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Build momentum to ‘finish the job’ and end COVID-19 pandemic, Guterres urges

INTERNATIONAL, 23 September 2022, Health - Senior UN officials, including Secretary-General António Guterres, took part in a High-Level event at UN Headquarters in New York on Friday, noting the encouraging progress that has been made towards ending the COVID-19 pandemic, while acknowledging that work still needs to be done to ensure the most vulnerable are protected.

Mr. Guterres celebrated rising vaccination coverage worldwide, particularly among high-risk populations, and the fact that, on average, countries have vaccinated around three-quarters of health care workers and older people.

COVID-19 measures are increasingly integrated into routine health programmes, and new antiviral drugs are about to become available.

Gaps remain

However, gaps in coverage and protection remain, said Mr, Guterres. There is minimal vaccine booster coverage in all countries, and there are low vaccination rates in poorer countries. He also warned of a “shadow pandemic” of vaccine hesitancy, and misinformation, that needs to be tackled.

The UN chief also called for testing rates to be drastically improved, and for countries to ensure they are fully prepared for future pandemics. “Making progress towards closing these gaps is what today is all about, declared Mr. Guterres. “It’s time to build political momentum to finish the job on COVID-19”.

A health worker delivers COVID-19 vaccines, donated through the COVAX Facility, to a Health Post in Nepal
UNICEF/Laxmi Prasad Ngakhusi
A health worker delivers COVID-19 vaccines, donated through the COVAX Facility, to a Health Post in Nepal

‘We have never been in a better position to end COVID-19’

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the head of UN health agency WHO, has had to deliver many downbeat remarks since the beginning of the pandemic but, at Friday’s event, he was able to send a remarkably positive message.

With so many people vaccinated, and reported deaths from the virus at the lowest levels since the beginning of the pandemic, the international community, he said, has “never been in a better position to end COVID-19 as a global health emergency”.

However, Tedros echoed the concerns raised by Mr. Guterres, and referred to a report, issued on Thursday by the WHO Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator Council, which revealed that most low and middle-income countries have virtually no access to new antivirals.

Whilst the Accelerator is making progress, providing almost 1.5 billion vaccine doses, and supporting 68 new countries to reach vaccination coverage of at least 40 per cent, much more needs to be done, said Tedros: “we’re not there yet, but the end is in sight”.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on children's education
© UNICEF//Chris Farber
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on children's education

‘Step by step, we are making progress ‘

The UN children’s agency, UNICEF, has played a key role in making sure vaccines are administered to those who need it, especially the most vulnerable.

In his opening remarks, Omar Abdi, the UNICEF Deputy Executive-Director, reminded those at the event of some of the achievements of her agency in tackling the health crisis.

These include the administering of more than 12.4 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines; financing and implementing the largest ultra-cold chain scale-up in history (UNICEF financed and delivered 800 ultra-cold chain freezers to nearly 70 countries in 2021 alone); and shipping over 1.2 billion items of personal protective equipment to protect frontline and healthcare workers and others in 142 countries.

“Step by step, we are making progress”, said Ms. Russell, “but we need to keep up the momentum to protect the world against future surges and new variants. Because as long as coverage continues to be inequitable, the pandemic will continue, and so will the serious risks it poses to children”.

The head of UNICEF drew the audience’s attention to some of the knock-on effects of the pandemic on children who, she said, figure amongst its biggest victims, having faced the devastating impacts on health, education and well-being.

Routine jabs plummet

Routine vaccinations for other diseases have been significantly disrupted; Ms. Russell pointed to data from WHO and UNICEF which show that 25 million children did not receive the vaccine against diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis – a marker for immunization coverage in general – in 2021.

“This is the largest, sustained drop in the rates of routine childhood vaccinations in a generation”, she warned, “potentially wiping out 30 years of progress if we don’t get back on track.”

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At least 70 dead in latest ‘tragic’ shipwreck, off Syria coast: UN agencies

INTERNATIONAL, 23 September 2022, Migrants and Refugees - The bodies of 71 migrants have reportedly been recovered following another shipwreck in the Mediterranean, off the coast of Syria, which heads of UN agencies described as a “simply tragic” development that demanded an international response to improve conditions for those forced to flee their homes.

In a joint news release issued late on Thursday, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, and UN relief agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) said the boat had reportedly set off towards Europe on Tuesday from the port of Miniyeh, near Tripoli, Lebanon, carrying between 120 and 170 passengers.

The refugees and migrants were mostly Syrians, Lebanese, and Palestinians. Passengers included women, children, men and elderly people.

Search and rescue operations have confirmed that at least 70 people died in Syrian waters.

At least 20 hospitalized

“Early reports indicate that 20 people were transferred to the hospital in the city of Tartous, some in a serious condition”, said the statement.

News reports said that boat was believed to be en route to Europe, but it is unclear what led to the sinking.

In Lebanon, the three agencies are following up with the relevant authorities and will offer support to bereaved families, the reported. UNHCR in Syria is also providing some material support to the survivors who are recovering from their ordeal in Tartous. 

“This is yet another heart-wrenching tragedy and we extend our deepest condolences to all those impacted,” said Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Solidarity call

“We call for full solidarity from the international community to help improve the conditions of forcibly displaced people and host communities in the Middle East, particularly in countries neighbouring Syria. Too many people are being pushed to the brink.”

António Vitorino, IOM Director General, declared that those simply looking for safety “should not be compelled to take such perilous and often deadly migration journeys”.

“We must work together to increase safe and legal pathways to regular migration to help reduce loss of life and protect vulnerable people on the move.

Volunteers help refugees arriving on the island of Lesbos, in the North Aegean region of Greece. (file)
© UNICEF/Ashley Gilbertson
Volunteers help refugees arriving on the island of Lesbos, in the North Aegean region of Greece. (file)

‘Nobody gets in these boats lightly’

“This is just tragic. No one gets on these death boats lightly. People are taking these perilous decisions, risking their lives in search of dignity”, said UNRWA Commissioner-General, Philippe Lazzarini.

“We must do more to offer a better future and address a sense of hopelessness in Lebanon and across the region, including among Palestine refugees”.

In response to increased sea departures from the region over the past months, IOM, UNHCR, and UNRWA are calling on coastal States “to increase efforts to build their capacity to provide search and rescue services and to work to ensure predictability in identifying safe places of disembarkation.”

Address root causes

However, the agencies argue that it’s even more critical, that action be taken to address the root causes of these movements and for the international community, in line with the principle of sharing responsibility, to strengthen access to safer, alternative pathways.

“Much more humanitarian and development support must also go to those displaced and host communities throughout the region to help stem their suffering and improve their living conditions and opportunities.

“Failing this, refugees, asylum-seekers, migrants, and internally displaced people will continue to take dangerous journeys in search of safety, protection, and a better life.”

'Harsh reminder': UNICEF

The UN Children's Fund, UNICEF, said in a statement issued later on Thursday, that the tragedy, "and those that have come before it, are harsh reminders that collective action is urgently needed to stop families dying at sea."

The agency reported that another boat carrying some 55 migrants, had also sunk off the Greek coast, with three children reported missing. Lebanon with it's spiralling crises, has witnessed a rise in "desperate attempts" to flee the country in recent months, "that have left many dead", UNICEF noted. 

“Each and every death of a child at sea underscores the need to protect and support children where they are and expand options for children and families to move safely, without having to risk their lives."

The agency said it was standing by to provide help to the children and families affected, and remains committed to working with Lebanon and other countries in the region, "to ensure children’s safety and wellbeing at all time."

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400 million new green and digital sector jobs, will pave way to ‘rebalance societies’

INTERNATIONAL, 23 September 2022, Economic Development - A year after the UN launched an initiative to accelerate green and digital job creation, and expand social protection, the Secretary-General on Friday urged world leaders to “put people first” by making massive investments in their future wellbeing.

According to António Guterres, the Global Accelerator on Jobs and Social Protection for Just Transitions aims to rebalance societies by putting decent jobs and social protection at the centre of sustainable development.

“The path of inaction leads to economic collapse and climate catastrophe, widening inequalities and escalating social unrest”, which could leave “billions trapped in vicious circles of poverty and destitution”, he warned a High-Level meeting during the 77th General Assembly in New York.

Female construction workers help to build the foundation for a wind farm in Thailand.
© ADB
Female construction workers help to build the foundation for a wind farm in Thailand.

Countries taking the lead

Mr. Guterres commended the actions of countries such as Togo, which deployed innovative digital solutions to expand social protection to hard-to-reach populations, and South Africa, which recently launched a Just Energy Transition partnership.

“It is imperative that we provide the support needed – at speed and at scale – to keep the momentum and ambition of these and similar initiatives alive”, he underscored.

He said the present economic system is unfair, boosting inequalities and pushing more people into poverty, and that’s why it requires a deep structural reform.

“We are working hard to achieve that – but change won’t happen overnight. In the interim, the Global Accelerator is a critical tool to help provide immediate support to people in need and advance action towards transformative change for all”, he said.

The initiative aims to create 400 million new decent jobs—especially in the green, care and digital economies— and extend social protection to the over four billion people currently without coverage.

It is also meant to be a tool to help the world manage the massive transformations in areas such as digital, climate, or demographic change, that will fundamentally change societies in the coming decades.

A woman installs a solar panel on a roof in Bhutan.
© ADB
A woman installs a solar panel on a roof in Bhutan.

Youth at the centre

Meanwhile, The UN’s Special Envoy for Youth, Jayathma Wickramanayake, reminded world leaders that young people must be at the centre of all strategies and actions regarding jobs and social protection.

“The total number of unemployed youths worldwide is estimated to reach 73 million in 2022, 6 million above pre pandemic levels in 2019, young women are the hardest hit”, she underscored, adding that young people also experience systemic legal and financial barriers to benefitting from social protection policies and programmes.

“To truly shift this paradigm, we should work with all people including young people as agents of change and not only beneficiaries, and at every level of the just transitions this initiative seeks to enable”, Ms. Wickramanayake said.

Domestic labourers comprise a significant part of the global workforce in informal employment and are among the most vulnerable groups of workers.
@ILO/J.Maillard
Domestic labourers comprise a significant part of the global workforce in informal employment and are among the most vulnerable groups of workers.

Addressing the bottlenecks

Echoing the words of the Secretary-General, the International Labour Organization’s chief, Guy Ryder, warned that the world is on “red alert”, in the event that effective responses to the overlapping climate and cost of living crises are not found.

“We will see massive suffering, more instability, and potentially more conflict.  But it doesn’t have to be this way”, he explained.

Mr. Ryder underscored that it is crucial to address the current bottlenecks to expand and safeguard the 3,000 social protection and labour market stimulus measures put in place by governments at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We all know what those bottlenecks are: the lack of financing that is scalable, sustainable, socially inclusive and it supports just transitions; the persistent challenges of informality; the limited fiscal space; and the lack of institutional capacity in many countries”, he added.

Young female workers pack beans on a farm in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
© ILO/Sven Torfinn
Young female workers pack beans on a farm in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Better lives for billions

The ILO Director General emphasized that the Global Accelerator is a UN proposition to “collectively address these bottlenecks”, and to change the life of billions for the better.

“The four billion women, men and children who have no social protection; the two billion workers in the informal economy; and the millions of men and women who risk losing their jobs and incomes”, on a level “not seen for a generation”, he noted.

Mr. Ryder highlighted that the Global Accelerator was not a distraction from the crisis of climate, fuel, food and finance, but instead a “crucial component” of the necessary global response to address them.

 
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Canada braces for Hurricane Fiona after a week of lashing wind and rain in Caribbean

INTERNATIONAL, 23 September 2022, Climate and Environment - After lashing parts of Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands with 140 kilometres-per-hour winds, Hurricane Fiona is expected to make landfall in Canada late Friday and Saturday, the UN said.

“Fiona is expected to affect portions of Atlantic Canada as a powerful hurricane-force cyclone…significant impacts from high winds, storm surge and heavy rainfall are likely,” said World Meteorological Organization (WMO) spokesperson Clare Nullis.

‘Surf and rip’

“Life-threatening surf and rip” currents in the next few days are also expected along much of the east coast of the United States, the Bahamas, Bermuda and Canada’s east coast, the UN agency noted.

At least five deaths have reportedly been attributed to the hurricane, which barrelled into Puerto Rico last Sunday. Aid agencies reported torrential rains and considerable damage including power outages, landslides, fallen trees and power lines that made roads impassable and caused a bridge to collapse in a mountainous region.

“(In) Puerto Rico, more than 40 per cent of the island was covered with 15 inches of rain, so that is 380 millimetres”, said Ms. Nullis. “There was a maximum of 32 inches, which is 800 millimetres in 48 hours in some parts. I mean, these are just absolutely enormous quantities of rain.”

Path of destruction

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) meanwhile reported that Hurricane Fiona hit Turks and Caicos Islands as a category three storm on Tuesday, before crashing into the Bahamas and then shifting towards Bermuda.

“Before that, however, Fiona left a significant impact on Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, with mudslides, damage to property and widespread loss of power,” said Regis Chapman, Country Director of WFP’s Multi Country Office in the Caribbean, speaking from Bridgetown, Barbados. 

He added that latest assessments indicated that the situation “can be handled by the different governments” but highlighted the chronic vulnerability of low-lying Caribbean island States, in the face of the annual hurricane season.

A boy stands on a bridge over the Sanate river in Higuey, one of the provinces most affected when Hurricane Fiona made landfall in the Dominican Republic.
© UNICEF/Ricardo Rojas
A boy stands on a bridge over the Sanate river in Higuey, one of the provinces most affected when Hurricane Fiona made landfall in the Dominican Republic.

Be prepared

“Fiona was a reminder that all of the Caribbean has to stay prepared to face any level of impact from storms, and essentially countries and people here in this part of the world spend, you know, roughly half of their month, sort of on a knife's edge, wondering if this is their year.”

The devastation caused by Fiona in Puerto Rico comes five years since Hurricane Maria wreaked huge damage and loss of life there, with an official death toll of 65 and an unknown number of other fatalities.

Maria was a category 4 hurricane when it reached Puerto Rico as the strongest storm to hit the island since 1928 and by far the most destructive, WMO noted. Power was lost to the entire island and was only restored to just over half the population three months after the hurricane, while water supplies and communications networks were also severely affected. 

According to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Maria caused $90 billion worth of damage in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, making it the third most costly hurricane in US history, behind Katrina (2005) and Harvey (also in 2017).

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War crimes have been committed in Ukraine conflict, top UN human rights inquiry reveals

INTERNATIONAL, 23 September 2022, Human Rights - Almost seven months to the day since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, UN-appointed independent human rights investigators said that war crimes have indeed been committed in the conflict.

The finding came in the first report by the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine, which was set up in March this year, at the request of Human Rights Council Member States.

Much of the Commission’s work focused on investigations in the regions of Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv, and Sumy, where allegations of the most serious rights violations were made against Russian, or Russian-backed forces, early in the war.

Thorough investigation

Commission chairperson Erik Møse said that investigators visited 27 towns and settlements and interviewed more than 150 victims and witnesses. They also inspected “sites of destruction, graves, places of detention and torture”, as well as remnants of weapons.

“Based on the evidence gathered so far during the Commission’s existence, we found out after having carried out the investigations in these four areas just mentioned, we found that war crimes have been committed in Ukraine,” he told journalists in Geneva.

That conclusion is in line with findings published earlier this year by the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU).

It documented unlawful killings - including summary executions of civilians - in more than 30 settlements in Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Sumy regions, by Russian armed forces while they controlled these areas in late February and March.

Brutal executions

Other key findings from the report include the surprisingly “large number of executions” in 16 towns and settlements, where “common elements” of the crimes included “visible signs of executions on bodies, such as hands tied behind backs, gunshot wounds to the head, and slit throats”.

The report, delivered to the Human Rights Council earlier on Friday, also documented how explosive weapons had been used by the Russian Federation forces, “without distinguishing between civilians and combatants in populated areas”.

“We were struck by a large number of executions and other violations by Russian forces, and the Commission received consistent accounts of torture and ill-treatment.”

Sexual violence, including against children

Horrific allegations of sexual violence against Ukrainian communities - including children - were also found to be based in fact.

“The Commission investigated cases of sexual gender-based violence. It documented cases in which some Russian Federation soldiers made such crime,” said Commissioner Jasminka Džumhur.

Ukrainian forces were also responsible for human rights violations, said Commissioner Pablo de Greiff: “We have found two instances of ill-treatment of Russian Federation soldiers by Ukrainian soldiers, and we mentioned this in our statement. We have found obviously significantly larger numbers of instances that amount to war crimes on the part of the Russian Federation.”

UN Secretary-General António Guterres (centre) visits Bucha, on the outskirts of the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv.
UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
UN Secretary-General António Guterres (centre) visits Bucha, on the outskirts of the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv.
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Half of Sudan’s most vulnerable children could die without aid

INTERNATIONAL, 23 September 2022, Humanitarian Aid - The situation for Sudan’s most vulnerable children is so desperate that half of the most severely malnourished youngsters are expected to die without urgent humanitarian intervention, UN agencies said on Friday.

“As we speak today, 650,000 kids are suffering from severe acute malnutrition. If not treated, half of them will die,” said UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Representative in Sudan, Mandeep O Brien, underscoring what veteran aid workers have called an unprecedented crisis.

Spiralling recent problems in Sudan have their roots in a military coup in October 2021 that prompted a freeze in international funding for aid operations and which has forced UN relief teams to cut rations in half, in some cases.

Ongoing political “tumult” has also weakened State support structures for struggling families, who have had to contend with dramatic food price hikes and intertribal violence, said the UN World Food Programme’s (WFP) Country Director in Sudan, Eddie Rowe.

Rising hunger

“At the moment, WFP (has) projected that about 15 million people would go hungry every day since the hunger season started, and we are now doing an assessment because our indicators projected that this could rise up to 18 million by the end of this month,” he said.

“We are still grappling with an increased incidence of intertribal conflicts and violence, and this in fact has spread now not just to Darfur, but to other parts of the country…The Ukraine War also has had some significant impact. All of this in the context of a political unstable country, has resulted in an unprecedented humanitarian crisis this year.”

Solidarity with Sudan

In an appeal to the international community to “stand in solidarity with the children of Sudan”, UNICEF’s Mandeep O Brien noted that the crisis reflected much more than a lack of food, with basic health services, clean water, sanitation and education severely lacking.

“Routine immunization, unfortunately, is declining in Sudan. Between 2019 and 2021, the number of children who have not received a single dose of lifesaving vaccines has doubled,” she told journalists in Geneva.

Skyrocketing living costs

Echoing those concerns, UN refugee agency (UNHCR) Representative in Sudan, Axel Bisschop, warned that refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) in Sudan had seen living costs “skyrocket”.

This was linked to the “ripple effects of the war in Ukraine, lingering impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic, and extreme weather resulting from the climate crisis,” he said.

“Sudan is hosting today about 1.1 million refugees,” the UNHCR official explained, noting that fresh intercommunal clashes this year and the burning and looting of villages, markets, houses, and livestock across the Darfur states, Kordofan and Blue Nile States had displaced over 177,000 people.

“We also have around 3.7 million internally displaced. And as outlined by my colleagues here, the humanitarian crisis, which is actually resulting itself in a food crisis, is impacting the marginalized communities and amongst those, refugees and the IDPs.”

Funding shortfall

Humanitarian funding levels for all three agencies remain far below where they need to be to provide effective prevention support. The fear is that unless pledges are forthcoming soon, the cost of having to respond to a far greater emergency will be far higher.

Illustrating the extent of the funding gap, by 13 September, UNHCR had received just one third of the $348.9 million needed this year to deliver an effective response and provide life-saving assistance and protection amidst the growing needs.

 

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Ukraine refugees: Eager to work but need greater support

INTERNATIONAL, 23 September 2022, Migrants and Refugees - Refugees from Ukraine are eager to work in their host countries but need additional support to do so, and to ensure their inclusion in the communities where they are staying, according to a new survey published on Friday by UN refugee agency, UNHCR. 

Lives on Hold: Intentions and Perspectives of Refugees from Ukraine, is based on 4,800 responses from people who have fled the brutal war in their homeland and are now living in countries in Europe and beyond. 

The survey was conducted between August and September. 

Staying put for now 

Seven months after the start of the conflict, Ukrainian refugees remain grateful for the warm reception that they have received across Europe, and most plan to stay put for now, said Matthew Saltmarsh, a UNHCR Spokesperson in Geneva. 

The majority, 81 per cent, intend to return home to reunite with their families, but only 13 per cent plan to do so in the next three months. 

“Large parts of Ukraine remain devastated, with towns and livelihoods destroyed in many areas. The onset of winter and spiralling energy prices – or the lack of power - make return home at the moment difficult for many of the displaced,” he said. 

Keen to contribute 

Many refugees surveyed mentioned positive factors in their host countries, such as their links to family or friends, security and stability, the availability of medical services, access to education, and the overall economic situation. 

Most are highly educated, willing to work and want to contribute.  Some 70 per cent possess higher education qualifications, and two-thirds were previously working in Ukraine.  

“Refugees are eager to reenter the labour market, which would lessen their reliance on welfare, but currently, less than one-third are employed or self-employed,” said Mr. Saltmarsh. 

They want to play a more active role in their new communities, he added, but need support such as language classes, formal recognition of skills, and, importantly, assistance with childcare services so they can work outside the home. 

Struggling to survive 

Three-quarters of those surveyed said they intended to send their children to local schools, while 18 per cent preferred remote learning using the Ukrainian curriculum. 

Without work, many are struggling to make ends meet and find adequate housing. Nearly half, 41 per cent, are staying with host families, and 20 per cent are living in collective sites or hotels.  A quarter are renting.  

“Many are deeply concerned about finding alternative sustainable solutions ahead of winter,” said Mr. Saltmarsh. 

Meanwhile, psychological support and specialized help for children with disabilities and older people, are among their remaining pressing needs.  

The majority of the refugees, 87 per cent, are women and children, and almost a third have a family member with at least one disability. 

Support at home and beyond 

With more than 7.4 million Ukrainian refugees across Europe, UNHCR is urging continued support from host countries to ensure they have access to adequate assistance, as well as socio-economic inclusion. 

The agency also continues operations in Ukraine, where nearly seven million people have been uprooted. 

As winter approaches, staff are conducting repairs and insulation on homes for vulnerable families. 

More than 815,000 have received food and non-food items, including winter clothes, while more than 31,000 have received emergency shelter materials.  

UNHCR aims to distribute emergency shelter kits for over 100,000 people by the end of the year. 

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Ireland: Rights experts call for redress for 50 years of systemic racism in childcare institutions

INTERNATIONAL, 23 September 2022, Human Rights - UN-appointed independent human rights experts on Friday called on Irish authorities to provide adequate redress for victims of racial discrimination and system racism in Irish childcare institutions, stretching over more than 50 years.

Citing information received, 10 experts issued a joint statement saying that systemic racism in childcare institutions between the 1940s and 1990s, has “resulted in the higher institutionalization rate of children of African and Irish descent”.

During their prolonged time there, children were exposed to heightened risk of corporal punishment, sexual, physical and verbal abuse, with lifelong consequences, including infringing their right to enjoy the highest standard of physical and mental health. Some of them were also subjected to vaccine trials.

Exchanging letters

Despite welcoming the Irish Government’s Action Plan to provide tangible benefits for survivors and former residents of mother and baby and county home institutions, the experts sent them a letter containing their allegations of racial discrimination in April.

In it, they raised the alarm that children of African and Irish descent were “subjected to differential treatment because of their race, colour and/or descent, leading to further violations of their human rights”.

In response, the Irish Government referred to the official State apology offered on 13 January 2021 in which the country recognized the “additional impact which a lack of knowledge and understanding had on the treatment and outcomes of mothers and children with different racial and cultural heritage”.

It continued, acknowledging that such “discriminatory attitudes exacerbated the shame and stigma felt by some of our most vulnerable citizens, especially where opportunities for non-institutional placement of children were restricted by an unjust belief that they were unsuitable for placement with families”.

Stolen childhoods

Although the State apology is an important element of the restorative justice process, the experts said it was “not enough”.

Because of the systemic racial discrimination that prevailed in the childcare institutions at the time, the experts underscored that they had, in effect, had their “childhood stolen” from them.

“We are seriously concerned over the severe and continuing effects that racial discrimination and systematic racism have had on the lives of the adults who are currently seeking redress,” the statement read.

Restorative justice

Under international law, States have an obligation to ensure accountability for past human rights violations and provide full reparation to the victims, when these violations still have an impact.

The independent experts called on the Irish Government to “take further action to provide those who were subjected to differential treatment in childcare institutions with effective remedies”.

A future scheme to address rights violations, “must recognize and provide redress for all the human rights violations perpetrated against children during the entire duration of their stay in Irish institutions, including mother and baby homes, industrial schools, reformatories, Magdalen Laundries and analogous institutions, as well as life-long impacts”, the statement continued.

In conclusion, they noted that a proposed “Bill Payment Scheme” provides an avenue of redress “for the harms caused due to racial discrimination and systemic racism to which children of African and Irish descent were subjected”.

UN experts

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 paid for their work.

Click here for the names of the experts who participated in the statement.

 

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Cambodia: UN-backed tribunal ends with conviction upheld for last living Khmer Rouge leader

INTERNATIONAL, 22 September 2022, Law and Crime Prevention - The final Khmer Rouge leader to be prosecuted under a UN-backed special tribunal in Cambodia, has had his 2018 conviction upheld for genocide and crimes against humanity, committed during the brutal rule of the Khmer Rouge during the late 1970s, during which nearly a quarter of the country’s population was killed.

The decision of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Court of Cambodia (ECCC) to uphold the conviction of the regime’s last surviving leader, Khieu Samphan, ends more than 13 years of hearings by the unique hybrid court, which was made up of both Cambodian and international judges and attorneys.

The court reportedly cost as total of $330 million, since being established in 1997.

Appeal denied

A former head of State, Mr. Samphan had appealed his conviction in what is expected to be the court’s final judgement. The court upheld his sentence of life imprisonment.

When he was first convicted, the judgement emphasized that he had “encouraged, incited and legitimised” policies of the regime that led to civilian deaths “on a massive scale”.

Three of the Khmer Rouge leaders were convicted, beginning with “Comrade Duch” who ran a notorious torture centre in the capital Phnom Penh, where all but 12 of its 20,000 inmates perished.

 Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, the site of the Khmer Rouge’s infamous Security Prison S-21 where torture was routinely practiced.
UN Photo/Mark Garten
Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, the site of the Khmer Rouge’s infamous Security Prison S-21 where torture was routinely practiced.

Convictions

Noun Chea, known as “Brother Number Two” in the Communist Party hierarchy of the regime, was arrested in 2007, given a life sentence by the ECCC seven years later, and died in prison in 2019. The overall leader of the regime Pol Pot, died in 1998.

According to news reports, 91-year-old Khieu Samphan, insisted during the tribunal proceedings that he was unaware of any “heinous acts” committed by other leaders of the Khmer Rouge.

Under their rule, an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians died from execution, torture, starvation and neglect, in the form of diseases left untreated, in the quest to convert the war-ravaged nation into a rural utopia. Up to three million may have died overall during the reign of terror, according to the ECCC.

It is estimated that some 20,000 ethnic Vietnamese and 100-500,000 Cham Muslims were also among those killed.

Two of the five who were put on trial as part of the delayed tribunal proceedings, died before they could face judgement, and Pol Pot, died before charges could even be brought.

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Ethiopia: Civilians again mired in intractable and deadly war, Human Rights Council hears

INTERNATIONAL, 22 September 2022, Human Rights - Ethiopia’s people are once again “mired…in the intractable and deadly consequences” of conflict between Government troops and forces loyal to Tigrayan separatist fighters, who are all likely responsible for war crimes, top rights investigators said on Thursday.

In their first, extensive report to the Human Rights Council in Geneva, the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia said that they believed that crimes against humanity had also been committed in the on-off war that erupted in the northern region in November 2020.

Worst rights violations

Serious rights violations in Tigray were “ongoing”, the report maintained, noting that fighting resumed last month, breaking a five-month ceasefire.

“Extrajudicial killings, rape, sexual violence, and starvation of the civilian population as a method of warfare” have happened in Ethiopia since the earliest days of the conflict, the Council heard.

Citing information from “credible sources”, Commission chairperson Kaari Betty Murungi – who like the two other members of the panel is an independent UN-appointed rights expert - said that there had been an “escalation” in drone attacks by Government forces that used explosive weapons “with wide area effects in populated areas”, since hostilities resumed.

“Our investigation indicates that their use has exposed civilians to new and heightened risks,” she said. “We have received reports of drone strikes in Tigray in the last four weeks, which have allegedly killed and injured civilians, including children.”

Turning to Tigrayan forces, Ms. Murungi insisted that they had also likely committed serious human rights abuses “which amount to war crimes”.

These included “large-scale killings of Amhara civilians, rape and sexual violence, and widespread looting and destruction of civilian property in Kobo and Chenna in August and September 2021.

“During their searches of homes in Kobo, for example, Tigrayan forces looked for weapons and pulled many men from their homes, executing them, often in front of their families.”

Desperate conditions

Today, international humanitarian access into Tigray continues to be blocked, despite the dire situation there, Ms. Murungi said.

There were reasonable grounds to believe that the Federal Government and its allies “looted and destroyed goods indispensable for the survival of the civilian population in Tigray, killing livestock, destroying food stores, and razing crops while also implementing severe restrictions on humanitarian access to Tigray”, she added, noting that for more than a year, six million people had been denied access to electricity, internet, telecommunications and banking.

This denial and obstruction of access to basic services, food, healthcare and aid relief “amount(ed) to the crimes against humanity of persecution and inhumane acts”, the Commission chairperson insisted.

Starvation ‘tactic’

“We also have reasonable grounds to believe that the Federal Government is committing the war crime of using starvation as a method of warfare,” the top independent rights expert continued, noting that Tigrayan forces had reportedly looted humanitarian aid.

According to the latest dire humanitarian data from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), conflict and displacement in northern Ethiopia has left more than nine million people in need in Tigray, Afar and Amhara regions, while severe drought is affecting millions more in the south.

Citing OCHA, Ms. Murungi said that that the combined effect of the Federal government’s measures had left 90 per cent of the population in acute need - an 80 per cent increase since the beginning of the conflict.

“Most of the population in Tigray must now survive on limited and nutritionally inadequate diets,” she said, adding that there had also been “an increase in child marriages and child labour, human trafficking, and transactional sex as desperate means for survival”.

A child sits inside a vehicle burned out during fighting in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia.
© UNICEF/ Christine Nesbitt
A child sits inside a vehicle burned out during fighting in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia.

Tigrayan women and girls not spared

According to the Commission chairperson, rape and crimes of sexual violence had happened “on a staggering scale” since the earliest days of the conflict, “with Ethiopian and Eritrean forces and regional militias targeting Tigrayan women and girls with particular violence and brutality”.

Tigrayan forces had also committed rape and sexual violence against Amhara women and girls and Eritrean refugees, Ms. Murungi said, highlighting the devastating long-term impacts for the survivors that included trauma, unwanted pregnancy and HIV infection.

‘Unfair and biased scrutiny’

Rejecting the report’s findings, the Ethiopia delegation repeated its claim that the federal government had been subjected to “unfair and biased scrutiny” at the Council for more than a year.

Addis Ababa was engaged in responding to an “insurrectionist armed group that has endangered the territorial integrity of the country”, the Council heard.

The international commission of human rights experts on Ethiopia was established after the Human Rights Council adopted resolution S-33/1 on 17 December 2021.

It mandated a panel of three human rights experts - appointed by the President of the Human Rights Council - “to conduct a thorough and impartial investigation into allegations of violations and abuses of international human rights law and violations of international humanitarian law and international refugee law in Ethiopia committed since 3 November 2020 by all parties to the conflict”.

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