavy rains.

The UN agency is in urgent need of more than $250 million to support South Sudanese refugees in Uganda in 2017.

There are clear risks that the severe underfunding in what has become the fastest-growing refugee emergency in the world is jeopardizing a model that allows refugees to thrive now.

“Uganda cannot handle Africa’s largest refugee crisis alone,” said Mr. Grandi, calling on the international community to keep the future of the new comprehensive refugee response framework from being thrown into question.

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