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Countries urged to ‘dig deep’ and support Afghanistan in aftermath of deadly earthquake

INTERNATIONAL, 26 June 2022, Humanitarian Aid - The top UN official in Afghanistan appealed on Sunday for greater international support for the country, following a one-day visit to communities hit hard by the devastating earthquake on Wednesday.

“Yesterday’s visit reaffirmed to me both the extreme suffering of people in Afghanistan and their tremendous resolve in the face of great adversity,” said Dr. Ramiz Alakbarov, Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Humanitarian Coordinator for Afghanistan.

The UN and partners have developed a three-month emergency appeal, included within their humanitarian plan for Afghanistan this year, to respond to the catastrophe.

Step up aid

The goal is to scale up and expedite the delivery of humanitarian and resilience assistance to nearly 362,000 people in the two provinces, Paktika and Khost, that were most affected. 

“Notwithstanding the phenomenal generosity that donors have already displayed to Afghanistan over these past tumultuous ten months, I urge the international community to dig deep at this time, as the population confronts yet another emergency, and to pledge support to these life-saving and life-sustaining efforts,” he said.

On Saturday, Dr. Alakbarov travelled to the villages of Mir Sahib and Khanadin, located in Giyan district, Paktika province – one of the areas worst affected by the 5.9 magnitude earthquake.

He was accompanied by representatives from the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, UN migration agency IOM, the World Food Programme (WFP), the World Health Organization (WHO), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), UN Women, the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), and the UN humanitarian affairs office, OCHA.

‘Unimaginable hardship’

The delegation met with residents, many of whom had lost family members and friends, including several orphaned and separated children, and whose homes are now uninhabitable.

“In addition to food assistance and emergency shelter and repair, interventions such as the restoration of damaged water pipes and cholera prevention and preparedness activities are absolutely vital, as are the restoration of communication lines, road access, and basic livelihoods,” said Dr. Alakbarov. 

“Without such transitional support, women, men, and children will continue to endure unnecessary and unimaginable hardship.”

Familes in Paktika are in need of urgent support after their homes were destroyed in a devastating earthquake in Afghanistan.
© IOM
Familes in Paktika are in need of urgent support after their homes were destroyed in a devastating earthquake in Afghanistan.

The full scale of the devastation caused by the earthquake is yet to be known, OCHA reported, and assessments are ongoing.

Initial findings indicate at least 235 people in Giyan district were killed, including 134 children. Nearly 600 people were injured, more than 200 of them children. More than 1,000 homes were destroyed, and two schools were damaged.

Across all earthquake-affected areas, satellite imagery reveals damage to at least 2,000 homes which are more than 5km from a good road in the hardest hit areas of Giyan and Barmal districts in Paktika Province, and Spera District in Khost Province. 

Women in crisis

Furthermore, tens of thousands of homes that are still standing have experienced extensive damage and risk collapsing.

The earthquake struck at a time when increased restrictions on Afghan women and girls have amplified their needs and also complicated efforts to assist them.

Alison Davidian, Acting Country Representative for UN Women, explained that women and girls are differentially affected by crisis.

"When their rights to move and work are restricted as they are in Afghanistan, they are disproportionately impacted, especially in accessing food, healthcare and safe shelter,” she said.

Moving forward, women humanitarian workers as well as women-led civil society groups must be at the centre of response.

“This is the only way to ensure the needs and rights of at-risk and crisis-affected women and girls are effectively identified and addressed,” she said

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Youth are the generation that will help save our ocean and our future, says UN chief

INTERNATIONAL, 26 June 2022, Climate and Environment - The world must do more to stop the dramatic decline in ocean health, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said on Sunday, urging young people gathered in Carcavelos, Portugal, for a UN Youth and Innovation Forum to step up because his generation’s leaders had moved far too slow.

The two-day event brought together hundreds of youth from some 165 countries with a shared goal: protecting the Ocean.  

Speaking in front of 100 youth advocates who gathered to inspire, amplify, and accelerate youth action for our ocean, Mr. Guterres reiterated the need to rescue the planet.   

At Carcavelos beach, on the edge of the ocean near the centre of his home city, Lisbon, the Secretary-General apologized on behalf of his generation for the state of the oceans, for the state of biodiversity and for the state of climate change. 

Generational responsibility  

“My generation, and those who were politically responsible – which is my case – we were slow or sometimes unwilling to recognize that things were getting worse and worse in these three dimensions: oceans, climate, and biodiversity”, Mr. Guterres told the lively crowd.  

Adding that globally, the world is still moving too slow and must act now to start rehabilitating the oceans, rescuing biodiversity, and halting climate change, the UN chief stressed that “it is a generational responsibility that goes far beyond political leaders”.  

‘Do everything’ to stop pollution 

Telling the young audience that there is an area of plastics in the Pacific Ocean – a huge floating ‘dump’ of plastic containers, bottles and other detritus widely referred to as ‘the Great Pacific Garbage Patch – that is larger than France, Mr. Guterres said: “we are still throwing 8 million tons of plastics to the ocean, every year”.  

Because of this and more, the youth will inherit a planet in trouble, the UN chief, warned and told the gathered youth that they would need “to do everything to reverse everything” – reverse political decisions, reverse economic decisions, and reverse individual behaviours. 

“Let’s be honest, when I look at myself and my own behaviour, my footprint on the planet is too big,” the Secretary-General admitted.  

The UN Ocean Conference’s Youth and Innovation Forum in Lisbon, Portugal.
UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
The UN Ocean Conference’s Youth and Innovation Forum in Lisbon, Portugal.

Time for change 

Wishing participants success with their projects, the UN chief called on the young generation to act. 

“Your generation will be essential now to lead tomorrow to be able to manage and reverse this trend and rescue the planet”, he concluded.  

‘Nature’s Baton’ 

Just ahead of the Secretary-General’s address, global movie star and ocean activist Jason Momoa made a special appearance alongside UN Special Envoy for the Ocean Peter Thomson.

Under the blazing sun at Carcavelos beach, surrounded on the wide sandy beach by youth, including his own children, Mr. Momoa said the work he was doing was “for them and the generations to come”.  

Receiving ‘Nature’s Baton’ from Special Envoy Peter Thomson, Mr. Momoa said the baton, which symbolizes the fact that the world’s existential challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss are inseparably linked with the state of the ocean’s health, had been going around the world and it would continue to do so as an enduring symbol to leaders.  

“The time to act is now. Our ocean is in trouble, if we combine ambition, dedication and hope, we can change these outcomes,” he said.  

“The ocean, where the water begins and ends its journey, enables systems to work for the wellbeing of humans and non-humans alike. Without a healthy ocean, life as we know it wouldn’t exist”, the actor added.  

With his feet submerged by the waves at the beach, Mr. Momoa thanked Mother Nature for her “kisses from the ocean” and called for a “powerful wave of change to ensure today’s generations and the ones to come can receive its gift”.  

Actor and ocean advocate Jason Momoa (left) meets youth advocates on Carcavelos Beach in Lisbon, Portugal at the UN Ocean Summit.
UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
Actor and ocean advocate Jason Momoa (left) meets youth advocates on Carcavelos Beach in Lisbon, Portugal at the UN Ocean Summit.

Respect nature  

Surrounded by youth, UN Special Envoy for the Ocean Peter Thomson cautioned that young people will be facing a two-to-three-degree global warming situation within their lifetime. “That is playing with fire,” he said.  

Describing ‘Nature’s Baton’ as a symbol of connectivity, he spoke on the importance of respecting nature and getting back to a balanced relationship with it.  

“We have to learn to live with respect for the ocean: not dumping rubbish in it, and not heating it up so much,” Mr. Thomson added.  

The Forum and the UN Ocean Conference  

The Forum was a unique opportunity for young people to contribute to the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14 (SDG14), just before the start of the UN Ocean Conference, taking place from 27 June through 1 July, to seek science-based and innovative solutions to improve the health of our ocean.  

Young entrepreneurs, innovators, and solutionists scaled up their initiatives, projects, and ideas with professional training and matchmaking with mentors, investors, the private sector, and government officials to maximize their impact.  

One of the participants at the Forum – 29-year-old Gabriela Fernandes, of Portugal, developed a project that aims to study and photograph dolphins and whales.  

“Studying them will allow us to understand the interaction between the animals at the top of the food chain and the rest of the marine animals, which will help to discover [the state of] local biodiversity”.  

The governments of Portugal and Kenya co-hosted the event, organized by the UN Global Compact Ocean Stewardship Coalition in cooperation with CEiiA, the Municipality of Cascais, Nova School of Business and Economics (NOVA SBE) and Sustainable Ocean Alliance (SOA) supported by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA). 

During the week, UN News will bring you daily coverage on the Conference as well as  interviews, podcasts and features, that you can access here.  

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First Person: The Barbadian entrepreneur turning sargassum into money

INTERNATIONAL, 26 June 2022, Climate and Environment - Sargassum seaweed has been blighting many of the beaches on Barbados for several years. Joshua Forte, a local entrepreneur, is convinced that it can be turned into a valuable commodity, and turned into highly effective, organic compost.

In 2014, Mr. Forte started Red Diamond Compost, a biotech business that focuses on research, development, and commercialization of organic and biologic soil treatment and crop protection solutions made primarily organic environmental hazards, such as sargassum seaweed.

  Joshua Forte, founder and CEO of Red Diamond, a company in Barbados making organic compost from sargassum seaweed.
Joshua Forte, founder and CEO of Red Diamond, a company in Barbados making organic compost from sargassum seaweed., by Red Diamond

Mr. Forte is recognized as a national and regional expert in the field of climate-smart environmental management.

“I started getting interested in organic compost in 2009, at a time when I feel seriously ill, and was in bed for 10 hours a day. I came across a guy online, who was taking about how nutrients and the right foods can improve your health.

I tried changing my diet, and in a one-week period I get a huge burst of energy, that I had never felt before.

I started to dig in deeper, and researched food and nutrition, and how it affects the body. I saw a contrast between the way that much of our food is produced in Barbados, with the focus on synthetic fertilizers and toxic chemicals. I also saw that there was a rise in the number of young people with type 2 diabetes or obesity.

In Barbados, toxic chemicals used in agriculture are killing the beneficial organisms, the life in the soil. A scientist at the university here even put out a report, which said that the microbial life her is completely decimated.

Flowers grown with the help of organic Red Diamond compost, made with saragassum seaweed in Barbados.
Red Diamond
Flowers grown with the help of organic Red Diamond compost, made with saragassum seaweed in Barbados.

‘The problem was much bigger than me’

I realized that the problem was much bigger than just me, and that we really need to do something about the way we're producing food. I needed to look at developing a business in this area, and that's where the idea of Red Diamond compost began.

I had my eye on producing seaweed fertilizer further down the road. But I was having some challenges with scaling up. Around that time, we had a huge influx of sargassum, and I saw the raw material just coming up to the shores, readily available. So, I decided to switch gear and just focus on developing a product out of seaweed.

Tomatoes grown with the help of organic Red Diamond compost, made with saragassum seaweed in Barbados.
Red Diamond
Tomatoes grown with the help of organic Red Diamond compost, made with saragassum seaweed in Barbados.

Freakish results

From the start, when we did some trials with peanuts, we saw freakish results in terms of the growth: the small test plot we used was getting around four times the amount of peanuts that you would normally get.

Then we started getting reports from farmers that were taking our compost and using it and some of them were seeing these kinds of drastic results with other crops. We also discovered that the compost enhanced the flavour of the food.Since we kicked off in 2017, we have operating in that R&D stage, and we’re working on getting the equipment we need in order to scale up.

For most people in Barbados, sargassum is a problem, but for me it’s truly a gold mine. I often go out harvesting on the beaches, early in the morning, and I think, wow, all of this is free, for me. 

The formulation of the compost is now at an ideal stage, and some of our early adopters have been knocking on our doors to try to get it. They're really excited.” 

The Blue Accelerator Lab

  • Joshua Forte and Red Diamond have been championed at several events organized by the Barbados and eastern Caribbean Blue Accelerator Lab of the UN Development Programme (UNDP).
  • Set up in 2019, the Lab inspires a culture of innovation through locally driven solutions in key Blue Economy sectors such as fisheries, marine conservation, renewable energy, tourism and waste management.
  • Part of the Lab’s mandate is to research alternative uses for sargassum seaweed and fish offal for climate action.
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Monkeypox not presently a global public health emergency: WHO

25 June 2022, Health - The monkeypox outbreak does not currently constitute a global public health concern, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Saturday, though “intense response efforts” are needed to control further spread.

The announcement comes two days after WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreysus convened an Emergency Committee on the disease, under the International Health Regulations (IHR), to address the rising caseload.

“The WHO Director-General concurs with the advice offered by the IHR Emergency Committee regarding the multi-country monkeypox outbreak and, at present, does not determine that the event constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC),” the UN agency said in a statement.

The PHEIC declaration is the highest level of global alert, which currently applies only to the COVID-19 pandemic and polio.

Monkeypox, a rare viral disease, occurs primarily in tropical rainforest areas of Central and West Africa, though it is occasionally exported to other regions.

Since May, more than 3,000 cases have emerged in 47 countries, many of which have never previously reported the disease.  The highest numbers are currently in Europe, and most cases are among men who have sex with men.

Preventing further spread

There have been few hospitalizations to date, and one death.

“The Committee unanimously acknowledged the emergency nature of the outbreak and that controlling further spread requires intense response efforts,” the statement said.

Members have also recommended that the situation should be closely monitored and reviewed after a few weeks.

Conditions that could prompt re-assessment such as evidence of an increased growth rate in cases over the next 21 days, occurrence of cases among sex workers, significant spread to and within additional countries, and rising caseloads among vulnerable groups such as persons with poorly controlled HIV infection, pregnant women and children.

Other situations mentioned include evidence of reverse spillover to the animal population, or significant change in viral genome.

Rapid spread a concern

In a statement, Tedros said he is deeply concerned by the spread of the disease, and that both he and WHO are following the evolving threat very closely.

“What makes the current outbreak especially concerning is the rapid, continuing spread into new countries and regions and the risk of further, sustained transmission into vulnerable populations including people that are immunocompromised, pregnant women and children,” he said.

He underscored the need for both collective attention and coordinated action through public health measures including surveillance, contact-tracing, isolation and care of patients, and ensuring vaccines, treatments and other tools are available to at-risk populations and shared fairly.

The WHO chief noted that the Committee had pointed out that Monkeypox has been circulating in a number of African countries for decades and has been neglected in terms of research, attention and funding 

“This must change not just for Monkeypox but for other neglected diseases in low-income countries as the world is reminded yet again that health is an interconnected proposition,” he said.

WHO has convened hundreds of scientists and researchers to speed up research and development into Monkeypox,

The UN agency urged countries to collaborate, share information, and engage with affected communities, so that public health safety measures are communicated quickly and effectively.

 

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Seafarers' Day honours maritime journeys and voyages

INTERNATIONAL, 25 June 2022, SDGs - The United Nations has underlined its support for the men and women working at sea, whose immeasurable contributions help to keep global trade moving.

Secretary-General António Guterres highlighted both their critical role, as well as the challenges they face, In his message to mark the Day of the Seafarer on Saturday.

“The world counts on seafarers,” he said.

“Ships transport a remarkable 90 per cent of the world’s commodities — from grains and energy, to consumer goods and much more. Without ships and the women and men who work on them, economies would stall and people would starve.” 

Pandemic challenges

However, seafarers have faced immense challenges stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The UN chief listed some of these issues, which include contracts extended long beyond their expiry dates and maximum periods of service, and problems related to vaccinations, medical care and shore leave. 

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) continues to advocate for seafarers during the pandemic by urging countries to designate them as key workers.

Kitack Lim, the IMO Secretary-General, stated that without seafarers, there would be no shipping.

Sharing the journey

The theme for this year’s international day celebrates maritime journeys and voyages, providing a chance “to recognize and pay tribute to seafarers everywhere, whatever their voyage”, he said.

As part of an IMO campaign, seafarers from around the globe are using social media to share images and information about what truly resonates with them, whether a positive experience or challenging circumstances.  

“Shipping and the call of the oceans, form a way of life,” said Mr. Lim. “It is a meaningful, important career that provides a solid foundation for life and offers endless opportunities to learn and progress.”

A greener future

The international day is also an opportunity to look to the future, and for the UN Secretary-General, this means listening to seafarers.

“They know better than anyone their needs and what this industry needs to do to address key challenges. This includes the expansion of social protection, better working conditions, addressing the crew-change crisis, adopting new digital tools to enhance safety and efficiency, and making this industry greener and more sustainable,” he said.

The UN chief concluded his message by calling for renewed commitment to supporting seafarers everywhere, and honouring their knowledge, professionalism and experience.

 

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INTERVIEW: Pollution, Cartagena, and the Caribbean

INTERNATIONAL, 25 June 2022, Climate and Environment - Since the 1980s, a UN Environment Programme (UNEP) convention has been in place, to deal with pollution issues affecting the wider Caribbean region. Since then, the climate crisis has been added to the risks. Christopher Corbin, the acting coordinator for the UNEP Cartagena Convention Secretariat, told UN News that the focus of the Convention is shifting from policy to local action.

UN News How did the Cartagena Convention come about?

Christopher Corbin The Cartagena Convention was driven primarily by a major oil spill that took place in the region close to Trinidad and Tobago in the early 1980s.

This brought home the fact that this region is so dependent on the coastal and marine resources on the Caribbean Sea for tourism, for fisheries, and livelihoods, that there needed to be a framework to protect those valuable resources.

At the same point in time, several major conferences had taken place at the broader UN level, and the governments in the region got together and approached the UN Environment Programme, and said that they needed a mechanism to address the issues facing them.

The Convention is split into three main areas: oil spills, land-based sources of pollution, and marine biodiversity.

Christopher Corbin, Acting Coordinator of the Cartagena Convention Secretariat.

UN News How bad is the situation now?

Christopher Corbin I would say it's almost like we are running on a treadmill.

There have been signs that the region is taking action, particularly for oil spills, and we've seen a reduction in the number of spills.

But we’re also seeing greater risk. We see the increasing focus on coastal development, and of tourism, and we've seen the challenges facing our coastal and marine resource management. Pollution, from land-based sources and activities, continues to damage our coastal and marine ecosystems.

But I would say that the Convention has allowed governments to address those transboundary issues that are outside of the control of any single government.

UN News Has the Convention changed to adapt to the growing realization that there is man-made climate action?

Christopher Corbin Very much so. If we look at the original Convention document, there is absolutely no mention of climate change.

Khus khus grass is being grown in the Barbados National Botanical Gardens, to be used in hedgerows as part of an initiative to reduce land-based pollution in the ocean.

Climate change impacts on all of the activities that happen within the region. We are not completely changing the focus of the Convention, but rather seeing how the impact of climate change relates to our two core focus areas of marine pollution and marine biodiversity.

So, we're starting to look at issues of adaptation, and nature based solutions. When it comes down to issues such as sea level rise, we are seeing the importance of integrated planning and integrated coastal zone management. The whole approach to ecosystem-based management is also a recognition that we can't approach the management of our resources in an isolated and sectoral way.

Barbados has been, I would say, one of the extremely strong supporters of the work of the Cartagena Convention. It's also, one would argue, one of the more vulnerable islands in the region because of its geography. A lot of the work we have done in Barbados is really to help them build resilience.

Coral nursery off the coast of Barbados, created by CORALL

UN News What risks does Barbados face?

Christopher Corbin Barbados has been listed globally as one of the most water-stressed countries in the world: they have a significant challenge as it relates to the provision of drinking water. They are heavily dependent on groundwater and therefore their water is at high risk from pollution, particularly domestic wastewater.

Some of the early work of the convention was more in the context of regional policy, regional standards, and we worked very closely with the government of of Barbados in reviewing regulations and helping them develop new policies.

Over the years, more and more countries like Barbados started to say that they needed more concrete work on the ground, and our more recent projects have focused primarily on supporting Barbados at the local level.

One of our projects is working to ensure that reused water is safe. We have developed a very detailed communication strategy with the government, to explain this to farmers, and the general public.

We hope that this will become an example of best practice that we can share throughout the region.

A sea turtle attempts to lay eggs on a Barbados beach

UN News The proliferation of sargassum seaweed had been a problem for several years.

Christopher Corbin Barbados was one of the first countries in the region to be affected.

It has impacted the nesting of sea turtles, fisheries, and tourism. We partnered with the University of the West Indies and developed a number of guidelines, looking at how to deal with this issue, how to monitor the spread of sargassum and how to reuse it.

I think that Barbados is in the lead, in terms of some of the solutions that could be implemented. The government takes a very methodical way of approaching these issues. They want to ensure that they have the national policies in place and, as a result of their focus on that, the projects that they're now doing on the ground are having a bigger impact.

The Cartagena Convention in Barbados

  • The Convention for the Protection and Development of the Marine Environment in the Wider Caribbean Region (WCR) or Cartagena Convention is a regional legal agreement for the protection of the Caribbean Sea. The Convention was adopted in Cartagena, Colombia on 24 March 1983 and entered into force on 11 October 1986.
  • The Integrating Water, Land and Ecosystems Management in Caribbean Small Island Developing States (IWEco Project) addresses water, land and biodiversity resource management as well as climate change, by improving the management of fresh and coastal water resources, land resources and forests. As such, the project supports the objectives of the Cartagena Convention and its Protocols.
  • IWEco is funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), and the United Nations Environment Programme (UN Environment) is the lead implementing agency for national and regional sub-projects.
  • Barbados benefits from regional interventions which largely have to do with different aspects of capacity building. In addition, they benefit from funding support for the Hedgerow Rehabilitation Programme which is being implemented within the context of the National Beautification Programme and Clean and Green Initiative.
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Bosnia and Herzegovina: UN rights chief urges leaders to ‘turn the page on rhetoric’

INTERNATIONAL, 24 June 2022, Human Rights - Leaders in Bosnia and Herzegovina must abandon divisive policies and focus on building an inclusive future for all, UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said on Friday in the capital, Sarajevo, concluding an official visit to the country.

The four-day mission marked the first visit by a UN human rights High Commissioner in more than two decades, and she noted that some of the same rights challenges from that era persist today.

Ms. Bachelet hailed an “unprecedented ruling” handed down this week, sentencing three people for incitement to hatred for singing songs threatening violence.

“There is no place for hate speech on any grounds,” she said. “As Bosnia and Herzegovina readies for the election in October, I encourage all politicians to turn the page on rhetoric and policies of division, to focus on promoting the rights of everyone across the country, and to build an inclusive and democratic future, based on equality of all citizens.”

Painful memories, persistent discrimination

Bosnia and Herzegovina was the scene of heavy fighting during the ethnic conflicts that plagued the Balkans region following the fall of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

Horrific crimes were committed, including mass rape and the massacre of some 8,000 mainly Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica by Bosnian Serb forces.

“The scars from the 1992-95 conflict are deep. The memories are still painful. But after my visit, I am convinced that there is a will and determination among many to achieve a society where all citizens, across the country, can enjoy peace and be treated equally, with respect and dignity,” said Ms. Bachelet.

The UN rights chief met with a wide range of people in the country, including senior officials and parliamentarians, representatives from the international community and civil society, as well as families of victims of the conflict.

Most of those she met expressed concern about persistent discrimination based on various grounds, though primarily related to ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation, which affects civil and political rights.

“Bosnia and Herzegovina has legislation prohibiting discrimination and it is essential that it is applied across the country and by all institutions so that all forms of discrimination are effectively eliminated. The active engagement of political leaders in building an inclusive society is essential for its future,” she said.

A Muslim man offers prayers at his son’s grave in Vitez, in current day Bosnia and Herzegovina.
UN Photo
A Muslim man offers prayers at his son’s grave in Vitez, in current day Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Never forget

Civil society representatives highlighted some of the difficulties they face, and concerns around protection of civic space, including online and offline threats to journalists investigating corruption or who “challenge the dominant political narratives”.

She also observed real concern for young people, “particularly as the fragmented education system, with different curricular and textbooks, has entrenched divisions and distrust among communities.”

Ms. Bachelet also recalled her moving visit to the Srebrenica-Potocari Memorial complex, where she paid homage to the victims, survivors, and families of those killed. While there, she met a woman who had lost her husband and teenage son. The husband’s remains were recovered from a mass grave, but the boy is still missing.

“She told me of the determination of the Srebrenica mothers to continue their fight to ensure the genocide will never be forgotten. We both shed tears. I share her hope that one day she will find her son’s remains, and, that we must never forget the tragedy of Srebrenica.”

Ms. Bachelet said some 7,000 people who were “disappeared” during the war are still unaccounted for as a result of the large-scale atrocities committed across the country.

Hope for justice

Although some of those responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide are now behind bars, “many perpetrators still remain unpunished and are walking free”, she said, both there and in other countries.

“It is my hope that justice will be served on them too,” she told journalists. “With the passage of time, some may never be identified, and therefore it remains vitally important to vigorously pursue domestic criminal prosecutions, for all crimes committed during the conflict; that those found guilty are duly sentenced. It is important that countries in the region step up their cooperation in this regard.”

Responsibility for accountability

The High Commissioner reported little progress has been made in reparations to victims of atrocities. She was also concerned that courts have denied survivors’ claims for composition by imposing statutes of limitation.

“It is the responsibility of the State of Bosnia and Herzegovina to ensure accountability for past crimes, to provide reparation for survivors and families of all victims, and to lead and support healing and reconciliation. It is also the responsibility to counter denial of atrocity crimes and glorification of war criminals,” she said.

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UN plan calls for real progress towards ending internal displacement crisis

INTERNATIONAL, 24 June 2022, Migrants and Refugees - With record numbers of people uprooted within their homelands due to conflict, disasters, the climate emergency and other tragedies, more must be done to end this crisis, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Friday, launching his Action Agenda on Internal Displacement

The plan outlines 31 commitments by the UN system to better resolve, prevent and address internal displacement, and calls for action from countries, international financial institutions, the private sector, and others. 

“Let me be clear: the duty to end displacement lies first and foremost with governments.  However, we all have a responsibility to act,” Mr. Guterres said in a video message. 

Nearly 60 million uprooted 

The Action Agenda builds on a 2021 report by a high-level panel convened by the Secretary-General to identify concrete recommendations towards solving the internal displacement crisis. 

Last year, a record 59.1 million people were displaced within their countries, or four million more than in 2020, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported in May, citing the latest Global Report on Internal Displacement (GRID). 

Many have been uprooted for years, or even decades, and often multiple times.  Others have been forced to flee more recently.  

“In just three months, the war in Ukraine drove 13 million people out of their homes and communities, nearly two-thirds of whom remain in Ukraine,” the UN chief said.  

Fundamental change needed 

The Action Agenda calls for the UN and partners to make fundamental changes to how they work together if real progress is to be achieved. Or, as the UN chief stated in the report “more of the same is not good enough.” 

The three key objectives are to help internally displaced persons (IDPs) find durable solutions, to better prevent future displacement crises, and ensure stronger protection and assistance for those currently facing displacement.  

Some of the UN’s commitments include stepping up efforts to ensure greater inclusion of IDPs, as well as local community members, in decision-making on solutions.  

The UN also will address displacement more systematically under its work on climate change, and will work with national and local authorities to ensure displacement is part of disaster-risk reduction policies and plans. 

Ease the suffering 

The three goals are interlinked, as explained in the report. No solution is sustainable if another crisis is looming. No assistance will be sufficient if underlying drivers remain unresolved, and prevention cannot succeed if past crises have not been addressed. 

“The plight of internally displaced persons is more than a humanitarian issue,” said the Secretary-General. “It takes an integrated approach – combining development, peacebuilding, human rights, climate action and disaster risk reduction efforts.” 

He urged partners to support the UN in driving forward change, saying “together, we can ease human suffering and deliver a better future for internally displaced persons around the world.” 

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Overturning of Roe v Wade abortion law a ‘huge blow to women’s human rights’ warns Bachelet

INTERNATIONAL, 24 June 2022, Women - Friday’s decision by the US Supreme Court which overturns the 50-year-old Roe v Wade judgement guaranteeing abortion across the United States, was described by the UN human rights chief as “a huge blow to women’s human rights and gender equality.”

The widely anticipated Supreme Court decision, by six votes to three, was made in the specific case of Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health, and Michelle Bachelet said in a statement that it represents a “major setback” for sexual and reproductive health across the US.

The historic decision returns all questions of legality and access to abortion, to the individual states.

Reacting earlier to the US ruling, without making specific reference to it, the UN sexual and reproductive health agency (UNFPA) and the World Health Organization (WHOnoted that a staggering 45 per cent of all abortions around the world, are unsafe, making the procedure a leading cause of maternal death.

The agencies said it was inevitable that more women will die, as restrictions by national or regional governments increase.

Restrictions, ineffective

“Whether abortion is legal or not, it happens all too often. Data show that restricting access to abortion does not prevent people from seeking abortion, it simply makes it more deadly”, UNFPA highlighted.

According to the agencies’ 2022 State of World Population report, nearly half of all pregnancies worldwide are unintended, and over 60 per cent of these may end in abortion.

UNFPA said that it feared that more unsafe abortions will occur around the world if access becomes more restricted.

“Decisions reversing progress gained have a wider impact on the rights and choices of women and adolescents everywhere”, the agency emphasized.

WHO echoed the message on their official Twitter account, reminding that removing barriers to abortion “protects women’s lives, health and human rights”.

Restrictions to abortions are more likely to drive women and girls towards unsafe procedures.
© WHO
Restrictions to abortions are more likely to drive women and girls towards unsafe procedures.

An attack on women’s autonomy

Ms. Bachelet further reminded that access to safe, legal and effective abortion is firmly rooted in international human right law and is at the core of women and girls’ autonomy, and ability to make their own choices about their bodies and lives, free of discrimination, violence and coercion.

“This decision strips such autonomy from millions of women in the US, in particular those with low incomes and those belonging to racial and ethnic minorities, to the detriment of their fundamental rights”, she warned.

The rights chief highlighted that the decision came after more than 50 countries with previously restrictive laws have liberalized their abortion legislation over the past 25 years.

“With today’s ruling, the US is regrettably moving away from this progressive trend”, she said.

Meanwhile, the UN agency, UN Women, cautioned in another statement that the ability of women to control what happens to their own bodies, is also associated with the roles women are able to play in society, whether as a member of the family, the workforce, or government. 

Countries’ responsibilities

The 1994 Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), signed by 179 countries including the United States, recognized how deadly unsafe abortions are, and urged all countries to provide post-abortion care to save lives, irrespective of the legal status of abortion.

The document – resulting from a high-level meeting in Cairo, Egypt—also highlighted that all people should be able to access quality information about their reproductive health and contraceptives.

UNFPA, as the custodian of the Programme of Action, advocates for the right of all couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing and timing of their children and to have the information and means to do so.

The agency also warned that if unsafe abortions continue, Sustainable Development Goal 3, related to maternal health, to which all UN Member States have committed, will be at risk of not being met.

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Abu Akleh shooting: fatal shot came from Israeli forces, says OHCHR

INTERNATIONAL, 24 June 2022, Human Rights - Israeli forces were behind the fatal shooting of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in the West Bank - not indiscriminate Palestinian firing - the UN human rights office, OHCHR, alleged on Friday.

Ms. Akleh – an experienced television journalist familiar with reporting in the Occupied Palestinian Territories - was killed on 11 May, as she attempted to report on an arrest operation by Israeli Security Forces and clashes in Jenin refugee camp in the northern occupied West Bank.

‘Deeply disturbing’

“More than six weeks after the killing of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh and injury of her colleague Ali Sammoudi in Jenin on 11 May 2022, it is deeply disturbing that Israeli authorities have not conducted a criminal investigation,” said OHCHR spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani.

Following OHCHR’s own probe into the incident, Ms. Shamdasani added that “this monitoring from our Office is consistent with many findings out there that the shots that killed her came from Israeli Security Forces”.

Rejecting that conclusion, a statement issued by the Israeli mission in Geneva insisted that it was not yet possible to conclude who was responsible, in view of the Palestinian Authority’s “refusal to conduct a joint investigation and hand over the bullet”.

Final moments

Speaking to journalists in Geneva, Ms. Shamdasani described Ms. Akleh’s final moments, with her colleague, Ali Sammoudi.

“At around half past six in the morning, as four of the journalists turned into the street leading to the camp, wearing bulletproof helmets and flak jackets with ‘PRESS’ markings, several single, seemingly well-aimed bullets were fired towards them from the direction of the Israeli Security Forces. One single bullet injured Ali Sammoudi in the shoulder, and another single bullet hit Abu Akleh in the head and killed her instantly.”

Highlighting how the OHCHR probe had followed the methodology used in many other country situations, Ms. Shamdasani explained that there was no evidence of activity by armed Palestinians close by.

Ms. Akleh and her colleagues “had proceeded slowly in order to make their presence visible to the Israeli forces deployed down the street”, Ms. Shamdasani said. “Our findings indicate that no warnings were issued and no shooting was taking place at that time and at that location.”

Every angle

She added: “We’ve inspected photo, video, audio material, we’ve visited the scene, we’ve consulted with experts, and we’ve looked at official communications; we’ve interviewed people who were also on the scene when Abu Akleh was killed…Based on this very vigorous monitoring, we find that the shots that killed Abu Akleh came from Israeli Security Forces and not from indiscriminate firing by armed Palestinians.”

After Ms. Abu Akleh was shot, “several further single bullets were fired as an unarmed man attempted to approach her body and another uninjured journalist sheltering behind a tree,” the OHCHR official continued. “Shots continued to be fired as this individual eventually managed to carry away Abu Akleh’s body.”

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet has urged the Israeli authorities to open a criminal investigation into the killing of Ms. Abu Akleh and into all other killings and serious injuries by Israeli forces in the West Bank.

Since the beginning of the year, OHCHR said that it had verified that Israeli Security Forces had killed 58 Palestinians in the West Bank, including 13 children.

“International human rights law requires prompt, thorough, transparent, independent and impartial investigation into all use of force resulting in death or serious injury,” said Ms. Shamdasani. “Perpetrators must be held to account.”

Israel has rejected the findings of the OHCHR probe, adding that the Palestinian Authority has not handed over the bullet that killed Ms. Abu Akleh.

A placard from a protest in London in support of Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.
© Unsplash/Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona
A placard from a protest in London in support of Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.
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