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South Sudan refugees in Uganda exceed one million; UN renews appeal for help

INTERNATIONAL, 17 August 2017 – As the number of refugees from South Sudan in Uganda passes one million – the vast majority of whom are women and children – the United Nations refugee agency today reiterated its call for urgent additional support.

“Over the past 12 months, an average of 1,800 South Sudanese have been arriving in Uganda every day,” said the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in a statement to the press.

“In addition to the million there, a million or even more South Sudanese refugees are being hosted by Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Central African Republic,” it added.

More than 85 per cent of the refugees who have arrived in Uganda are women and children, below age 18 years.

“Recent arrivals continue to speak of barbaric violence, with armed groups reportedly burning down houses with civilians inside, people being killed in front of family members, sexual assaults of women and girls, and kidnapping of boys for forced conscription,” emphasized UNHCR, explaining that even as thousands of refugees arrive, aid deliveries are increasingly falling short.

The UN agency underscored that although $674 million is needed for South Sudanese refugees in Uganda this year, so far only a fifth of this amount, or 21 per cent, has been received.

“Elsewhere in the region, the picture is only marginally better,” the statement continued, saying that while a total of $883.5 million is needed for the South Sudan situation, only $250 million has been received.

The funding shortfall in Uganda is now significantly impacting the abilities to deliver life-saving aid and key basic services.

“In June, the World Food Programme was forced to cut food rations for refugees. Across settlements in northern Uganda, health clinics are being forced to provide vital medical care with too few doctors, healthcare workers and medicines,” UNHCR elaborated.

Meanwhile, schooling is also being impacted. Class sizes often exceed 200 pupils, with some lessons held in the open air. Many refugee children are dropping out of education as the nearest schools are too far away for them to easily access.

“Since December 2013, when South Sudan's crisis erupted in Juba, more than two million South Sudanese have fled to neighbouring countries, while another two million people are estimated to be internally displaced,” concluded the statement.

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In East Darfur, UN refugee chief urges international support for Sudan

INTERNATIONAL, 17 August 2017 – The United Nations refugee chief has called for international solidarity and resources to aid Sudan, which is one of the major hosting countries for refugees fleeing the conflict in South Sudan.

“Sudan's generosity must be matched with international solidarity and resources. Much more donor support is required – and urgently – so that we can help the hundreds of thousands of refugees in the country and the communities that are hosting them,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, said yesterday wrapping up his first visit as the head of UNHCR to Sudan.

The UN refugee chief also reiterated his call on the international community to do much more to end the fighting in South Sudan, which is causing the world's fastest growing forced displacement tragedy, without an immediate end in sight.

“Parties to the conflict, regional states and the international community need to put an end to this tragedy,” he said.

During the visit this week, Mr. Grandi met with South Sudanese refugees and their local hosts at the Al-Nimir refugee camp in East Darfur, Sudan.

“My coming here has one reason – just as I did in Uganda, Ethiopia and from Juba itself, to appeal to the leadership of South Sudan, to the opposition of South Sudan, to the States in the region and to the international community at large, to inject some sense of urgency in the quest of peace in South Sudan itself,” Mr. Grandi said.

The High Commissioners met with Sudan's President, Omar al-Bashir, and, according to a UNHCR press release, welcomed the President's assurances that Sudan will continue providing safety to those fleeing conflict and persecution – including those who arrive from South Sudan, and other countries in the region.

Sudan has hosted over 416,000 South Sudanese refugees since 2013, including some 170,000 new arrivals in 2017, making it one of the largest refugee-receiving countries in the region, UNHCR reported.

Hundreds of thousands of other South Sudanese who stayed in Sudan following the separation of the two countries are also in need of humanitarian assistance. Sudan also continues to host refugees from Eritrea, Syria, Yemen, Chad and other countries.

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UN rights experts warn new EU policy on boat rescues will cause more people to drown

INTERNATIONAL, 17 August 2017 – The European Union's new policy on Mediterranean Sea rescues threatens life and breaches international standards, two United Nations independent human experts today cautioned.

“The EU's proposed new action plan, including a code of conduct for organizations operating rescue boats, threatens life and breaches international standards by condemning people to face further human rights violations in Libya,” said the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Felipe González Morales, and the Special Rapporteur on torture, Nils Melzer.

“The solution is not to restrict access to international waters or firing weapons to threaten boats, as Libya has reportedly done repeatedly. This will result in more deaths of migrants at sea and is in contravention of the obligation to rescue people in distress,” the experts added.

The code – drawn up by Italy with support from the European Commission – aims to stop privately-operated ships ferrying refugees to safety in Italy from waters off the Libyan coast.

It is part of a new plan to support Italy and reduce the pressure of migrant arrivals.

Earlier this week, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Agnes Callamard, also had harsh words for the proposed change, saying the code of conduct and the overall plan “suggest that Italy, the European Commission and EU Member States deem the risks and reality of deaths at sea a price worth paying in order to deter migrants and refugees.”

Libya has also announced a search and rescue zone beyond its territorial waters, and is restricting access to international waters by humanitarian vessels.

“The solution is not to restrict access to international waters or firing weapons to threaten boats, as Libya has reportedly done repeatedly. This will result in more deaths of migrants at sea and is in contravention of the obligation to rescue people in distress,” Mr. Morales and Mr. Melzer said.

They added that international organizations were making “tremendous rescue efforts,” with their vessels providing up to 40 per cent of all search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean.

The Special Rapporteurs also expressed concern that Brussels was “trying to move Europe's borders to Libya,” according to a press release from the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR).

They highlighted that, under international law, migrants should be allowed to disembark at the nearest port where their lives and freedom would not be threatened, and should then receive information, care and equitable processing of their asylum claims.

“Libya simply cannot be regarded as a safe place to disembark and the EU policy is in denial of this fact,” they said. “Migrants intercepted by the Libyan coast guard will face indefinite detention in dire and inhumane conditions, at risk of death, torture or other severe human rights violations, without any judicial review.”

They warned that it was “high time” to tackle the real issue, which was the disproportionate impact on frontline countries, such as Greece and Italy, and to relocate migrants and refugees to the other 26 European countries that under the Schengen Agreement allow for unrestricted movement of people.

“States should expand their visa regimes and provide more options for refugee settlement, temporary protection, visitors, family reunification, work, resident, retirement and student visas,” they added, “in line with the UN's Sustainable Development Goals and to ensure that migrants no longer have to embark on such deadly journeys.”

Special Rapporteurs and independent experts are appointed by the Geneva-based UN 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.

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Latin America and Caribbean at difficult juncture as foreign direct investment shrinks – UN

CARIBBEAN, 16 August 2017 – The United Nations Latin America commission has reported that foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows to the region declined by 7.9 per cent to $167.043 billion in 2016, due to low commodity prices, sluggish economic growth and global trend of shifting investment in developed economies.

The report on 2017 Foreign Direct Investment, published annually and launched late last week by the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) , showed the region is losing ground as a recipient of FDI, with inflows reducing for the second year in a row to levels as six years ago.

“Foreign direct investment has been an important factor for the development of export activities that are key to the growth of Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as for the creation of new sectors,” said Alicia Bárcena, ECLAC's Executive Secretary.

Despite the downward trend, FDI flows stand at 3.6 per cent of the region's gross domestic product (GDP), while the global average is 2.5 per cent, revealing the importance of transnational corporations in the region's economies.

In spite of the recession, Brazil remained the main recipient of 47 per cent FDI with a 5.7 per cent increase; while Mexico's FDI fell 7.9 per cent, it stayed at its high levels and became the second-biggest recipient.

FDI can be a key factor in technology transfer and the adoption of new management systems and business models that increase competitiveness and productivity, the report showed.

“But the big productivity gaps that persist in the region and the new technological scenarios that the fourth industrial revolution poses require new policies to harness the benefits of FDI in national processes of sustainable development,” stressed Ms. Bárcena.

Therefore, it is of great importance to review and improve the region's strategies for attracting FDI, so as to focus more on modernizing the economy and diversifying production.

The automotive industry, highlighted in the report, is experiencing the greatest revolution in its history. Mexico, of particular, is a success story under pressure.

“[Mexico] has experienced an accelerated process of transformation, going from being a low-cost platform for the assembly of low-end vehicles to being a more integrated and diversified productive chain in terms of products and technological sophistication,” explained ECLAC.

Also mentioned in the report were new investments targeting renewable energy, telecommunications, in addition to the automotive industry.

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Emergency food distributions launched to assist thousands displaced in DR Congo – UN agency

INTERNATIONAL, 16 August 2017 – Food assistance will be provided to food insecure people displaced by conflict in the Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), says the United Nations food agency.

The World Food Programme (WFP) and its partner World Vision have launched an emergency operation to provide food assistance to 42,000 food insecure people who, due to conflict, have fled their villages in the country's Kasai and Kasai Central provinces.

“We launched this emergency response as soon as funds became available,” said Claude Jibidar, WFP Representative and Country Director in DRC, in a press statement.

“We targeted the most vulnerable among the vulnerable, and our access to these displaced people also depend on security conditions. However, with nearly one and a half million displaced people in the Kasai region, additional donor support is essential for WFP to scale up our operations and reach more vulnerable displaced people,” he added.

WFP plans to assist 25,000 displaced persons in Kasai Central and 17,000 people in the Kasai province in the coming days, the statement elaborated. However, WFP urgently requires $17.3 million to support the operations scale-up from September to December 2017.

“Food distributions have started in the town of Tshilumba with further distributions scheduled this month. As part of this effort and where safe access is possible, WFP and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) continue to identify the most vulnerable displaced people in areas identified with high levels of food insecurity, as determined in a recent food security study,” said WFP.

According to its recent food security assessment, WFP said that in the last year, the number of people in need of urgent humanitarian food assistance in the DRC rose by 1.8 million – from 5.9 million to 7.7 million.

“In conflict-ridden areas, more than 1.5 million people are facing 'emergency' levels of food insecurity, leaving many with no option but to sell everything they have while skipping or reducing their meals,” the statement outlined.

In addition to food distributions, WFP is leading the Logistics Cluster, which provides technical and logistical support to humanitarian organizations and has been operational in the Kasai region since June.

“Mobile warehouses have been built to store food and non-food items, while several trucks have been sent to Kasai and Kasai Central to transport food and supplies,” said the statement.

To meet the huge needs of displaced people in hard-to-reach areas, since June the WFP-led UN Humanitarian Air Service has expanded its support, positioning an aircraft in Kananga in Kasai Central on a permanent basis and flying three times weekly to Tshikapa, Kasai – making those most in need more accessible to humanitarian organizations.

Scores of people have fled their villages due to the conflict that broke out in the Kasai region in August 2016.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), there are some 1.4 million internally displaced people across the Kasai provinces. Additionally, more than 31,000 have fled into neighbouring Angola.

“With up to 3.8 million people displaced in total, the DRC is home to the largest population of internally displaced people in Africa,” underscored the statement.

The sharp deterioration in people's food security is mainly attributable to displacement caused by an upsurge in conflict and pest infestation in crops across the country. WFP continues to coordinate with FAO and other partners to serve the most vulnerable people in the Kasai region, as well as in other parts of the country.

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UN observers conclude FARC-EP arms removal process in Colombia

SOUTH AMERICA, 16 August 2017 – More than 8,000 weapons and over one million burned cartridges were transported to a central warehouse in Colombia as the United Nations political mission in the country concluded the process of the laying down of individual weapons of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC-EP) combatants.

“To date, August 15, [the UN] concluded the process of extracting all the armament and scrap ammunition in the 26 camps of the FARC-EP, as well as the collected from the arms caches until now,” began Jean Arnault, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Mission in Colombia in a press statement.

“In addition to the operation that is being carried out in Pondores, extraction operations are currently underway in four areas: La Reforma, Yari, La Guajira and La Variante. The material transported in the containers consists of 8,112 guns and almost 1,300,0000 incinerated cartridges,” he added.

Mr. Arnault emphasized that the extraction process included 16 aerial-ground movements and 10 terrestrial movements, which accounted for more than 50 flight hours from three UN mission helicopters and almost 11,000 kilometres travelled.

All unstable material found in the 26 camps, including anti-personnel mines, grenades, homemade explosives and gunpowder was also destroyed.

Turning to arms caches operations, he said “to date there is information about 873 of which 510 arms caches have been successfully executed.”

As the result of the extraction of arms caches operations, the UN Mission in the field counted, to date, 795 weapons; 293,803 ammunitions of different calibre of small arms; 22,077 kilograms of various explosives; 25,216 meters of detonating cord and slow wick; 3,957 hand grenades and 40 mm grenades; 1,846 antipersonnel mines; 27,282 starters; and 1,130 mortar rounds, of which 81 mm, 60 mm and rockets are identified.

The mission head stressed the importance of this process and what it means for the future of Colombia.

“I consider this is an important figure, which shows that there has definitely been an exhaustive process of the abandonment of weapons, not only a process of abandoning individual arms, but also an exhaustive process of abandoning everything contained in the FARC-EP target teams and as President Juan Manuel Santos said, this leads the country to a new stage,” underscored Mr. Arnault.

UN observers conclude the removal of the last of more than 8,112 guns carried by the FARC-EP. Photos: UN Mission in Colombia

According to a unanimously adopted resolution, on 26 September the UN Verification Mission in Colombia will replace the current mission.

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'Racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism or Islamophobia are poisoning our societies' – UN chief

INTERNATIONAL, 16 August 2017 – Urging people everywhere to speak out against hate speech and hate crimes, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres today reiterated his call for tolerance, respect for the other and the importance of recognizing diversity.

“Racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism or Islamophobia are, as I mentioned yesterday, poisoning our societies,” the Secretary-General told journalists today at a briefing at the UN Headquarters in New York.

“It is absolutely essential for us all to stand up against them everywhere and every time,” he added.

Addressing questions from a journalist about the situation in the US, where a weekend protest and counter-protest over the removal of a Civil War statue in Charlottesville, Virginia, sparked discussions about race, Mr. Guterres said “these demons are appearing a little bit everywhere.”

A Portuguese national, Mr. Guterres said that as a European, he is proud that Europe created the values of Enlightenment: tolerance, the respect for the other, and the importance of recognition of diversity.

“To be able to stand for these values and to… at the same time, to condemn all forms of irrationality that undermine those values is essential, at the present moment, be it in the United States or everywhere else in the world,” the head of the UN said.

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As tensions on Korean Peninsula grow, UN chief urges world to 'dial up' diplomacy

INTERNATIONAL, 16 August 2017 – Addressing the growing tensions on the Korean Peninsula, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres today said it was important “to dial down rhetoric and dial up diplomacy.”

Speaking to the press at the UN Headquarters in New York, the Secretary-General stressed that the solution to the crisis must be political, and reiterated that his good offices – meaning the prestige and weight that his title and the UN represent to the world community – are always available.

“I will remain in close contact with all concerned parties and stand ready to assist in any way,” said Mr. Guterres.

The message echoes what Mr. Guterres said he had told yesterday's meeting of the representatives of the Six-Party Talks, who include China, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), Japan, the Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation, and the United States.

Earlier this month, the UN Security Council strengthened sanctions against DPRK's exports. Unanimously adopting resolution 2371 (2017), the Council imposed a full ban on the export of coal, iron and iron ore from the north-east Asian country. Previously these items could be exported for livelihood purposes, for a limited amount.

Mr. Guterres today said that consist with that resolution, “the international community must send a clear, coherent message to the leadership of the DPRK: fully comply with international obligations, work towards reopening communication channels and support efforts to deescalate the situation.”

He noted that the resolution sends “an unambiguous message regarding the peace and security obligations” of DPRK, while also representing “an opportunity to solve this crisis through diplomatic engagement and renewed dialogue.”

Speaking to journalists, Mr. Guterres welcomed the “continued critical engagement” by Member States and supported “the call of the Republic of Korea to the DPRK to engage in credible and meaningful dialogue.” These include steps such as confidence-building measures to defuse tension and efforts to de-nuclearize the Peninsula.

The tensions related to the crisis in the region “are at levels not seen in decades,” Mr. Guterres said.

He noted that more than three million people died in the Korean War, which ravaged the Peninsula from 1950 to 1953.

“We need to heed the lessons of history – not to repeat the mistakes,” he said.

He noted also that the potential consequences of military action “are too horrific to even contemplate.”

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Landmark UN-backed treaty on mercury takes effect

INTERNATIONAL, 16 August 2017 – A ground-breaking global convention on mercury today goes into effect, the United Nations environment wing said, protecting millions of children and infants from possible neurological and health damage.

“Governments that are party to the Convention are now legally bound to take a range of measures to protect human health and the environment by addressing mercury throughout its lifecycle,” the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) said in a statement.

The Minamata Convention commits Governments to specific measures, which include banning new mercury mines, phasing-out existing ones, regulating artisanal and small-scale gold mining, and reducing emissions and mercury use. Since the element is indestructible, the Convention also stipulates conditions for interim storage and disposal of mercury waste.

The Convention – the first new global convention related to the environment and health in close to a decade – entered force today, 90 days after the fiftieth party ratified it on 18 May. There are now 74 parties to the Convention and 128 countries have signed it.

“The Minamata Convention shows that our global work to protect our planet and its people can continue to bring nations together. We did it for the Ozone layer and now we're doing it for mercury, just as we need to do it for climate change – a cause that the Minamata Convention will also serve. Together, we can clean up our act,” said Erik Solheim, head of UNEP.

The Convention takes its name from the most severe mercury poisoning disaster in history. In 1956, local villages suffered convulsions, psychosis, loss of consciousness and coma from eating the fish in Minamata Bay, Japan, in which industrial wastewaters had been dumped since the 1930s. Thousands of people were certified as having directly suffered from mercury poisoning, now known as Minamata disease.

According to UNEP, up to 8,900 metric tonnes of mercury are emitted each year. It can be released naturally through the weathering of mercury-containing rocks, forest fires and volcanic eruptions, but significant emissions also come from human processes, particularly coal burning and artisanal and small-scale gold mining. Mining alone exposes up to 15 million workers in 70 different countries to mercury poisoning, including child labourers.

Other man-made sources of mercury pollution include the production of chlorine and some plastics, waste incineration and use of mercury in laboratories, pharmaceuticals, preservatives, paints and jewelry.

“There is no safe level of exposure to mercury nor are there cures for mercury poisoning, which at high levels causes irreversible neurological and health damage,” UNEP said, particularly among unborn children and infants.

The first meeting of the parties to the Convention will be held 24 to 29 September in Geneva.

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Security Council told African-led force on terrorism in the Sahel operational but challenged

INTERNATIONAL, 15 August 2017 – The joint task force by the so-called Group of Five (G5) – Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger – to tackle the threat of terrorism in Africa's Sahel region is now operational, but a number of challenges remain, including funding, the United Nations Security Council was today told.

“The creation of the G5 Sahel Joint Force has the potential to make a significant contribution to efforts already under way to stabilize the region,” the Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, El-Ghassim Wane, told the 15-member Council in New York.

“But we must also be realistic about the challenges that remain and the issues that remain to be resolved. The success of the Joint Force depends as much on deepening this regional partnership and on the applicable policy framework, as on the determination of its members to achieve its operationalization, and the unfailing support of their international partners.”

Mr. Wane said the Joint Force offers a “unique opportunity” to respond to regional challenges, but only if other aspects and cases of instability in the region are addressed.

“Addressing the root causes of instability in the Sahel requires going beyond military action and tackling the governance gap, chronic poverty and unemployment, climate change and financing for development,” he said.

Abject poverty, fast population growth, climate change, recurrent food and nutrition crises, armed conflicts and violence converge dangerously and undermine the lives and assets and future prospects of millions of families across the Sahel region, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has said. More than 30 million people face food insecurity, one in five children under the age of five suffers from acute malnutrition and at least 4.9 million are displaced by the effects of conflicts.

Speaking to the Security Council, the senior UN official also noted the need to tackle cross-border crime and to impose targeted sanctions, as well as to create a political strategy to guide the activities of the Joint Force and align them with the Malian peace process and other regional initiatives.

He noted also that the Joint Force should work closely with the recently established working group of the Executive Committee on the Sahel chaired by UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed and the African Union's peace and security architecture.

Among the greatest needs are funding, Mr. Wane said praying the five Member States for contributing funds to the project.

Those joint contribution, combined with the European Union's pledged contribution, as announced by Commissioner Federica Mogherini in June, amount to €108 million, or 25 percent of total requirements.

“While generating pledges and contributions to meet the requirements of the Joint Force will be critical, the setting up of transparent, coordinated and effective funding will be equally as important,” Mr. Wane said, noting the planned meeting in September hosted by German and French Defence Ministries to discuss further opportunities to support the Joint Force.

The Joint Force is ready to conduct its first coordinated operations along Mali's borders with Nigeria and Burkina Faso in October, with greater capacity in spring 2018.

A written report on the workings of the Joint Force is expected in October.

Visiting injured 'blue helmets' in Mali

Meanwhile, in Mali today, the Head of the UN Mission, Mahamat Saleh Annadif, along with the Malian Prime Minister and governmental officials, visited the UN camp in Timbuktu and met with the wounded following yesterday's attacks on UN camps in Douenza and Timbuktu.

A UN peacekeeper, a Malian soldier and a member of the Malian gendarmerie were killed, along with six Malian contractors in the attacks. A number of other people were also wounded.

The UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) said the situation in Timbuktu today is “calm but tense, with the presence of a large number of Malian security and defence forces.”

 
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